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Philomena, a Touching Film that Explores Many Difficult Religious Themes

March 23, 2014

In “Philomena,” Judi Dench gives a lovely performance that helps make it one of the most touching films I’ve seen recently. I’d heard about it from a few people while it was in theaters but never got around to watching the trailer. Now I wish I had gone to see it in theaters. Thankfully it was available on a plane flight between Tokyo and incheon airport. It was a great way to get through a flight.

I found the story to be quite engaging and well presented. It is hard to review this film without spoiling some of the major details. There will be some spoilers here contrary to my typical style of reviews. I’ve was raised in the Catholic Church so many of the themes really resonated with me. The shaming of young girls who have sex and the church teaching on sex in general has troubled me for some time.

Growing up as a young bisexual man in the Catholic Church I faced some issues with these same teachings when I realized the church wouldn’t ever recognize a relationship I had with another man. Since marrying my husband I left the church. I find the teachings on sex to be a way of dealing with a subject that otherwise can’t be explained to the satisfaction of young people. It is easier to tell them that God wants them to deny themselves than to actually address sex for what it is.

As we see in the film, many young girls are inadequately prepared for meeting men and give in to the desires to have sex. Because birth control is described as a sin these women ultimately have babies but for a time were shamed by their families when this happened. Understandably the church wanted those children to be sent away and in Ireland many of them were sold to the United States.

Although it isn’t addressed as a problem with church teachings there are also some gay themes addressed in the film. Philomena’s missing Son turns out to have been gay and died of aids. This brings to light issues of gay shaming through his involvement in the Republican party and how he had to pretend to be straight to succeed.

In some ways this could be seen as a theme of the power of the truth. The reporter character is an example of ways the truth is not so useful because of how his negativity tends to bring others down. My husband would suggest that I have a similar way about me but I prefer to call myself uncensored.

The same things I enjoyed about the film got others complaining that the film is another example of liberals trying to present a story that would validate the pro birth control approach. I find the multiple viewpoints presented give the viewer plenty of choice to agree with the nuns and condemn the young women for their sexual choices or to agree with the reporter and mock the Church’s teachings.

Musically, Alexandre Desplat provides a delightfully tender thematic score with a number of old-style themes. The music largely stays in the background but when it becomes noticeable I slowly fell in love with the theme for Philomena. This, along with The Monuments Men, give Alexandre Desplat a good chance of being known for some of the best scores of recent memory.

If you like to see difficult subjects explored through a character study, Philomena is a worthwhile watch. It will be especially interesting for anyone who was raised in a religious household and knows all of the strict rules explored quite well.
4.5/5

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From → Drama

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