The Corner

Film & TV

The Lies of The Two Popes

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes (Netflix)

First Things has comprehensively demolished the new Netflix movie The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins as a grumpy Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as a radiant Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, today known as Pope Francis. Netflix is spending huge sums trying to win Oscar nominations for the picture, which was directed by the acclaimed Brazilian Fernando Meirelles. (Netflix is spending huge sums on a lot of things this season.)

If you don’t write about movies for a living, you may be under the impression that filmmakers telling stories about real people make at least some vague gestures in the direction of truth. You would be wrong. The movie is about Bergoglio contemplating retirement but instead being summoned to see Pope Benedict in the Vatican. The two then spend days together becoming friends and Benedict tells Bergoglio he is going to resign and anoint Bergoglio as his successor.

None of this happened. The whole movie is fiction. As John Waters writes in First Things:

Bergoglio did not in 2012 fly to Italy to meet with Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo to ask for permission to retire. The two men did not spend days together getting to know each other. Pope Benedict did not give Cardinal Bergoglio advance knowledge of his intention to resign. He did not tell him that he regarded himself as no longer fit to be pope. He did not reveal that he had decided Bergoglio would be the perfect choice to replace him.

This paragraph describes virtually the entire movie. It’s just a lie from start to finish. But I want to talk about a deeper untruth, which is the message of the movie. The Two Popes is a feel-good tale about how an archconservative mired in outdated ways of thinking  (Benedict) can find common ground with the Church’s equivalent of a hippie: Bergoglio is a romantic, sensitive soul, a man of the people who tangos and loves ABBA and football and represents progressive values and the inclusive, loving future of the Church. Benedict passes the mitre to Bergoglio because he realizes his time has passed.

In other words, liberals and conservatives can find common ground, if the conservatives would just agree to surrender the field of ideas to the liberals and step out of the way. No doubt there are some conservatives who think everything would be fine if liberals would simply admit that they’re wrong and agree to shut up forever. But if you made a movie about that, it would rightly be derided as sheer fantasy. The Two Popes is fantasy built on lies.


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