Since its premiere, I’ve heard very different takes from viewers on HBO’s “The Young Pope.” Some can’t quite figure out what it’s about, and others, like me, seem clear on its agenda — to satirize the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in unexpected ways and to look at the internal challenges facing a man in charge of a billion or so followers. Some have found it slow, and others, like me, perceive that gradual pace as part of Italian director and writer Paolo Sorrentino’s plan to unnerve.
After all, the show is about an unnerving figure, Jude Law’s newly elected Pope Pius XIII, formerly known as Lenny Belardo from Brooklyn. Everyone in the Vatican thinks he is going to be a pushover, easily manipulated by the cardinals and welcoming to worshipers who may be drifting. After all, he is young, pretty, and American.
But he is anything but pliant and welcoming. He is vain and arrogant, and he rules everyone associated with the Vatican by fear. He is brusque and accusatory with the public, and strictly conservative. Homophobic, he is inflexible when it comes to “values” issues.
Not surprisingly, since every TV show right now, from “The Crown” to “Bull,” seems to be open to a Trump-related interpretation, some are comparing Pius to the president-elect. Both are unproven leaders who keep their cards close to their chests and engage in contentious rhetoric.
What does Sorrentino think about the Trump comparison? This week, the Hollywood Reporter interviewed Sorrentino (through a translator), and asked him.
“The parallel between [Lenny] and Trump is totally casual,” he says, “because I wrote this character of the pope a long time ago when Obama was the president.” But he says that there may be a thematic link in the swinging of the pendulum: “Pope Francis and Obama have led their countries, their states in a new direction and probably after that there will be the opposite tendency. . . . This explains why, after a pope like we have today, there could be a pope like Jude Law and why, after Obama, there could be a president like Trump. Because there is a conscious, collective tendency to maintain the status quo as it was before.
“Unconsciously, a state, a nation feels the need to survive. And when there is somebody who says no, let’s face life in a different way, it could create an unconscious collective opposite reaction.”Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.