Calvary is the latin name for the place of Jesus' death, often known as Golgotha. At the start of the movie Calvary we see the following phrase attributed to St. Augustine: "Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned." Oddly enough, googling as hard as I could, I found no reference to the original passage from St. Augustine. All I could fine was references to Samuel Beckett who claimed to be inspired by this quotation and attributed it to St. Augustine. It may be that the phrase actually originates from somewhere rather more obscure or is the result of paraphrasing by Beckett. Still, the important thing here is the reference to the crucifixion.
Director John Michael McDonagh sets up the theme immediately with a confession. A man explains that he was abused by a priest when he was young. The priest responsible is dead and the victim has decided that he is going to take it out on a good priest. Our protagonist, the priest listening to this confession, will die because he is innocent.
But it becomes clear as the film goes on that our protagonist is not only taking on the sin of the one priest who abused one of his congregation as a child. He is taking on the sins of his organisation as a whole. Nobody trusts priests any more, the Church's reputation is in the mud, and with the more recent financial issues in Ireland the Church's prosperity also makes it seem like a target for blame. With all this in mind, our protagonist and his role of listening to sins and enabling confession seems anachronistic. Many of the congregation feel no sense of shame and the Church seems like the wrong organisation to blame them. What's more, many are openly angry and the protagonist becomes the target of that anger.
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