The Two Popes (2019) Review – Conformist Stuck In A Rapid

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Two men, considerably in their dotage, meander inside the Sistine chapel. The enormous structure of the Chapel somewhat subverts the indispensable and pivotal role they play in the dynamics of power and international relations of different countries throughout the world. The one who seems like he is constantly conniving some strategy reasons the wary one, who is anxious about the ramifications his acceptance or denial would lead to. But they soon retire to a hidden room in the Chapel, where they order some pizza and Fanta. They devour their meal with a naïve guilelessness. They come out of that room repudiating the doubts they had about each other and with a changed kernel. They still have conflicting ideologies but they strike a bond on a personal level. It’s an unlikely pair of a rigid conformist and an avant-garde reformist. These are the small nuances in the film The Two Popes that satiate your creative desires.

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The film has been directed by Fernando Meirelles and written by Anthony McCarten, from whose play named “The Pope“, the film has been adapted. The victory of “The Two Popes” is not in the story but the way in which different anecdotes seem to have been yarned together.


The Story

The Two Popes revolves around the Cardinal hailing from the diverse land of Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio (who would become Pope Francis in the future) and Pope Benedict XVI who was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he took on Papacy. Bergoglio had been the runner up, in terms of the votes, when Joseph Ratzinger was elected the Pope in 2005. Cardinal Ratzinger always considered Bergoglio as a threat, a competitor whose ideologies he didn’t approve of. Their conflict forms the base of an extremely tight narrative. What’s even more interesting is the unusual pirouette taken by the filmmaker to depict the most nerve-racking conversations and conflicts in a humorous undertone.

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Around 2012, the authority of the Pope was undermined due to several accusations on the integrity of the Church. There were allegations of corruption, leaking important documents and the infamous case of sexual misconduct that amassed worldwide attention, tremors of which could be felt in the Vatican City. Pope Benedict XVI, believed that there was a need to reinstate the faith of a common believer. He realized it couldn’t be done until he is the face of Papacy. He understood the need to bring someone who is seen as the Apostle of change. On the other hand Jorge Bergoglio is deciding to retire from the office of Cardinal and he wants to meet the Pope to get his papers signed.

Little did they know that their meeting would diverge into a direction that they themselves didn’t envisaged of.


Discerning Compromise From Change

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The Pope was seen as a religious zealot, which in fact he was. His conservative thinking could be called stagnant but his intentions were always bonafide. His sincerity towards papacy could be seen when he recognizes Jorge Bergoglio as the personification of inevitable change. He reconciles just to forfend the belief of the masses.

He knows that he has to part with something that he greatly desires. He has a heart of a schemer, of a politician whereas the Argentinian Cardinal wants to lead a simple life. Even the office of Cardinal seems to interfere with his tranquillity.

But as it is said the great philosopher Plato,

“Most important qualification to be a leader is not wanting to be a leader.”

Jorge Bergoglio wants the papacy to change and not merely compromise. He wants the world to know that communion is the food for the starving, not a reward for being virtuous. He feels that the church is no longer part of this world. He is a staunch believer that the Church is losing people because it dwells into narcissism.

When the Cardinal demands the need for change, the Pope very artfully exclaims

“A church that marries the age will get widowed in the next “

It is evident that both are not ready to throw in a towel.

The clashing ideologies of the two spiritual beings are yarned together to account for some rivetting exchange of dialogues. The Two Popes is stylized to an extent but never reaches a stage where it might be called lurid in its approach. The narrative has a recoiling quality which makes it realistic and fascinating. It grabs your attention and abstains from facile generalizations. It is important to note that the colossal impact does not originate out of the historic events that are shown but the way those scenes are treated by the filmmaker.


Performances Of The Two Popes – Just Take a Bow !!!

Johnathon Pryce and Anthony Hopkins play the roles of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Pope Benedict XVI respectively.

The most astounding aspect of their performances is the fact that they are able to still unlearn and shape their characters from neutrality. For every actor, it becomes necessary to practise neutrality. The process to forget what you know and become a blank canvas on which the present character could be painted. An iron rod might be moulded into some other form but you cannot reshape it completely according to your needs. Its pre-moulded structure will act as a hindrance. So it becomes important to melt the iron rod and then reshape it. The process is quite simple with metals but not with the wily human psyche. It becomes even more problematic when your body of work is like these two great actors. How do you unlearn at such an age, when you have almost experienced everything that a human psyche is capable of?

The Two Popes is an acting masterclass taken by both the actors. The scheming and guileful nature of the character could be very well reflected by just the body posture of Anthony Hopkins. On the other hands, Jonathan Pryce does not need to utter even a word to portray his charitable and unorthodox demeanour.

It’s in their small reactions, pauses, and subtle gestures that the magic lies. But it’s not magic after all. It would undermine their years of discipline and hard work if we call it magic. It’s the control over their mind and body. It reciprocates each other like the scales of a balance.


The Two Popes revolves around the two celebrated virtuosos for most of the part and still you don’t seem to get enough of them. They don’t just make the scenes realistic but they fill it with life. They demarcate the difference between life-like and life itself.

If you are a lover of the pragmatic style of film making, the kind which makes it’s presence felt gradually with time, then you shouldn’t miss this scintillating piece of art for the world.

The film is streaming on Netflix.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai in 2018 to bring characters to life and escape reality. Likes to dwell in the world created by cinema and ponder over philosophical thoughts. Believes in the kind of cinema that neither makes you laugh nor makes you cry, but moves something inside you.

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