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'The Two Popes' brings lost souls home

Jessicha Valentina
Jessicha Valentina

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, December 31, 2019  /  02:37 pm

The existence of God and faith has been a never-ending discussion for many. Netflix’s feature-length drama The Two Popes explores these issues from the perspectives of, as the title implies, two popes: Pope Benedict XVI and his successor the current Pope Francis.

For the first time in seven centuries, the Catholic Church has two living popes. The Two Popes displays them as two sides of the same coin.

Inspired by true events, The Two Popes kicks off with the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. Cardinals from around the world head down to Rome to elect the new pope, including Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins), the real name of Pope Benedict XVI; and Argentinian priest Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), Pope Francis’ real name.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), the film includes news footage that reminds viewers of one of the biggest events in the past decade. At the same time, it also shares what happens behind the Sistine Chapel’s closed doors where the religious election -- which is deeply spiritual but also very political -- takes place. This scene is bound to satisfy those who are curious about the ritual.

From the start, the film showcases the differences between the two characters. German Benedict is seen as a conservative who religiously defends a 2,000-year tradition. He has little knowledge about pop culture and loves to say no to reformation. Again, the film uses news footage to illustrate people’s opinions on him.

Meanwhile, Argentinian Bergoglio supports reform in the Catholic Church. Compared to Benedict, Bergoglio is less ambitious and loves simplicity. He is portrayed as the fun guy who loves soccer and tango, and as one who fights for climate change and inequality.

Read also: 'Good pope v bad pope?' Hopkins and Pryce star in Vatican drama

The film then moves forward to 2013, when corruption and pedophilia scandals hit the Vatican. Bergoglio flies to Rome as he wishes to resign from his position as a cardinal archbishop. He meets Benedict and the two start talking about their views on the church, mystery of God and the future.  

The film touches on various issues, including scandals surrounding the Catholic Church and personal matters faced by the popes. But the former feels unexplored as the film does not go far in examining the issues, and those who wish to understand them better might be disappointed. 

On the flip side, personal matters seem to be the highlight of the film. Written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody), the popes are portrayed with human problems, such as confusion, dilemma and, as mentioned in the Bible, that they were once lost sheep too. The interaction between the two characters is the strength of the film. Topped with excellent acting by the two Welsh actors, the conversation unfolds nicely, allowing viewers to go deep into some theological matters.

Hopkins’ raspy voice and the way he looks from the corners of his eyes display the stubbornness of his character. As the film progresses, I can’t help but admire his persona.

Meanwhile, Pryce, who happens to share some similar facial features with the actual Pope Francis, could easily steal viewers' hearts with his charming attitude.

Sadly, flashbacks about the young Bergoglio distract viewers from the joys of following the conversation.

Amid its religious theme, The Two Popes serves as a feel-good movie as it displays the human sides of the characters. Their vulnerabilities are beautifully inserted, allowing viewers to realize that it is part of life and bringing the lost souls home. (wng)  

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