John Hanlon

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“The road to despair is becoming ever easier,” actor Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart, Into the Storm) noted recently during a roundtable interview in Washington D.C.

The three-time Golden Globe nominated actor was in the city to promote his new religious film Calvary and both he and writer/director John Michael McDonagh sat down to talk to film critic Nell Minow and I about the project.

Gleeson stars in the drama as Father James, a local priest in a small Irish community who is faced with a deadly threat as the film begins. A male parishioner—who the priest recognizes by the voice, but audiences likely won’t— walks into the confessional booth and tells Father James that he’s planning to murder him in seven days. The parishioner says that he will meet the pastor on the beach on the seventh day— Sunday— and take his life.

The parishioner believes that James is a good man but doesn’t care. He was molested as a child by a now-deceased priest and he wants to enact vengeance on an innocent victim—a fellow man of the cloth— because of that.

The film—which has a few comedic moments but clearly has dark overtones—speaks to the idea of disillusionment and finding hope and faith in a cynical world where such things are often scoffed at. Father James, throughout his troubled and perhaps last week on earth, remains a good man of faith even though he knows his position in the priesthood could mean his demise.

In visualizing the film, McDonaugh inserted a few visual nods that speak to the main character’s painful journey. The director was partially inspired by Andrew Wyeth, an artist he stated sometimes inserted darker elements into his otherwise hopeful paintings. Sometimes in a Wyeth painting, McDonaugh said, there will be “children running and they'll be a sinister element to the child running or stuff like that so that was a big influence on the movie.” He also noted that after filming he realized that a nearby mountain served as a background in many of the exterior scenes.

I realized-- what is its meaning [to the film]-- and it was only after seeing a rough cut of the film— I realized the mountain doesn't care what we think or what's gonna happen to us,” he said. “We’re all gonna be gone. The mountain will still be there.”

No matter how wonderful and loving our lives may be, the world will always exist around us and survive without us.

John Hanlon

John Hanlon writes movie reviews and about pop culture for our site. He can be found on Twitter @johnhanlon.