Two giants of the acting world, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, battle with wits and religious debate as Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis), respectively. Sometimes deep and poignant, sometimes incredibly funny, the script by Anthony McCarten, based on his book The Pope, provides an excellent opportunity to see this actors, and the Popes they play in the film, in incredible new ways.
When the two priests meet for the first time, Bergoglio is humming Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” which attracts the musically-inclined Benedict’s attention. But Benedict is culturally obtuse, intent on keeping himself (and the church he leads) separate from the world. In that opening interaction, the audience sees the way that the two priests have so much in common and yet, they are a world apart.
The two have three or four fantastic conversations, often over a meal or walking around the grounds of the Vatican (or the papal summer estate). These conversations revolve around whether the church needs to change, and if it should, how should it? The backstory of Bergoglio matters to the events that will play out – and the film shows the audience that in black and white form. Bergoglio’s soft heart, beaten, battered, and then strengthened by his faith, makes him more aware of people than Benedict, and more inclined to openness to change.
That discussion, of reform versus the old way, provides some choice theological quotes that make the film accessible to everyone. “I believe giving communion is not a reward for the virtuous but food for the starving,” says Bergoglio, and later, “mercy is the dynamite that blows down walls.” While he tells Benedict that “sin is a wound, not a stain. It needs to be healed, not removed,” it is ultimately an act of grace by Benedict that allows for the film, and the papacy, to move forward.
The Two Popes is a beautiful biopic, and worthy of viewing by people around the world. Just fair warning: you’ll need to read subtitles, or speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, and Italian. However, documented footage of violence toward priests and other dissenters in Argentina, including torture, isn’t suitable for young children, but the theological content and faith values award this film Dove-approval for 12+.
The Dove Take:
The Two Popes is a film of inspiration and faith, but a brief portion of the film involving the treatment of dissidents in Argentina in the flashback isn’t suitable for young children.