Thursday, March 24, 2022

Best Picture Nominee


When people want to make the argument that religion is a bad thing, history is sometimes a favorite point of reference. “What about the Crusades?” “What about the Witch Trials?” or sometimes, “What about the Troubles?”

So what about the Troubles? What were the Troubles? The term was used to describe the violent conflicts in Ireland from the late 1960s through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The two conflicting groups were “The Protestants” and the “The Catholics,” so it's remembered as a religious conflict. The issues at stake, though, weren’t religious but rather political. Those who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom tended to be Protestant while those who wanted to break away and be independent tended to be Catholic. The dividing issue was political, but it led to great religious prejudice.

Belfast, a film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, is a semi-autographical story about Buddy (Jude Hill) and his family in the midst of the beginning of the troubles in the city of Belfast. Though Protestants, Buddy’s parents have no negative feelings against the Catholics in their neighborhood, so when local thugs ask for Buddy’s “Pa” (Jamie Dornan) to help fight the Catholics, the family finds themselves in the middle of the conflict.

Buddy's cousin, Moria (Lara McDonnell), has taken the side of the Protestants (“her gang”) in the conflict. She tries to get Buddy to join her gang as well. Buddy must make some very difficult choices.

And the wisdom to make those choices comes to Buddy in part from going to church.

One Sunday morning, Buddy’s Pa and Ma (Caitriona Balfe) send Buddy and his brother Will (Lewis McAskie) to church. Pa and Ma are looking for some quality, um, “alone time.” On that Sunday the minister (Turlough Convery) at the Protestant church delivers a stern sermon on the need to decide, upon reaching the fork in the road, between the road to Life or the road to Destruction.

The sermon is put in a comic light. Buddy’s cousin has just been telling him that the Catholics were all about guilt and fire and brimstone, and the (Protestant) sermon is presented as being of that type. Buddy obsesses about the sermon, making his own little drawing of the roads to Destruction or Life. Buddy is coming of age, and he soon will have to make difficult moral choices. Like his family, he must decide whether he should join those who want to attack his neighbors; to do what is right or what is wrong. The sermon used for comic effect is exactly the message that Buddy needed to hear.

is one of ten films nominated for Best Picture this year. Though I’ve only seen four of the nominees, this film is full of humor, wisdom, and heart, so I’d be happy to see it take the prize. But here at Movie Churches, we're able to award the film in another way. The church and minister in the film earn a Movie Churches rating of Three Steeples.

Postscript In the film, Buddy was born in 1960, making him one year older than us here at Movie Churches. We share with him many of the same pop culture touchstones such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the movie theater, Star Trek on the TV, and Matchbox cars. In fact, Buddy has the same Matchbox carrying case that I had as a kid (and still possess). I wonder if Kenneth Branagh has the same carrying case as well.

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