After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
Father James is a small-town priest in Ireland whose Sunday confessionals suddenly include a threat to kill him in a week's time as a matter of principle. Deeply troubled and conflicted about how to respond, Father James tries to go on with his calling through that week. However, that proves impossible as he is confronted with a troubling variety of spiritual challenges from both his estranged daughter and his own parishioners. In those dispiriting struggles, Father James' life begins to fall apart as time runs out towards a confrontation that seems to crystallize his values and what he wants his life to be.
Father James is a good priest living in a small town in Ireland. During a confessional, a parishioner declares that after being abused as a kid at the hands of another priest, he is going to kill Father James. In daily visits to all the town members, Father James discovers that there is no shortage of domestic abuse, racism, suicidal tendencies and extreme nihilistic views. A lack of innocence runs deep and a series of criminal acts forces Father James to face his persecutor and the dark consequences from the past of the Catholic Church.
In a Sunday morning in a small town in Ireland, a parishioner confesses to Father James the sexual abuse he was submitted by a priest when he was a child. He says that he will kill James, who is a good priest, at the beach on the next Sunday instead of a bad priest to disturb the Church. During the week, Father James has to deal with his troubled and estranged daughter Fiona Lavelle who tried to commit suicide; with the disturbed butcher Jack Brennan who hit his unfaithful wife Veronica; with her aggressive lover Simon; with an old writer who needs attention; with the cynical and atheist Dr. Frank Harte; with the problematic and spiritually empty millionaire Michael Fitzgerald who wants to donate money to the church. Meanwhile his church is burnt to the ground and Father James gets a gun from the local chief of police; then he decides to travel to Dublin. What will be Father James's final decision?
- The film Calvary is a parable of the betrayal of the Irish people by the Irish Catholic Church.
Context for the story: The Irish Catholic Church which was a pillar of, and defined Ireland's soul has been revealed to have consciously and methodically covered up institutional atrocities perpetrated by themselves.
Set in rural Ireland, the film begins in a confessional where Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confession. The voice on the other side speaks, "I was seven the first time I tasted semen". "Certainly a startling opening line", Father James replies. The voice asks if he's being ironic. Father James takes a more serious tone. The voice tells him that he was molested both orally and anally by a priest when he was seven and he bled a lot. Father James asks if he would like to report the priest. The voice says that the priest died a long time ago and that it didn't matter. "Killing a bad priest isn't a big deal, but if you kill a good priest, people take notice". The voice says he's going to kill Father James in seven days on the beach.
James lives a very simple life. He sleeps in a small room with a bed and his only two possessions are his crucifix and his dog. He takes walks on the beach and interacts with the town people. On the beach, he sees his altar server is drawing a landscape. In it there are two figures. James asks who they are and the boy says he doesn't know, but he has been having a lot of dreams about ghosts lately.
After mass, Father James is speaking with Father Leary (David Wilmot) who is gossiping about the townsfolk, sharing information he's heard in confession and making racially inappropriate comments about Simon (Isaach De Bankole) the only black man in the town. Father James doesn't say a word about the threat on his life.
James' daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) comes to town to lay low after a botched suicide attempt. The townsfolk didn't know it was possible for a Catholic priest to have a daughter. James explains that he became a priest after his wife died. The locals in the pub try to flirt with Fiona, but she has no interest. James does not drink. Its not because he doesn't like alcohol. Its because he likes it too much.
Later in the day, James visits with Veronica Brennan (Orla ORourke) who was wearing sunglasses during mass to cover up her black eye. He assumes that her husband did it. So James goes to meet her husband, the local butcher Jack Brennan (Chris O'Dowd) and confronts him. Jack is surprised, but good natured about the whole thing. He dismisses his wife by saying she's probably bi-polar. He says it wasn't him, but it might have been her boyfriend Simon. James questions the infidelity, but Jack explains that it works for them. They each do their own thing. James meets with Simon, who takes offense to the charge and passively threatens James and tells him to mind his own business.
James spends time with an elderly man known only as The Writer (M. Emmet Walsh) who asks for a Walther PPK, James Bonds favorite gun and the gun Hitler used to kill himself. The Writer explains that he doesn't want to get old and feeble. He'd rather just take his own life when the time is right.
James meets with the local Bishop and tells him about the threat during the confession. He also reveals that he knows who the man is and believes the threat is real. The Bishop says that because the man didn't ask for repentance and there was the threat of a law being broken, James would not violate and church law in speaking with the police.
James goes to speak with his friend Inspector Stanton (Gary Lydon), who seems to be spending some time with a male prostitute named Leo (Owen Sharpe). Leo keeps making lewd advances on James and offers to have sex with him in his vestments because he knows that's what priests like. Eventually Leo leaves and James asks Stanton for a gun. Stanton ends up giving him one after an awkward exchange where they both point the gun at each others heads.
Local Millionaire Michael Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) runs into James and his daughter on a walk. He's rude to James and Fiona calls him on it. He tells James that he has a business proposition and would like to meet with him later.
At Michael's house, James finds him drunkenly shooting skeet. They go inside and Michael insults James and the Catholic Church even more. He explains that hes lost his wife and children because he's detached from everything. Hes cheated people out of money for his own gain and while he knows he should feel bad about it, he doesn't. He also knows that hell never be punished for his crimes because if he were, too many other important people would have to go down too. Still though, he'd like to give the church some money because that seems like a thing people should do. To illustrate how much he doesn't care about anything, he takes a valuable painting off the wall and pees on it. He asks if James is surprised, to which he responds, "No, you've pissed on everything else you've had". He leaves.
That night, there's a call for James to go to the hospital. Drunk teens have killed a man on vacation with his wife. We meet Dr. Harte, who tells James to go do his mumbo jumbo. James gives the dead man his late rites and consoles the wife. Outside, James meets up with Harte again. Harte knows the Atheist doctor is a cliché and he wishes he could play James role instead, the good priest. Then he excuses himself by saying he has to go kill someone. Everyone in town has a cynical streak and loves to rub James face in the shadier parts of the Catholic Church.
Local serial killer Freddie Joyce (Domhnall Gleeson) asks to meet with James. Freddie has killed a bunch of people and led the police to all the bodies except the last one. He cant remember where it is because he was tripping on acid at the time. He also ate the flesh of his victims. He makes jokes and James challenges him on his lack of remorse and asks why he wanted to meet. Freddie says that he is actually sorry and begins to cry. James just stares at him.
James is sweeping up his church when one of the local youths Milo (Killian Scott) surprises him. Milo is upset because he doesn't know how to talk to the ladies. He also says that he's thinking of joining the army as an outlet for his anger. James says that killing is a sin. He explains, "As far as I'm concerned people join the army to find out what its like to kill someone. I hardly think that's an inclination that should be encouraged in modern society. Do you?" Milo says he does have in interest in taking a life. James tells him a better alternative would be to go some place with more girls like Dublin, London or New York City.
There's a party at the bar that night. Dr. Harte is doing lines of cocaine with Veronica. Fiona finds him attractive. James asks that she stay away from him. Fiona says he doesn't need to worry because shes so not into cocaine anymore. Its festive. Then someone notices that the church is on fire. Everyone in town runs to it, but its too late. The next day, its burned to the ground.
Michael meets with James and Father Leary. He apologizes to James for his behavior the other day and writes them a check to go towards a new church. First its going to be for 10,000 euros, but he ups it to 20,000. James says "if money doesn't really matter; why not make it 50k?" Michael ends up writing it for 100,000 euros and leaves. During this whole exchange, Leary tells Michael he's a really good man. Michael assures him that he's not. He also points out that the church could probably use the money since they had to pay so much in damages for all the priest pedophilia. Leary dismisses that as something that happened a long time ago and hasn't really been an issue in the church for about 50 years.
Walter meets with The Writer and tells him he's gotten him a gun. Its not the gun he wanted, but it's a gun that works. The Writer asks for it, but James says its not with him right now. When he leaves, he finds that someone has cut his dogs throat. He cries as he buries his dog.
The next day his daughter is leaving and she explains that when she lost her mom, James joined the church so in a sense she lost both parents and that was really hard on her. She leaves, asking that James say goodbye to the dog because she didn't see it this morning. He promised he would.
James goes to the bar and gets drunk. He confronts Leo who says he's the way he is because he was raped by priests and bishops. Jack and Simon are even getting along and playing chess. At the end of the night, Simon and the barkeep smoke weed and say that its time for James to go. James refuses, pulls out the gun and shoots up the bar. When the pistol is empty, the barkeep pulls out a bat.
Bloodied, James gets home where he runs into Leary. In a drunken rage, he tells Leary how completely useless he is and that he'd be better suited to be an accountant or something like that.
The next morning, James wakes up to find Leary is leaving. Leary is hurt and surprised because he had no idea how much James hated him. James says he doesn't hate him at all, he just finds him to have no integrity which is the worst. He also wishes him the best of luck., and
James, realizing that no matter how hard he tries and no matter how much he believes in the town people, they just don't feel the same, decides to leave. He backs his few possessions and goes to the airport. There he runs into the widow of the man from the car accident. His body is being loaded on the plane and two baggage handlers lean on the coffin like its furniture. James changes his mind and goes back to town.
The Writer sees James and tells him that he has finished his book although he is unsure how good it is,after James had asked. James says that he is sure it will be good, and asks if he and James can hang out for a bit. James says he has to meet someone, but they'll catch up later. He stands on the rocks of the beach and Michael approaches. Michael says the he genuinely feels bad and wants help. James tells him hell meet him later He calls his daughter and she starts to ask about her sins. James says there's been too much talk of sinning already and he'd rather talk about virtue. He says he's always felt his biggest virtue was his ability to forgive. Fiona says she forgives him. He hangs up the phone, and walks past the altar server to the beach to confront his killer.
Jack shows up and is surprised that he didn't have to chase down James. James says he doesn't have to do this. Jack says he does. James says he understands burning down the church, but doesn't get why he had to kill his dog. Jack says he didn't. James has been in pain for a long time from the abuse of the Catholic Church and needs to do this. He asks if James cried when he found his dog. He did. He asks if he cried when he read reports of all the children who were molested by priests. He did not. He explains that he felt detached from that. Jack shoots him in the gut and asks if he still feels detached. The altar server hears the gun shot and runs up. James tells him to run. Jack points the gun at James and tells him to stop looking at him. He can't do this if James is looking at him. James won't break the stare, so Jack turns away and shoots James dead, through the head.
James lies dead on the beach.
Everyone in town continues on with their lives.
Jack is now in prison for the murder. Fiona visits him. She picks up the phone to talk to him through the glass. He hesitates picking up his end, but does. She tears up.
Fade To Black.