‘The Two Popes’ Promotes Dialogue in a Polarized Catholic Church and Society

Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio, right, and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict in a scene from “The Two Popes.” Photo by Peter Mountain/Netflix

Held together by engaging writing and artful acting, the movie “The Two Popes” offers an intimate look at the relationship between Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, delivering a powerful message about dialogue and mercy along the way.

“In the end, the film talks about how dialogue is possible, and this is not only for the Church, it’s really for the world,” said Director Fernando Meirelles in an interview with Religion News Service on Thursday (Dec. 11), adding that “we are in a moment in history where the world is very polarized.”

The two popes “can disagree, but they can have a conversation,” he continued, and “I think it’s a nice, beautiful message not only about the Church.”

The film, while not a perfectly accurate representation of life inside the Vatican, nevertheless manages to get a great deal right. Even those who are well acquainted with the inner workings of the Vatican and the curia — which the film aptly describes as a “meat grinder” — cannot resist being drawn in by the familiar places and situations. Overall, writer Anthony McCarten clearly did his homework.

The pretext of the film is pure fiction and serves as a narrative ploy. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who in the movie is played with uncanny accuracy by Jonathan Pryce (“Brazil,” “Carrington”), never visited Pope Benedict XVI, interpreted by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs”), in the pope’s summer estate in Castel Gandolfo. Nor did Bergoglio hand in his resignation just as Benedict contemplated whether to announce his own in a nearly unprecedented move that shaped the trajectory of the Catholic Church amid historic scandals and a shifting global political climate.

But focusing on historical accuracy while watching Netflix’s “The Two Popes” would be a mistake. Structured in the manner of the Catholic sacrament of confession, the film portrays the perceived representatives of two very different and opposing views on the Church engaging in fruitful dialogue, then in understanding and finally in forgiveness.

“It is a confessional,” Meirelles said, adding that “the film is about guilt.”

“Both (popes) have done incredibly stupid things in their past that they feel guilty about. (The movie) talks about what they feel guilt for, and they have to forgive themselves and forgive the other. So, forgiveness is one of the main themes of the movie.”

As the Catholic world today is split in conflicting camps, this movie serves as an appropriate reminder that there is still space for tolerance and understanding, a message that easily spills out of the religious realm and into today’s increasingly polarized society.

Conclaves, the ceremony during which popes are elected by the college of cardinals, provide the tempo of the feature, as the film brings the viewer inside the Sistine Chapel, where a campaigning Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger will emerge as Pope Benedict XVI.

The track “Dancing Queen,” by ABBA, provides a playful soundtrack to the momentous occasion. The lyrics, “You come to look for a king. Anybody could be that guy,” play in the background as the cardinals decide who will be their next leader.

Levity is instrumental in this dialogue-heavy script, which Meirelles said challenged him to create an “interesting, cinematic and watchable film.” To do this, the director said he filled the scenes with light, fun music and intimate acting.

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Source: Religion News Service