Palm Beach Gardens | Those who lived through the Cold War years or studied it in school will know that President Ronald Reagan and St. John Paul II were major characters in the sociopolitical drama unfolding on the world stage.
A new film looks into how the president and the pope bonded over a profound connection to their religious faith, uniting them as an unlikely pair against the oppressive communist regime that was the Soviet Union. Robert Orlando, screenwriter and director, explores this untold story in his new film “The Divine Plan.” Orlando’s film was pre-screened at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens June 6. The Diocese of Palm Beach was among the first to screen the film in the United States.
The director also offered a question and answer session following the screening of the hour-and-a-half-long film.
“The idea is to host these smaller, more intimate pre-screenings around the U.S. so that the film can gain momentum before it hits theaters,” Orlando said. “With its religious tones, it’s a film that mainstream Hollywood is going to push back on and I wanted it to have a fighting chance with Catholic audiences.”
The director explained how “The Divine Plan” was inspired by the New York Times bestseller, “A Pope and a President,” by Paul Kengor. Orlando’s film dives into the friendship of these world leaders and their common goal to bring down the communist bloc. The film is scheduled to be released in conjunction with Kengor’s second book of the same name.
“After reading Kengor’s book, I became fascinated with this narrative of two seemingly opposite men living these parallel lives that would bring them together for a higher purpose,” Orlando said during the Q&A. “Both attributed the events in their lives as playing out according to a ‘divine plan’ meant to liberate oppressed people in the U.S.S.R.”
An intriguing draw to the film is how both Reagan and Pope John Paul II drew on their experiences as actors, and how their craft offered them the ability to lead and inspire a nation to political and social change. The film touches on Reagan’s career as a Hollywood star before becoming president and Pope John Paul II’s time as a stage actor on Polish stages concealed during World War II.
“These men used their oratory gifts as actors and scholars of the stage to their advantage in their careers as political and religious leaders,” Orlando said. “They understood, especially, the significance of the symbolic act — the act of show and taking a united stance — that could rally a people together to incite change.”
The film combines exclusive interviews with renowned authorities on Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. The list includes Richard V. Allen, the U.S. National Security Advisor to Reagan, Bishop Robert Barron, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and U.S. historian H.W. Brands, among others. A detailed portrait is painted of a U.S. and Vatican alliance, with Reagan and Pope John Paul II’s intimate conversations regarding religion at the center of revolution. The Cold War is examined from a moral perspective, highlighting the Soviet Union’s deliberate oppression of freedom of religion as an isolation tactic to break the people’s spirit of hope and rebellion.
Along with releasing the film in conjunction with Kengor’s book, Orlando said the film’s release — Nov. 9 — also marks the 30th anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall.
“The destruction of the Berlin Wall was a symbolic act in the way that it ended the emotional, intellectual and spiritual divide of a country oppressed,” Orlando said. “I believe it is our duty to pass on this history to the next generation as it faces its own difficult decisions to stand for people of faith and religious freedom.”
- CECILIA PADILLA