Calvary is rough going.
The film begins with an Irish priest (Brendan Gleeson) sitting in confessional. He’s listening to a man recount his tale of having been raped by a priest at the age of seven. Then he hears the man say that since the rapist is long dead, the man will take the life of one good priest in a week’s time. Brendan Gleeson is the good priest.
One could go a lot of places with a story like this. It could be a pre-murder mystery. It could be a meditation on faith. It could be a thriller. This film’s approach, however, is right there in the title: Calvary. This is The Passion of the Christ, with the scorn of an Irish village and the sting of cruel words taking the place of the scorn of Jerusalem and the sting of the lash.
You see, this is an Ireland reeling from financial meltdown and revelations of years of sexual abuse at the hands of the clergy. The people of our priest’s little town have not only lost faith, they’ve turned actively hostile to faith, actively hostile to the church, actively hostile to our priest.
And in the middle of it all, walking his own road to Calvary, our priest struggles to maintain his own dignity, his own faith, his own love. He’s miserable.
On one level then, we can view Calvary as an exercise in making Brendan Gleeson unhappy. On another, however, we can see it as a story of the very toughest part of Christianity: the imperative to actively love people who may actively hate you. As such, Calvary has much to offer the devout viewer.
But that viewer is going to have to work for it. This is not a film for the faint of heart or faith.