Ten or so years ago, when I was fifteen or so, my father drove me to “Home for children without an adequate care” in Zagreb, Croatia. Facility was run by Catholic Church which still has a lot of influence there, and 85% of population is pronounced Catholics. I was there not because my parents couldn’t take care of me but because I wanted, as a disabled person, to achieve independence and they were the only one who had organized the transportation to the high-school I enrolled.
It was the new millennium, new city and a new school. One would think that all parameters for success are met and it wouldn’t be so far from the truth. Catholic facility, in which I was situated then, with naivety of a child, wasn’t a facility any of us would dare to send the children in. It was a facility consumed with prejudice, racism and lack of respect. Not only from the protegees to the authority (which is normal in that age) but from the caretakers to the kids. Upbringing is very simple: if you respect me and I will respect you. If you don’t I won’t either. We weren’t hooligans back then, we were kids and we wanted equality and respect. Not the ideological racist bullshit we were getting. I’m after the experience there still religious, but I have my own definition of religion. It doesn’t include beating, and leaving mentally retarded kid without legs all night at the top of the wardrobe. They did that, and more. Afterwards, they demanded respect and obedience. It’s not a wonder they didn’t get it. Few years later, when I graduated high-school, social worker asked me what I can say about my experience and when i said everything i thought was wrong about verbal and psychical abuse she sad to me: “But hey, you don’t understand. We can’t treat them as normal kids, of all people you should understand. They’re not normal children, they are “dormitory children”, and for them we don’t apply the same rules”. I was (once again) shocked. My best friend was standing beside me in a state of silent anger. She really said that? Yes, she did. And she was (and probably still is) social worker.
That’s a bit of background or, an overture, to the “Aftermath of Philomena” and this personal take was necessary for you to see that review of this film cannot be objective and impersonal as every good review should be. Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in some parts of the movie had the conflict views about what Philomena’s reaction to the actions of Catholic Church should be. Coogan’s character is angry (as my friend was at the time) and wants them to apologize, to confess that what the nuns did to Philomena was wrong. His character wants them to show humanity, but humanity is hard to find treat in the organization that is completely self-sufficient and believes, as every religion, that it has right to say good from wrong and deliver punishments, although in the Bible Jesus said that only judge can be his Father in heaven. Here, nuns as representatives of the church, are judge, jury and executioner. Compassion, as one of fundamental Christian qualities, is redundant or non-existent. Parallels with personal experience were impossible to avoid. Judi Dench acted with such magnificence that Leading Actress “Oscar” will be very hard to predict this year (Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep also delivered great performances). Mother who is, for penance for sin of ignorance forced to leave her son is now determined to find him at all costs. Coogan’s character here allows himself a bit of parody and says: “I want to write a book about Russian history, I don’t want to write warm human stories.” However, things don’t usually turn the way we wanted them to and a warm human story is exactly what he will do because warm human stories sell, and because this story needed to be told. Conflicting views I mentioned earlier in the text are the fuel of the movie and Philomena becomes the biggest Christian of them all because in her heart, as she said, she’s capable to forgive. Forgiveness is, as we all know, the greatest Christian virtue.
Some negative criticism of the film said that the story was too much, that it was hyperbolic and that is very in to criticize Catholic Church. Same critics pointed out that Philomena has visited Pope Francis and that she’s very religious today, as if that should minimize the negative perception that the film will cause to the Church in reviews and critics. Of course some parts of the movie were sugar-coded and added to the original story but they aren’t the reason why this movie is one of the best in this year Awards madness. Young woman didn’t know anything about sex because sex is taboo in the catholic facilities (then more than it is today). She had sex, get pregnant, and gave birth to a child. Child was taken from her without her consent and sold (yes, sold) to the American couple. That’s trafficking. I’m sorry to say, some people are still so narrow minded when it comes to religion that, as in “Philomena” they think that their interpretation of “Bible” (as Spencer Tracy would say “it’s a good book, but it’s still just a book”) can be justification for their actions regardless how malicious they are. In spite of all that, “Philomena” is still very optimistic movie. The fact that the story is out gives hope that the times really are changing (as Bob Dylan would say). Some words of Pope Francis just add up to that optimism.
Few months ago, I was watching “Inherit the wind” (1960.) with Spencer Tracy (the quote earlier is from that flick in case you were wondering) and Fredric March. It’s a wonderful classic about the evolution teaching in the twenties and about a court process where these two great actors played opposite lawyers. Film was made to layout an ideology and arguments and to start (or maybe to conclude) a debate. Today most will agree that is ridiculous to criticize Darwin but they will in the same time oppose the Catholic Church necessity for change. “Philomena” can be a warning what that refusal can do to an innocent people. It’s always easy to find an excuse, the justification like “they are dormitory children” or the penance for sin that sister Hildegarde mentioned in the movie but even if we accept that Philomena was wrong, her infant son most certainly wasn’t. After the baptism, after all, children are cleared from sin. Bottom line is, the excuses are just excuses mostly for something that you could do but you didn’t. Excuses are almost always wrapped in the same package as ambition or selfishness. And last time I checked those were mortal sins, in the same category as fornication. In the end, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Mt. 25.40)” were exact Jesus words in the Bible, and somehow in the two thousand years of repeating they’re still forgotten and cases like Philomena’s and my own to some extent, still happen.
Director Stephen Fears already tackled some controversial issues with “The Queen”, but with “Philomena” he did even more so. Warm human story in this case has very strong social and psychological implications. Will it change anything? On a large scale i seriously doubt it. Catholic Church is one mastodon organism in which change cannot be initiated just with one motion picture. But if any of those people which had retarded legless kid on the top of the closet for the night, or which have said the blind girl who wanted to be a nun “if the God wanted for you to be a nun, you would be healthy” saw this film and wondered just for a second about what they did then “Philomena” already changed a lot.
That’s something, for sure, worth of an aftermath in title, is it not?