HollywoodJesus.com: Pop Culture From A Spiritual Point of View
MoviesDVDsMusicBooksComixTVGamesSportsThe Hit ListWeekly Sweeps at HJHWJ Blogs
Contact Us | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy | Subscribe | About

HJ Live!  Search HJ Live! Advanced SearchLogin
Share This!

Click Icon >>

Christmas Movie Eliminator
The Galactic Gazette: Star Wars News at HJ
Focus on the Force: Star Wars Commentary and Analysis at HJ
The Pipeline: What's In Store for Faith and Film
Film Festival Roundup
HJ's iON Comic-Con
Bagshot Row Bulletin: News of the film, commentary about the book
We Have a Pope
Looking for Strength
Drama and Farce Don't Mix Well

The Papal Conclave, which elects the Pope, is ripe for dramatic imagination.  It is the gathering of the Cardinals of the Catholic Church who are sealed into the Vatican only to come out after there is a new Pope (who will almost certainly be one of them).  This could be the setting for great intrigue because it is all very secretive.   There are no cameras or reporters.  Crowds wait in St. Peter’s Square for the twice a day puffs of smoke from the burnt ballots.  Black smoke means no one has received the necessary votes.  White smoke means a new Pope has been chosen.  Soon someone will come out on a balcony to announce “Habemus Papam” (We have a Pope).

It is in such a conclave that We Have a Pope is set.  We watch as the Cardinals file into the chapel.  We see them sitting at their desks, preparing to vote.  When the time comes to vote we hear the cacophony of their inner prayers: “Oh, please.  Not me.”  That serves as a reminder of the awesome responsibility carried by the Papacy.  There may be those who want to be elected, but it could also be frightening to be in that room knowing that it could be you.  In the film, the first few rounds of voting show a split within the College of Cardinals.  Soon they all find a compromise, Cardinal Melville.  When the vote is cast and he is asked if he accepts, he says, “Yes.”  At that moment he becomes the Pope.

After giving the new Pope time to change into the white cassock, one of the Cardinals goes out to make the declaration.  After the words “We have a Pope,” there is a primal scream.  Melville is beside himself.  He is full of doubts he cannot do this.  Everything grinds to a halt.  Here the real story begins.  So do the film’s problems.

This could be a set up for a dramatic story or for a comedy.  Director Nanni Moretti wanted to do both.  The Cardinals call in a psychiatrist to try to help the new Pope come to terms with his panic.  He tries to get to the issues, but the Cardinals don’t really allow him to ask any of the right questions.  After a while the new Pope manages to escape and wander around Rome incognito looking for his own answers.  Meanwhile the psychiatrist is locked in with the Cardinals, and the Vatican spokesman who knows of the Pope’s escape creates a cover up, even deceiving the Cardinals.

The Pope’s sojourn is the drama.  He is very much alone, even when in a crowd.  He alone knows the weight that he is carrying.  He meets a company of actors, one of whom seems to feel the need to do the whole play by himself.  Melville knows that at some point he will have to deal with his situation, but for now he is struggling with how he will do that.  He sees a world that is waiting for him, but knows the world needs something he does not have.

As the Pope deals with his angst, back at the Vatican the psychiatrist is leading the comedy portion of the film.  As the Cardinals dither with nothing to do, the psychiatrist sets up a volleyball tournament to keep them occupied. This is the part of the film that just doesn’t work.  It is possible to have humor in a serious film, but it needs to be organic to the situation.  I can’t imagine this collection of bishops and heads of the curia can’t think of anything to do in this crisis.  There would be more than a few alpha males in this group who would be looking for action.  Instead they just sit around playing cards, wishing they could leave to go get cappuccino.  There is an absurdity here that detracts from the more somber aspects of the story.

In spite of my problems with the film Melville’s quandary resonates with me.  I expect that many who have felt the call of God will know what he is going through.  He does not have a crisis of faith.  He firmly believes that the Cardinals and God have called him.  His problem is that he suddenly believes at his very core that they are wrong.  He is not (in his mind) the person who should be leading the Church.  There is no easy fix.  He finds himself in a no-win situation—abdicate (and bring turmoil to the Church) or serve in the office poorly (and hurt the Church).  It is easy (and a bit clichéd) to say that God will provide the power.  If Melville cannot find that power, what is he to do?  What will the Church do?

The film treats the traditions of the Church with respect and takes Melville’s problem seriously.  It does not look for an easy answer.  Had the film had a better sense of what it wanted to be and to say, it could have been much more worthwhile.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting


Click Icon >>

The Hobbit... Whole: Movie and Book
Bagshot Row Bulletin: News of the film, commentary about the book
Hobbit Commentary
The Galactic Gazette: Star Wars News at HJ
Focus on the Force: Star Wars Commentary and Analysis at HJ
Narnia News, with Mark Sommer
Narnia Features
Hogwarts Expressions
The Lord of the Rings, with Greg Wright
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Click Icon >>

From the Top
eMPULSE: What's Hot In Electronic Media
Video Reviews
charActor studies
Sound Off
WWTD: What Would Tebow Do?
The Guide: Video Reviews of Hot Games at HJ
Church at Louie's
KJV@400: Not Just Any Old Book
Pokemon White: Catch 'Em All
Madden NFL Playoff Sims
The LOST Lockup: Archives
The Lost Library
Get Cupped Up: World Cup Coverage at HJ
Fan of the Flame
12 Days of Christmas Music
EA Sports Active 30-Day Challenge
Wolverine Spotlight
Galacticana: Melinda Ledman on Battlestar
SteinWatch: News of Ben Stein and Expelled
Tales From The Front Lines: From the set of The Bill Collector
Yo's Animal Crossing Diary
Favre Watch at HJ
The Back Page: The Intersection of Culture and Spirituality
After Eden: Sifting the Gold From the Gutter
Mii Fit: Yo's 30-Day Fitness Challenge
The Blogger Archives
Danger: The Real Missionary Position
The Dark Corner: Philip Pullman at HJ

Click Icon >>

Reflections for Moviegoers, with Matt Kinne
The Virtual Pew, with Mike Furches
Hollywood Jesus Books