The Young Pope & The New Pope

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John Shade
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Re: The Young Pope

#101 Post by John Shade » Tue Feb 11, 2020 11:39 am

I've been waiting for the spoiler free period. I started the show about a week and a half ago, tried to make a post last week, but was rushed and couldn't properly spoiler tag it. My reaction to the show isn't quite as effusive as other members; hopefully I won't appear to be too much of a heretic. In any case, what I liked about it is possibly summed by therewillbeblus most recent post. There is an ambiguity to the material and a constant shifting in the tone (all of it strengthened by Law's great performance and his shifting interactions with characters).

I have looked through this thread and haven't necessarily seen anyone comment on Pius' address to the Cardinals. I think it was one of the most pivotal moments of the show. How is the audience supposed to react to this speech? With many directors it would have been presented sarcastically or absurdly, but I don't think that's the case here. First, the speech addresses certain theological concepts in a much more serious way than previously in the series. The conflict between the power of the church, the obedience required (also, the church as solely possessing the truth--Ignatius of Antioch actually quoted on tv), and yet the humility of the Gospel is implicit in this speech. Pius then critiques the ecumenical movement and friendliness of previous papacies. His desire for intense loyalty to God, I think, is the linchpin of his character. I say this in utter surprise that a secular show, which I'd assumed would be quite hostile, would portray this at least in a slightly thoughtful way.

One last thing about this speech. It faintly echoes some ideas of Benedict XVI (the church will be smaller, but have stronger believers). If you look at the youtube comments on this video, you will see many people cheering on the speech and wishing for such a pope. I'm not sure if they've seen the show, or if they assume that the show is mocking Catholicism and thus they are ironically saying 'Oh, whether you like it or not, you've shown us what we really want'; either way, it reminds me of Thomas Merton claiming that he desired to become a priest after reading the sermon on Hell from Joyce's Portrait.

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The Pachyderminator
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Re: The Young Pope

#102 Post by The Pachyderminator » Wed Feb 12, 2020 1:47 am

All right, let's talk about miracles. (Spoiler tags aren't expected in the film club discussions, but seriously, watch the show first if you haven't.)

The most important thing about miracles is something that was expressed succinctly by Leif Enger in his novel Peace Like A River - a miracle needs a witness, who may or may not be the direct beneficiary of the miracle, and its purpose is for the witness to see (and perhaps tell others). It does not take place for the sake of the person who works the miracle. (There's a wonderful irony in the Gospels on the occasions where Jesus works a miracle and then instructs the beneficiary not to tell anyone - if they had followed that instruction, the miracle wouldn't benefit us who read the text!)

The first few episodes of the show tell us that Lennie is close to God, in that he has a sense of God's presence pressing upon him which allows him to pray intensely. Episode 3 is brilliant in this way, opening with Lennie giving an account of his prayer to be elected pope during the conclave, which makes him sound entirely selfish and corrupt (though perhaps not entirely even here - what does he mean by reminding God that he alone can be useful to God?), but then complicating this by showing us Lennie in private prayer, on his knees, arms outstretched, looking toward heaven and speaking in a loud voice, begging forgiveness for his arrogance. I don't believe that this is an act put on for the benefit of anyone overhearing. I think this simply shows us how Lennie thinks - addressing God is the only way he knows to struggle with himself.

The first few episodes also tell us that Lennie is undergoing a severe crisis of faith, and is entirely uncertain about God's existence. The ending of episode 1 ("I don't believe in God...I'm joking") is memorable because it's clear that Lennie isn't really joking. (And to make assurance double sure, this is shortly after we've heard Lennie's dictum that jokes aren't revealing, they're just jokes...which prompts us immediately to think about all the ways that clearly isn't true.) An overbearing sense of God's presence is entirely compatible with a severe doubt about God's existence, though it's not a comfortable combination, and indeed Lennie doesn't seem to be very happy about it all.

About halfway through the show, we begin to get hints that Lennie's relationship with God is something out of the ordinary. Esther, who believed herself and her husband to be barren, conceives a child, after Lennie prays for this outcome. But this could be explained in any number of ways; in the end it's the kind of unconvincing "miracle" that the Catholic Church comes up with on demand for the numerous saints who are canonized every year. At the same time, the way the scenes are edited reminds us that every individual character's perspective is unreliable, and that no character in the show is entirely honest. (Again, it's made so clear that we can't miss it - consider the juxtaposition of the two lines, said to two different people, "I'm not worried" and "I'm worried" from Sister Mary, or consider what Sister Mary herself says about Voiello's contradictory qualities.) We're not just allowed, but invited, to reserve some doubts about what's really going on. We're halfway through the show, and faith is still distinctly optional as a framework for making sense of what we've seen so far.

After episode 5, there's a time skip, while Lennie changes in ways that are hard to define. After being persuaded to visit Sister Antonia's Village of Goodness in an unspecified "Africa" (another nice touch), he seems to come under some kind of softening influence that leads him to make a heartfelt and strangely effective speech about peace, intercut with images of an astonishingly straightforward Edenic memory, a nearly naked boy, arms outstretched, on his knees, looking toward heaven; while the brutal military dictator and the soldiers under his command stand around and listen, looking vaguely troubled and introspective. The journalists on the plane are touched. Lennie, shortly afterward, kneels on the pavement of a service station in front of a line of semis, and speaks to God of a wicked woman who needs to be punished - which, at that very moment, she is. The Pope has, against all odds, asserted his authority over the princes of this world; the cause of the Lord is triumphant - okay, back up. Ignore the Demme-esque deceptive cutting. What did we actually see happen? The soldiers stood there expressionless; they're freaking soldiers, what did you expect them to do, flip off the camera? The journalists thought it was beautiful; they're the mainstream media, it's their job to be fooled. Sister Antonia collapsed and gasped a little, either before or after or during the pope's prayer; okay...? People die every day, the just and the unjust. We still don't know if there's a God in this world. We know nothing. Also, we're watching HBO. This isn't The Song of Bernadette. The rug is going to be pulled out from under us, one way or another. Are we naive enough to take these half-baked miracles at face value?

That's where we are at the beginning of episode 9. Now watch. Cardinal Spencer is dying, and even the Pope has a spiritual father whose deathbed evokes vulnerable human feelings. Spencer himself, a proud and learned man, has felt the silence of God. In the last moments of his life, here he is begging Lennie for assurance that he hasn't given his life to a mere myth. Now, not before, we're given some background information. You may recall how Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet, after all its long takes and dead-on camera angles, climaxes with a shattering miracle, filmed with a dumbfounding straightforwardness (which became an inspiration for The Exorcist, of all things) that leaves no room for doubt that what we're seeing is a miracle in truth, an intrusion of the divine into the mundane. Now, we see Lennie, awkward and adolescent, pray the same way he always has, arms outstretched and looking toward heaven. But this time we can't explain what's happening, we don't know what we're seeing. The dying woman sits up and speaks - and we're much of Lennie's opinion as he breaks and runs away. This is terrifying; this makes no sense.

So Lennie, all this time, has been a bona fide miracle worker, and he still doubts God's existence? Why not? The miracles weren't for him. He doesn't understand them himself. Sister Mary knew, but she also didn't understand and couldn't make anyone else understand. All she could say was that Lennie was a "saint" - that could mean anything and nothing. Dussolier knew, but he's dead and never told anyone. Cardinal Spencer knows now, but he doesn't have time to pass the information on to anyone else. All the characters, walking through the woods away from the death scene, can see the Holy Spirit illuminating the creation through which they walk, making the very trees glow, but none of them understand it. The show, as complex and doubtful as it is, has outmaneuvered us through the simplicity of its faith. It's a brilliant move. I don't know if God exists, but my hat is off to it. This is great storytelling. This show itself is a miracle. I would never have expected it.

I'm still not at all happy with the finale, as I said above. But I think I'll often rewatch the first nine episodes at least. I'm very glad I watched this.

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The Young Pope

#103 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:13 am

I finished the last episode on Monday, but I've been sitting on it rather than posting something immediately. Not fruitfully, either. I don't know that I spent much time thinking about the ending because it seemed so beautifully simple in its resolution.

For me, if the film is esoteric, it's not esoteric for being abstruse or incommunicable, but for approaching the material in a way that its viewers are forced to become insiders if they are to accept the work since it requires the acceptance of the mystery: the acceptance that there are saints, and that God communicates with the world through them directly. The film cannot work on a rejection of that mystery. But the film hardly requires you to believe it literally true of our world, either. This is a film made not for initiates, but whoever is willing to accept something magical on filmic terms. It's an odd and risky trajectory: alienating us from what had seemed familiar in its early episodes only to bring us even closer into the fold by the end, lead us to embrace what had been at arm's length with a warmer and fuller acceptance than we'd brought to it. That is, the viewer's position on Lenny is meant to parallel all the cardinals' and other worldly people's developing reaction to Lenny. Our journey parallels that of its most Catholic characters, and so what else are we but insiders at the end, tho' insiders with a much fuller and warmer embrace than we'd started with.

The film is about love, pure and simple love, love of the most direct and unguarded sort. Not just abstract love for the divine, but worldly love, too, most especially worldly love, since it is only by worldly love that anything magical happens in the narrative. Catholicism has always been such a worldly religion, with its power, its pomp, its rituals--but also its belief in intercession, in miracles and avatars, in the idea that God is perpetually manifest in the workings of humanity, as symbolized by its saints and martyrs and, above all, its pope. How appropriate that the film brings us round to accepting divine love only through earthly love, that only through peace in our world can god be found, that only for the love for our fellow humans can god be approached. Much like Jesus living the life of a man as a model (unattainable) for humanity, Lenny, outrageously, is a model for our trajectory as viewers and even humans: a model of us at our most quizzical and willfull, of us in our protective need for power and remoteness, and of our converse and ultimate need to let people in, to embrace a love that fulfills us and makes of us our best, leaves us vulnerable. A love that's ok with the silence and distance of those it loves perhaps most of all: the ones that remain only an idea. Lenny's most powerful concepts and effects come from embracing the remoteness and unknowability of people who remain only an idea to him, his parents and his first love. His most selfish and worldly pursuits are the tunnel to his most profound and encompassing goodnessess. And so we as viewers are to find in our common humanity our own unfathomable goodness. We're to embrace not the small door, because behind it lies hell; the biggest door possible is ours, the door of common, human, vulnerable love.

This would be trite if it weren't worked up with such care and such irony. I've criticized a movie like Intersteller for triteness, since there, love's profundity is taken for granted; the film only works if you already believe the idea it purports to prove. The Young Pope, far from taking anything for granted, takes ten hours to locate you in its concept of love by a confusing, circuitous route that in the end could only have been tending the way it turned out. How else to get at something so simple except by the most dark and twisting route; how human that is. We see it through a glass darkly up until the point we don't, when it shines out with the fullness of revelation.

It's perhaps too much to ask a skeptical audience newly won over to accept that Lenny's heart is so big and full of love that it literally breaks. Yet the film is most profound in how it asks us to accept vulnerability. Protection means being walled off and unapproachable; love means openness, and therefore openness to hurt. Life has brought me enough examples of people so afraid of being hurt that they cannot show the vulnerability necessary to have that love and companionship they crave, turning their relationships into perpetual battles serving to confirm their initial need to withdraw. Lenny's heart attack is also a metaphor, a deliberately naive metaphor, for embracing vulnerability as the only means of achieving acceptance, wholeness, and finally goodness. Whether Lenny had to arrive at this knowledge himself, or if he already knew it and played along in order to better mirror the imperfect nature of the cardinals and ourselves, the viewers, I don't know. Lenny is a mystery.

A rich viewing experience. Not one whose ultimate conclusion I would've seen myself accepting; it had everything going against it, for someone like me. But it works. It pulls it off. It couldn't've pulled it off without being this long and this confounding. It works hard to earn its themes and it's successful. I would never have watched the film without this project, so thanks TWWBs and domino for championing it. And thanks Pachyderminator and senseabove for doing this with me. It was especially rewarding to follow along with you, senseabove, and have someone to share my own bafflement and groping for sense as the episodes mounted. I had fun.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Young Pope

#104 Post by domino harvey » Fri Feb 14, 2020 3:01 pm

Lovely thoughts! As I said in my intitial writeup, the journey Sorrentino takes us on is one of the film’s strongest attributes: it plays us like an organ but because we are on the same journey as those characters around Law, it feels fair and not like a “twist.” The reality of modern saintdom is a hard concept for even many true believers, but the film tackles the topic with such complexity that I think even non-believers can accept it, at least within the world of the film

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Re: The Young Pope

#105 Post by senseabove » Fri Feb 14, 2020 3:14 pm

Mutual, I'm sure, Sausage.

Provocative and helpful posts from all of you since my last post, and I hope I'll find more time to suss out what they might change for my thoughts on the show, and maybe to rewatch the last few episodes with a little more patience and retrospect and assistance from y'all. Pachyderminator tying it to Dreyer's Ordet is especially interesting, as Ordet seems to go down easier for me because I've always had the impression that Dreyer wasn't convinced of his own miracle, aided by the feeling that Dreyer's carefully modulated, pared down style never had any intent of being analogous to the world outside his fiction... Whereas the strain of camp, for lack of a better term, that Sorrentino employs here and that I value elsewhere is one I value precisely because it is an externalized interiority, a form for how intensely we do feel things, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that extremity being stretched to include the miraculous. Maybe knowing more about Sorrentino's style and other work would help situate The Young Pope in that regard, or maybe I just need to slow down and pay attention to what's beyond simple narrative in those last few episodes.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: The Young Pope

#106 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:01 pm

Well, now that the sequel has aired completely, is anyone up for reconvening in a few months to go through The New Pope?

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therewillbeblus
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Re: The Young Pope

#107 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:07 pm

Absolutely, though it’ll be worth waiting for HBO’s slower rollout to finish since I believe only Russian subs exist for the Italian parts of the new series that’s aired fully overseas. I think that ends in March? (Please PM me if you have other info as I’d love to jump in immediately if there’s a way)

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Re: The Young Pope

#108 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Feb 14, 2020 7:24 pm

I don't know of another way to watch it. I was guessing we'd have to wait for the bluray release for some members to be able to participate.

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Re: The Young Pope

#109 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Feb 14, 2020 8:29 pm

True, though I’m still game for doing it soon (naturally with spoilers), for anyone who wants to join since I’ll be viewing it at the first opportunity and eager to discuss

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Re: The Young Pope

#110 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Feb 15, 2020 12:34 am

Finally got around to reading your writeup, Sausage, and I couldn’t agree more- especially the complex idea of love from clear at times to complicated at others, even manifesting as hate or harm, protected and issued with ego and intellectualization along with selfless bearing, and all the in-between. Lenny attempts to access with frustration, desperation, sensitivity, and aggression, as well as ease with which he joins and transmits this love, across no linear progression even through a linear narrative of a less traditional growth. "Freedom and fear together always," as he declares in prayer, man demonstrating fallibility and grace in the strangest of ways woven throughout this dream mimicking our own realities of existential crises of faith, as we work towards hope at gaining spiritual enlightenment from our inevitable moral compromises. Lenny mentions that “goodness without imagination can lead to exhibitionism” and this statement highlights the necessity to a small degree of agnosticism, whether as a devout believer or not, to achieve humility, open-mindedness and personal change, to access spirituality in the broad way I described in an earlier conversation with knives. One can move on the spectrum of running from fear in the face of the unknown to profound acceptance, and the film argues that this acceptance is optimal no matter how it affects the individual, as it will yield that capacity to know a new love and freedom. As Lenny says in his love letter, between losing and finding, “we have no choice but to find.” Your allegorical reading of the heart attack as that final step to vulnerability is a terrific summation of the cumulative power of this journey.
domino harvey wrote:
Fri Feb 14, 2020 3:01 pm
The reality of modern saintdom is a hard concept for even many true believers, but the film tackles the topic with such complexity that I think even non-believers can accept it, at least within the world of the film
I’m interested what you mean by this, domino - are you referring to modern saints as those who commit acts that cannot be explained through logic or known means, and that subsequent discomfort at remaining in mystery and doubt that another familiar human form rather than one’s conception of god could commit them?

I love the idea that we can all exhibit saintly acts or be moved by such manifestations of god’s existence, as symbolized by the blinding bright light, whether on sister Mary’s face as Lenny literally makes miracles or the literal sky in some outside sequences where compassion and mutual learning between people is happening or something like Bernardo’s emergence from self-pity into a heroic act to share documents that will initiate fearless justice in the name of god. Watching it again, it’s amazing how often this happens in the film, with just about every character at one time or another experiencing a miracle or god-moment, whether they know it or not.

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Re: The Young Pope

#111 Post by The Pachyderminator » Sat Feb 15, 2020 2:50 pm

Beautiful post, Sausage, and a good summary of much of what makes this film so special and very different from what I expected.

On a more sour note...does no one else find the resolution of the Archbishop Kurtwell storyline even slightly disturbing? It still seems to me a disastrously wrong decision that threatens to retroactively ruin the whole show, and left me more frustrated than anything else at the end, especially in comparison to how I felt at the end of Episode 9!

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Re: The Young Pope

#112 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Feb 15, 2020 3:00 pm

I can see how it would rub people the wrong way especially as it robs the audience of the expected path of cathartic retribution, but it’s fitting in Lenny’s position of issuing imagination. He’s not playing god, he’s providing a space for Kurtwell to suffer and for him to be stripped of power to access whatever his fate is: God’a wrath? Kurtwell’s own rehabilitation? True awareness and acceptance by way of desperation of the harm he’s caused? All of these and more is my guess. In a way it’s the best consequence because it provides a pathway to accessing god which doesn’t always mean forgiveness or alleviation in the ways we think. If he was sent off to a *conventional* prison it would be out of step with the message and mood of the show.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#113 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Feb 16, 2020 2:47 am

I was able to locate good subs for eps six through nine of The New Pope and the first five are subbed on HBO, so I decided to start it earlier today and will finish tomorrow. I’ll save any thoughts until the film is over, but for now it must be said: the opening credits sequences are just sublime.

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Re: The Young Pope

#114 Post by The Pachyderminator » Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:36 pm

That helps, and I might be looking too literally at an event that can only be understood within the internal logic of the story. Still, the show itself is concerned with the external, political consequences of the Pope's decisions on such issues, as seen in the subplot about the suicidal rejected seminarian. (To a surprising extent, in fact: I expected someone to be hard-hearted enough to argue that a person who would commit suicide over such a rejection is exactly the sort of mentally unstable candidate that we want to weed out. But by the time it happens, Lennie's development has gone too far to try to put off responsibility in this way, even if he might have done so initially.) And, obviously, any dramatic treatment of an abusive priest today is dealing, if only indirectly, with the real-world scandal which the Church is still struggling to recover from, and which became so ugly precisely because of offenders being transferred to ministry in other locations without protection for more potential victims in exactly this way. I don't demand cathartic retribution or a prison sentence for Kurtwell, but I can't be satisfied with this ending, including what it says about Lennie's character arc, without something to show more clearly that the Church isn't making the same mistakes it was making when the scandal broke in 2002.
Possible spoiler for The New PopeShow
However, I've heard a rumour that the sequel returns to this decision and possibly questions it, so there may be more to say about this later.

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Re: The Young Pope

#115 Post by domino harvey » Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:56 pm

It seems this is a topic about which you have a strident opinion, which is your right, but I don’t think you’re really being fair to the internal logic of the series/characters. His transfer is obviously a punishment and a clear rebuke of the direction we thought we saw in Law’s earlier behavior. This is the harshest punishment this pope can dole out given that Law sees his role in the Catholic Church differently than even most fervent believers. He’s not going to do something that brings the Church harm, nor is it realistic in light of what we know to expect him to do so, buuuuut there’s no cause in anything we’ve seen in the film to think this is a decision that enables the banished to commit more crimes. If we can buy that a kangaroo could peaceably wander around the Vatican, I think we can make this leap too

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Re: The Young Pope

#116 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Feb 17, 2020 12:17 am

The Pachyderminator wrote:
Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:36 pm
Possible spoiler for The New PopeShow
However, I've heard a rumour that the sequel returns to this decision and possibly questions it, so there may be more to say about this later.
Spoiler for The New PopeShow
It doesn't specifically to Kurtwell. However, when one character expresses concern that a different molester will go unpunished for his expulsion, Voiello says something along the lines of ‘true prison is not in actual confines but in one’s soul,’ which I think fits with the same idea about Kurtwell in the first film. I can appreciate that our sense of justice will often be at odds with the Church's position especially in real life where we have no idea of the motives or actual consequences as we do in this film, though I do personally agree in an abstract way that forcing the Kurtwells of the world into a place of self-reflection in suffering is just as much a prison, even if it's in Alaska, or Kubal in this sequel, rather than behind literal bars in their country of origin. In fact that may even be worse, considering the isolation, lack of communicability, and life-sentence.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#117 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Feb 17, 2020 1:21 am

When I first read that Sorrentino was making a sequel to one of my favorite films of the last decade (and, after four watches now, securely in the all-time place) I was skeptical but cautiously optimistic. I'm glad to report that Sorrentino has delivered an equally compelling journey, even if less focally driven in narrative, that only works as well as it does by standing on the shoulders of the first. Instead of Lenny’s character study as one of mixed humanity and cryptic responsibilities following a unique relationship with the mystery of God’s presence that initiates a strange path of identification and alteration of our perspective, this sequel feels more about the familiar complications of humanity with the absence of God’s presence that reflects our own experience and values. The first film is a crucial baseline for this one to exist because otherwise this story may have been passively consumed and read with a different motive, but out of a context that forced us to see the world differently through the acquired lens of the wisdom from a supernatural being, we must now look at that mirror as one that needs humility, divorcement from desire, and spiritual surrender to achieve the dreams we may not know we have and mistakenly dilute into our own rigidly smothered values of a corporeal world. It’s a fascinating choice to give us the film many expected to get the first time around but after the influence of what we did, it’s something just as challenging in providing a new outlook by which to examine ourselves, why we act as we do, and where we want to go, or more importantly, the potential we have if we only redefine our goals, dreams, and values for life, with a little imagination.

This follow up touches on the exhibition that Lenny talks about when goodness is attempted without imagination in power, but also the selfish fear that drives prayer and action. By focusing so thoroughly on the characteristics Lenny rejected, Sorrentino continues to validate these desires and other psychological drives and even admires them, showing their usefulness and functional sustainability, though the sins here can also serve as a springboard to accessing god if one faces their purpose with awareness and open-mindedness rather than complacency and inflexible habit. How sensitive this is to our own need to be special as well as our need to be reminded of our modest worth, perfectly exemplified by the surreal confrontation with a doppelgänger for one conceited character.

Malkovich’s practicality and protective mechanisms still allow an access to god that is different than Lenny’s, and he’s a far more complex and inaccessible character than one may expect of a figure carved against the position of Lenny.
SpoilerShow
He recognizes that growth is the point of life but he immediately questions if he even wants to live in accordance with that belief, which itself signifies that fallible complex human reservations that exist regardless of awareness. Here is a philosophical pope who has his own emotional barriers to accessing god and himself, resentful at forsaking his identity even though this act has created his actual self, so fittingly celebrating the idea of freedom. His position becomes love by way of tenderness, and expresses a new kind of humility than Lenny, one that feels fitting with many of our progressive wishes but also comes from a place of rejection in upbringing, showing how two popes who grew up neglected and resentful of their parents can have opposing consequential positions. And yet, is Malkovich’s one actually born of sensitivity and fragility? Well he admits as much, but is this a strength or a weakness? Is it rooted in actual humility or just a facade of such? How does one find truth as divorced from self will or self importance? Malkovich’s character, especially in his own path of self-discovery, admittance, and surrender following the reveal of his secret of self-destructive drug use, moved me more than I anticipated, and for personal reasons I loved and identified with the sensitive treatment of his own pathos and benevolence as pitying and celebratory of his own humanity.
This is a film about the brokenness in all men and women, the weaknesses, fragilities and desperations we all feel, and the necessity of faith, of abstract concepts and energies, to give us strength to save ourselves, experience love, and spread it. We also spend more time embedded in the intricacies of the real systems in place, absent of a rogue dismantling outlier, and how the social friction that results from human traits at odds with one another, whether on the individual, institutional, or the global level, necessary evils and pines for good, can beget harm or aid to all parties, and not the superficial kind. This film continues the theme of how man copes with mystery through certainty (doubt, logic, science, power, self-medication, self-pity, sex, etc), as a facade and an honest attempt to access God, as well as showing God as tangibly emblematic when working through people. People reconstructing freedom as a new kind of love, always formulating and growing; the meaning of life.
SpoilerShow
As Lenny appears and offers a cigarette to a grieving woman he counters her comment that it’s pleasurable to smoke with a reframe: “it’s right.” This validation that human beings don’t only need but deserve coping mechanisms supports the middle way, offering justice in the yearning to give oneself a break and the space to be present.
I have to let this sink in more before writing anything less thematically abstract, but while I prefer the first film, this one is just as complex, in some ways maybe more so, and there is something to be said for that considering the material doesn’t necessitate such a leap of faith for the majority of its runtime, so we work with the same self-reflection and existential throes of identity, perspective and definition, but through a more familiar milieu of everyday sins. One moment sticks out as critical to my understanding of this show and how it builds off of my thoughts from The Young Pope.
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Esther is asked by one of her “clients” what the difference is between a Saint and a whore, the answer being “none.” In a different context this could be blasphemous or cheeky, but it forces a different novel view: to be a whore in Esther’s case, a giver who sacrifices exhibition for goodness, is a saint of the world, a concentrated vessel of humility and empathy at the ego’s expense, a sufferer willing to sacrifice. Esther can become a Saint without the powers of Lenny, but with power all the same. It’s also a prime example of how even reading that statement a little bit differently through the peripheral lens we’ve been trained to through the first film, means the very opposite of what it would without a spiritual awakening. Esther is not the only character here that we are afforded a front row seat at processing through unexpected paths to reaching moments of sainthood, and while Lenny may be an actual Saint in the definition of the word, this film recontextualizes the identity to the familiar world, and often finds purity in the places one often sees sin, even if they inevitably bounce back into the ongoing process of identity development and working towards knowledge of god and self, or fall toward the most intense regression we can imagine, Esther's moral decline back into fanaticism.
This film makes quite a statement about fanaticism, and while it runs the risk of alienating some audiences in its final hour, I think it goes hand in hand with the theme of humility that has been woven throughout both films.

What is the moral obligation of God or his messiahs? If they fixed all problems, provided all the answers, alleviated the mystery, where would be the growth, the self-discovery, the questions that formulate our beliefs and our love, that connect us to one another and to this overwhelming mystery of beauty? Lenny seems to understand that life on earth is full of imperfection and impermanent change, himself no exception. But it is faith, belief in a power greater than oneself, one’s own conception of god be it one’s conscience, other people, positive energy, miracles or the heavens in the sky or whatever, that can be that support, the intangible version of that cigarette, that provides the unconditional love we need to feel safe in this world. God may not intervene to help us, but he saves us. All mankind deserves salvation. And when we aren’t focused on god, we have embarrassment, self-consciousness, and other vulnerabilities to unify us; we are all “miserable wretches” and all the same, looking for a place to belong and that place is God’s church, however one defines that abstractly undefined space that is more personalized than the words trick the individual into believing. We just need to open ourselves up to accessing this emotional collective through a narrow door. As one character says, “perception is everything.” This film takes the complexities of the first film and transforms them into the most humanistic work I may have ever seen. The collective imagination is more powerful than the atomic bomb. We arrive by the end of this second journey with a sense of comfort in belongingness and commonality; that we are together in the possibilities of the mysteries of our questions flowing through our conscience. And the finale of this film celebrates ambiguity in ways possibly more frustrating than the first but perhaps more deeply satisfying depending on how one subscribes to the themes at hand.

If you think Sorrentino threw us for a loop with the first season’s credit sequences, prepare to be enlightened. And for those who somehow positioned that Girolamo is simply a way for Voiello to feel better about himself, enjoy trying to keep that perspective after this film. What a wonderful, wonderful expression of the power of love.

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Red Screamer
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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#118 Post by Red Screamer » Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:14 pm

I'm moving at a slower pace and am trying to avoid spoilers so apologies if anything I say has been addressed/expressed before.

Three hours in, I've found The Young Pope entertaining and surprising and I agree wholeheartedly with comments about how half the fun of it is trying to pin down the tone from moment to moment. That being said, I've found many aspects disappointing, the worst being Law's over-psychologized orphan backstory. Every time it comes up in flashbacks, dreams, or dialogue, it's numbingly obvious, forced, and so completely typical of contemporary TV, from sitcoms to Mad Men, that it immediately takes me out of the scene.

More personally, I have a considerable familiarity with Catholicism (though I'm no expert) and the show's version of it is confused and ignorant to a degree that makes it hard to take seriously. Something like Cardinal Voiello taking care of someone with disabilities in his free time would be so ordinary and expected for a priest that it wouldn't improve anyone's esteem of him or seem like a contradiction to his lavish lifestyle (a contradiction baked into the contemporary Church), as it does to Sister Mary. And the mundane details that are supposed to be funny, or at least quirky, like a group of nuns playing soccer while "Ave Maria" plays, would only seem unusual to someone who hasn't spent a significant amount of time with clergy and Sorrentino's "look, they're people too" approach is 100% playing to that audience. Similarly, Law's 'shocking' homily is pretty tame compared to the reality of such sermons (which are more like the one in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and would cause the most controversy not for its bleakness but for its theological incoherence and adoption of outdated Calvinist talking points largely rejected by many Protestants today. Overall, the show's grasp of Catholicism as a religion is hazy at best and the discussions of theology are so rudimentary that it's hard to imagine them being revealing for anyone with a serious Christian education or background.

Part of the problem is that I'm not convinced Sorrentino, Law, & co. are equipped to take on such heavy, complex ideas with the nuance and feeling they require (let alone research). Many of the greatest minds in history have dedicated their whole lives to such questions, some spending more time in preparation of facing them than on actually doing it (I'm currently reading the works of John Milton, who's a prime example). So while it seems like The Young Pope will be a fun showcase for Jude Law and unexpected needledrops, I'm skeptical that it will give me any real new insights into its subject, as some of you have promised. But I have several hours of it left so who knows.

On a side note, did anyone else find it bizarre when Law claims that Salinger, Kubrick, Banksy, and Daft Punk are the most important artists in their fields...in the last 20(?) years? The scene is scored and cut with reaction shots as if we're supposed to think he's being supremely clever, but to me it seemed more like a half-baked Reddit post.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#119 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:42 pm

I don’t have a background in Catholicism but I think the film is more easily digested when taken broadly outside of realism. Voiello’s friendship with Girolamo is symbolic to his own relationship with complicated faith and the only person he feels he can call a true friend due to his experience and views on the corruption in humanity, and so whether or not a cardinal would do charity work is a moot point, because it’s a friendship, each’s only friendship, and a deep connection (I’d argue for both parties). As for the actual practices of Catholicism I think again that this film asks for a broader application of the very abstract non-defining spirituality to be considered and personalized by the audience across universal lines. I had a professor once who was a devout catholic and said that every person has a relationship with god whether they are atheist or belong to the same religious group, and that this relationship is personal. Where the film works is in taking concrete iconography and ideas and transforming them into abstract ones for us to consider our own feelings towards and experience with, and yet acknowledging that the mystery and direction we are seeking reflects a universally binding human desire and need. The film can be comforting in making us feel connected as well and validating our individuality, and does so through a very difficult process of asking us to identify with Law going through a similar existential and psychological journey, as someone who in many ways we simply cannot identify with; but Sorrentino asks us to take a leap of faith and in doing so I think he provides a platform to a spiritual awakening, which is a purposefully vague term because it will trigger each viewer uniquely, and for me just means simply that we can alter our perspective to believing in something greater than our own will, whether that is the cosmos, god, emotional fusion, or the miracles of change and goodness

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#120 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Feb 17, 2020 4:42 pm

Also, the film is playing less to those unfamiliar with the church than against our expectations of how the church is represented on screen. Of course nuns play soccer and pope’s smoke, few would be surprised this is true. But it’s nice and disorienting to see that, and not the spiritual and ritual parts, given such emphasis. And this emphasis on the physical and the mundane has real thematic importance.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#121 Post by John Shade » Tue Feb 18, 2020 12:06 pm

Red Screamer, my thoughts on the show were initially very close to yours. I was frustrated by moments that seemed especially melodramatic or forced, and those often involved Lenny's backstory, or some of the cliches spouted by Sister Mary. (Those moments to me also screamed "contemporary tv"; not sure if that's necessarily an insult or criticism.) The melodrama that surrounds the power of the papacy itself initially seemed like typical tv too, but I think any history of the papacy would by its nature seem to us melodramatic. I do think the show makes some attempts to understand the material; ultimately I assume that the audience of the show is slightly more agnostic than the creators.

Interesting that you mention Milton; I'm finally reading Dante in a serious, focused way. I agree that these world historic artists approached the philosophy and theology much more seriously than Sorrentino, but I really can't knock him for not being Dante or Milton, or Joyce for that matter. (Bresson and Malick would be two other artists who regularly deal with these themes; the latter seems more and more rejected for these qualities.) I wonder if the show had focused on Lenny as a Bishop, and it involved more scenes such as the one where he and Guitierez discussed their vocation. Such a show would likely be dismissed as either trite, treacle, or fully dishonest.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#122 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Feb 18, 2020 2:06 pm

John Shade wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 12:06 pm
I assume that the audience of the show is slightly more agnostic than the creators.
I think it's the opposite- the films require a dose of agnosticism to function as broadly as they are intended. Whether one is deeply religious or leans towards atheism, the agnosticism by definition welcomes mystery and finds acceptance in our limitations of comprehension, finds truth in questions without answers, acknowledges the unknown as what it is and our place as where it is. This is important to avoid narcissistic, ego-induced declarations on truths about things we do not know. Sorrentino makes this agnostic position very clear I think, especially in the sequel, so I'd argue that the creators are as agnostic as it gets, just maybe not in the specific definition of the word as related to divorcing oneself from denominations. They aren't mutually exclusive terms in fact I think that agnosticism is the one of the healthiest traits one can possess and I've encountered deeply religious people who show and welcome that exact kind of open-mindedness as necessary for spiritual development. One of the reasons I used the term esoteric to describe this film is that I believe this access is challenging for viewers, as it's deeply uncomfortable for many to expand peripheries toward agnosticism outside of one's contextual belief systems which are often more rigid than we'd like to admit, and I think that while the response here has ranged, some of the hangups to me seem to be born from that struggle to access the film on its agnostic broad terms of humanity, which mirrors the difficult path of spiritual development.

I don't mean that as a condescending diagnostic, quite the opposite- these are films that are so broad and comfortable in those murky waters of mystery that they serve as mirrors to wherever the viewer is on that path. I may think that those who tend to focus on the superficialities within the film are not meeting the film on its wavelength and probably won't find the same magic that I do, but in reality Sorrentino is opening doors for all to access based on their comfort level and positions and one's own spirituality is so complex that it only takes willingness to step into the sphere here, not some profound skill or knowledge. I am confident that when I go back and watch both films again next year and the year after I'll get something new out of them based on where I'm at, just like I got much of my current thoughts about the first film after my fourth journey through, while the first time I was in a different place, despite still loving it. And I'd say that this is so personalized that with that willingness to leave preconditioned judgments and expectations at the door comes one's own journey that cannot be replicated. I cannot say I got "more" out of the show than anyone, just "different," which is one of its greatest strengths in replicating that idea of one's own personalized relationship with God as dynamic and always evolving.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#123 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:36 pm

I think it's a mistake to watch The Young Pope while keeping in mind either Dante or Milton, or indeed Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who weren't mentioned but seem the implicit objects of comparison.

It's a mistake to expect in something like The Young Pope the same deep engagement with theology we find in the religious art of past ages. Not because it's failing to rise to that standard, but because in our age theology no longer has the same urgency. In past ages like those of Dante and Milton, theology was the conceptual system anchoring one's whole intellectual and moral being. There were grave consequences for getting it wrong, ones that could get you burned alive. Fear for one's mortal body gave it only part of its urgency, tho'. What was really at stake was truth itself, and therefore salvation. Ideas really were dangerous; they could lead one terribly astray and banish one forever from truth and god and the holy reward of heaven. As salvation, especially in the Catholic church, flowed from top to bottom, it was the responsibility of the learned to ensure the common people were not led astray by ideas they didn't have the competence to assess. Theology had to be worked out and systematized at length, so that from top to bottom all was accounted for and explained, and the mistake of heresy could be banished from the mind. This was the primary intellectual activity of much of Mediaeval history, certainly, and maintained some of its force even into the Renaissance.

Today, though? Theology today is apt to seem like it does in The Name of the Rose: a Byzantine set of abstruse, difficult to parse complications in which the various arguments and factions end up seeming all of a piece. A movie today that takes theological disputation seriously is likely to seem esoteric in the worst sense: impenetrable to all except those already in the know. It's going to seem like the later seasons of a tv show with a loyal, attentive following, where everything's structured around elaborate allusions and call-backs and the plot comes to seem nominal, there to support a tissue of references. This wasn't a problem in Dante and Milton's ages; their readership would be expected to know what they were talking about and understand the concepts and allusions being worked through. Now, tho', it's not profitable to read those books without a healthy critical apparatus, despite what fans like T.S. Eliot and Philip Pullman would have you believe. An introduction and a good set of footnotes is indispensable to both of those authors.

Theology isn't central to our intellectual world. It doesn't even form the backbone of our metaphorical life anymore. If anything, it's been replaced by Freud, a modern theology purporting to structure the abstract mysteries of the mind rather than the soul.

Which is all to say: The Young Pope isn't interested in theology because theology is no longer vital, whereas character and drama is. All the theological arguments in the film are disguised personal statements. Theology is how guarded people talk about themselves. The film's not grappling with theological issues, it's grappling with personalities who express themselves in theological terms. The theology is not telling us about god or faith, but about those who are dedicated to god and faith. The less abstruse the theology, the clearer the drama. The film aims at emotional rather than conceptual clarity: to arrive at a feeling of what it's like to wrestle with, be confounded by, be impressed with, and find acceptance in and even love for, the mystery of faith and god. It's about what it means to be a believer, not what believing means. It's confounding religion's traditional representations and conventions on film in order to bring you closer to what the issues mean to people on an everyday, emotional level. Theology is about the subtle refining of arguments to arrive at conceptual clarity, ie. not the program of this film at any point. In The Young Pope, the confusions are a necessary and even sacred part of the process, not at all something to be argued away.

And thank fuck for that. What we did not need was a ten hour The Young Civitas Dei or The New Summa Theologiae. A truly Catholic theological work would've proceded by call and response, through logical syllogisms, to arrive at statements about god. Impressive, but unwatchable, and hardly human. The Young Pope is above all about what it's like to be human.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#124 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:49 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:36 pm
Which is all to say: The Young Pope isn't interested in theology because theology is no longer vital, whereas character and drama is. All the theological arguments in the film are disguised personal statements. Theology is how guarded people talk about themselves. The film's not grappling with theological issues, it's grappling with personalities who express themselves in theological terms. The theology is not telling us about god or faith, but about those who are dedicated to god and faith. The less abstruse the theology, the clearer the drama. The film aims at emotional rather than conceptual clarity: to arrive at a feeling of what it's like to wrestle with, be confounded by, be impressed with, and find acceptance in and even love for, the mystery of faith and god. It's about what it means to be a believer, not what believing means. It's confounding religion's traditional representations and conventions on film in order to bring you closer to what the issues mean to people on an everyday, emotional level. Theology is about the subtle refining of arguments to arrive at conceptual clarity, ie. not the program of this film at any point. In The Young Pope, the confusions are a necessary and even sacred part of the process, not at all something to be argued away.

And thank fuck for that. What we did not need was a ten hour The Young Civitas Dei or The New Summa Theologiae. A truly Catholic theological work would've proceded by call and response, through logical syllogisms, to arrive at statements about god. Impressive, but unwatchable, and hardly human. The Young Pope is above all about what it's like to be human.
Well said, Sausage. This is a clearer reading that hits on a lot of what I've been trying (and struggling) to succinctly profess, though I really believe that this level of engagement is extremely difficult for many. I probably would have disliked this film if I saw it six years ago, at a very different place in my life. Thank god for the embrace of the necessary confusions.

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Re: The Young Pope & The New Pope

#125 Post by Red Screamer » Tue Feb 18, 2020 8:00 pm

I appreciate the thoughtful responses! And I hope to engage with them more in-depth once I finish the series, since it seems like that will make it easier to see eye to eye. I'll make a few clarifications now, though.

I don't in any way expect or want the show to be a work of theology or to adhere externally to Catholic theology. My criticism was more on the internal logic of the its religious themes and questions. To go further, I was commenting on how rudimentary many of them seem in the history of thought/representation/experience of such questions and themes.

My comments on how clergy and Catholics are depicted is part of a personal believably/plausibility issue that I realize won't be relevant for most of the show's viewers but is part of my experience with it all the same. I guess it's similar to how hardcore fans of musicians often find it the most difficult to engage with that musician's biopic. But, to some degree, such questions matter. If there was a film about Zen Buddhists that repeatedly showed its characters close-reading holy scripture, it would be ridiculous. This show is about the Pope after all, not just any believer.
Mr Sausage wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:36 pm
I think it's a mistake to watch The Young Pope while keeping in mind either Dante or Milton, or indeed Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who weren't mentioned but seem the implicit objects of comparison.
Sure, and I'm not expecting it to be Paradise Lost (and, pedantically, I'll point out that Milton rejected going into seminary and had many opportunities to become a secular poet like Shakespeare, so his interest in religion was hardly forced on him), my comment was expressing doubt about this creative team's level of maturity and wisdom to deal with the subject matter, especially in light of the spiritual or intellectual revelations that other posters seem to have found in this. And of course a work like Augustine's Confessions is primarily about being human and about the life of an embodied believer, not some abstracted theology, so the comparisons aren't irrelevant. But, again, all these comments might be premature and I could come back in a week and disagree with myself.
Mr Sausage wrote:
Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:36 pm
Theology isn't central to our intellectual world. It doesn't even form the backbone of our metaphorical life anymore. If anything, it's been replaced by Freud, a modern theology purporting to structure the abstract mysteries of the mind rather than the soul.
It really depends on who you consider to be included in your "our". Most people would say that non-narrative cinema isn't central to our intellectual world, but that comment wouldn't hold true on this forum. For most of my life, theology has been (involuntarily) a constant and central concern, both individually and in my community, for better or for worse. I realize I'm very likely an outsider in that regard in this thread but I think that fact belies some falseness to twwblus assertion that The Young Pope is near-universally applicable to different, personalized spiritualities (which is already, at least historically, a very Protestant approach to religion). And, in the spirit of twwblus, all I can offer here is my experience with the show and what seems profound/silly/fun/moving/etc to me within my boundaries of experience and knowledge. Agree or disagree, I'll continue with these engaging conversations when I finish the rest of it.

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