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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Two Popes

The odd couple at the Vatican

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 21, 2019 – This film uses fictional conversations between two Popes to tell the real story of how two very different men, with very different attitudes towards church traditions came to hold the same office.

A very unpopular pope, Pope Benedict XVI (played by Anthony Hopkins of the “Thor” movies) requests the presence of an old rival in the church, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce of “The Wife”) in Rome after Jorge had already, coincidentally, bought a plane ticket to Rome. He plans to present his letter of resignation to the Pope in person. Jorge says there are no such things as coincidences regarding the plane ticket. He sees divine providence at work.

In a series of conversations with Pope Benedict, he tries to broach the subject of his resignation as cardinal so he can return to the simpler life of a priest, but Benedict keeps evading the subject. Instead, they speak of other things. Benedict repeatedly brings up the point that Jorge could have been Pope if things had gone a bit differently.

Jorge was, indeed a leading candidate for Pope in the 2005 papal conclave that followed the death of Pope John Paul II. Jorge is the leading voice of reform at the conclave, shown early in the film, while Benedict, a conservative, champions the status quo and church tradition, with a hard line against divorce, abortion and homosexuality.

Years later, Pope Benedict is ill, tired, and his church is in trouble. There is scandal at the Vatican and the church is losing members. Benedict is an unpopular pope. People call Benedict, a German, a Nazi behind his back. Jorge doesn't like the direction the church is headed under Benedict's rule, and that is one of the reasons he doesn't want to be a cardinal anymore.

Benedict keeps stringing Jorge along about the resignation, however, and they begin talking about their relationship to God and how they came to enter the priesthood in the first place. A friendship grows between them. After many such conversations, Benedict makes a startling revelation. He plans to resign the Papacy.

Shocked, Jorge tries to persuade him against this action. No pope has resigned his office in 700 years. Every pope is expected to die in office, to give his life to the office as an example of sacrifice. Benedict is firm in his decision, but doesn't announce it to the world for months after his conversations with Jorge at the Vatican.

After Benedict resigns, Jorge is elected Pope and becomes Pope Francis. Benedict lives on the grounds of the Vatican and the two Popes meet for conversations, and to watch some football when Germany and Argentina meet in the World Cup.

You could call this movie “My dinner with the Pope,” because it is largely based on conversations between two characters. There is also background on the two men. Jorge's past is much more detailed in the film, particularly his difficulty dealing with a military takeover of the government in Argentina. Jorge feels that he made mistakes in trying to defend the church and his Franciscan order from government interference and violence.

Although Benedict discuses his faith and his inner dialog with God quite a lot in the film, I don't think he comes across as a very interesting figure, especially compared to Jorge. Benedict comes across as the embodiment of the institution he represents, rather than as a man in his own right. An academician from Bavaria, Benedict has lived in the Vatican since 1981, and for years was a powerful policy maker, theologian, and influencial adviser to Pope John Paul II. Perhaps, in his resignation, he at least partially escaped that institutional prison.

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce both give excellent performances in this film, fully expressing the characters and making them believable. The film also has high production values, with opulent sets and costumes. At the end, there are pictures of the real people depicted in the film. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]