If you don’t like ambiguity in your movies, you’re not going to be a fan of In The Name Of. However if you enjoy something a little challenging that’s designed to push buttons and get you questioning what you’re watching, then there’s a lot to admire about this film. It certainly got plenty of fans at film festivals, including winning the Golden Teddy, the annual award for best LGBT-themed movie at the Berlin Film Festival.
Adam (Andrzej Chyra) is a priest, newly arrived in a small, rural Polish community, where he’s been sent to both get him out of his previous parish and so he can improve the church’s social work in the area, getting a group of troubled teenage boys back on the straight and narrow. The locals seem to take to him, particularly a woman called Ewa.
However Adam is hiding a secret – he’s gay and there were unfounded rumours about an altar boy at his old church. When he decides to take one of the youths, Lukasz (known as Humpty), under his wing, the boundaries between what is and isn’t appropriate become blurred, while those around Adam are already primed to think the worst.
In The Name Of is a film that builds slowly, introducing you to the characters and their world. It takes a while until the plot really gets going, spending the early part of the movie with the camera darting around, suggesting that even though things seem to be going well, problems are inevitable.
It would have been easy to make a film that was either about how priests are unfairly maligned (especially if they have gay feelings but have chosen a life of celibacy), or alternatively if it was about how priests are horrible, evil predatory paedophiles aided in their crimes by the Catholic machinery. Instead it creates a more complex, difficult world where things are anything but black and white. Nobody in this film always does the right thing, but there’s nobody who could be said to be fully bad either. The film is set up in such a way that it constantly asks the viewer to question what they’re seeing.
For example, early on Adam’s interest in Lucasz deliberately flirts on the edge between paternalism and inappropriate intimacy. Some scenes can be seen in completely different ways, either as romantic, as an indictment of the idea that an older man taking an interest in a younger person’s well-being is inherently perverse, or indeed showing how easy it would be for someone to take advantage of a young, trusting, troubled person.
As the film continues, the questions get more complex. Is Adam doing the right thing? Is it understandable? Does celibacy put demands on priests that almost ask for inappropriate things to happen? Are men of the cloth who have same sex attractions essentially hiding in the priesthood, and it will never really solve the fundamental issue they have with their sexuality? Does the modern world always want to see the bad in things that aren’t really that terrible?
There’s no doubt that by the end, things have happened that really shouldn’t have, but in the film’s refusal either to condemn or commend its character, the viewer is left to bring their own thoughts and interpretations to events. Even the very last shot is completely ambiguous, leaving you to wonder whether what’s happened has been good for Lucasz and set him on the right path, or whether he’s now trapped in the same cycle as Adam.
There’s even room for the Catholic Church to be shown as being in a quandary, knowing that nowadays it cannot sweep things under the carpet, but that it wouldn’t be fair either to completely destroy a man’s life when there’s no real evidence he’s done anything wrong. Is it better for them to err on the side of caution, just in case, or is that unjust if people are primed to see the bad in something that’s actually innocent? And does the solution – shuffling Adam around – actually cause more problems than it solves as it leaves him wanting for connection and intimacy?
As said above, some will find the whole thing rather frustrating, as it would be much easier to watch and more comfortable if the movie just told you what to feel all the way through. But if you’re open to it, In The Name Of is something far more interesting and complex – a movie that won’t let the viewer off the hook. It’s mindful of the complexity of human interactions, knowing that when people do the wrong thing they generally don’t do it to be deliberately bad, and that if we want to understand it we need to be open to the murky complexities of life.
You may well find yourself thinking about the film long after the credits have rolled, realising that the world is a more difficult place than a tabloid world of black and white might suggest. There may be many terrible things that happen out there, but there are also a lot more that aren’t quite so clear cut in how good or bad they actually are.
Overall Verdict: If you like ambiguity and the ability to raise questions that will lead your brain off in a thousand different directions, In The Name Of is a fascinating movie taking in complex themes about the church, celibacy, homosexuality, where the boundaries of intimacy should be and various other things too. Well worth watching.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac