Adam knows that he desires men and that his embrace of the priesthood has been a flight from his own sexuality. When he meets Dynia; the strange and taciturn son of a simple rural family; Adam’s self-imposed abstinence becomes a heavy burden.
He has a special gift for helping troubled teenage boys, which his superiors value greatly. His homosexuality has never led to anything remotely inappropriate with a boy (or with a man, for that matter), but he is periodically transferred in order to keep even rumours from interfering with his very valuable ministry. Most recently he was moved from Warsaw to an isolated rural parish with a small work-home for boys on furlough from reformatories.
He works elbow to elbow with his even sterner lay assistant Michal, and there is no question about their earning the boys’ respect: they command it. The wildness of the place is described in a tense opening scene showing how small children mercilessly torment a simple-minded youth. An atmosphere of danger and violence holds the whole film in thrall, and against this backdrop Father Adam’s personal drama emerges.
His first temptation comes, appropriately enough, from an attractive woman named Eve, Michal’s dissatisfied wife, who attempts to seduce him without success. His witty reply (“I’m already taken”) seems to refer to his vow of celibacy, but gradually it becomes clear that he’s attracted not to women, but to the youths around him. One in particular strikes a chord, the strange, silent Lukasz whose long hair and beard give him the look of a teenage Jesus. In an eerie primeval scene in a vast cornfield, the priest and the boy play hide-and-seek, calling to each other with ape-like howls. Rather than give in to his sexual longings, however, Adam returns to his old vice of drinking, which culminates in the film’s sole comic scene as he dances, dead drunk, to a pumped-up rock track, with a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI for a partner. Though there are not really that many ways such a tale could end, the screenplay keeps all options open until it settles on a dignified finale with a small-scale surprise.
In a village in rural Poland his work is with teenage boys with behavioural problems who are constantly fighting and shouting abuse. A local, bored housewife, the wife of Fr Adam’s co-worker, Michal, makes a play for him but he rejects her advances, stating that he is “already spoken for”, a reference no doubt to his vow of priestly celibacy. His eyes, however, are drawn to the Christ-like figure of Lukasz, known to his friends as Humpty, a strange, withdrawn and possibly autistic youth, the son of a local family, whom Adam resuscitates after the young man, who does not swim, gets into difficulties at a local lake. After this, the bloodied Lukasz turns to the priest for help after getting involved in a fight with other boys. In an obvious reference to depictions of the Pietá, the young man is seen draped across the lap of the priest after having had his wounds washed.
The appearance of a newcomer to the centre, Blondie, who passes knowing glances in the direction of Adam, is the catalyst for change. Not least because the priest finds him In flagrante delicto with another boy who previously had confessed that he had had oral sex with a youth at a party he attended while on a weekend pass The penance recommended was that the young man should run for at least an hour every day, and to regard it is a form of prayer. Explaining perhaps why Fr Adam is seen several times throughout the film running in the local woods. He’s not training for a marathon but dealing with his demons. Blondie condemns the priest as an old faggot to a group of the boys and, in time, Michal comes to the same conclusion and secures an appointment with the local bishop.
Director Malgośka Szumowska and her co-writer/cinematographer Michal Englert eschew a sensational approach, with no interest in condemning their tortured protagonist as a criminal; “I’m not a pedophile, I’m a faggot,” he weeps in a confessional video chat with his sister. (They do hedge their bets by casting Kościukiewicz, an actor in his mid 20s who looks his age, as the object of infatuation.) While the setting and austere interiors are expressively grim, In the Name Of could have used more nervy scenes like the one where Adam, in the wake of discovering two students noisily fucking, goes on a vodka bender and dances furiously with a portrait of Pope Benedict. The brutish physicality of the teens, even before they begin to gossip about their minder’s sexuality, is germane to this man’s world, whether Adam is doing call-and-response ape grunts with Humpty in a cornfield, and even in the juvenilia of a weenie roast (one kid has to blurt, “My sausage is on fire!”). But the priest’s obsession with early-morning distance running as sublimation, and Szumowska’s too-frequent use of buzzing flies in the priest’s house as some kind of symbol of decay, contribute to an overwrought miserabilism that inhibits any larger social significance. Up to its final shot, which interpreted narrowly could feed malevolent theories about the priesthood as an all-but-official refuge for self-loathing gays, the film is almost as confused about the moral quandaries of its characters as they are.
A scene in which, after visiting the lake at Lukasz’s request for swimming lessons, the two of them pursue each other in a field of maize, playing ‘hide and seek’, while acting and sounding like chimpanzees, is a metaphor that continues to elude me. Not so the final scene where the camera focuses on a large building, a seminary, finally coming to rest on a group of becassocked seminarians. One of the seminarians turns from his companions to look straight at the camera; it is the face of Lukasz. So the cycle repeats itself, another lamb to the slaughter.
‘There is the spark of holiness in each of us’, says Father Adam.