Philomena is a heart-wrenching 2009 investigative book transformed into a movie based from the writings of BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith staring Steve Coogan about his journey with Philomena Lee. Starring Dame Judi Dench as Philomena, the title character sets out to find her son Anthony who was sold away from her to America at the Roscrea Abbey in Ireland when she was a child herself. This film was directed by the incomparable Stephen Frears whose credits include The Queen.
It would be unfair to give any part of this film’s story away in this review, you must experience it yourself. Philomena is beautiful to watch, highly stylized, and touches one on a much deeper level whilst brilliantly portrayed by top-notch actors.
What I will focus on is the basic Catholic tenet of penitence, and what Philomena is all about.
Cited in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary penitence is defined as: a feeling of deep sadness because you have done something wrong. Penitence surfaced in the 13th Century rooted and expressed as Anglo-French penitance, from Medieval Latin poenitentia, alteration of Latin paenitentia, regret, from paenitent-, paenitens, to present participle.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation focuses on healing, forgiveness and peace. And yet in order for this sacrament to be valid, the sinner must do more than just confess sin to the priest. They must be truly sorry, have a firm commitment to never commit sin and perform the penitence imposed by the priest. Penitence originally was a process for the sinner to appear before the bishop in a public ceremony, they admitted what they did and expressed how sorry they were for their wrong doings. A penance was then mandated, and during one’s penance, the sinner could not enter the church until the church welcomed them back. Confession plays a key component and the repetition of prayers, thus the words of Absolution releases the sinner from their transgressions.
Fifty years hence, hasn’t Philomena suffered long enough with the search for her son? Consider if Philomena Lee forgives Sister Hildegard who will never understand the loss of a child. Philomena releases her anger by admitting that is just too exhausting to hold onto any longer. Philomena never regrets her relationship and what comes from that chance moment in time. Whose transgressions does one live by with the Catholic doctrine? And I ask, how long does one have to suffer loss and at what cost? Where is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that focuses on forgiveness, peace and the Joy of Healing? Isn’t that what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about? Philomena has embraced that sacrament and has excused herself from her sins and past transgressions. She finds her closure, she finds her peace, and she grasps her own healing process and inner forgiveness with incredible understanding against the adversity of great pain and very final realizations.
Philomena is a must see film. Sit back, breath in her discoveries and the grace in which she handles truth in life. It is a testament of how each of us must seek forgiveness in this lifetime to find peace and tap into one’s higher self. This is a journey each of us walks everyday and I promise Philomena will give you hope that life is truly wonderful and worth living, even under great duress.