I had a fevered dream this past weekend.
In this dream, the Pope climbed from under a mountain of babies. He showered and I saw his buttocks. A man with a grotesque mole was put in his place. I learned that Cherry Coke Zero is the breakfast of champions.
And all of this madness? It played out like some Euro-cult cinema classic from the 1970s.
Naturally, I’m speaking of my experience watching the first episode of The Young Pope. It’s the latest drama rolled out by HBO. I’ve never seen John from Cincinnati, but I’ve read many articles describing its strangeness, and I can imagine the same executives who gave the green light to that well-known strange show jumped at The Young Pope. I’ve only seen the pilot episode, so I don’t know if The Young Pope holds its narrative thread better than John from Cincinnati, but I sure hope so.
Ostensibly, I can’t tell you what points the show is trying to make or where the plot will turn. It’s not because of spoiler worries. It’s because I don’t know. The series pilot is a lucid dream. It is disjointed, but it works. Similar to how David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive works while Lost Highway didn’t (to most viewers).
The biggest revelation to this viewer is how astoundingly magnetic and believable Jude Law is as Pope Pius XIII. He’s an actor I’ve always enjoyed, but I’ve never seen him as a thespian of the highest order. His best roles have always been his looser, edgier characters (think Gigolo Joe in A.I. or Ted Pikul in eXistenZ), and he completely inhabits Pius XIII.
The barest of setups is provided in the pilot. The Vatican cardinals have elected Lenny Belardo. Lenny is American and, of course, young (particularly by pope standards). The cardinals, behind Cardinal Voiello, feel they can manipulate him due to his inexperience. Sister Mary, played by Diane Keaton (who, like Jude Law, is fantastic), is the one person who truly knows Lenny (she helped raise him), but you get the sense that even her influence on the young pope is minor despite the respect he shows her.
The cinematography is inspired. The costume design is on point. The Euro-cinema style fits the tone.
I look forward to watching the rest of the episodes in the coming weeks. Would I suggest it to you? I would if you’re a fan of incredible filming and acting. If you like straightforward stories, then maybe not.
An Aside: Pope Pius XIII forgave my sins on Twitter. Now I’m feeling good about my chances of stepping through the pearly gates.