This week Andrew, Kyle, and Ryan will be discussing the one scene from each of the films that they feel clenched their nomination for the Best Picture Oscar. *Some spoilers to follow*I'm still surprised that Philomena was nominated for Best Picture, but one of the closing passages shows how it could have struck such a strong chord with audiences. It also is one of the scenes that caused me the greatest displeasure and is already souring the rest of the film in my memory.
It's the kind of scene audiences and Academy members eat up, a triumphant return for the protagonist to avenge a wrong from years past. Philomena (Judi Dench) and Martin (Steve Coogan) returned to the nunnery where Philomena lived and where her son was taken from her years ago. Martin realizes that they've been hiding the one person who could have given them the information that they needed to end the journey weeks ago.
Steven Frears doesn't do anything fancy with the camera here. The main draw for the film from the beginning has been the two lead performances and the few stylistic flourishes he shows delve into the way Philomena was herded into her predicament by the nuns who were supposed to look out for her spiritually and physically. So while Martin yells at the elderly nun who judged Philomena so harshly the camera is tight on his face, leaving us no room to leave the anger he's feeling. As Philomena approaches, she is given more freedom in the frame. As opposed to trapping us with Martin's anger she is allowed to enter the scene and has some agency over what will happen next.
Since Martin said that Jesus would tip the wheelchair bound nun over there's the lingering impression that Philomena has the capability to do this. She doesn't, and the camera returns to another closeup of her face as she does the truly Christian thing and forgives the evil nun. Martin is guided by the rage that finally has a target, and Philomena by the love for her son and ultimately embracing Christianity as it means to her. There's nothing fancy, but it doesn't really need to be, as it's a simple exclamation of where both characters are at the end of their journey.
It's the scene that clenched the nomination and is the most cynical moment in the film because Philomena's forgiveness is immediately rescinded in the scene afterward where she tells Martin to print the story. This moment allows the faithful in the audience to get some satisfaction that good Christians are capable of living up the highest virtues of their faith. But it serves more to appease the atheists in the audience who not only get to have the wittiest lines but get to win out in the end. The story that Martin's set to publish will undo any forgiveness that Philomena showed the one who sinned against her.
As far as emotional moments go, it packs a decent punch. The emotional success through Steven Frears' direction owes more to Judi Dench's nakedly spiritual and decent performance as Philomena than anything the screenplay is able to provide. Philomena's moments of wit allowed room to sqeeze through with an Adapted Screenplay nomination, but if selected would be a sour win.
The “Why” for Philomena's nomination is easy enough to understand, but does not make it any easier to swallow.