Corpus Christi:“The road to salvation”
Confession is good for the soul, or so goes the saying. Corpus Christi predicates the unlikely idea of a inmate from a juvenile detention centre, Daniel, transforming himself through a masquerade of priesthood into a tale of second chances and redemption for himself and the community of a small rural Polish village.
Daniel has been released from juvenile detention after a sentence for a dreadful crime which is never revealed. He harbours a desire to become a priest after finding solace as an assistant to the detention centre’s priest. Unfortunately, the prison priest informs him he can’t study at a seminary because of his criminal conviction.
Instead, Daniel is directed to report to a lumber mill as a way to restore his life and become a solid citizen.
Redemption doesn’t come easily for Daniel. His immediate actions upon release is to indulge in alcohol, illicit drugs and sex. When he eventually makes his way to the village and the lumber mill, he sees that his path doesn’t involve the drudgery of work in the mill, especially as the mill’s owner uses the business to employ ex-cons, although you can read that to mean exploitation.
Wandering about the village, Daniel enters the local church, where he engages in a conversation with the only other person in the church, a young woman, Marta.
Daniel, without thinking twice, says to the girl, when she identifies him as an ex-juvi, that he is the replacement priest on a pilgrimage. Part of her disbelief is Daniel’s gaunt, almost emaciated, appearance. She is reluctant to believe him but in the course of the conversation, along with Daniel’s bag of vestments he used as an acolyte in the prison chapel and other serendipitous occurrences, he becomes the village priest.
His white collar and cassock convert him from someone who suffers the insult used by prison police, “You scum”, to a person of revered status in the village.
He’s the only one who knows the truth about being unordained and his lack of knowledge regarding the religious rituals and sacraments he must undertake. Daniel becomes a priest on an L-plate (Learner’s permit). Slowly, he mimics and ad-libs rituals based on services conducted by the prison priest.
Because he is accepted as a source of moral authority, Daniel is privy to everyone’s sins and confessions. His sermons take on an evangelical style that is earthly rather than heavenly. He speaks honestly and passionately beyond the religious pontifications normally delivered in the village’s church life. People are surprised, even uplifted. The villagers find a renewed energy to their lives.
Except for The Curia, Ms. Lidia, a stalwart of the church who overseas all religious matters in the village. Her misgivings about Father Tomasz, Daniel’s assumed name, remain undiminished.
“Because (Ms. Lidia) lost her son, she could be followed by other parents and nobody could harm her or touch her. And when this young man comes and wants to really heal the community, he becomes the biggest threat to her realm.”
Corpus Christi director Jan Komasa
Her suspicions about Daniel are intertwined by the irony of her own moral conundrum regarding the truth of a devastating road accident in the village that has decimated lives and destroyed the will and belief of the villagers. They are good people who have forgotten the meaning of “goodness”.
Ms. Lidia’s position as a repentant undermines the severity of her judgement made on a fellow resident’s life. A shrine to the tragic accident and the lives lost are central to village life. The villagers revere the shrine in a manner as exalted as their worship of rituals in formalised church services.
The widow of the drunk driver blamed for the crash lives alone and in shame, forbidden by the townspeople to bury her husband's ashes in the church cemetery. The practice of charity and reconciliation don’t factor into their feelings.
Ms. Lidia and her fellow parishioner’s admonishment of the woman branded as guilty of the tragedy is smothered by their hypocrisy as fervent worshippers and penitents.
They don’t seek absolution; they recycle through judgement of others, guilt, penance, and absolution ad-infinitum.
But it doesn’t end there. The power of guilt and accusation that permeates the village’s life incriminates the group of young friends of the youths killed in the accident. Daniel’s relaxed, worldly demeanour disguised by his priestly facade encourages the young people to relax their guard about what happened and the ramifications of their guilt and emotional reactions to the event. The recriminations are unleashed in unexpected directions. No-one remains unaffected by the accident’s aftermath.
As a priest, however, (Daniel) becomes the person he believes – because he does believe, sincerely – a priest would be. He is kind. In the confessional, he doesn’t judge. His advice is practical: to the woman who admits to hitting her son, he tells her to try taking him cycling.
Director Jan Komasa spent 12 years working with teenage substance abusers after making a film at a rehab centre. “Because I knew so much about it I wanted it to go deeper even, to find more edge in it."
Stephanie Bunbury, Sydney Morning Herald, November 20, 2020
Daniel’s vestments endow him with a spiritual and moral authority driven by a humanness derived from his lived experiences, including his crimes and resulting penance through juvenile detention. In his naive and striped-bare emulation of priesthood, Daniel highlights the irony of the villagers’ imitation of forgiveness and strips the villagers’ thin veneer of morality, decency and inability to truly reconcile their faith and their anguish that prevents them from true absolution. Daniel works to lift their depths of sadness about the tragedy.
The statement, “Confession is good for the soul”, suggests people cleanse themselves of true guilt. The first stage involves sinning and being a sinner. Daniel fits the description on multiple counts. He is an inmate of a juvenile detention centre. We’re not sure about the exact nature of the offence that resulted in his incarceration. The crime is his sin and detention was his penance.
Corpus Christi beckons Daniel, Ms. Lidia, Marta and the village community to dissolve the veneer of respectability and a flawed morality that is as thin as the fabric of Daniel’s cassock and priest’s collar. The townspeople don’t respect Daniel as a person, they accept the respectability of the trappings of clerical clothing. The priest’s robes transform Daniel’s position in a way that the community fails to transform their lives and their loss.
The meaning of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, resides in Daniel, a reformed juvenile detention criminal, not in the trappings of formalised religion.
Daniel shows Ms. Lidia and the villagers that confession is followed by acceptance, support and love from others or yourself. The result of absolution is self-esteem, acceptance and a sense of personal power, not the desire and ability to inflict hurt and suffering on others.
The hypocrisy of adults who are pious and serve God, then berate others in hateful letters is palpable.
The adults in the town, who are so dramatically affected by the tragic deaths of their daughters and sons, continue to hide behind a literal and figurative curtain in the confessional to forgive their sins and then immediately return to their hypocrisy so that they can then again go to confession and ask for forgiveness of their sins.
The road to personal salvation for all concerned belies the view that redemption and salvation lead to contrition, when in reality, for a ex-juvie like Daniel, it is a blood-soaked and blood-stained brutal reality. And, in the long run, there is no redemption anyway.
Official trailer Corpus Christi
WATCH Corpus Christi (2020) Polish language with subtitles
Available to Buy/Rent on AppleTV+, Google Play and YouTube
2020 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE
Best International Feature
2020 POLISH ACADEMY AWARDS WINNER of 11 Awards, including Best Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography & Audience Prize
WINNER 2020 PALM SPRINGS FILM FESTIVAL
WINNER 2019 CHICAGO FILM FESTIVAL Best Actor
FILM EXTRAS | The Roads to Redemption
Elmer Gantry (1960)
Acclaimed drama about a charlatan who teams up with an evangelist to sell religion to 1920s America, in a provocative indictment of religious corruption. When hedonistic but charming con man Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) meets Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), a roadside revivalist, he feigns piousness to join her act as a passionate preacher. The two make a successful onstage pair, and their chemistry extends to romance. Both the show and their relationship are threatened when one of Gantry's ex-lovers (Shirley Jones) decides that she has a score to settle with the charismatic performer.
WATCH Elmer Gantry
Available on Stan & Amazon Prime Video. Check your region for availability.
Unforgiven is the tale of a an ageing former brutal gunfighter who takes on one last job years after he had quit and turned to farming. William Munny (Clint Eastwood), seeks redemption by dealing with the wicked realities from his past. When prostitute Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson) is disfigured by a pair of cowboys in Big Whiskey, Wyoming, her fellow brothel workers post a reward for their murder, much to the displeasure of sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). Two groups of gunfighters, one led by Munny, who takes on one last job years after he had turned to farming, the other by the florid English Bob (Richard Harris), come to collect the reward, clashing with each other and the sheriff.
“I’ve killed women and children. I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I’m here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”
William Munny in Unforgiven
Available on Kayo Sports, Binge, Disney Plus, Foxtel iQ4, Netflix, Stan & Hulu. Check your region for availability.
The Mission (1986)
Jesuit priest Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) enters the Guarani lands in South America with the purpose of converting the natives to Christianity. He soon builds a mission, where he is joined by Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a reformed slave trader seeking redemption. When a treaty transfers the land from Spain to Portugal, the Portuguese government wants to capture the natives for slave labor. Mendoza and Gabriel resolve to defend the mission, but disagree on how to accomplish the task.
The panpipe/panflute and oboe inspired soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is seductive, uplifting and inspirational.
WATCH The Mission
Available on Netflix & Amazon Prime Video. Check your region for availability.