2014 Reel Theology: Philomena (Movie 1)

My reactions to Philomena, with an attempt not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

The pre-movie expectations

I’m with my wife so I expect to have a good time no matter what.  That’s how it works.  Also I am a fan of Dame Judi Dench and I Hear she is good in this, so I expect the movie to be well acted minimally.  I know almost nothing about the story.  It’s about a woman looking for her son she gave up for adoption a long time ago, is what I think.  The theater is mostly empty and we’r eon time for the previews.

Feeling my way

It appears the main character in the movie is not going to be Judi Dench, but Steven Coogan.  He appears at the outset to be the man in need of redemption, the pivot on which the story will turn.  He’s an out of work politician/journalist who is lacking purpose and generally unhappy with the world.  Because it’s an Oscar movie I know I am paying special attention to Seven Themes issues, and I am beginning to suspect that Coogan is the redemption figure and that tho will be a movie about redemption.  Probably fellowship, as I expect Dame Judi Dench is going to help find him purpose.  Before seeing Judi Dench I am wondering if she will be the Christ Figure, who will lead to his redemption or if it will be the other way around.  This is about the point in these movies, I remind myself to quit thinking ahead and let the movie just be.

Letting the movie be

The acting is, as I”d expected very good.  In fact both Dame Judi Dench and Steve Coogan are good enough that I forget I’m watching actors.  They are interesting and enjoyable to watch. Since they are 90 percent of the movie, this works.  It’s clear the bad guys in this movie are the nuns:  the “evil” nuns as Martin (Coogan) says over and over in the movie.  Early in the movie, I am starting to wonder when any of the nuns might show a little compassion, or even balance.  The religious justifications they give for the terrible things they do are the kind of stock hypocritical, self righteous and ultimately unconvincing words that sound like they are written by people whose own self righteousness take a different turn in anti-religious superiority.  There is a small attempt to paint one young nun as perhaps more reasonable than others, and Philomena herself continually speaks of the nuns favorably, so I keep waiting to see this other dimension to the movie.

Waiting for it to develop

It’s not just the nuns and priests.  There is also an ongoing argument between Philomena and Martin throughout the movie about whether God exists or not.  Martin is the cynical journalist; Philomena the stubbornly believing old Lady.  I am looking forward to the deepening if each position.  For Philomena to find faith beyond stubborn denial, and for Martin to actually be moved from his cynicism.  I wait for a compassionate nun, for movement in either Philomena or Martin and I am genuinely surprised to see that none of these things happen as strongly as I’d like.  There are some small attempts, and perhaps one can argue that I missed important messages in their subtlety, or that being inspired by true events” they didn’t want to make development happen which wasn’t there.  I doubt this last however.  No nun could possibly be as shallow and one sided as every nun is this movie is.   Nor is the real Philomena (from what little I’ve seen in interviews) as “simple” in her faith, as the Philomena of the movie was.

Satsifactory, and entertaining, and thought provoking, yes.  Best movie of the year?  Nah.

Of course I haven’t seen the others yet and I may change my mind, but I genuinely suspect this movie would not have been nominated for best movie if the political and religious worldview within it didn’t fit so well the kind of mold that the academy seems to like.  Not Anti-faith, as much as anti-religious.  And pro faith people tend to be older, archaic and old fashioned, as Philomena reminds us frequently by her simple, out of date ideas.  There is some movement of the characters, but without giving anything away, I’ll just say that it was all too small and undefined for me personally to have been very engaged in the development.  The acting is superb and the movie was enjoyable.  For a date night movie it was completely satisfactory.  The injustice described is real and heartbreaking.  AS a documentary on a specific event and the tragic nature of the corruption, it’s fascinating and moving.  As a movie about Philomena, and ultimately about Matin Sixsmith, it’s less so.

My Seven Themes thoughts so far.

At first I thought redemption was intended to be the strongest theme of the movie, and it’s because of this I was disappointed.  No one’s redemption is clear.  Not Philomena’s nor Martin’s.  But this is not because they remain bad, but because they are likable throughout and the story doesn’t do enough to show us the internal struggles each of them allegedly faces.

ON rethinking though, perhaps Justice is the key theme of the movie and that might make it a more satisfying accomplishment.  Not much more I could say at this point without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t seen it.

Current Ranking in my mind.

Of all the nominated Best picture movies so far this is my favorite (and the only one I’ve seen so far.)  Thus far I predict it to win out over the other’s I’ve seen (which is none.).  Of course, of all the ones I”ve seen it’s also my least favorite.

I rate movies according to how much of my money and time they are worth.  My rating for this movie is bolded below.

Worth a full price movie ticket

Worth a matinee viewing.

Worth a DVD/itunes rental

Watch it on Netflix

Watch it on TV on a Saturday Afternoon when you’v nothing else to do and you’r sonly laying around anyway.

Not worth your time

Influencing factors in my reactions

The theater was empty, comfortable,I had popcorn, and my wife was at my side.  All which influence me towards liking a movie better because I enjoy the experience more.  My wife also liked the movie, influencing me positively.  After the movie, but before the review I heard an interview with Steve Coogan in which he addressed concerns about anti-catholic bigotry (concerns I had not known existed before I saw the movie.).  He addressed them reasonably, but not convincingly.  Things he pointed to in the movie where weaker on screen than he clearly intended them to be when he wrote it (he wrote the screenplay as well as starred).  I believe he meant these things/ acts of redemption/ to be more clear and stronger in the movie than I felt them, but I just don’t think he succeeded.  So his interview made me more kindly disposed towards him and his ideas, but not more enamored with his movie.

This has been just my reaction.


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