The Good Priest and the Psychologisation of Evil
University of Ulster
(at time of presentation)
Jennie Carlsten works in the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Ulster University. She has published on Irish cinema, cinematic representations of emotion, and the relationship between film and history. She is co-editor of the forthcoming Film, History and Memory (Palgrave, 2015) and she is a board member of Irish Screen Studies.
Martin McLoone has outlined the changing representation of the Irish Catholic priest on film, claiming: “Such has been the uncompromising nature of these films that it is possible to see in them a kind of revenge – a settling of old scores – by the generation of young Irish who embraced secularism by rejecting the rigid laws of their spiritual fathers.” (McLoone, 2008) And yet, the figure of the “Good Priest” persists. This is the priest as whistle-blower, martyr, or loving father. In films such as Song for a Raggy Boy (Aisling Walsh, 2003), Breakfast on Pluto (Neil Jordan, 2005), The Front Line (David Gleeson, 2006) or Calvary (John Michael McDonagh, 2014), the Good Priest would seem to provide a moral centre for the viewer, a position complicated but not undermined by the very immorality of the Church itself.
I argue that the presence of the Good Priest in these films is inextricable from the turn in Irish cinema to a psychologisation of evil. As Ireland, and Irish cinema, have adopted the language of a ‘therapy culture’, we have seen a new sort of cinematic depoliticisation. Rather than explaining human actions and misdeeds through a spiritual or political framework, these films rely on therapeutic frameworks to make sense of atrocity.