Religion can when we take into account the many travesties committed in its name down through the centuries since the ‘Christ event’, indeed seem to be a horror story conducted on the ‘dark side’ of humanity where human sacrifice, bestiality, bullying, blasphemy, religious extremism and torture may seem the norm. But is that the future?
An Italian English-language drama television series created and directed by Paolo Sorrentino for Sky Atlantic, HBO, and Canal, The Young Pope, stars English actor Jude Law in the title role debuts in Australia on January 15 on the HBO Channel on Foxtel, addressing what could happen next.
The series looks stunning, the crafting of the scenes is like producing a great art work. They recreated the Sistine Chapel to film within it, and all the bejewelled costumes have been hand made. The story is a drama full of wit that certainly has bags of style and, as a bonus, Jude Law.
Ascending to be the admired leader of the Roman Catholic Church around the world American priest Lenny Belardo, aka Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) at the young age of 44 would rather seem to be, well at least for a fleeting moment, a story about an intelligent, articulate, compassionate, god-fearing younger man, who is all set to bring about harmony with God and life into a new modernist reality.
Although if you thought that then you would be entirely wrong, at least based on the first two of ten ‘surreal’ episodes in Series 1, which delves into the darkest of places of the human mind.
The initial image we encounter reveals the new leader emerging macabrely from a mountain of dead babies bodies to ascend to the Vatican throne. This would seem to suggest The Young Pope is a child who was abandoned early in life, who along with those aborted by members of the Catholic Church over the centuries, found themselves in the eyes of the church, lost to God and in limbo where they were forever unable to attain a state of grace.
The imagery employed so powerfully suggests at least symbolically, that The Young Pope will have to climb over many more dead babies and bodies if he really wants to get where he wants to go.
This series is sure to both repel and excite, and many people will be thrown into total disarray as they take on board just how cynical so many people are today about that once revered institution the church. The reverence however you will ask yourself, was it always emboldened by fear, or was it about love?
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
This newly elected head of the Roman Catholic Church is the former Archbishop of New York, who arrives onto the Italian scene to hesitate, while he stands naked with his back towards us in the first few frames of filming, before finally donning his robes made of English wool as per Papal tradition, so that he can begin stalking the halls of power.
The question for us is should we admire his super fit nude body as after all, we are voyeurs in his bedroom not a place we would normally be meant to go, or is this scene only about shock value? We could choose to see such exposure as a warning to heed, after all many people in history have been brought down and completely undone by lustful thoughts.
The Young Pope proves to be an extreme narcissist with a passion for Cherry Coke Zero for breakfast and cigarettes when it suits him. He despises relationships built on friendship and has a vision, one which seems to be fixated on a destination far off in the future as he proceeds taking the church and its people backwards towards a vindictive new hell on earth. He hopes they will forget that there were many good times to be had before he arrived.
The Young Pope, is about to speak to the crowd in St Peter’s Square, where he surprises them all and indeed, disgusts many, by demanding they give themselves body and soul to God, despite what else may be happening around them.
If there are consequences then he expects that they must face them head on he says, as he embraces what many would think are now arcane out dated rules for church member’s and their behaviour, especially by such a young man.
This is indeed a retrograde step. But isn’t the concept entirely fitting with where we seem to be in the world today, at least politically in light of the results of the inwardly looking Brexit vote by the British and the newly-elected Trump regime about to roam the halls of power in America?
Or is it really all just about predicting cycles of behaviour where evil inevitably follows goodness.
The Young Pope, claims to be ultra conservative, although he loves his own celebrity status and wants to win people over to his way of thinking through his charm, which in reality only reigns on the surface.
You know its true.
Underneath he’s really a rock star tyrant of the ‘first order’, no pun intended, cultivating a nostalgic view of the past using words that resonate loudly out of every nook and cranny of the grand manner architecture he is surrounded by, proclaiming his personal message of contempt, not compassion. After all as we learn, he doesn’t believe in God.
The script was written by Sorrentino, together with Stefano Rulli, Tony Grisoni and Umberto Contarello who give their Pontiff Lenny Belardo, a considerable challenge, least of all for that of navigating the politics of Vatican City where seemingly backstabbing and trading in souls is the order of any normal day.
Watch out Game of Thrones, The Young Pope wants to claim your seat of power and perception, Rome is now a suburb of Vatican City and a large grey Kangaroo sent by the Australian government has been set free to roam in the Vatican’s gardens by its new occupant, and be warned, they pack a mighty punch.
Guilt and symbolism invades everyone and everything, as pomp and ceremony takes over. The Young Pope, draws all our attention from the gold encrusted embroidered stole he wears representing the fullness of his grand manner Episcopal authority, to his elegantly encased fabulous red slipper clad feet and you won’t be able to stop yourself from thinking about that first encounter and wonder if he is completely naked underneath those robes.
This new Pope’s over the top symbolic stole, sensational cope and gilded crown denotes how embroidering on textiles remains today a powerful transmitter of wealth and status and indeed, the measure of an individual as they develop any skill and take it to a high level of standard for their craft, which is in his case, is that of conceit and cunning.
All of the ravishing imagery is deliberate, diverting, delicious, devilish and dastardly all at once. The Young Pope, demands a blind blinkers on Trump-like approach to loyalty, where the trappings and glamour stop everyone from facing the real truth as their dazzling brilliance diverts everyone around him, and his flock, from understanding or declaring outright that his eminence is really quite mad.
The richly embroidered stole contrasts greatly from the plain Pallium of St Peter the symbol of the Pontiff’s office, which was usually white without decoration except in each of its four corners, originally representing the cosmopolitan aspect of the initial Christian Empire.
It had been first worn by the philosophers and intellectuals from the ancient Greek civilized world as well as Jesus the Christ and his apostles.
Members of the College of Cardinals and the Curia would like to manipulate The Young Pope like a marionette.
They have truly underestimated his determination to remain in the job as long as he can and to keep them from bringing him down. “I am closer to God than I am to you,” he declares, before demanding that members of the church turn their focus inward, solely toward faith.
There are no checks and balances in place here. There is seemingly no one to say aloud what everyone else is thinking and hopefully, save the day. Who on earth will come to the rescue and enact the courage of their convictions, stand firm and bring this evil man down.
Could it be his old mentor Cardinal Michael Spencer (James Cromwell) who believes the pupil he once taught about theology and life, stole his place on the papal throne? He certainly has no qualms in talking back to the man he believes ruined his life and destroyed any sense of his destiny. But will he speak out?
Ridiculous, strange, compelling, to say that this first series of The Young Pope is odd doesn’t really quite cut it.
The beautiful boy abandoned by his parents, who from the age of 7 years was raised by Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) with another young man she took in now Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd), has become the father and mother of the Catholic Church. She sees no wrong in her ‘sainted’ charge at all. Lenny Belardo is entirely mesmerizing as played by the very talented Mr Jude Law and what a tour de force he is.
In adulthood Sister Mary’s charge has become clever, creative, captivating, all conquering and ‘incredibly handsome’, as he describes himself in his own words… seeing himself as complete perfection in the eyes of the Lord.
I am just amazed the powers that be didn’t start the series on Friday January 13th in Australia, completing the symbolic god-fearing connection to the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, and the more ancient massacre of the innocents.
Instead they have chosen to air it on a Sunday, as what other day could be more offensive to Christian church goers after all. Anyone would think it was a conspiracy not a commercial decision.
From my perspective The Young Pope won’t answer your secret prayers at all, but instead will be likely to just add another horror story into the equation of those who want to embrace the lure of the ‘dark side’.
Practicing for that first speech from the balcony, where he has ordered the crowd should only see him in silhouette, Pope Pius XIII asks the crowd; What have we forgotten, we have forgotten God.. and accusingly… you have forgotten God. I want to be very clear you need to move closer to God… I have nothing to say to those who have the slightest doubt about God… I don’t have to prove he exists, it’s up to you to prove he doesn’t!
Basically he tells them they have no room for anything else but God in their lives and that he won’t reveal himself until they have all found God… and the heavens answer with thunder, lightening and pouring rain.
The Young Pope could be likened to Kylo Ren, full of self doubt and self loathing, who has swapped black robes for white, the symbol of purity. Instead of a mask he has beauty of countenance and if you are looking for further analogies well, The Young Pope as a character, can be likened to that sly old political dog in wolf’s clothing Frank Underwood, star of another HBO series, The House of Cards.
The Young Pope surrounds himself with people completely lacking in, or smugly indifferent to cultural values as he embraces the concept of ‘to sin’ as being entirely far too ‘divine’.
So is he really a beast or a blessing? Well it will be up to you to decide if you want to take a stance. After all, that is how democracy works… it is all about freedom of information, love and liberty for all, not repression, guilt and ugliness. Oh, and the right to choose.
Where the hell is Luke Skywalker when you really need him!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
Images of Jude Law in the title role, courtesy HBO
The series is produced by Wildside, and co-produced by Haut et Court TV and Mediapro. Executive producers for Wildside are Lorenzo Mieli and Mario Gianani together with John Lyons. Executive producers for Haut et Court TV are Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta and Simon Arnal. ‘The Young Pope’ is a co-production of HBO and Sky.
I confess I couldn’t find a guide for parents about this anywhere on the HBO website. However, I would advise that it is a show for adults.
Watch The Trailer