The clerical collar carries with it significant weight. Its presence instantly changes the timbre of a conversation, even if that conversation is with an Oscar-winning actor.
In Thy Kingdom Come, which premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, Director Eugene Richards pieces together a series of conversations that Javier Bardem, dressed as a priest, has with residents of rural Oklahoma. These moments were filmed as part of Bardem’s preparation and research for his role as Father Quintana in To The Wonder. Recruited by Terence Malick’s production company to make these videos, Richards realized he had witnessed something in these conversations that needed to be shared as a standalone piece.
The director said people who spoke with Bardem were not deceived. They knew this was an actor portraying a priest. Some knew who Bardem was, and others did not. But all knew what he represented. A person ready to listen, hold their hand, and cry with them if necessary. Wover together, the intimately filmed moments leave an indelible mark on you as a viewer.
This pseudo-documentary felt as real than any other piece of content I’ve ever seen purporting to portray “reality.” The pain, hurts, and hopes of the people Bardem talks to are out in the open, lingering in the mostly silent spaces of this film. Richards splits the conversations up into separate pieces over the course of the film’s 42-minute runtime, and this device of delaying “resolution” in any form helps convey the immense weight of pain these people carry with them.
There’s a woman dealing with the pain of cancer and fighting to stay alive so she can support her young son. There’s a man, in prison, who scoffs at the idea of “a smoking priest” when Bardem asks him for a cigarette. There’s a grieving mother, who opens up about the most unimaginable of tragedies.
When Bardem is at the prison, some prisoners look at the glass and hold out a hand to him, seeking connection from him not as a celebrity, but as a fellow human who they feels cares for them in a perceivable way.
The experiences are varied, but there’s a common thread through all of them. Each person Bardem spoke to seemed impacted by the radical act of someone patiently taking the time to focus on them. Even when they are inarticulate, even when they are silent, and even when they say things out of anger.
Thy Kingdom Come presents a call to a new way of life focused on listening to others. The next line in the Lord Prayer’s that follows the title of this film is “Thy will be done.” If we all behaved as Bardem does in this challenging work, I think that would be a good start.