Philomena: The Self-Righteous & the Forgiven

Posted: July 14, 2014 by jperritt in Comedy, Drama
Tags: , , , ,

philomena-title-bannerPhilomena tells the story of a woman’s search for her son.  Philomena (Judi Dench) had a child out of wedlock, was forced to live in a convent, and could only see her child for an hour a day, until he was given away to his adopted parents.  The movie is truly heartbreaking in many ways, and the fact that it is true makes it a difficult film to watch.  However, the film is also filled with some humor, thanks to the journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan).  Both Coogan and Dench have a great chemistry in the film.

This is a film I think everyone should watch.  Yes, it does have some language and difficult content, but it also communicates truths about self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and forgiveness everyone would do well to reflect on.  It is a powerful film, to say the least.  And, it definitely was deserving of the Oscar nomination for Best Picture (it lost to 12 Years a Slave).

[There will be spoilers from here on]

Sixsmith is approached by Philomena’s daughter and convinced to write a human interest piece on this story.  Their investigation takes them to the United States with the hopes of finding Philomena’s son, Anthony/Michael.  She knows he would be in his fifties now and Philomena wonders if he’s happy.  Has he had a good life?  Was he loved by his mother and father?  Does he even remember Philomena or Ireland?  These were just some of the questions rolling around in her mind.  Something that bounced around in my mind was this, Even if they do find him, she has still missed his childhood – how tragic.

Sadly, their search leads them to discover that Anthony (adoptive name, Michael) passed away eight years ago.  All of the searching, all of Philomena’s hopes, all of her happy endings seem ruined.

In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Sixsmith forces his way into see one of the nuns responsible [Sister Hildegarde] for the mother/child separation.  He peppers her with question we would all ask.  He yells at her.  He says all the things we wish we could say to this horrible woman and the tragic events she brought about in Philomena’s life.  I found myself almost cheering Sixsmith along.  However, the Sister retorts that this life is all Philomena’s fault for her sin.  She deserved every bit of what came to her.  She says it is God’s judgment.  What the Sister doesn’t realize is that Philomena is around the corner.

As Philomena comes into view, she doesn’t berate the Sister, rather, she questions Sixsmith.  Sixsmith is puzzled by her lack of anger towards the convent and is curious why she isn’t infuriated.  She then looks at Sister Hildegarde and says the most powerful statement she could make, I forgive you.  And that statement rocked me to my core.

I wanted her to scream at the Sister.  I wanted her to have some wittily, condemning statement that would get the point across, but the truth is – I forgive you – is the most powerful statement one could utter.

Philomena helped me see with fresh eyes the power of forgiveness.  It helped me see my self-righteous, judgmental tendencies, like those in the convent.  It helped me see that a lack of forgiveness is an exhausting way to live.  But, most importantly it helped me to see the forgiveness of Christ.  You see, I have committed much more evil against him then the women in the convent.  I am much worse than anything film could ever portray.  But, Christ looks at me and says, I forgive you.  John, you have loved other false gods.  You have sinned agains the Father and nailed me to the cross, but I forgive you.

Philomena is one of those rare films that can leave a lasting impact on its audience.  Like I said, it rebukes, encourages, and shines a light on the power of forgiveness.  Everyone would do well to watch it and see themselves as the self-righteous nuns and Sixsmith in the story.

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