If you haven’t seen Philomena, do. It’s not dazzling, but solid, entertaining and ultimately very thoughtful. It caught me by surprise: I didn’t see the meaning coming. The film moves along as a British character study of a spacey, aging Philomena (Judi Dench) and a slightly desperate, slightly embittered British journalist who is trying (condescendingly) to get a story out of her. Good storytelling fodder, which one assumes will come to some kind of feel-good conclusion. But the ending has an interesting twist. I’ll just say it’s the most attractive portrayal of a Christian in a movie for a very long time. But it’s not soupy, not in the least.
Only one quibble–not so much with the movie as with an unexamined prejudice of our times. Philomena is an older woman who got pregnant as a teenager, was taken in by some Irish nuns, and had to give up her baby. The movie emphasizes that she and other teenage mothers were used as profitable (slave) labor by the nuns, who treated them harshly for their sins, coerced them into giving up their children, and positively obstructed their attempts to track down those lost children later in life. (In the movie, Philomena is still trying to find her son.)
The nuns and by extension the Catholic church are portrayed as heartless, moralistic and hypocritical. I daresay that is entirely true and they deserve their reputation. However, I was struck by the absence of another question: who else was helping these girls?
I suspect the answer is that no one else was helping them. Their own families threw them out. Nobody else in Irish society offered them a place to stay. Nobody else took on their troubles.
So while the nuns were bad, it’s not quite right to portray them as the worst of society. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say they were the best of very bad society?