05 January 2014


As my Christmas Break drew to a close we decided to take in Philomena. Another wonderful film. While I would rate it a #1A to Nebraska's #1, LaDonna reversed the order. And certainly Saving Mr. Banks was not far behind. (And none of this is intended to depreciate the fine childrens film Frozen.)

Philomena's leading spiritual virtue is forgiveness and it was a lesson well taught because Philomena Lee had been so deeply wronged and the beneficiary of her act of forgiveness so little deserved it. Not only had the Irish Roman Catholic orphanage adopted out unmarried Philomena's young son to an American couple. Not only had the Mother Superior of the orphanage, Sister Hildegarde, destroyed the records so years later Philomena was unable to locate her son. Most wrongfully of all, the subsequently retired Sister Hildegarde had willfully withheld from Philomena her knowledge that Philomena's adult and dying son (who by now was dead of AIDS) had himself returned to the orphanage hoping to reunite with his mother. No repentance here!

Only with the help of an investigative journalist Martin Sixsmith was Philomena able to piece together what had happened and then--amazingly--forgive the now aged Sister Hildegarde who persisted in justifying her course of action and its multiple wrongs as punishment fitting Philomena's illicit interlude as a teen, an interlude that had given birth to Philomena's son.

Judi Dench perfectly plays the elderly Philomena. The close-ups and lighting reveal the wrinkles of Philomena's age and Dench stands firm as a woman without guile in the face of Sixsmith's cynicism earned after a career with the BBC and politics.The film even avoids anti-Catholic bashing where it could easily have overwhelmed the story and doesn't turn the homosexuality of Philomena's son into a cause célèbre for the gay rights movement.

With Philomena we nearly complete the circle of redemption. From R.L. Travers's reconciliation to Woody Grant's glorification we can add Philomena's forgiveness. Only in Philomena's continuing Catholic faith do we glimpse any connection between the Atonement and the virtues displayed in each film. Yet in all of them there is plenty to tweak the heart to hope for the reality what has been portrayed on screen.

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