Philomena: Getting Past Raging at God to Understanding His Love and Blessings

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Movies


Stephen Frears is one of the few directors working today who has consistently displayed cinematic good taste– the ability to make the viewer see both sides of a theme without the need for overwrought sermonizing and flashy set pieces. In Philomena the story of an Irish mother’s search, with the aid of a journalist,  fifty years later to find the son who was taken away from  her while they were both in the care of a Catholic convent, the atheist and Catholic views get some serious airing.   The story is based on Martin Sixsmith’s nonfiction book The Lost Son of Philomena Lee and stars Steve Coogan as Sixsmith and Dame Judi Dench as Philomena. Both Sixmith and Lee are still alive.

Sixsmith and Philomena represent both the weaknesses and strengths of their respective viewpoints.   Sixsmith is an atheist, brash, intelligent, dismissive about what he can’t understand, a bit of a snob, angry over his life and what the convent nuns have done both to Philomena and her son.  He seeks to be a force for exposing the whole sordid truth, extracting justice and applying vengeance.  Philomena is culturally naive but life smart and has made room to both be charitable and forgiving to those who have wronged her.  She is in everything the true expression of her Catholic faith.

Frears delivers a perfect mix of acerbity and tenderness.  Philomena is as much about meaningful enlightenment then it is about knocking down the barriers of belief and the stumbling blocks unbelievers see in the truly pious.  It creates the benefit of doubt for God in Sixsmith’s soul and ceding some of life mysteries to the workings of the Divine.   Sixsmith doesn’t encounter miracles or angels speaking from the clouds, just the stubborn application of faith by an old woman who will not let her past keep her from living a psychologically conflict free life that abnegates the anger the world and Sixsmith (and by extension us) demand she has.  Sixsmith becomes the fool brought down a peg because he can’t release his anger.  Philomena is what she always was– a loving and forgiving child of God.  

Frears has no interest in rehashing the controversy, just examining the scars and the healing.  Peter Mullan’s 2002 The Magdalene Sisters already scourged the political-religious part of the controversy.  And the Irish state early this year confessed its sins and has already asked for forgiveness.  Frears only wants to show the humanity of what happens when religion sins and abuses its own adherents.   

Philomena gets an A from me.  

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