A polish biographical drama directed by Daniel Jaroszek that discusses the life of a criminal, Patryk Galewski (Piotr Trojan), and his rehabilitation under the observation of a priest Fr. Jan Kaczkowski (Dawid Ogrodnik), “Johnny” presents a case to comprehend and defend whether there it’s possible to change human nature. The plays of Shakespeare have proven that human nature cannot be changed or that it remains constant. You can consider ambitious Macbeth, indecisive Hamlet, or jealous Iago; from the start to the end, these characters remain the same. Although geneticists have given us reason to believe that there is a possibility of changing human nature, there are plenty of pieces of evidence that even after having been ruled since 1949, the Chinese personality hasn’t changed from individualistic to communitarian. But psychologist Robert Kurzban gave us a ray of hope that human nature can be introduced to a different perspective and allowed to nurture that perspective. Patryk Galewski, a drug addict and a deviant in society, will perhaps intrinsically remain so, but when educated in the right manner could prove to be a different person altogether. Fr. Jan, no doubt through his compassionate, loving, and relatable approach, helps us believe that everyone deserves a second chance and that forgiveness is surely possible and can bring about a substantial change in people’s lives.
Patryk has been a regular prison visitor right from the age of 12, and therefore, even the prisoners know him so well that they call him ‘Patty Boy.’ He is a drug addict snorts coke and smokes and has to pay debts to Pablo (Jakub Nosiadek). People are afraid of deviants like him, but he is afraid of letters containing red stamps, and when in prison, he gets a letter ordering him to spend 360 hours in community service at St. Padre Pio Hospice in Puck; he is worried. Will these hours of service bring a change in Patryk? Will Fr. Jan, who is his mentor at the hospice, be able to make any impact on him? Only time can tell. But the film explains to us the different happenings at St. Padre Pio Hospice through Patryk’s perspective. Fr. Jan, though considered an outsider and physically limping, continues to carry on his task as a divine and holy priest, wanting to show compassion and love to those who have no one to bother about or take care of. Fr. Jan wants to accompany these souls, especially the dying, and he does what he can to provide a peaceful death for those confined to bed and in pain.
Fr. Jan is a wonderfully written character by Maciej Kraszewski, who gives the audience sufficient rationale to relate to and feel for Fr. Jan and his desire to start a hospice despite the disagreement of the Archbishop. The actions of Fr. Jan may not be liked by many people, but they tolerate him because he is a simple and humble soul who cares for the lost and unwanted, and Patryk is one of them. The character of Patryk is empathetic, but like the army personnel in ‘Sexify,’ season two, he is unwilling to accept that they are sexually repressive and that they need help. Or like Gomer, the wife of Hosea, the prophet in the Holy Bible who fails to repent and be sorry for one’s sins. Or like Erin Wiley, Maeve’s mother from the Sex Education series, who is estranged from her daughter and recovering from drug addiction, or at least trying to do so several times. Patryk, too, attempts to overcome his weakness but is trapped by it several times. Every time he tries to do away with the addiction, he fears he won’t succeed. To top it off, toxic masculinity and patriarchy take a toll on his ego. But Patryk, in the hands of Fr. Jan, is forgiven, loved, cared for, and understood.
The other characters are well-written, too, and perhaps, if given enough thought, they could stand alone and narrate their own stories. The background music is not so significant and neither is the setting. We just switch between the hospice, the road, the church or the confessional, and the prison. But amidst the switches, we are given a clear-cut idea of the life of a dedicated and holy priest and the spiritual works of mercy the priest engages himself with. Instructing the ignorant, for instance, makes no difference in the life of Fr. Jan; he does it with the same passion with which he administers the sacraments to uplift their lifestyle and give them support in society. He counsels the doubtful, admonishes the sinners, and bears very patiently the wrong his Archbishop is adamant about doing to him. When he sits with those on their deathbeds, they are sure to enter the Kingdom of God happy and elated that they are saved. And then he comforts the afflicted and the first one to forgive the greatest of all crimes, just like he does with Patryk. It is Fr. Jan who defends Patryk in the court, stating that human values can greatly be seen when in tragedy and that Patryk has shown immense courage and love to the dying. And that Patryk has willingly offered to smile and hold the hand of those who would need their relatives beside them when they are in the last stages of their lives. That Patryk has been a good and decent person whom one can trust and want to see when one is almost nearing one’s end.
The film is slow with its dialogue and representation of Catholic theology of forgiveness but then doesn’t fail to strike a chord through its realistic presentation of the life and events of Fr. Jan Adam Kaczkowski, a bioethicist. He suffered from eyesight problems but was never lacking the foresight to be of help, especially to accompany terminally ill individuals. Fr. Jan is diagnosed with glioblastoma, but he doesn’t step back at any moment. Despite his tragic situation, he marches ahead to uplift the lives of others, not to give them the same age-old cliched message that everything will be okay but to stand by them, accompany them the rest of their lives, and offer them valuable time he has.
The film is fantastic in preaching how, in the given times, we ought to become companions to one another. And when the whole world stands against us, as Fr. Jan said, we must not be deterred from doing the right thing and doing it boldly to make this world a better place to live in and help individuals that struggle to face the world find meaning and purpose in their lives. It is undoubtedly a story of the noble priest, but noble deeds aren’t restricted to religious consecrated men and women or the ministerial priesthood; everyone can engage in the good that we are all called to do, and that is what the film exorbitantly wants the viewer to contemplate about.
“Johnny” becomes a motive of hope and happiness for Patryk to live and get past his old sinful self pointing him to notice a different direction where he sees his life being nurtured and flourishing as against the end that he observed and feared through his deviant state of life.