The Canadian release of Pilgrimage has finally come, albeit on iTunes. I found out about the September 5 release date only through a tweet by Get Reel Movies , who recently interviewed Richard Armitage about the movie. To me, it shows just such a total lack of interest in promoting the film that the Canadian distributor, Search Engine Films, couldn’t even be bothered to list the correct date on their website. Until last week they listed the iTunes release date as September 25 and now, they still list Pilgrimage as “Coming Soon”. So no wonder they didn’t try to market the film to any cinema venues!
Digital vs Big Screen
Not being able to see the movie on the big screen is really disappointing. I was really looking forward to full-sized Armitage and also to getting the full effect of the beautiful Irish scenery. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t make as big an impression on the small screen. I also found that, much as I enjoyed the sound of the various languages, the small white subtitles are a bit hard to see and distracting as well. On the other hand, seeing Pilgrimage‘s extreme violence miniaturized is probably not as shocking as it must have been when large and in-your-face.
And here I am once again “owning” a movie only digitally. After the Digital Theatre fiasco, I am a little more leery of this, although I am a bit more confident about the viability of iTunes. (Finally having received a reply from DT, I felt compelled to thank them for their lovely form letter repeating the info already on their website. I also reiterated, because apparently saying it the first time wasn’t enough to prompt any action, that I DO want permanent access to my purchases and I DON’T want a subscription! Now to hurry up and wait… again!)
Overall Impressions and Synopsis
I watched Pilgrimage with my younger son and we both found the movie to be good. I had decided to put all the commentary I’d read aside and try to enjoy it as a fresh experience. For those who don’t know, Pilgrimage is a quest-type story, where a group of monks are taking their most sacred relic across 13th-century Ireland. The goal is to deliver it to Rome so that its power will guarantee the success of the Church’s next Crusade. The safety of the quest is to be overseen by a troupe of Norman soldiers lead by Raymond De Merville (Richard Armitage).
I asked my son what he thought the message of the film was, but he didn’t really think there was one and instead saw it as just a story of the times. I also didn’t see an overall message, but more just a relating of what happened during this purposeful and risky journey. The device of hand-held cameras was useful in making the audience feel part of the action, even though it was originally a budget-driven decision. I appreciated the acting, all of which was excellent, and found the accents to be believable. It’s interesting to see the main actors playing roles which are different from those for which they are best known. My son had a hard time recognizing Jon Bernthal, even though he is a big fan of The Walking Dead.
I thought that the story did a good job at sustaining interest while moving the characters along the route of the quest, having them try to overcome obstacles along the way, and having them discover their own right thing to do and where their own loyalties should lie. However, at only 96 minutes, it could really have been expanded to go into more depth. Even in an ensemble cast, there still would have been room for more character development.
**Spoilers** – Characters and Motivations
I thought that it was very interesting to watch the different characters, their seeming motivations, and their decisions. I didn’t think that the movie came across as an indictment of organized religion (even if that might have been in the mind of the writer), so much as an exploration of the different characters and their allegiances. What follows is my interpretation of the four main characters.
- Brother Diarmuid – The Novice (Tom Holland) – His motivation in all decisions is to do what he perceives as good and right in the service of Christ. He would like that to match what his religious superiors order him to do, but he is not afraid to defy them or the Church if he feels that they are wrong. He believes in the power of the relic but does not agree with protecting it at the expense of human life. I don’t think that at the end he necessarily chooses to leave the Church. I believe that he could very well decide to return to the monastery.
- The Mute (Jon Bernthal) – He has seen too much of the Crusades and has himself delivered too much violence. He is with the monks to atone for or achieve redemption from what he has done. When the blood lust is upon him, he cannot control his actions and this is portrayed extremely well in the movie. His loyalty is to the monks who took him in and to the protection of the good young novice, but it is not necessarily to the Church.
- Brother Geraldus – The Cisterian (Stanley Weber) – He wants what he wants at all costs. The end for him justifies the means. He sees the others in the party and in fact in the larger world as tools or weapons with little value in and of themselves. He is willing to sacrifice anyone for what he sees as his purpose in serving the Church. He seems a little crazed, presumably in part because of what he let happen to his family in the name of the Church.
- Raymond de Merville (Richard Armitage) – His motivation is power and standing for himself and his family. He wants to win favour with the powers that be in Normandy. He may or may not believe in the power of the relic, despite what he says. His initial mocking of the relic when it is first shown by the monks (“And this is that rock?… Most impressive…”) is met with disapproval by his father (“You must forgive my son’s impertinence…”) and he dips his head, looking almost as if he has been slapped. It seems to me that he expected his father to join in or at least approve of the mockery, and I think that his subsequent actions are at least in part a rebellion against his father.
While I wouldn’t characterize Pilgrimage as a great movie, I did think it was worth watching, even though I really wish I could have seen it on the big screen.