The Young Pope: The Pseudo Film Series that Questions Catholicism

An innovative method of studying the Vatican State

By Anna Lucchinetti

After the success of The Great Beauty and Youth, Paolo Sorrentino ends this year with another innovative and surprising creation: the drama series The Young Pope. The show premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September and tickets for the premiere sold out within an hour. The series combines A-list celebrities from different countries such as America, Spain and Italy. Jude Law is the star with the role of Lanny Belardo, the first American Pope in history. Other well know actors are Diane Keaton portraying Sister Mary, the Italian actor Stefano Accorsi as the Italian Prime Minister and the Spanish actor Javier Camara as Bernardo Monsignor Gutierrez.

Paolo Sorrentino defines his creation as, ‘The clear signs of God’s existence. The clear signs of God’s absence. How faith can be searched for and lost. The greatness of holiness, so great as to be unbearable when you are fighting temptations and when all you can do is to yield to them. The inner struggle between the huge responsibility of the head of the Catholic Church and the miseries of the simple man that fate (or the Holy Spirit) chose as Pontiff. Finally, how to handle and manipulate power in a state whose dogma and moral imperative is the renunciation of power and selfless love towards one’s neighbour. That is what The Young Pope is about.’

The story begins with Lanny Belardo’s nomination as the new Pontiff. The name he chooses, Pius XIII, is symbolic of how he is going to act in the course of his pontificate. In fact, all the previous Popes of that name had strongly shaken the basement on which the Catholic Church is built.

Sorrentino pictures the young Pope as the revolutionary figure that the Catholic system craves. With his latest creation, Sorrentino aims to question the structure of the Catholic system and the function of religion itself in men’s’ lives. What would happen if the next Pope would be someone who secretly supports gay marriages, abortions, divorce and actually calls into doubt the existence of God? How relevant should religion be when discussing political issues? The Young Pope explores all these themes by presenting an innovative and totally ground-breaking method of studying the Vatican State. The use of Lanny Belardo’s perspective allows Sorrentino to picture typical life in the Pontifical state from the inside with an extremely critical and judgmental lens. He is pictured as the Pope who is going to change the Catholic System as God tells him, by starting from the very core.

All the episodes are mainly about Belardo’s aim to spotlight every defect and form of corruption that affects the Catholic Church. In the chapters released so far, Belardo demonstrates his disapproval of the whole prestige that is gifted to the figure of the Pope, who would normally punish all those who disobey God’s law, such as homosexuals, paedophiles and alcoholic priests. However, it is possible to say that Belardo’s battle against the system is exceedingly contradictory. In effect, even though he defines himself as the spokesman of God’s will and the man who will persecute all the sinners, it is possible to say that Pius XIII is a sinner himself – i.e. he does not only have moments of deep insecurity about God’s existence, but also has such a narcissistic view of himself that sometimes he feels superior to Him, and further relies more on his abilities as a political strategist rather than as a religious guide.

The ten-episode series debuted in the UK on the 27th of October on Sky Atlantic. The show has also been released in Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, Poland and Romania and will be released in the USA on the 15th of January 2017.


Anna Lucchinetti

This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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