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Film / Calvary

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Fr. Lavelle: I think there's too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.
Fiona: What would be your number one?
Fr. Lavelle: I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.

Calvary is a 2014 Irish Black Comedy, and the second written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (his first being The Guard). It stars Brendan Gleeson as Father James, as well as an Ensemble Cast of Irish and British actors.

Father James, a Catholic priest of a small Irish town in county Sligo, is doing confession as per routine, when a parishioner anonymously confesses that, because he was sexually abused by a priest when he was younger, he is seeking revenge. Citing that the abusive priest is long dead and nothing comes of exposing the offenders, the parishioner tells Father James that he will kill him, a good and just priest, in one week's time to shed light on church corruption and get a stronger response from people.

Despite claiming to know who threatened him to a Bishop, James ignores the Bishop's permission to go to the police, remaining strongly conflicted about how to respond, and instead attempts to go on with his business. Unfortunately, James finds himself confronting several spiritual challenges from his parishioners, and begins to reflect on death and how he's effectively part of a dying breed in modern times; with that in mind, he also begins to notice quite a few people have reason to want him either terrorized or out the way...


The film received strong praise and even a few British and Irish film awards, including two Best Actor awards for Gleeson.

Tropes include:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Father James gives up on the priesthood at the beginning of the third act, but changes his mind just before stepping off the plane while looking at the coffin of a man he'd given last rites to.
  • Affably Evil: Freddy Joyce is rather friendly for a convicted serial killer and cannibal. Father James thinks it's at least partially an act, however.
  • Artistic License – Religion: One of the reasons Father James gives to the Bishop for not going to the police is to preserve the confessional seal. The Bishop quickly points out that the confessional seal only applies if the person speaking is seeking forgiveness and absolution, which the culprit is clearly not.
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  • Berserk Button: Father James is fairly even-keeled, but he seems to get annoyed at people who claim to be The Atoner who he doesn't believe (most notably Michael Fitzpatrick and Freddy Joyce)
  • Black Comedy: The movie deals with sexual trauma, religious despair, and murder in casual dialogue from bizarre characters who humorously don't seem to understand the gravity of the situations they're in. It's about as far as one of the McDonagh brothers has gotten from their bread and butter.
  • Batter Up!: After Father James shoots up the local bar and expends all of his ammo, the barkeep pulls out a baseball bat. In the next scene, Father James is bloodied up.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • The murderous parishioner is very frank about what he's going to do and why he's going to do it.
    • Father James tells his fellow priest why he's not a good person.
    • In the end, the townsfolk become very open about just how much they look down on religion, the Church and Father James, seeing them all as pointless relics of a bygone age.
  • The Butcher: Subverted with Jack the town butcher, though he's a goofy, harmless guy; Played Straight, however, in that James has to have a word with him because his wife is wearing unusually large sunglasses for the weather. He's also the parishioner who threatened Jack at the beginning of the movie
  • Chekhov's Gun: The revolver given to Father James by the police inspector. James uses it to shoot up the local bar, but discards it before his confrontation with Jack.
  • Central Theme: Guilt, forgiveness, and disillusionment toward Catholicism.
  • Comforting the Widow: Dr. Harte proudly tells Father James, who just gave last rites to a young husband, about how he has a fetish for widows.
  • Confessional: The film starts with Father James expecting to hear a normal confession, only to hear a man abused by a dead priest threatening to murder him.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Michael made his fortune through underhanded means.
  • Cuckold: Jack Brennan is unbothered that his wife cheats on him. Played not quite straight as he appears to be the one who hit her.
  • Disappeared Dad: Fiona tells Father James how much it hurt her when he left to join the priesthood after her mother died, saying that she lost two parents for the price of one.
  • Downer Ending: Father James is killed by Jack, who goes to jail. A montage shows the various townsfolk living their lives, and most of them seem to be pretty unhappy. The film ends with a tearful Fiona about to confront a guilt-ridden Jack. Worse still, the boy on the beach witnesses the murder, so Jack may have inadvertently traumatized an innocent boy just as he himself was traumatized as a child.
  • Dr. Jerk: Harte is such a sneering little Jerkass during his first appearance that it's a bit of a shock to learn that he's a doctor. His first reaction to seeing a woman who has recently attempted suicide (judging by the bandages on her wrist) is is to crack wise about her method.
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: The villagers are like a darker take on the inhabitants of Craggy Island.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: When Fiona calls from Dublin, naturally she's on a balcony overlooking the River Liffey.
  • Ensemble Cast: Expected as, while it's a relatively small Irish film, several recognizable Irish faces turn up to presumably stop people narrowing it down. Going just by Irish actors, the main cast includes: Brendan Gleeson (Ken in In Bruges), Chris O'Dowd (Roy in The IT Crowd), Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish in Game of Thrones), Dylan Moran (Bernard in Black Books), and Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley in Harry Potter).
  • Excrement Statement: Corrupt Corporate Executive Michael gets frustrated that Father James doesn't believe in his repentance, so he takes down one of his expensive painting and pisses on it to show his possessions don't matter to it. He sarcastically goes on about how it will lead to some deep revelatory moment, but in a way it does, when Father James allows Michael to piss on the portrait since the rich have already pissed on everything else.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Father James arrives at his appointed execution spot and seems to have no fear of dying. He's only concerned with the safety and souls of others.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When we first see Jack, he's chopping up bloody meat. When Father James takes him into the freezer, there's a montage of extreme close-ups of the frozen meat. This corresponds with the mystery parishioner's talk of "a lot of blood" and foreshadows the revelation that Jack is the culprit.
    • Father James finds his alter boy drawing the beach and asks who the two figures in the picture are. The boy doesn't know, and says that it's "spooky." In the end, Father James and Jack meet for their mortal confrontation on the same beach, and the boy is there drawing again.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the aftermath of the bar shooting scene, it’s implied that Brendan Lynch beat Father James rather badly with a baseball bat. However, upon closer inspection, most of the blood is coming from James' knuckles, and his only significant injury is a bruise on his back, and the next time we see the Brendan he's covered in bruises and bandages, the implication being that Brendan only got one good swing in before James beat him to a pulp.
  • Funny Background Event: At the bar, the socially awkward Milo says that he's not on the dance floor because he doesn't like the music. Later, he can be seen jumping up and down in place, by himself.
  • Good Shepherd: Father James is a good man who tries to watch over his congregation. Through the course of the film, however, he discovers that no one wants to be looked after.
  • Hidden Depths: Very nearly the entire cast.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Dr. Harte keeps bringing up his atheism to Father James. He's a jerkass nihilist with a morbid and cruel sense of humor. However, he makes some biting observations on the subject of Church corruption.
  • Insane Troll Logic: "There's no point in killing a bad priest. Killing a good one? That would be a shock!"
  • Jerkass: Most residents of the town are really mean people who seem to delight in taunting Father James about their various sins.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Dr. Harte tells an obviously distraught Father James a horrible story about a child who became blind, deaf and paralyzed after a botched surgery and then likens the story to victims of church abuse. Harte is clearly taking pleasure in describing the child's pain, but he's unfortunately correct about how abuse victims are unable to tell the world about the things that have happened to them.
  • Jump Cut: A number of scenes suddenly jump from one scene to another as a loud sound occurs in the next scene, creating a sense of anxiety.
  • Kick the Dog: The whole town does this when the church is burning down. While a distressed Father James runs about impotently, asking why no one saw anything sooner, everyone in town is utterly apathetic at best: Milo continues drinking, others jest about it, and, while Jack seems to give half a shit, all he does is call the Fire Brigade and then look on.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The film makes a number of self-referential comments through dialogue. Father James and Dr Harte comment on the character "roles" they play. Veronica Brennan says that she's always wanted to be an actress. Toward the end of the film, James and his daughter talk about a third-act twist.
  • Messianic Archetype: Father James is an innocent man who allows himself to be killed in order to pay for someone else's crime, with hope offered that his killer may thereby attain redemption.
  • Missing Mom: Father James's wife died when his daughter was young. This caused Father James to become a priest, which in turn took him out of his daughter's life as well.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the aftermath of the scene where Brendan Lynch pulls a baseball bat on Father James, James has a small cut on his mouth and a big bruise on his lower back, but his knuckles are bleeding profusely. When we see Brendan next, he looks to be in very bad shape.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Jack is shown in prison at the very end, when he sees Fiona on the other side of the visitor's panel, his expression screams this.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    • People apparently keep chiding Fiona for slitting her wrists the wrong way. Her father says that she made "the classic mistake," and she immediately finishes his thought. Later, even the town doctor tells her the same.
    • Also James who, when approached in the bar with the "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned..." schtick, simply rolls his eyes and tolerates it.
  • Pedophile Priest: Although none appear in the movie, the subject is brought up constantly: the killing of Father James is to bring attention to the issue, the police inspector was transferred to Sligo because he had dared to arrest a priest who had been caught molesting a little girl, and the attempt to claim that the phenomenon mostly occurred in the US 40 or 40 years ago is dismissed with the implication that the situation in Ireland is and was much worse. It's also the go-to excuse of various people who want to downplay their own immoral behavior to Father James.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: The Bishop is pretty useless and seems to be a rather incompetent clergyman. When James tells him about his predicament, the Bishop simply gives him the obvious, practical suggestion of going to the authorities. James decides to take the more principled tack of giving the threatening parishioner the opportunity to reconsider.
  • Ray of Hope Ending: Jack is unable to overcome his anger and goes through with his plan to kill Father James. However, the film's ending implies that reconciliation may be possible between Jack and Fiona, offering hope that Jack might eventually achieve forgiveness.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: A very flagrant example. A police inspector points an unloaded revolver at James's face as some sort of joke. James responds by loading the gun and then pointing it back at the police inspector's face. They both put their fingers on the trigger.
  • Really Gets Around: Veronica Brennan is the town bicycle. Her own husband says that she has lots of lovers and he doesn't care, because it makes her too busy to bother him.
  • The Reveal: Father James recognizes the person who threatened him, but refuses to tell anyone, and the person's identity is kept secret until the end, when we discover that it's Jack, the goofy butcher.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Jack admits to hitting his wife and being the killer, but ignores the accusation that he burned the church and denies killing the dog; he's even offended at the last accusation, and strongly denies it. Who killed the dog and burned the church, as well as why, are never revealed any further. At the film's premiere, McDonagh's only hint was pointing people towards Dr. Harte's brief bit in the epilogue. In the few seconds he's seen he appears to have a bandage on his hand, suggesting he was bitten.
  • Scenery Porn: Lovely helicopter shots of the Sligo coast.
  • Shout-Out: One scene has a shot of a newspaper clipping referring to "Two hitmen hunted over Dublin murders". This is a reference to In Bruges, which was directed by the brother of Calvary's director.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: The Bishop fusses over his breakfast as Father James tells him that a sexually abused man has threatened to kill him.
  • Troubled, but Cute: the barkeep uses this expression nearly literally referring to the Father James' daughter who has visible suicide scars on her wrists.
    Barkeep: A generous serving of the old water of life for this beautiful, yet troubled...
    Fiona: Fuck off!
  • Uncanny Village: The town is beautiful and seems to contain a nice congregation of locals, presided over by a wise and good priest. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that the townsfolk are a bunch of assholes who don't care about living virtuous lives.


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