A few days ago my Rosemary and I watched Ulu Grosbard’s 1981 film True Confessions. My Wikipedia labels it an American neo-noir crime film. It stars Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as the brothers Spellacy, a priest and police detective. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by John Gregory Dunne, loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder case of 1947. Dunne wrote the screenplay with his wife, novelist Joan Didion.
We enjoyed the complexity of this film that really is one of those buddy movies. Watching Robert Duval I could not but recollect that years ago when I was taking portraits of Willford Brimley, he told me that Duvall was picking up where Spencer Tracy had left off when he died.
But the film, since I was raised as a Roman Catholic and educated at a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas, St.Edward’s, showered me with moments of that past when life was as simple as telling yourself that if something was much too complex to fathom you just believed it on faith.
Buenos Aires — Photograph John Anderson
I was lucky enough to have had a teacher/mentor/friend, Brother Edwin Reggio,C.S.C. of the Congregation of Holy Cross who taught me religion via theology and philosophy. He taught me how to fend for myself with logic. It was a logic of acceptance through give and take and a smile.
The film also brought me visions of the unease I had to face as a teenager when I had the personal responsibility of making a confession (sometimes this Sacrament of Confession is called of Reconciliation). This unease I can strangely compare with Rosemary and I having had some loud spats (mostly from my side) in our first years in Vancouver so we decided to see some marriage councillors. We had to iron out our problems by ourselves as we found ourselves making answers (ahead of time) that we would use for the questions asked!
In the same manner before going to confession while kneeling at a pew in preparation for the embarrassing ordeal (“Bless me father for I have sinned.”) I had to reconsider and figure out what my sins were and how I was going to frame them for the priest.
Venice — 2019
But after that ordeal, in those years of my youth, there was a pleasant levity (certainly not at all like St. Teresa of Ávila who was said sometimes floated at Holy Mass). I felt clean.
I sometime wonder what Freud or Jung may have written about the spiritual release of telling someone (not only your psychiatrist) of your troubles.
As someone who no longer goes to Mass and has not confessed for more than 50 years I suffer that Roman Catholic guilt that when things go well they may foreshadow some impending doom.
As a form of confession I find myself in this 2020 attempting to locate friends I may have offended. I am ordering as well as I can my photographic output and do my best to criticize less and to praise more.
But I can still remember many of those confessions. I can understand why in the film The Two Popes much is made of the young Jorge Bergoglio going to confession at the St. Joseph Basilica in Flores, Buenos Aires. Francis had a spiritual awakening as a young man.
Venice — 2019
The scene in the film is a marvellous parallel to all the confessional scenes of True Confessions. It is in one of those scenes that the Monsignor (De Niro and did he wear purple socks?) has his spiritual awakening and stops making the motions and becomes the man he was yet to be.