‘The Two Popes’ is a tête-à-tête, not a chitter-chatter

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Grade: 4.0/5.0 

What is a conversation and what does it do? “The Two Popes” encapsulates an answer with an unexpected framework: how the fate of the Roman Catholic Church was decided through a simple dispute based on Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Pope Francis’ (Jonathan Pryce) conflicting ideological inclinations regarding conservatism and liberalism. 

This simple dispute illustrates how the weight and potential that words said between two people can change how one thinks, what one believes and who one is. The film’s greatest exploration is the capacity of conversation to bridge the divisions between people or act as guidance to finding a middle ground. The film investigates this while simultaneously establishing an exceedingly counterintuitive plot. Rather than voyaging through the movement in people’s lives, the film steadily bounces along, gathering inklings of ideas and piecing together a cohesive, elaborate postulation: how today’s methodology of approaching and engaging with the political sphere is through deaf ears and an obstinate disposition, which merely achieves egotistical endeavors, whereas being open and tolerant brings forth true transformations in the world. 

Thanks in large part to screenwriter Anthony McCarten, an Academy Award nominee, “The Two Popes” is a masterful dialogue. His ability to mold imagined conversations into a humanlike reality allows audience members to see more than just actors on a screen. In one memorable moment, the eccentric and deferential Pope Francis attempts to teach the reserved but lovable Pope Benedict XVI how to tango. The scene starts with a fit of refusals but then culminates slowly into a winsome acquiescence. McCarten has a special talent for calibrating humor and drama in a manner that correlates with our own lives, which is how his many biographical films are able to function. Since he doesn’t identify the literal truth of these people’s lives, McCarten strives to formulate an abstract truth instead. 

Contributing to this humanlike quality is the peculiar but endearing soundtrack composed by Bryce Dessner. In a scene showcasing the sacred ceremonial voting process that a new pope goes through in order to take the reins, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” plays, echoing off every groove of the Vatican walls. The playful and optimistic tune helps assemble this humanness but at the cost of breeding a somewhat dismissive angle that neglects the Catholic Church’s darker moments in history — namely, its position on homosexuality and its sexual abuse cases. At the point when these topics are discussed between the popes, it feels fleeting because it’s condensed into one rapid-fire scene. 

Nonetheless, McCarten writes a screenplay that includes and invites viewers into the conversation themselves. The entire debate serves as an example of the merits and benefits of fruitful conversation, as well as the posture it takes to have one. Through genuine confessions, the two popes are able to reach a mutual understanding that doesn’t reside in a perfunctory or conciliatory attitude. Of course, “confession” sounds like a religious buzz word, but in the film it is the essence of the action, that delivers a dimension of universality. At the heart of the “The Two Popes,” conversation becomes significant once one reorients themself into a stance of humility. 

“The Two Popes” picks viewers’ brains in a relevant political age and atmosphere. It keeps itself sober and neutral, merely wanting audiences to recognize the observations that it’s making. The film refuses to be an obnoxious indoctrination that causes some to nod and snap their full agreement and others to gasp in horror, cross-examining the level of audacity. Instead, the “The Two Popes” is a refreshing change of climate that disconnects from all the humdrum of chitter and chatter. 

Contact Cameron Opartkiettikul at [email protected].