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Two Popes, Too Many Untruths

I felt strangely pulled between two minds as I sat through The Two Popes, the new movie said to be about the relationship between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

On the one hand—and for most of the first hour—I felt nothing but disquiet and anger at the representation of Benedict. Then I noticed that, gradually, I had become drawn into the movie: In spite of myself, I caught myself caring about the imagined engagement of these two men. The trouble was: These men bore no resemblance to the real-life men they were supposed to represent. That’s fundamentally why The Two Popes (on Netflix starting December 20) is a dangerous and misguided movie.

At the level of story, it is the same old narrative we have been fed by the media from the moment of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s election as pope in 2005. He is a “dour traditionalist,” “God’s Rottweiler,”  The Man Who Couldn’t Smile or Dance. In the other corner is Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,200 years, a one-time Tango club bouncer, passionate soccer fan, the “man with the common touch,” and in due course the “Christlike Pope”—in contradistinction to all his predecessors. This movie leaves idle no media cliché: Jorge Cardinal Mario Bergoglio’s battered black brogues on the airport security scanner, Francis eschewing the papal red shoes, Bergoglio watching football in a bar and eating takeaway pizza. There’s talk of the evils of walls and the virtues of bridges.

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