Philomena: Oscar Nominated Movie Gives Insight Into Forgivness…And Hell

Philomena_poster“Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” declared Jesus from the cross.  He made the pronouncement upon the crowds who had orchestrated his crucifixion as they stared up at him in self righteous victory.  If ever someone had the “right” and the circumstance to withhold forgiveness, it was Jesus.  For 3 years he traveled around loving people, healing people, and revealing God to people.

So they killed him…

But the forgiveness he declared on a people not deserving it underpinned the pattern on which his new way of ordering society would be governed.

As I watched the new the new Oscar nominated Best Picture film Philomena last night I was struck by how much Judi Dench plays a woman placed in a similar situation. (Warning some spoilers follow)

In 1952 Philomena Lee has a tryst with a young man and she falls pregnant. The stigma of a single mother at the time forces her in to an indentured servitude at the local Catholic abbey.  These nuns are not the same nuns from Sister Act.  They are pretty evil.   They take Philomena’s baby and “sell” him for 1000 pounds to an American family looking to adopt.

50 years later Philomena’s search for her son, with the help of BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) finally discovers the truth.  A lot of course happens in the film but in a final confrontation with Sister Hildergaard, the nun who not only sold the baby all those years ago but purposely misdirected both mother and son as they sought each other over the years, Philomena extends forgiveness where it isn’t deserved.  The script says it all and reads as follows:


Martin turns back to HILDEGARDE. He is starting to lose it.
What you can do is say sorry! How about that?
Apologize! And then you
can go out there and clear all the weeds and crap
off the graves of the mothers and babies who died here.
Stop trying to hide them away
Their suffering was atonement for their sins.
One of them was fourteen years old!
That’s enough Martin!
The Lord Jesus Christ will be my
judge – not the likes of you.
Really? Because I think if Jesus
was here right now he’d tip you out
of that fucking wheelchair – and
you wouldn’t get up and walk.
Stop it! Stop it!
(To CLAIRE and the PRIEST)
I’m sorry, I didn’t want him to
come in here like this and make a scene.
MARTIN gets up and goes over to PHILOMENA.
We see a pious smile creep across HILDEGARDE’S face.
Why are you apologizing to them?
Anthony was dying of Aids and she
still wouldn’t tell him about you.
I know! But it happened to me. Not
you. And it’s up to me what to do
about all this. It’s my choice.
So you’re just going to do nothing?
I’m going to forgive.
(Turns to Sister Hildegarde)
Sister Hildegarde, I want you to
know that I forgive you.
HILDEGARDE’S face drops and she turns her head away from
PHILOMENA with an angry grunt, much happier with Martin’s
abuse than Philomena’s forgiveness. MARTIN looks at PHILOMENA, floored.
What..? Just like that?
It’s not ‘just like that’! It’s
hard. It’s a hard thing to do.
(Tears in her eyes)
I don’t want to hate people.
Look at you I don’t want to be like you.
(Close to tears with anger
and frustration)
I’m angry!
I know. It must be exhausting.

Both Sister Hidergaard and Martin Sixsmith live in the same world.  One of cynicism, hatred, and a fundamental despise of other people.  Although Sixsmith is “more good” than Hidergaard they both live lives sitting in judgement over others with their words and actions.


Philomena Lee lives in a spirit and world at contrast with Sixsmith and Hidergaard’s.  Throughout the film she is fundamentally kind to whoever she meets regardless of their “station”.  This Christlike lifestyle culminates when she chooses to not react in anger and retribution at the horrific way she had been treated but to instead forgive.

On Hell

One final thought I had when looking at the screenplay rested on the moment that Philomena extends forgiveness to Sister Hidergaard:

HILDEGARDE’S face drops and she turns her head away from
PHILOMENA with an angry grunt, much happier with Martin’s
abuse than Philomena’s forgiveness. 

There are many people in the world that when Christlike mercy and forgiveness is extended they reject it.  Like the Pharisees in Christ’s time they cover there ears and scream. They want to stamp it out and they have been trying to stamp it out ever since the resurrection.


Sister Hildergaard: Not comfortable in a world of mercy

What happens when Christ finally says “No more”! When he finally comes as promised to establish justice, mercy, forgiveness, and love as the way  and “norm” of living life?  What happens to the people who don’t want to live in that world?  Who see that type of world as foreign?

Hidergaard was more at home with Sixsmith’s abuse than Philomena’s forgiveness.  What happens when people like Hildergaard can no longer “get away” from that mercy and forgiveness?

It will be a world of hell for them I’m sure.

Just a thought.


  • Renee Benner

    I really liked this movie. Loved the message of forgiveness. Judy Dench was a marvel!

  • Just great, Thanks!

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