In John Michael McDonagh's wonderful philosophical black comedy Calvary, a good priest receives a death threat during a confessional giving him a week to sort out his affairs.

During the course of the week there are a lot of encounters between the priest and his parishioners, many acting as red herrings to distract the audience form the identity of the potential killer. Several threatening acts also take place: the church is burned and the priest's dog is killed.

But in the final encounter between the priest and the mystery antagonist (I'm not saying who to avoid spoilers) the antagonist admits burning the church but claims not to have killed the priest's dog.

Are they lying? Or is there a good reason that someone else might have killed the dog?

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    I was at the premier of the movie in Australia last night and the director was asked the question at the end of the Q&A and here was his response: "After the dog dies there's a panning through all the main characters of the movie and one of them has a bandage around their hand, insinuating they had been bitten by Bruno as they tried to kill him" It appears it requires an additional watch...
    – user10036
    Jun 5, 2014 at 22:41
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    @Leatherwing exactly how is anything in the question a spoiler? I'm not giving anything essential away at all.
    – matt_black
    Aug 24, 2014 at 21:28
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    I haven't seen the movie, but plan to when it comes to my town in 2 weeks. You are giving away details of the threat escalation that occurs in the film. I feel it would be better to mask those details. I can skip the question, but when you put details in the title, plot details were revealed by me just reading through the SE list of questions. It's fine if the movie is years old, but many have not had any opportunity to see this one yet. Aug 24, 2014 at 22:31
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    I think you will change your mind when you see I haven't revealed anything notable. But I can't say why without revealing more details.
    – matt_black
    Aug 28, 2014 at 17:41
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    @matt_black I finally saw the film tonight, and I still think that you did reveal a spoiler in your question title. As soon as I saw the dog's first appearance, I knew it was going to be killed. It affected the experience of the film and I think it was a notable revelation. I know that details of films get revealed in questions, but I can avoid those questions until after I've seen the film,. Yours is (still) in the title and did not afford me that option. Sep 5, 2014 at 2:52

5 Answers 5


Warning Spoiler:

The following video shows the sequence showing who killed the Priest's dog Bruno. The guy has bandages and some blood stains on his hands while at the bar.

It was the bartender.

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    I assumed these were bruises from the unseen fight with the priest
    – roryok
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:12
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    This sequence is shown at the very end of the movie, and it seems to fit the chronological order. In the movie : dog dies, bartender is seen without any bandage, fight happens between Father and the bartender, bartender is seen with bandages. It very well might have been the bartender, but this scene shouldn't be used as evidence. Mar 4, 2021 at 22:34

I think the dog had to die, it doesn't matter who killed him.

The whole film hinges on Father James reactions to what goes on around him. This is a representation of the church's reaction to its past sins.

We are all horrified when we see the dead dog, and more so when we see James reaction.

We are less horrified when we hear a mass murderers explanation of how and why he killed his victims, and we all are almost ambivalent to the regular suggestions of mass paedophilia that occur during the film.

The line at the end

and did you cry when you heard about what your colleagues had done

is the crux of the matter.

Father James thinks he is a good priest and yet he weeps at the murder of an ageing dying dog, but has nothing to say to a parishioner who tells him that he was continuously raped as a child for five years. Father James is so self obsessed that all he can say to his own daughter when she attempts suicide is that she mucked it up. To turn him into an apparent hero is satire of the very best. Bravo and well done Mr. McDonagh.

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    I wouldn't agree with saying Father James is self obsessed, if anything I'd say he was chosen for this 'Trial' because of his selflessness, because he was a good man, 'an innocent' as the Murderer puts it at the start. Apr 27, 2014 at 13:40
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    I don't think anyone in the story is pure "good" or "bad." Father James himself resorts to drinking and fighting at one point. And clearly his daughter had complaints about his parenting. I'd say the Father James character faces the same trials faced by the other characters, and all humans: Can he be forgiven? Can he forgive others? And can he let go of the futile desire to control his fate, turning it over to God instead -- even if doing so will be his destruction? (IMHO Father James is a hero because the answer to all three questions is yes.)
    – Shiz Z.
    Nov 3, 2014 at 17:09
  • The question is 'Who killed the dog?' 'It doesn't matter' is highly debatable. Jul 17, 2018 at 21:15

I've seen this film 3 times now, and I think it's fairly certain that there is nothing within its text that substantiates a confirmed answer to this.

The first time I saw Calvary, I assumed it was Inspector Stanton: and furthermore, this would be foreshadowing his reveal as Father Lavelle's eventual killer. I largely based this assumption on their conversation regarding the Webley:

Stanton: If you were to tell me you needed the gun for, say, you're dog not doing so well. You're not sure he's going to last and you wouldn't want him to suffer...

However, once you've watch the film again (with the perspective of knowing who the culprit is), you begin to interpret the behavior of the players differently.

Stanton is also (with the exception of the bar-keep Brendan Lynch [who does have a motive to distribute vengeance against Lavelle by this point]) the only resident not to attend the church fire. He also demonstrates disdain for whomever the culprit of the fire was, calling them out for their lack of originality:

Stanton: Sure, any Eejit can start a fire.

This would, to me, indicate that he considers the burning of a church to be an insubstantial measure of retribution.

Stanton is also a practicing homosexual, although unlike Leo he never openly declares this to be the result of abuse at the hands of a priest as a child, but the concept is discussed in his presence.

Whilst it would appear outwardly that he has no motive to kill Father Lavelle's dog, the point of the film is that no-one has a real reason to hurt Lavelle, other than his manifest association with the institution that has seen to have caused more harm than good.

It is for this reason that, anyone could be the true culprit, as the entire town has seemingly turned against this good man because of the failures of the wider Church. There are so many elements of the community that have completely 'lost faith', I see the dogs murder as a deliberate comment on the inevitability of Lavelle's downfall: that there was at least 2 people capable of performing such extreme acts in the sake of retribution.

For me, Calvary seemed like a macabre accompaniment to Father Ted: both of which are effective at representing the current perception of Catholicism in Ireland, albeit very differently.

Niamh Connolly: I hope this island isn't some hideaway for paedophile priests.

Ted: well Niamh, we're not all like that, say there is 200 million priests in the world and 5 per cent of them are paedophiles, thats still ...only 10 million .

Sins of the father...

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    I wonder were we meant to suspect Stanton? I suspect we were, but it just wasn't tight enough to lead us in that direction.
    – roryok
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:15
  • Why did you put 'Inspector Stanton: and furthermore, this would be foreshadowing his reveal as Father Lavelle's eventual killer.'? The inspector wasn't the one who confronted Lavelle at the beach. Dec 6, 2016 at 14:37
  • because in the context of the rest of the sentence, it's saying I initially thought this sequence was foreshadowing him being shot on the beach... it turned out not to be, but I'm remarking on the first time i watched it; where I hadn't seen the ending yet! When his dog was shot, I thought it had been been Stanton, and he would be the killer too. Dec 7, 2016 at 15:15
  • What would be the motive of the bartender, though? The order was : bartender complains the church never mentions the sins of the banks, church burns, dog dies, bartender and the Father fight. Mar 4, 2021 at 22:43

I think it is intentionally left unclear so that you analyze everyone in the movie in retrospect and study each and every criticism of the church as presented by each character.

It is a clever way to really force across the point.

  • You may be right there. But who did it? Jul 17, 2018 at 21:16

Good Question! I agree with John Smith Optional that the film leaves this open-ended, but my sense after hearing the killer's denial was that killing the dog was a very personal attack in the sense that burning down the church and murdering Father James was not, and that as a result the suspicion falls on the one person who genuinely does have a profound personal grievance against him: his daughter Fiona, who left the village the morning after the dog was discovered. Rather than promoting the idea that there is another person aggrieved at "the Priest" for what the church as a whole has done, the reading I would propose is that James "the father" is being punished for making his aspiration to be a good priest rather than a good man.

While she was visiting James, having come over from London following a suicide attempt, she discusses with him how he had left for the priesthood after his wife and her mother had died. Although James was leaving on a pursuit for the greater good, Fiona felt that she had been abandoned by both of her parents one after the other. Taking away the dog, one of James's few close companions in his work, would be fitting revenge, and "killing the dog" to send a message would appeal to a well-read sense of irony.

James had tried to make up to her by telling her that he will always be there for her, but the scars of parental abandonment run very deep, as can be inferred from her failed relationships with men and her suicidal response to repeated rejection. They discuss the sad idea about cutting across, rather than down, early on in their interactions, and the method of the dog's execution (a horizontal slash across the neck) calls back to the slashed wrists referenced previously. Finally, of all of the characters other than Father James, Fiona is the only one that seems to be in any kind of regular contact with it.

There are other readings, but this is the one that I think has the most interesting scope for analysis if we want to analyse the film in terms of the nature of faith and calling to do good. It also adds one extra layer of emotional complexity to the final scene, which is never a bad thing!

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    They reconciled over the issue before she left, and there's never a hint that she seeks revenge on him.
    – roryok
    Oct 13, 2014 at 15:14

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