Secular Sainthood in “The Peacemaker”

By: Daniel Volfson

The title itself, which conjures images of a too-good-for-this-earth messiah figure, already gives you an approximate intimation about what this film’s going to be like. It’s deftly-executed gooey sentimentality guised and packaged under the pretense of an exclusively intimate and vulnerable docu-portrait. It’s thoroughgoing romanticism but it tries to play itself off as sincerely realistic. It’s very selective about the aspects of the subject’s life it chooses to include and exclude and it comes at the cost of his complexity as a human being.

There’s nothing wrong with romanticism when it’s done skillfully, but “The Peacemaker” wants to have its cake and eat it too. It refuses to acknowledge its romanticism even though it’s blatantly obvious that its primary aim is to anoint Padraig (the film’s subject) as a hobbled-genius who must stomach almost unendurable suffering for the sake of humanity. According to the ads, the movie’s supposed to be about the international peacemaking process and how Padraig, who has a preternatural ability for allaying conflict, struggles to reconcile his internal condition with his peacemaking imperatives. Instead we are presented with yet another iteration of the suffering-genius series, a theme which has come to have a powerful resonance with modern-day viewers. The movie sees the enormous potential for romanticism here, and mines it for all its worth.

The entire movie’s structure is very similar to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. There is an aura of mystery and legend gradually built up as we hear people who have known the man gush about how brilliant yet impenetrable he always seemed. Padraig himself is featured much less frequently and when he is featured, he’s usually just embodying the stereotypes that his compatriots have dreamily fashioned. He’s made to seem less like a human and more like an ideal that’s been crafted to pander to our time’s insecurities: a savior who is at once tragic and valiant. Valiant because despite his apparently ravaging psychological issues (inability or refusal to love, bottomless despair, alcoholism) and perhaps partly because of them, he’s devoted his life to a magnanimous cause. Tragic because though he’s able to solve everyone else’s problems, he is fated to always be at the mercy of his own. The film is so taken by this image that it shies away from including anything which might desecrate it. The movie prides itself on how uniquely open and vulnerable it is about Padraig’s issues, but the only vulnerability I could find here was a faux-vulnerability calculated specifically to make us feel in awe of the height of his soul. True vulnerability would require that the film portray not just the shortcomings which make us feel sympathy or reverence for the “beauty” of Padraig’s soul, but also the aspects which might make us feel contempt or repulsion. I’m not saying that the film’s agenda should’ve been to unearth all the unsavory aspects of the man’s life, but it glossed over and glorified so many aspects which, at least to me, seemed worth delving into further. It’s odd, for instance, how many women harbor a one-sided love for Padraig. The moment a woman displays interest in him, he lays down a strict no-emotional-obligations contract, and offers them to take it or leave it. The women are so enthralled by their attraction to Padraig that they can’t help but accept the offer even though it seems parasitic and demeaning in nature. Another example: he consented to be an adopted girl’s legal father, but he’s really only her father at his convenience. Sure, he takes her out for ice cream and talks to her about her future aspirations but their relationship is clearly devoid of any true intimacy. He’s more like her counselor than her father. Yet, the way the movie has it, he is all the more good-natured and high-spirited for serving as the loco-in-parentis despite his career obligations. It seems more than likely that a girl in this sort of situation would feel short-changed, yet whenever the camera pans to her she’s grinning between her ears and assuring everyone that: “since [she] knows he’s out there saving the world and not just lazing around, [she]’s perfectly happy.”

The audience for this event was mostly homogeneous. The seats abounded with elderly folk who probably personally know Padraig. Knowing this and also knowing that the shooting began when his memory-impairment issues started setting in, it’s not unfair to assume that the film’s intention was commemorative. As a tribute to the life of the man, it succeeds on many levels, but it’s misleading and frustrating that the makers of the movie want to market it as truth to the core. 

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