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Published:December 4th, 2013 08:33 EST
'Philomena' Is a Deep Film On So Many Levels - You get Spirituality, Not Just Entertainment!

'Philomena' Is a Deep Film On So Many Levels - You get Spirituality, Not Just Entertainment!

By John G. Kays

I wanted to (or needed to) go to a movie on Saturday; yet I didn`t just want to see an entertaining one, rather I longed for something more serious, possibly a film with a message, or perhaps one that provides a real-life experience. It didn`t so much have to be a documentary or particularly of historical significance, but if it was pointed in that direction, it wouldn`t do me no harm. Oh, my preference would be one with a fantastic soundtrack! Well, I didn`t see much that fit my model, except maybe Nebraska or Philomena, so I went with the latter, since I was struck by it`s trailer a little more than Nebraska.

I`ll go to Nebraska next weekend, `cuz Bruce Dern is one of my favorite all-time actors! Yet I`m not being rhapsodic when I say, Philomena was a perfect match for what I yearned for, where there seems to be a gaping hole in your soul, and you`re looking for a solution, a way to plug the spiritual vacuum plaguing you. Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan, appears to be experiencing the exact same trouble, when he takes on a human interest story (not his preference) as a resurrected BBC reporter, by way of a retired Irish nurse, who wants to find out what happened to her son Anthony, so many years before.

I`ll cut to the chase, this is a really an interesting story, and gets better and better, deeper and deeper, as the film progresses. A phenomenon you may notice, is that it`s a story within a story, as Martin Sixsmith (The Lost Child of Philomena Lee) gradually uncovers how Anthony`s life developed after he left the Roscrea Abbey Sisters Of The Sacred Heart in Ireland (in the early 1950s), having been adopted by a wealthy couple over the Pond in the States. A sidebar to the main plot, which is primarily Philomena and Martin traveling to Washington, DC, in pursuit of the truth about her biological son Anthony life outcome, is the part about the Magdalene Laundries.  

Well, maybe I erred when I said it`s a sidebar; rather this gets at the heart of what this film is about. The Magdalene Laundries are historical truth, I understand, but I haven`t had enough time to research this topic. It`s hard to believe this actually happened; I guess I ought to read Martin Sixsmith`s book, since he probably elaborates more on this phenomenon, practiced in this abbey by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Come to think of it, the nun character, Sister Hildegarde, played to perfection by Barbara Jefford, nearly captured as much of my attention as did Judi Dench; really, the two in tandem, with the charged kinetic (or spiritual) tension between them, points to the fulcrum of the message here.

This is, in part, a film about Catholicism, and it`s also a film about class structure or social difference. This dual object of treatment, by way of a storyline, which brings these issues to a steamy boil and bubble (as in MacBeth), are intermingled, intertwined succinctly. In the final analysis (as President Kennedy like to say), it was a working class lady, damaged by bizarre, primitive practices (not that unlike slavery, such as we see in 12 Years A Slave) exacted by misguided nuns, who had a warped take on human sexuality, who emerges as a heroine, with real moral fiber and an elevated interpretation of Christianity!

Yea, this is heavy stuff, and this is why I liked the film so much. Another more subtle reason, is the superb soundtrack, scored by Alexandre Desplat. I hope he gets an Academy Award for his score, which captures perfectly the melancholia, solemnity, or even the intellectual seriousness of the plot. Let me not forget, the acting is incredible! Judi Dench`s best film! Steve Coogan gets screenplay credit too. Finally, the set at Roscrea Abbey against the solemn tones of the score, and a small photo of a young Anthony, are the touches of Art!