Representation of Catholicism in Irish Movies in the 20th Century

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How has the representation of Catholicism evolved in Irish cinema in the twentieth century, with specific attention to: ‘The Quiet Man’, ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ & ‘Breakfast on Pluto’?“Ireland remains the overwhelmingly Catholic country of the English speaking world, according to results of the April 2011 census . . . Over 84 per cent of people in the Republic, or 3.86 million describe themselves as Roman Catholic in that census” (McGarry, 2012:14). These figures are the most current details recorded in the country’s census, yet the country’s general interest is broadly reflected through the media. Focusing on Irish cinematic media, religion is explored from a range of different perspectives, which may reaffirm or question these statistics. Although religious themed films have not necessarily become more topical, representation has become more diverse. Ranging from a priest recognizing himself as a pillar of the community in the early twentieth century to films featuring representations of sexuality, to the overall challenging of religious hierarchy. Religious representation in Irish media reflects a changing Irish society. Contemporary portrayals of religion may steer audiences from having a strong foundation in the Church to questioning it or to abandoning religion altogether. According to Dr. Pat Brereton, lecturer in Dublin City University, “religious representations in films impact our personal views as they can help us to firm up an opinion... give us some concrete examples (or) personifications of priests etc., which feed into our belief systems.” Given that the Irish Constitution affords a special place for the Catholic Church, it is therefore unsurprising that Catholicism is portrayed in the media as very much a part of the Irish identity. The media has influenced peoples attitude towards the Church by informing them of its strengths and its weaknesses which would not have been tolerated by the Church or State in the past.Differentiation of attitudes can be seen in three significant films: ‘The Quiet Man’ directed by John Ford in 1952, ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ directed by Peter Mullan in 2002 and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ directed by Neil Jordan in 2005. Knowledge of the times in history in which these films were set gives a better understanding of the attitudes, temperaments and behaviors expressed. These films are religious themed, yet regarding religion Hugh Gash states that “Religion is about the things we don’t know and cannot know rationally.” Therefore the practices of Catholicism can answer the questions or fill the gaps. In recent years education is prioritised, and as Hugh Gash suggests we close gaps the moment we learn. This reliance on religion can therefore fluctuate, depending on the individual and the type of educational system that they experience. In recent years religion’s influence on the individual have both strengthened and weakened, resulting in the constant evolution of religious values. These three films represent the evolving of religious values of the nation.The Quiet Man’ is set in 1920’s Ireland and gives audiences a strong understanding of the expectations of the general public at this time. It also creates a connection between religion and Irish heritage. The protagonist Sean Thornton, played by John Wayne, is of Irish heritage and returns to his homeland from life in the United States of America. One of the film’s opening scenes sees Sean meet Father Peter Lonergan, (Ward Bond) a priest who shares that he recalls Thornton’s family. This recognition and distant familiarity offers Sean a feeling of acceptance to a new society. In knowing Sean’s family and his history the priest links Thornton’s ‘Irishness’ and his cultural heritage to religion. Thornton is eager to maintain a relationship with the Church, as in the post-independence years Catholicism was a significant factor in defining Irish cultural and national identity. Therefore Sean Thornton displays...
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