The Two Popes is about more than the roles of two powerful men within the Catholic Church. It’s about what it means to be a human reaching out to a higher power.
What does it mean to be a man of God? Does it mean you have to be perfect? Does it mean that you are absolved from all of your sins? Does it mean that you are unable to make mistakes? How does a man of God reconcile with the mistakes of his past, when he is expected to be a messenger for the God he serves? These are some of the questions posed within The Two Popes, a film which centers on the relationship between Pope Benedict XVI (Anothony Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergolio (Jonathan Pryce), the future Pope Francis.
The majority of the film takes place over one weekend when Benedict asks Bergolio to join him at the Vatican just as Bergolio submits his resignation as Archbishop. Throughout the weekend the two men discuss not only the state of the Catholic Church, which has lost millions of followers due to Vatican leak scandal, but also their personal relationship with God. Bergolio is constantly at war with himself over actions he took as a young priest during the Argentinian military dictatorship, which led to the torturing of Jesuit priests. Meanwhile, Benedict feels as if he can no longer truly communicate with God. Together the two men try to understand not only themselves and their responsibilities, but what it means to have a relationship with God.
The Two Popes is a truly powerful film, because it does pose deep questions regarding faith and one’s own belief system. It never gives anything definitive per se, but it does give ideas. It lights a path for us to examine and possibly take but doesn’t push us in any way. Overall the discussions held within the film, and the points made are never restricted just to the Catholic Church or Christianity, but could be applied to any religion. The men here may be the Pope and his successor, but these same types of conversations happen between all walks of faith and men of various degrees of importance within those beliefs. In a way the film succeeds by using the idea of telling a story so specific that it becomes universal. This isn’t a story about these two powerful men, it’s just a story of two men who want to remain close to their god.
The performances by Hopkins and Pryce truly help make this film magical. While the film could have been a success with any decent actor, there are intricacies within their performances that highlight their characters weaknesses. Small moments throughout that help pull these two men down to just being regular people. They aren’t put on a pedestal. They are average people who fear, who are hurt, who are confused, and yearn for an answer to their prayers. We can feel that because of the performances by these two world class actors, and it makes the entire film far more powerful.
It could be easy to want to stray away from the film depending on your belief system, or the issues within the Catholic Church. The Church hasn’t always done what is right for all people, and there have been plenty of people victimized by the Church. But this film isn’t about the Church. It’s about two human beings trying to find answers when the world expects them to supply the answers. That’s something that we can all relate to, and it’s something that is incredibly beautiful and powerful. It will break your heart, and give you hope. Which is something that only truly great films can accomplish side by side.
The Two Popes is currently streaming on Netflix.
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Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 5 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)