The Red & Black
Arts & Entertainment

Issues Raised by the Movie The Two Popes

The Two Popes is a movie that was released over this past holiday season on Netflix. Though it may not have the action, or the budget, of a Marvel or a Star Wars movie, the drama is just as captivating and moving. The movie starts in the year 2005. Pope John II has just died and the Vatican is going through the selection of a new Pope in a process known as the papal conclave.

The leading candidates are Joseph Ratzinger (played by Anthony Hopkins) from Germany and Jorge Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce) from Argentina. The former wins and becomes Pope Benedict. It is hardly a spoiler to mention that the latter will become Pope Francis a few years later, hence the title The Two Popes. The conclave is shown in vivid detail and the viewer feels as if he or she has front row seats to the ceremony.

The movie then fast forwards to the year 2012. Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio has submitted his resignation because he is troubled by the scandals in the Vatican and other unsavory occurrences in the Catholic church. As he has not heard back from the Vatican, he flies out to Rome to meet Pope Benedict in-person.

The rest of the movie is about the meetings between these two men and the conversations that took place therein. Most of these conversations are philosophical debates with a lot of light-hearted interludes thrown in.

These conversations produce a high degree of suspense in terms of what each person will say and how the other person will react. They discuss a wide gamut of topics and it is clear that the two Popes have differing ideologies.

Pope Benedict is more conservative while Pope Francis, though not a liberal, realizes that the papacy needs to change to conform to the changing world. Both Hopkins and Pryce are excellent in their portrayals of their characters, bringing out the inner turmoil they feel.

Their accents are also convincing, if fairly Welsh. On the down side, there is a subplot about the Argentinian war that plays a significant role in the movie but is not explained clearly.

For many American viewers who are not familiar with that part of history, this segment of the movie is confusing and distracting. Furthermore, many arguments have been made about the historical accuracy of the movie. Many critics question whether this meeting between the two men even took place.

However, all this misses the point. This movie is not a documentary and it does not claim to be. The meetings are merely a plot device meant to explain the different ideologies of the two Popes and the need for the church to transform.

These ideologies, unlike the hypothetical meetings, are factual. There are many light hearted moments in the movie as well, including some involving the Beatles, the tango and soccer. However, the best of these scenes involves pizza. So the next time a snowstorm keeps you indoors, The Two Popes might be a good antidote to the winter blues.