Movie Review: Philomena

Philomenaby Brad Nelson   5/12/14
I was battling internally with whether to do a full-blown review of Philomena starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. The problem is, any review properly belongs not under “movie review” but “sociological study.” This film reminds me of many of Mr. Kung’s objections to the Inspector Gently episode, The Lost Child, which he reviewed.

As a movie, Philomena is entertaining enough. I’m one of those people who enjoyed Dench in As Time Goes By with Geoffrey Palmer where too old lovers lose track of each other and meet decades later and renew their friendship. But I think Dench is otherwise overrated and totally out of place in the Bond films. In Philomena, I found her acting to be adequate for the first half or so. And then she appeared to be miming the part, as if she were just reading lines, which suits the nature of this film which is apparently beyond “gross exaggeration” and  fits the bill more as an outright and premeditated lie —  by both the actors and the producers.

The story is apparently so “loosely based on a real story” as to render it abjectly fraudulent. There is a short pdf document you can download called Debunking Philomena by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. He compares the movie to what is apparently actual history.

And there is often no similarity between the two. For instance, there is a scene at the very end where the “bad” Sister Hildegarde has the final horns painted on her head by having villainous words stuffed into her mouth while the holier-than-thou ex-BBC journalist (played by Steve Coogan) goes in for a little moral preening. But by then, in real life (otherwise known to conservatives as “reality”), Sister Hildegarde was dead and Dench and the journalist never could have met her in order to play out this scene. The only point of the scene is therefore to paint the Catholic nuns as fundamentalist religious kooks and the “secular” ex-BBC journalist as the enlightened guy who glows with the light of self-righteous better-than-thou.

The Church is Snidely Whiplash. That’s all you need to know about the moral and intellectual content of this movie (such as it is) which doesn’t range far from the Left’s typical comic-book view of life. And I don’t by any means have my finger on the pulse of the entire history of the Catholic church’s (state-sponsered and requested) handling of abandoned babies and adoption in Ireland. But it’s a good guess that this movie is little more than yet another example of Leftist porn. It revels in bashing Catholics and Republicans. And it steps far out of its way to do so.

Philomena is obvious propaganda in the form of a feature film. And I must say, it’s obvious that this propaganda works on some if only because the obviousness of it is not seen by many. I won’t mention any names, but a friend of mine recommended this movie to me gleefully (telling me how many times he teared up). But all I could do was roll my eyes at most of this ham-fisted cultural-battery.

For a variety of reasons, Leftist porn is not particularly effective on me. I have not been intellectually and emotionally pre-programmed to want to see Catholics, Republicans, and nuns besmirched and belittled. It’s a bit disturbing that the propaganda of the Left has been so successful that someone can sit and watch such obvious Leftist porn and shed a tear — over the movie, not the dismantling of Western Civilization (as I at least figuratively did).

But if you can get past the obvious malicious fraudulence, the movie itself is entertaining enough. It’s about a woman (Dench) who in her youth gave up her baby to a convent (aka “the evil, baby-stealing, baby-selling nuns who also engage in slave labor”). The years pass, and she wonders whatever happened to the child. Her daughter tells an out-of-work journalist (played by Steve Coogan) of this story and he becomes interested and agrees to help Dench find her lost son in exchange for being able to publish the story.

Eventually both Dench and the journalist go to America where they track down the real story (such as “real” has any meaning in this movie). And if you don’t want any spoilers, then stop reading now. But I suspect that it will not matter. What they find out was that her son was dead but that he had quite a career (wait for it) as chief legal counsel for the Republican Party under Reagan. And (wait for it again) he was a closet homosexual who died from AIDS.

The malicious (there is no other word for this kind of evil packed into a movie) producers of this film bash the Catholic nuns every chance they get. And where the propaganda becomes most effective is that there is a feigned even-handedness about the portrayal of these nuns. Occasionally Dench is used as the “good cop” — saying a few good things about the nuns — as opposed to Coogan’s “bad cop.”  But the “good cop” part of it is obviously simply meant for you to lower your defenses and to thus assume that the harsh things told by the “bad cop” in this movie are true, when it is very probable that they are all lies. As Bill Donohue points out in his rebuttal to this film, it will be a long time until they make a movie that slanders Islam.

This movie is watchable both as a piece of cultural anthropology — in terms of watching how Leftist propaganda is fed to a wide audience — and as entertainment.  The acting is generally good, as is the direction and other production values.  And you can’t help but get wrapped up somewhat in the story, made easier if you just treat it as a complete work of fiction, which it probably is.

You can think of this film as a sort of litmus test. If you’re crying by the end of it, you can be sure you’ve been psychologically programmed to some extent by the Left. If you eye-roll at it  (as I did), you’re StubbornThings material. • (1402 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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6 Responses to Movie Review: Philomena

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    the “secular” ex-BBC journalist as the enlightened guy who glows with the light of self-righteous better-than-thou.

    Talk to anyone who has dealt with the press and you may be surprised at how tricky and dishonest many “journalists” are. I have had a couple of encounters with them where they changed or left out facts which I gave them, thereby altering the truth of the story involved. I have had a couple of friends who also dealt with “journalists” who made up “facts” from whole cloth, in order to make a better story or a story which fit a particular theme.

    Skepticism is required in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. And this is doubly the case when dealing with cinema.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is why I call them newsliars, and each year award the Walter S. Duranty Memorial Award for Creative Journalism. (I’ve already awarded this year’s to Eleanor Clift for her recent proclamation that Benghazi really was a result of the video, and that the Ambassador wasn’t murdered at all, but died from smoke inhalation that presumably had nothing to do with the attacks, since otherwise it would have been murder anyway.)

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    The Catholic Church has its flaws, but it firmly opposes modern libertinism, and thus is the perpetual enemy of those who base their politics on libertinism (most liberals and many libertarians). This shows up also in the praise of Dan Brown’s dishonest Da Vinci Code (which he tries to escape by pretending that it’s “only fiction” and thus shouldn’t be taken seriously. An interesting refutation of Brown was written by Catholic apologist and former SF fan and writer Sandra Miesel.) So Philomena fits perfectly into this mold. There are many movies I’d like to see sometime from the past decade or so; this sounds like it isn’t one of them.

    Well, Judi Dench’s role as M in the James Bond movies does include that lovely scene at the end of Tomorrow Never Dies in which she announces Carver’s death, mining the actual death of Robert Maxwell, who deserved the comparison. (I will say that Elizabeth wasn’t thrilled by having a villain named Carver, since her maternal grandfather founded the Carver School of Social Work, which moved a few years ago from Southern Baptist Seminary here in Louisville because the seminary was getting too fundamentalist under Al Mohler. [“What’s the difference between God and Al Mohler? God doesn’t think he’s Al Mohler.”] She has a picture of him in our family room.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The Catholic Church has its flaws, but it firmly opposes modern libertinism, and thus is the perpetual enemy of those who base their politics on libertinism (most liberals and many libertarians).

      My own view (however wrong-headed) is that the Catholic church today “officially” opposes libertinism but, in practice, the mainstream of its teachings facilitate liberalism/Leftism. As far as I know, rare is the priest who will stand up in front of his congregation and say “Abortion is wrong. Homosexual marriage is an oxymoron. Global warming is a fraud. And socialism is one of the worst evils the world has ever known.”

      The gist of this movie is very much along the lines of the Inspector Gently episode that Mr. Kung reviewed. It’s one of those cases where no good deed goes unpunished. In this movie, the nuns and Church are dumped on. And they’re not even being dumped on for being imperfect, filled with fallible human beings, but doing a necessary task, however imperfectly. They’re simply set up like the flammable straw men — which is so typical of the dishonest Left — doused with the kerosine of lies, exaggeration, and innuendo, and set aflame.

      And completely in fitting with the socialist external focus of morality, it’s always what the Church or the nuns who supposedly didn’t do right. There is no commentary on the conduct of the people that led to babies being abandoned in the first place.

      The Church is there to pick up the pieces. Its greatest sin being that it has defined children out of wedlock as a sin to begin with. In sort of a libertarian-oriented view of life, if only there were no “thou shall nots,” everything would be fine.

      Leftism shadow-boxes with various constructed villains. The backdrop assumption to all this is that it is some external source that is screwing things up. Never is there the thought in their Leftist little heads that many of these external sources exists to deal with the very problems that people can’t, or won’t, deal with internally.

      So you have the ultimate juvenile-like orientation of the Left: Blame those who are trying to clean up the problem instead of getting your own act together.

      Yes, the Da Vinci Code is just as dishonest. Again, I found it to be an entertaining book (but a failure as a movie). The content was pretending to be truth when it was nothing but fictional. It’s okay to play “what-if” with history. But it’s not kosher to claim that you are writing factual information when it is just fiction. That’s called lying.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        It’s even worse to write fiction that pretends not to be, and then when anyone objects using “but it’s fiction” as your defense. By the way, one interesting fictional work on religion that behaves a lot more fairly is The Word by Irving Wallace, in which it isn’t even clear at the end where the truth lies in a newly found gospel — and if (as is likely) it’s a fake, the religious types who believed it were victims rather than villains.

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