Last weekend I sat down with a few good friends of mine and tried to find a film that none of us had already seen. We eventually agreed on Calvary, directed by John Michael McDonagh.
The lead actor, Brendan Gleeson, certainly steals the show, but the movie is a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking work that gave me a lot to think about.
Despite the fact that it makes full use of the breathtakingly stunning scenery that the Irish coastline has to offer, Calvary has an oddly intimate and theatrical feel to it. For example, after the film’s opening scene, which sets up the entire plot and allows the film to explore interesting thematic nuances within said plot’s framework, the audience is introduced to almost the entire cast in a scene that sees the main character, a catholic priest, giving communion to his parishioners. The film’s limits are thus set in stone: the village, its inhabitants and the visitors that it receives are the stage upon which the drama is played out.
The uncertainty that the ‘who-done-it’ style ambiguity brings to the plot keeps the audience interested, whilst enabling the film to fully explore the theme of detachment. Each and every character appears to be somehow detached from truth, reality and an ability to honestly connect with other individuals. This sense of detachment manifests itself in a variety of ways, several of which are portrayed in a darkly comedic fashion. The detachment that this sort of dark humour necessitates, encourages the audience to reflect upon their own detachment from those around them.
The child abuse that motivates one man to commit a terrible act of pseudo-revenge appears to explain (but not wholly justify) his extreme behaviour. His actions do however appear to liberate a group of individuals from a state of disconnection from the outside world.
The ending is therefore somewhat reminiscent of plays like A Doll’s House or Hedda Gabler; it encourages the audience to examine their own detachment from those around them and attempt to remedy it without having to make such a tragic sacrifice.