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Theme: Jubilee

The Oscar nominated movie Philomena can be summed up in a few words: two symbols, two people, one journey, and one superb film. The two symbols which bracket the film in opening and closing scenes are the keys to the true message of the movie. Without them the journey of Philomena Lee and Martin Sixsmith becomes just another "human interest story". With them the journey of one man and one woman to find truth becomes a biblical story of redemption.

The Apple

Philomena’s story begins in a moment of beauty; an innocent young woman meets a handsome young man at a local fair. Naïve Philomena is swept away in a moment of passion and has sexual intercourse with the stranger; as she does her candy apple falls to the ground. The partially eaten apple is symbolic of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The young man and woman’s sin results in their own separation, great pain in childbirth, loss of child and eventual death.

Hence, Philomena’s story is set in the context of the Bible’s Genesis chapter three. Like Eve, she is separated from her father and her child’s father. Put in a harsh environment she loses the child she loves and lives with separation and loss for fifty years. It would be easy at this point for those unfamiliar with the Bible to associate God with Philomena’s harsh father; and to equate her loss as punishment for her sin.

Unfortunately many viewers may see Philomena as a very anti-Catholic, anti-religion, anti-faith film; even if they miss the symbolism of the apple. The film may expose hypocrisy in religious people and failures in religious institutions but it is never anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti the Christian faith. The symbol at the end of the film makes that perfectly clear.


For fifty years Philomena lives with the loss of her son eating away at her; then comes a moment when she is willing to step out and search for truth. Why fifty?

The number fifty in the Bible is associated with liberty and rest. God established for the Israelites "The Year of Jubilee"  (the 50th  year Leviticus 25:11-12), when any land or person sold as a servant was to be returned to its original owner and set free. Fifty represents liberation from captivity, restoration, and rest. Philomena’s journey is a Jubilee journey, releasing her from the captivity of her secret story, restoring her to her lost son, and giving rest to her burdened soul.

The Journey

"In the middle of the journey of our life

I came to myself in a dark wood

Where the straight way was lost"

Dante Alighieri

The film opens with two middle age people in a dark wood where their straight way has been lost. Philomena of course has lost her son, but she has also lost fifty years of knowing and experiencing his life, a very dark wood indeed. Martin Sixsmith has lost his job, depressed he doesn’t know which way to turn or what to pursue. Two lost people connected by a random overheard conversation step out on a journey to find a lost son. They couldn’t be more different.

The woman Philomena has a childlike faith and does not question religious authority. She is naïve, humble, unsophisticated, a real working class woman. The man, Martin has lost his faith and questions all religious authority. He is proud, intellectual, and used to traveling first class. Their differences: male/female, rich/poor, educated/uneducated, sophisticated/unsophisticated are meant to encapsulate every person. Theirs is a journey available and applicable to every man and woman.

Martin and Philomena step out on a Hero Journey, leaving their own ordinary worlds behind they cross thresholds into new and special worlds. For Martin it means a world of faith, one he has not lived in for many years. For Philomena it means entering a first class world where the orange juice is free; a world she has never inhabited.

There are great tensions and trials for the pair as they seek to uncover the identity and location of Philomena’s Anthony. Heartbreak comes to both when they discover Anthony was Michael Hess who died of AIDS. The journey does not end with this disclosure for the question remains in Philomena’s heart was she ever a part of her son’s life?......did he look for her?.....did he love her? The search for this truth leads them back to where their journey began and to the woman who was instrumental in selling Philomena’s son….Sister Hildegarde.

The beauty of this confrontational, climatic scene should not be missed. Three people standout; two have been transformed by their journey; one has been hardened and stayed in the same place. Philomena comes back to the place her story began but she is not the fearful religious little girl she once was. She has become a woman of dignity and grace, Christ-like in heart and therefore able to forgive the person who committed the most grievous sin against her. Martin does not forgive but he is no longer unbelieving; he has been exposed to what true Christianity looks like in Philomena. It has affected him deeply. His gift which he places on Michael’s grave speaks of his transformation as well as Philomena’s. Sister Hildegarde the one with the religious façade is revealed to be the one whose heart has never been transformed. It was hard, angry and sanctimonious in the beginning and is now year’s later bitter, twisted and spewing venom and hate. Staying in the same place of pride and dominion she has refused to step out on a heroic journey of any kind. She is a coward hiding behind closed doors and religious garments.


The second symbol revealed in the closing scenes is Martin’s gift to Philomena, the little figure of Jesus Christ which he places on Michael’s grave. Just as the film began symbolically with echoes of Genesis three and "The Fall of Man"; the movie concludes symbolically where the Bible comes to an end with the Book of Revelation detailing the glorious victory of Jesus Christ over sin, Satan and death.

"…..He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold I am making all things new"…. (Revelation 21:4-5)

Jesus is the Jubilee!

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