Eddie Mannix is a good man. At least his priest thinks so when Eddie visits him only a day after his previous confession. “You’re really not that bad,” the priest mutters, a bit exasperated at the film producer’s self-deprecation and religious fervor. There are two scenes in this confession booth with a priest, the bookends to the Coen brothers’ latest madcap homage to classic Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! The witty, idiosyncratic film is both comedically droll and thematically rich. Like many of the other films from the Coens, the more I’ve reflected on the film, the greater it grows in my estimation. The ideas explored in Hail, Caesar! are vast–religion, politics, entertainment, economics, even marriage (to a degree). In the center of it all is Eddie Mannix, moving steadily from situation to situation, the fixer for the studio who keeps his eclectic film world under watchful eye.
I wonder if Eddie and the priest share more than just a few scenes in a confession booth. The more I reflect on the character and vocation of Mannix, the more I find his role to be parallel to my own vocation as a pastor. Eddie Mannix is the movie studio’s priest. His parish is the studio. Capitol Pictures signifies both the organization and all the people involved, and these are Mannix’s people. People come to him for help and guidance, and he offers wisdom and input. He makes house calls to those who have wandered from the path (though his house call also involves paying off the cops and tearing up a photographers’ pictures). He cares for the widows and orphans, or at least the unwed pregnant movie stars. He invites fellow clergy into his office to discuss theological matters, such as the portrayal of the Christ on screen and the nature of the incarnation. He is the mediator between the actors and the directors, the directors and the producers, the editors and everyone else. He is Eddie Mannix, the fixer and the true priestly figure of Hail, Caesar!
When the Lockheed businessman tempts Mannix to flee the film industry for a steady paying job in the world of manufacturing and airplanes, he undercuts the movies Mannix makes, describing them as silly and superfluous. Mannix winces, but takes the insult on the chin with grace. The money does sound good, and job security is nice, but the movies, well…they move people. The movies do matter, not only because Mannix believes wholeheartedly in their ability to affect and inspire the hearts and minds of viewers, but because of all the people involved–the actors and actresses, the directors and makeup artists, the editors, the gaffers and grips, and all the extras. Mannix may not know all the people of his parish by name, but they’re his people nonetheless, the flock he’s been given charge over to care for and protect.
And there are wolves attempting to harm this flock. Whether it’s the twin gossip reporters attempting to infiltrate the system and get to “the truth” in order to expose the studio to ridicule, or the “study group” who turn out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing–an inside job, or a church split, if you will–Mannix has to negotiate the outside threats to his fold. He does it with little thanks or recognition; he does it because it’s the right thing to do, and he genuinely cares. When he quietly walks through the empty studios in a climactic scene of wrestling with what he’s going to do next, I saw myself. I’ve wandered through the hallways and sanctuaries of church buildings where I’ve served, brushing my hands over the chairs and pews, reminded of all the people who regularly sit there on a Sunday. I’ve wondered whether or not this is the right job for me, whether I could make more money in the marketplace or use my gifts and talents in other arenas. Yet something–or Someone–continues to call me back to the pastorate, just as Mannix has his personal epiphany at the foot of the cross of Christ (albeit a fake cross in a studio lot). It’s not done out of obligation, but out of joyful obedience. This vocation truly matters, even when it doesn’t always feel like it’s making a difference.
This is why I see Mannix as a pastoral figure, a shepherd of the studio. His visits to the confession booth reveal a man wrestling internally with his own self worth, whether or not he is even able to continue to be good enough to handle this job. I’ve been there as a pastor. Yet despite all the drama and difficulty, all the silly people and even sillier situations they get themselves into, the long hours and the lack of fame or fortune, Mannix loves this job. When he’s wondering aloud with the priest what he should do, the priest begins to give him a bit more advice than usual, to which Mannix promptly shuts him up–Eddie already knows the right thing to do. So do we as the audience. He’s the fixer. It’s more than a job; it’s a calling.