The Two Popes
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce
Rated PG-13 | Minutes: 126
Release Date: November 27, 2019 (Limited) | December 20, 2019 (Netflix)
It’s amazing what could be accomplished when two people of differing ideologies could come together to simply sit down and listen to each other. That kind of consideration and respect is hard to come by, especially in this day and age. But when it happens, it reminds us of the power of empathy and tolerance. Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes is just that film. Based on true events, The Two Popes is a strong call to action for those who may not agree with others to simply understand their point of view. Check out my review below.
The Two Popes is a biographical drama that centers on the lengthy process of choosing a new pope after Pope John Paul II died. It is a beautiful ceremony, to say the least, but it is also a little bit political with Cardinals Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger campaigning around the church to gather votes, while other Cardinals believe that Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) is more fit for the job. However, Bergoglio’s more progressive attitude towards church reform goes against the very idea of Ratzinger’s idea of returning to their conservative ways. Eventually, Ratzinger is elected Pope Benedict XVI, with Bergoglio coming in second. Seven years later, the church is falling apart after multiple scandals are revealed when an assistant leaked confidential incriminating documents to the public. At the same time, Bergoglio is looking to retire as cardinal so that he can return to being a simple priest. When he is called back to the Vatican, Bergoglio sees this as an opportunity to get Pope Benedict XVI to sign off on his retirement.
The Two Popes is a masterclass in acting from two of the greatest actors of our time, Hopkins and Pryce, who are playing two characters who have differing ideologies on whether the very creed of Catholicism should be modernized in order to keep up with the times or if they should return to a more conservative position. Anthony McCarten never paints either of the characters as a good guy or bad guy, but rather a person with contrasting beliefs. Not only that, the film isn’t interested in making either one of them a winner or loser, but would rather shine a light on what could be accomplished if two people dissimilarities could just sit down and listen. It also gives us some of the insight into some of the struggles one has to go through when they are faced with a terrible controversy. By doing this, the audience gets to see that despite their holy high ranking, both Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis are human.
Empathy and tolerance are two themes that are explicitly expressed throughout the entire film. Both characters present their points and views about where the church needs to go in order to continue to be relevant and not die out. Normally, this would look like just another average conversation between two people with different ideals. However, because the two are veteran actors who are giving such powerful performances, it is more than just two people presenting their arguments. And often times, it can feel like a stage play because the camera is mostly focused on the two, while the shaky camera work makes it feel more like the audience is right there with the two.
For Pryce’s Bergoglio, the audience sees him as a humble cardinal who has lost his confidence in his ability to be a high ranking member of the church. He seeks to retire from his post so that he can return to being nothing more than just a regular priest. Often times, we see him be surprised about the luxurious accommodations. He’d much rather spend his time with the people. Flashbacks reveal that he’s had to make great sacrifices, and often times these sacrifices came at a cost of his image and reputation. Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI is far more concerned with keeping up appearances while also fully embracing the riches that the papacy has to offer. Often times, he is seen as being out of touch with the world, not knowing who the Beatles are or just eating alone. Though, this gives audiences the idea of how lonely that lifestyle can really be, and how Pope Benedict XVI may have gotten more than he bargained for as he is seen as a person who enjoys a pizza and a bottle of orange Fanta as much as anyone else, but was completely ignorant to the sexual abuse scandal.
While the two have strikingly different personalities, it does make for really great chemistry. Their banter is engaging through its humor and heartbreak. At times, it can be enlightening as we get to see who these two are beyond the cloak. And it fascinating character study that goes far beyond the subject matter. Yes, much of it is centered around Catholicism, a religion that has been riled in one controversy after another, but you can see their attempts to restore the church’s reputation whether that is through penance or politics. And yet, it can be lighthearted at times as there are moments where we get to see these two being human as they share a love for pizza, play music as one sings while the other plays the piano, or just sit down and enjoy watching a World Cup game.
Again, it goes back to the idea of the film being about just two people, presenting their arguments and counterpoints while the other person listens. At times, it reminds us that there isn’t enough of that going on in the world right now. If anything, The Two Popes is a great lesson in what can happen when there is more empathy and tolerance. Because if it can happen between two people with opposing views, just imagine what would happen if we had that same courtesy around the world.