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The Two Popes

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Two Popes Movie Poster Image
Theological leadership drama more for adults than kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 125 minutes

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Kids say

age 10+
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Many nuggets of wisdom delivered throughout the film, sometimes through Biblical verse, with themes of leadership, compassion, humility, integrity, communication. Strongest message is importance of holding ourselves accountable for our mistakes -- and not just to forgive others but also to forgive ourselves.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pope Francis is an extraordinarily humble man who walks the walk and acts with integrity. Both he and Pope Benedict try to make decisions to affect the greater good, but their implementation of that is different. They both try to fix their mistakes and offer forgiveness to others who make errors in judgment. Pope Francis is excellent at making people feel at ease.

Violence

An authoritarian government squelches rebellion with strong-arm techniques: gunning down priests, torturing and killing citizen dissenters. A soccer game gets rough, with players having bloody cuts to the head. Veiled references to sexual abuse of altar boys by priests. 

Sex

Prominently displayed painting of a naked boy.

Language

Very little, but it is out of the mouth of popes: "son of a bitch," "dammit." 

Consumerism

The Vatican and the Pope's residence and wardrobe are quite ornate, but the future Pope Francis spurns that to embrace simple living. Fanta soda is shown and mentioned by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The popes often drink wine but not to excess (one pope seems to prefer orange soda). Brief smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Two Popes is a drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce that explores the Catholic Church's internal struggle to balance traditional and progressive viewpoints. The cardinals speak in Latin and other languages for the first quarter of the film; subtitles are provided. It's assumed that viewers know what's been going on with the Catholic Church in recent years: There are quick references to contemporary scandals (including sexual abuse) and several person-on-the-street comments about Pope Benedict XVI being a "Nazi." Argentina's violent history with the Dirty Wars is shown in flashbacks: The military shoots, tortures, and kills dissenters. The film is all about leadership, communication, forgiveness, and perspective -- specifically, how different people can look at the same thing and see it differently. As valuable as that lesson is for teens, there's not much here that most kids will enjoy. The popes drink wine and curse a little bit ("son of a bitch," "dammit"), which is a small demonstration of the film's biggest takeaway: Even those closest to God are still human.

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What's the story?

In THE TWO POPES, traditionalist Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) and reformist Cardinal Julio Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) are the top leaders in the Catholic Church. But they have diverging views on how theology should be interpreted. After Ratzinger is selected to replace Pope John Paul II, he takes the church deeper into conservatism. But when Bergoglio turns in his letter of resignation, Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- invites Bergoglio to his summer residence, where he wants to talk about everything except the cardinal's resignation.

Is it any good?

If you're going to make a movie about what's holy, it had better be outstanding -- and this drama rises to the occasion. The Two Popes imagines an intriguing fly-on-the-wall-of-history scenario in which the two living popes debate theology and leadership. Perspective is at the heart of the film, and the idea that Ratzinger and Bergoglio could learn the same materials from the same type of teachers and in the same way, but come out with two completely different takes is really thought-provoking material. Director Fernando Meirelles created the ideal recipe to spark robust conversation.

The film centers on a fictional event -- Benedict inviting his former rival to spend time exchanging ideas with him at his summer residence -- but surrounds it with authenticity. The production design, including replicating the Vatican, is astounding. But it's the performances that really make the film fly. Hopkins creaks in tune with Benedict, who's portrayed as a Fanta-loving fuddy-duddy who's well aware of how much harder he's had to work for his success because he lacks a popular touch. And Pryce so fully embodies Bergoglio that you might find yourself checking the credits to be sure it's not Pope Francis himself. The film is much like a Gregorian Chant: The elements harmonize singularly to create a beautiful piece, but true appreciation for it comes with age.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the issues the Catholic Church has struggled with in recent years and how it's now trying to move forward.

  • What are the trademarks of a good leader? Why is good communication essential to the role? Why is it important to consider diverse viewpoints on a topic?

  • What does the movie say about forgiveness? Why is it an important tenet of the church? Do you agree that "the most glorious journey can start with a mistake"?

  • How does Pope Francis demonstrate humility and integrity? How does that compare with Pope Benedict? Why are these important character strengths? Why are they even more important in moral leaders?

  • Why do you think Pope Benedict chose to step aside and allow his rival to lead, especially when Francis' beliefs aren't the same as his own?

Movie details

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