Saturday, October 20, 2018

In Theaters Now! Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

I think technically I have to do that thing above to avoid an internet lawsuit, at least since the death of net neutrality, or something like that. Anyway, you’ve been warned.

I’m sorry to have to give anything about this film away, because I really enjoyed seeing Bad Times at the El Royale, written and directed by Drew Goddard, without knowing what was going to happen in the film. Too often trailers before a film give everything away, and there are no surprises. So if you want to be surprised as I was, quit reading now, go to a theater near you, and get back to this post once you’ve seen the movie.

Anyway, to write about the clergy, as we do here at Movie Churches, in Bad Times at the El Royale, I have to give a divulge a key plot point up front by saying that the “priest,” Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges), is not really a priest. (You might figure this out by looking at the film’s IMDb page which lists two names for the character.) He’s a crook disguised at a priest. It’s part of his plan to recover stolen loot hidden at withering resort on the California/Nevada border, the El Royale.

We at Movie Churches always ponder whether we should write about phony clergy when they appear in films (though, admittedly, we devoted a month to fraudulent clergy in August of last year). But there are interesting things to observe about how people react to clergy, even if it isn’t real clergy.

The film is set in the 1970s at a seedy hotel, right on the border. Some rooms are in California while others are in Nevada. A vacuum cleaner salesman (or is he really something else?), Laramie Sullivan (Jon Hamm), asks him, “Are you lost, Father?”

Everyone seems concerned about the presence of a priest in such notorious establishment. Especially the bellman, Miles (Lewis Pullman), the only employee on the grounds (he also acts as desk clerk, maintenance, and other, um, more unsavory responsibilities). Miles tells Father Flynn, “Father, you shouldn’t be in a place like this.”

The phony priest has a great response to this, “If this is not a place for a priest, then this is where the Lord wants me to be.” I think that is a great attitude for a real person in the clergy, showing that God’s presence is needed everywhere.

Miles grew up in the Catholic faith, but events in his life have taken him far from his faith. Though he first discourages Flynn from staying around, he also hopes the priest might help him by hearing his confession. This becomes a key theme of the film, the search for redemption in the least likely of locations and circumstances. The film suggests that even a fraudulent representation of God’s Kingdom reminds people of their sin and need for forgiveness.

Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), another guest at the El Royale, begins to suspect the identity of Flynn. She’s a lounge singer, but she had her start singing in church choirs. When the priest doesn’t seem to recognize any of the hymns or spirituals she mentions, she becomes suspicious.
Okay, so Father Flynn isn’t really a Catholic priest, as he eventually comes to admit. But even this fraudulent father, compared to Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth), the sadistic cult leader we meet later in the film, seems pretty orthodox. Perhaps it’s this comparison that allows Father Flynn to avoid our lowest Movie Church ranking, giving him Two Steeples.

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