Take 2: Philomena


philo3“Philomena” is a film about love, loss, determination, courage, faith and forgiveness.  Based on the 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixthsmith, “Philomena” tells the true story of Philomena Lee an Irish Catholic woman who in the 1950’s was forced to give up her son after he was born out of wedlock.  The film is set in 2005 and through flashbacks tells the story of how Philomena and other unwed, teen mothers cast off from families because of their pregnancy found room and board for themselves and their children, but at a price. The mothers had to sign over all parental rights to the children and work, essentially, as indentured servants in the abbey while their “debt” was paid off. In return, their children were raised and schooled at the abbey by nuns, and put up for adoption to mostly American families.  Granted very limited direct access to their children, the mothers had to make do with stolen glimpses and the sacred sounds of their children living and playing in restricted parts of the abbey.   All of this under the ever present fear their children could be adopted out at any time without notice or contact.

Philomena the character and “Philomena” the film could be described as steel nerves wrapped in double-knit wool clothing.  The film is marketed as a light, comedic road picture with a charming, if not ditzy, woman and her somewhat patient, but on the verge of exasperation, straight-man of a companion. As the story progresses the delicate ditziness of Philomena dissolves to show the steely determination and courage of a mother who ventures miles and years from her physical and psychological comfort zones in an attempt to find and meet her son. For 50 years she has imagined and, to a greater extent, feared what had happened to her son, who he was and what he had become. After his 50th birthday she bravely reveals her secret shame, and confronts her greatest fears as she decides to go around the stonewall put up by the abbey and Church administrators and seek to locate her son.

Theologically the film demonstrates the power and difficulty of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not easy.  Forgiveness is not logical. But, forgiveness allows life to grow and flourish even in the midst of, or after, great pain and sorrow.  Forgiveness limits the damage done by tragedy of circumstance or cruelty of others by prohibiting the all-consuming nature anger can have on those wounded in or by life. Translated from Greek, philomena means friend or lover of strength.  Philomena Lee, both the person and character, fully live up to this definition.

philo1Judy Dench offers a masterfully nuanced performance of the seemingly silly, yet ultimately strong Philomena.  Steve Coogan, who both co-wrote and co-stars, also offers a strong, versatile performance as Martin Sixsmith, the journalist companion who evolves from a man seeking to exploit a tragic situation, to one advocating for a seemingly helpless older woman, to a student who learns a most important life lesson.  Rated PG-13 “Philomena” received 3 Golden Globe nominations including Judy Dench for best actress in a motion picture (drama) as well as a nomination for best motion picture (drama).

Kenny Dickson, UMR Movie Reviewer

Kenny Dickson

Sr. Pastor Christ United Methodist Church Farmers Branch Texas, UMR Movie Reviewer Kenny Dickson received his M.Div. from Duke Divinity School as well as a BFA in film history from Southern Methodist University.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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