Pope movie?


Now that Pope John Paul II has passed, how long do you think it will be before we start hearing about the movie of his life going into production? I’m guessing within the year.

I mean, it’s not hard to see that this is good fodder for a big oscar-bait epic biopic, no? Growing up in war-torn Poland? Presiding over the massive shift from pre to post-Vatican II Catholicism? Confronting, in his twilight years, the HUGE scandal of child-molesting priests (which may or may not have been the long-simmering “dark secret” occuring during much of his reign?) All the grandiosity and pomp and pagentry that goes along with the Vatican and Catholic imagery in general? This is an easy mark, and some enterprising producer is going to jump on it. You heard it here first.

Having said that, to me the following foue questions become mandatory of any prospective “Pope movie.” They are as follows:

Who will play the Pope? The role of the “aged” Pope would be a big, showy role that would likely draw just about every high-class older actor looking for that swan-song Oscar part… but is that the way to go? If the film plans to cover the earlier life using one actor, perhaps a middle-aged performer in old-age makeup? Either way, for me Ian Holm leaps immediately to mind for some reason, as does perrenial chameleon Gary Oldman. And Anthony Hopkins would of course be on any such list. Longshots, but would be brave and probably brilliant: Wallace Shawn, James Woods, Sir Ian McKellan. (the role of the “young” pre-Pope would, of course, be the place to let a rising young talent show off his stuff in a big debut.) This was also a major world political figure during some pretty major times, and thus any film would be RIFE with big roles. Presuming that this would be a big part of the film, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, Gorbechav, Castro, Thatcher, Mother Theresa and any number of important Catholic figures are likely to show up and provide great cameo material for actors to chew on. This could be the “Aviator” of church movies.

Who directs? The usual-suspects of high-end historical dramas and oscar bait would definately be clawing over one-another to make this. Ron Howard would toss his hat in the ring, I imagine, and maybe even Mel Gibson. The Miramax/Merchant-Ivory usual suspects, etc. Filmmakers from countries without a strong Catholic/Christian bent might be the best way to go, so that they could bring a freshness and discovery to this story and iconography that everyone knows… imagine the sights of Vatican architecture as seen by Shekar Kapur, or the pagentry of Catholic ceremonies as presented by Zhang Yimou. My dream picks: Oliver Stone or Paul Verhoeven, in that order. But ONLY if they got script-approval.

Real Vatican or Fake Vatican? It’d be a BIG publicity coup (plus a likely budget-buster) for the film to be able to say “shot on location in the real Vatican city.” But any such shoot would be strictly controlled by the church, which considers the city holy ground, and they would likely demand a say over what is allowed to take place in the film which would almost certainly hamper the ability to tell a compelling story (as opposed to the reverent whitewash the Mother Church would undoubtedly prefer.) Thus, constructing the various landmarks and interiors as sets would probably have to be done, which could push the budget so high that it might harm the chances of actually making the film at all.

Controversy? And here’s the big one. There’s no doubt that there’s PLENTY of story points with which to paint an entirely rosy, entirely happy and fawning story of the man and the office he holds: A resistance member in WWII Poland, a “reformer” Pope, a warrior against the Iron Curtain, a humanitarian, an ally of Mother Theresa, etc… But films thrive on conflict and, sadly, the “good parts” aren’t the whole story. The same “reformer” who implemented the radical reforms of Vatican II, brought Catholics and Jews together and issued the landmark pronouncements absolving Galileo and Darwin also became the hardline traditionalist resisting the calls for the Church to evolve in their views on women in the priesthood, birth control and gay rights. And, of course, it is now known that the Church for several DECADES of his reign was engaged in a massive coverup, possibly to VERY high levels, of a sex-abuse scandal of epic proportions. Any film that does not address these issues along with all of the good would be, in my opinion, seriously flawed as works of historical biography go; though the temptation to make such a “whitewash” version will be pretty high with the man now deceased and many feeling that brining up such would be “in bad taste.” So, will whoever makes the film be brave enough to confront the WHOLE story?

Those are my thoughts. I’d like to hear yours.

3 thoughts on “Pope movie?

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