by Ciprian Sorin Constantinescu
Last November, Netflix officially released The Two Popes, a biographical drama film that aims to depict Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s journey to becoming Pope Francis. Despite being the main point of the film, Bergoglio’s biography is not there in plain sight, but it is actually depicted as a string of deep-hidden memories of the now-Cardinal Bergoglio, as the plot of the film starts with the death of Pope John Paul the Second and ends with the inauguration of Pope Francis.
The film was criticised by several media outlets for its inaccuracies, some even going as far as to call it a piece of propaganda meant to put Pope Francis in a good light. Did some people really expect an accurate depiction of the past 15 years of Vatican election drama? They should probably aim for a History Channel documentary in that case, not a Netflix feature film. Or maybe they are disappointed that Benedict and Francis never actually shared pizza and Fanta in a hidden room in the Sistine Chapel, even though Benedict is a known Fanta fan.
In any case, the criticism focuses almost exclusively on the less relevant part of the film. The important part which many have chosen to ignore, Bergoglio’s biography, is rather accurately pictured, and provides a good insight into the events that led Pope Francis to be the person he is today.
So here’s a few takeaways from the relevant side of the film - the biography of Pope Francis, not the partially-fictional 15 years of Vatican drama.
You’re young and you have no idea what you’re gonna do with your life? The Pope had no idea either.
In his early life, Pope Francis wasn’t a high-achieving student, nor a son of the local elite. He graduated from a technical secondary school and worked as a chemical technician in a food factory laboratory. He never went to college. While working as a chemical technician, he also had secondary jobs such as a bar bouncer or a janitor.
On top of this, Bergoglio was actually dating a woman whom he planned to marry, a complete no-no for anyone who wishes to become a priest. Is this what someone who knows they want to be a priest does? Highly unlikely. When he decides to pursue the path towards priesthood, his attempt at romance withers away along with his life as a chemical technician and bar bouncer.
If you only have a job right now to pay for your studies, and you’re not very lucky in love, then there’s no reason to worry. You may become the Pope one day, who knows!
Everyone has skeletons in the closet.
No matter how far one gets and how they are perceived as a beacon of morality by their peers or ages, nobody is without their own skeletons in the closet. In Pope Benedict’s case, the film (surprisingly) showed his papacy’s issues in dealing with the scandals related to child sex abuse by priests.
But Francis, too, has such issues. During the Argentine military dictatorship, in his capacity as head of the local Jesuits, Francis essentially collaborated with the regime and avoided taking strong steps to defend his friends and subordinates who were accused by the regime of dissent or even treason. During the Dirty War, the Church supported the military in the name of ‘patriotism’, and Francis himself has been accused of complicity with the regime in suppressing dissent.
This is yet another case study when talking about probably the most important lesson to learn about people. You have a role-model and have a tendency to idealise them? Or you see someone as a fundamentally good person who is unlikely to make mistakes? Dig further, you’ll always find dirt deep there.
Rejecting status symbols may not necessarily send the image we want to.
Pope Francis has been known for decades to embrace an austere lifestyle, devoid of the luxury and symbolism typical of high-ranking Catholic Church clergy. To many, this represents a sign of authenticity, a true desire by Francis to return to the roots of the early Christian Church, which did not feature luxurious lifestyles, nor opulent palaces or status symbols such as Papal shoes. The film keeps emphasising this simple lifestyle. One scene worth remembering is the Pope trying to book plane tickets for himself, only to be shunned by the operator who believed that the call was a prank.
However, several scenes in the film show that Francis’s fellow cardinals did not embrace his lifestyle as authentic. His cynical colleagues dismiss his lifestyle as a veiled insult directed against them and as a desire to stand out, a kind of passive-aggressive arrogance. Are they right about Francis? We can’t really know for sure. Maybe Francis is truly authentic and loves the lifestyle he lives. Or maybe he is passively insulting everyone in the profession by forcing them to become self-aware about their own excesses. Or maybe something else.
The take-away is that you may never know how your actions or even the most fundamental parts of your identity are perceived by others. And, frankly, you shouldn’t even care that much. There are too many people out there to think about, and you ain’t got that much time on this planet. But some degree of self-awareness may be very useful, unless you decide to become a hermit and live in a cabin in Montana.