Interest in the series “The Young Pope” arose even before the release of the screens: after all, the Vatican is not criminal everyday life and family passions, serials about it are rarely filmed, and to be precise, they are not filmed at all. Turning to a rare, unusual topic is always a winning move by the director, which allows him to disguise script errors, cinematographers’ flaws and the failed performance of individual actors. But in the case of P. Sorrentino’s mini-series, there was no need to mask anything: when Young Pope was released, it suddenly turned out that it was flawless. Even the most corrosive critics did not have any complaints about the quality, but the discussion of what Sorrentino wanted to say with his incredibly beautiful television series continues to this day, 2 years after the premiere.
Some are sure that Young Pope is a version of the American TV series House of Cards, adapted to European tastes and Vatican realities, which tells about the intricacies of politics. Others saw it as a production series with a typical plot: a new young boss came into the office, and everything started spinning. Still others call to concentrate on moral and ethical issues, especially since the director himself said: he shot a series about “signs of the presence of God and equally convincing signs of his absence, about the search and loss of faith.” Still others believe that the image of Lenny Belardo, brilliantly played by Jude Law, is deeply polemical and represents a kind of antithesis to the most popular Pope of Rome in the second half of the 20th century – John Paul II. Whether it is true or not, only Sorrentino knows, but the fact that the image of Pius the Thirteenth is the key to understanding the entire series,
Reformer from America
To understand the true meaning of the image of Lenny Belardo, you must first deal with the superficial characteristics of his personality: origin, age and appearance, leaving orphanhood for later. The newly elected dad is a young (relatively) and handsome American, although nothing prevented him from making the hero a European or at least Hispanic. At first glance, the choice is strange, because the United States is not a Catholic country and never was. But the United States, firstly, is a much more religious country than the absolute majority of European states; secondly, it is a fairly young, active and assertive state that claims to be a world leader; and thirdly, this is a country that has extraordinary attractiveness for some, while causing rejection for others.
Such is Lenny Belardo with his devout religiosity, activity, self-confidence, youth and beauty. He can be loved or hated, considered saint or possessed, but one must admit that he has a goal, ideals and a clear plan, that is, everything that is lacking for the rest of the cardinals, old, like those “sacred stones of Europe” about which Dostoevsky wrote. Sorrentino, recognizing the need to renew our civilization, is skeptical about the possibilities of Europe: it needs fresh blood, it needs someone with faith and strength, and the United States appears here both as a real country and as a symbolic image. But the most interesting thing is that the decrepit world of the Vatican needs an energetic American reformer just as Lenny Belardo needs the Vatican and especially Venice. The eternal orphan is obsessed with the desire to find his parents.
The motive of orphanhood, or rather the loss and search for parents, is so typical for television series in Catholic countries (Brazilian, Mexican, and Italian – remember “Eder”) that it might seem as if Sorrentino decided to ridicule cliches. A barely noticeable flavor of irony is indeed felt, but this flavor accompanies literally all the storylines, and this is not the point. Lenny’s loneliness and orphanhood is a metaphor depicting the state of a person in a world devoid of God. All philosophers of the 20th century, from Camus to Heidegger, wrote a lot on this topic, agreeing on one thing: to live knowing that there is no one there, and if you die, a burdock will grow, it is extremely uncomfortable. In an effort to escape from this absurdity, a person begins anew to seek the meaning of being, to seek faith. But to believe in the 21st century is much more difficult than in the 15th: we know too much about the world around us, and in order to believe we need to see.
Why is Pius the Thirteenth so conservative?
For the European audience, Lenny Belardo is obscenely archaic: on some issues, the elderly cardinals have more progressive views than this young man. For example, he is against abortion and is not inclined to consider homosexuality a variant of the norm. However, his conservatism has its own logic: after all, the entire 2nd half of the 20th century, the Catholic Church followed the path of increasing “modernization” and liberalism, but such a strategy did not bring the desired result and there were no more people in churches. And since the liberal road does not lead to the temple, then it is logical to try the conservative one.
What is the point of giving up PR?
The persistent refusal of Pius the Thirteenth to communicate with the press, to replicate his image on souvenirs and to go out under camera lenses has a much more serious motive than simple stubbornness. On the one hand, Lenny is furious with the commercialization of the church: in a world where everyone buys and sells, nothing is sacred. He cannot completely expel merchants from the Temple, but he can moderate the scale of trade. Feeling himself the viceroy of God, he does not want to turn into a man from the cover of a magazine or from a decorative plate. On the other hand, Lenny, formally not wanting to turn into a showman from the church, acts according to all the rules of show business, which states that riddle and distance create a true star. True, he does not always manage to maintain the right balance between detachment and availability, but such skills come with experience.
What is the meaning of the first frames?
At the start of the series, we see a chubby baby crawling through a pile of similar babies and eventually turns out to be Pius the Thirteenth. According to critics, we are dealing with a director’s “postponed metaphor”: in order to understand its meaning, you need to watch the series up to episode 5, in which dad examines the painting “The Worship of Venus” with a bunch of plump cupids, or erots, symbolizing all kinds of love and tender feelings … Escaping from under a pile of cupid babies, Lenny overcomes all human feelings in order to become something more than a person.
What is the meaning of sleep?
In the sermon that Lenny reads in his dream, he approves of everything he really hates and praises freedom. Psychologists consider such dreams, in which our fears are reflected, something quite natural, but here the question is what the newly elected dad is afraid of: to say something wrong, to fail the first public speech, or to succumb to the voices of inner demons, who insist that for the sake of popularity you can give up a little principles. One way or another, in subsequent episodes, Belardo successfully copes with all demons and temptations.
What does the Vatican think of the series?
Thanks to a large publication in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, we know that the Pope and the cardinals watch TV series, although specially trained people are assigned to broadcast their impressions. The Vatican considered the “Young Pope” not just another attempt to speculate on a topic that was up to date with the light hand of Dan Brown, but an important cultural phenomenon seeking to unravel the mystery of the church. Translation: the pope and the cardinals liked it.
Should I wait for the continuation?
Inspired by the success of the first season, Sorrentino was about to shoot the second: in the spring of 2017, the world media reported that the script had already been written and the casting was in progress. But then the process slowed down a little: Sorrentino and Lowe distracted new projects, so the most honest answer to the question about the continuation is: wait and see. It will be – great, it will not be – also good: in the first season, Sorrentino managed to squeeze in so many metaphors, mysteries and allusions that critics and viewers will have enough for many years to come.