Patient priest Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears confession. A voice on the other side of the grille – known to him, anonymous to us – recounts an appalling experience of childhood abuse at the hands of the priesthood. Father Lavelle is a good priest, the voice acknowledges, an innocent man – and for that very reason, he’s going to be shot. He has a week to get his affairs in order before the confessor will meet him on the beach, on Sunday, and end his life.
Instead of going to the police, Father Lavelle goes about his business as usual. His troubled daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) comes to stay, and he visits his parishioners; including sharp-tongued atheist Dr. Harte (Aiden Gillen), adulterous Veronica Brennan (Orla O’Rourke), the husband who might be beating her (Chris O’Dowd), mechanic Simon (Isaach De Bankolé) and arrogant banker Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran). He encounters a male prostitute (Owen Sharpe), a serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson) and a grieving widow (Marie-Josée Croze). In unexpected places, he comes across faith and doubt, fear and solace, anger and grace.
Against the backdrop of a country caught between past pain and the crises of the present, Father Lavelle will suffer and possibly die for all of these people.
- The film’s opening credits are accompanied by choral music and sweeping shots of the Irish coastline. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to emphasise visual and aural beauty, both here and throughout the film? How might this relate to, or contrast with, the story’s central themes?
- To what extent does Calvary function as a murder mystery? What kind of tension is created by knowing that one character in the ensemble intends to kill Father Lavelle? What difference does it make that he knows who it is? What makes the murder mystery such a popular and successful genre?
- How did you feel about Father Lavelle as a character? How is he similar to, and different from, other priests in popular culture? Would you describe him as a good or innocent man, and why or why not?
- How did you react to Fiona, and her relationship with her father? In what ways have they hurt one another, and what enables them to reconcile?
- How would you describe the emotional tone of the film? How, and how effectively, does it balance comedy with more serious scenes? How did you feel when the end credits rolled, and why do you think the filmmakers chose to keep the first part of the credits completely silent?
- How significant is the film’s Irish setting? Which of its themes and issues seem specific to Irish culture and history, and what conclusions does it draw about the current state of the country?
- When one character argues that the role of faith and the church in human society will soon be over, Father Lavelle responds that he ‘doesn’t know much about human nature’. Which of them do you agree with, and why? Is there anything intrinsic in human nature which draws us to religion, and if so, what? What overall view of human nature does the film present?
- What does the film have to say about justice, and about the moral and spiritual consequences for individuals when justice is not served? Why does lack of justice for his own crimes seem to bring Fitzgerald to despair – just as Jack Brennan despairs that his abuser was never brought to justice? What might be the connection between justice and hope?
- One character refutes the idea of God’s forgiveness, claiming that it diminishes the significance of sin and wrongdoing. In the face of real, destructive evil, what value does forgiveness – either human or divine – have? Does forgiveness necessarily preclude justice? What conclusions does the film draw on these questions?
- What kind of faith do we see portrayed in the film, and what significance does faith have to the Catholic characters? What does it ask of them, and what does it offer them? In your view, is religious faith motivated by fear of death, or something more?
- The film opens with this quote, which refers to Luke 23:39-43. What does the quote mean, and how might it relate to the film’s story? Out of the ensemble of characters, who might you advise not to ‘despair’, and who might you advise not to ‘presume’? Do you find the quote encouraging or frightening, and why?
- Why do you think the film is called Calvary? To what extent are we supposed to see Father Lavelle as someone who suffers for the sins of others – both his parishioners, and the abusers in the Catholic church? Is his suffering redemptive, and why or why not? How might it relate to the suffering of Jesus?
Watch the trailer