Ireland, 1209. An island on the edge of the world. A small group of monks begin a reluctant pilgrimage across an island torn between centuries of tribal warfare and the growing power of Norman invaders. Escorting their monastery's holiest relic to Rome, the monks' progress is seen through the eyes of a pious young novice and a mute lay-brother with a violent past. As the true material, political and religious significance of the bejeweled relic becomes dangerously apparent, their path to the east coast becomes increasingly fraught with danger. The monks belatedly realize that in this wild land of ancient superstitions, the faith that binds them together may ultimately lead to their destruction.Written by
A beautifully-made and compact story with a lot of hidden depth.
This strong, atmospheric, and beautifully-made little film did not disappoint based on reviews that either put it in the trash for "gratuitous violence" or gave it a firm pat on the head for a good attempt.
I see the value in the latter assessment - working on a budget, this film does a lot with what it has, providing hauntingly beautiful vistas of an ancient Ireland and making its story stretch beyond its small shooting framework. The actors, too, make so much of the script they've been given, with great performances throughout. Although this does lead me onto the main drawback of the film: the characters are largely undeveloped, especially that of Diarmuid - who is the protagonist no less - and his Brothers. We can see that he cares about them a lot - after all, "the monastery is all he's ever known" - but more development would have been crucial to making me really care about whether they lived or died, failed or succeeded. The most interesting characters for me were Geraldus and the Mute, "grey" characters whose backstories are hinted at if never fully disclosed, and with sublime subtlety in the case of Bernthal's character. The characters we do get to truly see are rewarding, albeit darkly, and were one of the film's greatest triumphs - it just would have been great to see the same treatment given to the lead protagonist and primary villain.
In the other camp, I don't think the story could have worked without the levels of violence, savagery, and loss that we see, which the viewer must witness with the same unblinking acceptance that the characters do. In this, there is a hidden depth to Pilgrimage, a story about Ireland, the land where "there was never peace". One review focused around the particular Irishness of the film rang true in some places - that the colour shown here is multiple shades of grey, and little green - if not in others. This is not a deconstruction of the "Irish" mythos, but it does touch, tenderly and reverentially, upon the idea of an unattainable relic: to know peace, both within and without, a dream not limited to this country but echoed in Jerusalem and beyond. Though it does not present its findings in a wholly satisfying parcel, the film did provoke thought about where that quest for peace could lead us next - to what bloody ends or watery graves? To what loss and to what triumphs?
"Where to now?"
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