Thinking Out Loud

July 2, 2017

When People Play God

Last week, on a recommendation, we watched the 2013 British film Philomena starring Judi Dench. IMDb.com succinctly sums up the plot:

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America.

Wikipedia reminds us that the movie is based on true story in the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith.

One of the more disturbing scenes in the movie occurs early on, when young Philomena is delivering her baby at the convent. It turns out to be a breach birth and the nun in charge suggests that the extreme pain and agony the girl is experiencing is her penance for transgressing the moral law resulting in her pregnancy. It is only the compassion of an associate which saves the life of the child.

Throughout the rest of the movie we see the ongoing effects of this penance which Philomena is expected to bear both as a child and into adulthood; penance inflicted on her by the Catholic nuns, or at least one in particular, who would presume to play God in this situation and mete out her punishment as often as the opportunity arises.

We know that little Anthony was adopted by an American family but what happened next? Is he enjoying a good life or is he one of the many homeless we see in documentaries or on the evening news? That’s the quest which drives Martin the journalist, and Philomena. Even if things worked out well for the boy — you figure he has to have a good start if his U.S. parents can afford the international adoption of a child from Ireland — you come to think there are no winners in a situation like this.

And for me at least, it all comes back to the nun, the convent, the Catholic church at large wanting the poor teenager to pay a lifetime of suffering for her mistake. It’s about the self-righteous attitude of some nuns and priests — whose vocation has possibly kept them apart from the pleasures of sexual intimacy somewhat resenting those who have experienced it — and the total inappropriateness of such a mindset in a case like Philomena’s.

Strangely, it’s also about having the grace to bear such an injustice without letting it give way to anger or bitterness. Martin the journalist is looking for justice. Philomena is simply looking for answers. Two very different attitudes, with the latter even holding out the possibility of forgiveness.

This movie will make you think and is a great group discussion starter. Download it if you get an opportunity, or purchase a DVD as we did.

 

 

 

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