“Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies,
but test everything;
hold fast what is good.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5: 19–21

I’ve been waiting thirty years for this movie.

I’ve been waiting for an event in art and culture that would bring this inimitable Irish performer back into the spotlight so that the world would have to reckon with what we did to her: how we exalted her voice and image; how we welcomed her onto our stages and screens to thrill us; how we sought to exploit her for our own comfort and self-congratulation; how we rejected her truth when she spoke it; how we turned from her when her prophetic words made us uncomfortable; how we abused and condemned her and dragged her to the pop-culture equivalent of a crucifixion. I’ve been waiting for the movie that would preach the Gospel of Sinead O’Connor that so many of us have believed since we witnessed her rise (by pop-culture standards) and fall (by pop-culture standards) in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

I’ve been waiting for Kathryn Ferguson’s Nothing Compares since October of 1992.

Nothing compares to O’Connor’s passion in this classic video — unless it’s Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. [Still from the Showtime trailer.]

And lest that sound blasphemous, let me clarify: When I say “the Gospel of Sinead O’Connor,” I mean the Gospel that she preached, the Gospel that she sang, the Gospel that she did her best to manifest. Yes, it’s that Gospel — the liberating one at the center of which Jesus Christ shines. It should come as no surprise that O’Connor herself tells us that the record that seized and shook her, that compelled her to recognize her calling, was Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming, which marks his formal baptism as a prophet in the line of David the Psalmist. O’Connor’s Gospel is the Gospel of uncompromising love that speaks truth to power no matter the cost.

I am not here to make an idol of her, to praise her as an ideal; any such praise of any artist would do them an injustice and separate them from our human sphere. But I am saying that we should be grateful for, and reverent towards, how she has been faithful to her calling. For it is in the the mess of her mistakes that we can recognize her authenticity. She is a broken human being who never claimed to be anything different. And if we listen, if we look, we will learn the source of that voice that shakes us, that courage that helps her stand in a spotlight even when an entire arena is thunderous with mockery and hatred. We will learn of her childhood afflictions — the horrific psychological abuse she suffered. We will come to understand the unbridled outrage that offended so many of us, and see that it comes to us as evidence of our own sins. O’Connor has always been distinctive in her honesty. Shocking in her fearlessness. Ruthless in her dedication to making art for the sake of the poor, the neglected, the abused, and the forgotten.

Here’s one of the scornful onlookers at the crucifixion. [Still from the Showtime trailer.]

And when, on a Saturday night in October 1992, while my friends and I watched in rapt attention in a Seattle Pacific University dormitory, Sinead O’Connor took that stage, trembling with righteous anger, and leaned into a live-television camera, then tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II, she was not expressing some petty grudge against Christianity. She was calling out the church for its hypocrisy — precisely because of her love for the church and its Gospel. She was shouting to a Christendom that had covered its ears. She was confronting our complacency, our ignorance, our irresponsibility. Most specifically, she was calling out the Catholic church’s cover-up of sexual abuse, a truth that in recent years has become undeniable, wreaking havoc on the church’s witness around the world in ways we will never be able to measure. I saw, reflected in how she laid down her career and even risked her life, Jesus calling out the “white-washed tombs” of the Pharisees’ hearts, knowing where that would lead him.

It scared me. Gospel will do that, when it’s done right.

I am so grateful for this film. It “kicks the darkness” until it “bleeds daylight,” to borrow lyrics from another Holy Spirit-inspired prophet. What it captures in its net of images and interviews is both tragic and beautiful.

But that won’t prevent me from acknowledging that the net itself — the work of filmmaking — is, as movies about artists go, fairly conventional in its craftsmanship. Nothing Compares is not a reinvention of the rock-star documentary. If anything, it’s the most conventional release in what has become The Year of the Rock Star on the Big Screen. (See Baz Luhrmann’s exhilarating Elvis, Andrew Dominick’s daring and intimate Nick Cave doc This Much I Know to Be True, and Brett Morgen’s transcendent IMAX Bowie celebration Moonage Daydream.) That is to say, like the party that director Edgar Wright threw in The Sparks Brothers last year, it’s made of archival concert footage, intimate interviews, and excerpts from talk-show interviews, much of which will be familiar to O’Connor’s fans. And, to fill in storytelling gaps, there are some unremarkable “re-enactments” — fleeting glimpses of models posing as Sinead in various stages of struggle and melancholy, from early childhood to crumpled figures wreathed in cigarette smoke.

Moody re-enactments and symbolic sketches stitch together some of the movie’s chapters. [Still from the Showtime trailer.]

Fortunately, the live performances that illustrate her “rise” and alleged “fall” are riveting. The live-TV interview excerpts, featuring the most idiotic of talk show hosts, are as cringe-inducing as any we’ve seen Bob Dylan suffer. And the overlay of various interviews with O’Connor and her close family, friends, and colleagues are all meaningful. One of the film’s most startling aspects is the way in which O’Connor’s voice, once such a clarion call, deepens and roughens, a document of the toll the times have taken — or, better, humankind has taken — on her.

But never mind the familiar filmmaking techniques: this form suits its purpose. This is not a fever dream like Moonage Daydream or a specific showcase of songs like This Much I Know to Be True. This film is an argument: a case for the defense. And the argument is a good one. It has taken a long, long time. But Sinead has come through a decades-long shit-show of religious trauma, music industry idiocy, pop culture abuse, and worse… and she’s shining like gold. Love wins — and love is, to all appearances, all that has ever been on her mind and heart.

Sinead O’Connor: Standing alone before her accusers — uncompromising and justified. [Still from the Showtime trailer.]

This is fiercely meaningful stuff, right here, right now — and to me quite personally. I feel like this film is unlocking in me things I need to understand about myself: my own wounds, my own anger, my own grief. Songs I’ve always loved in a deeply personal way (“Troy,” in particular) that have nevertheless seemed mysterious… I now understand them as if they’ve been translated into my language the first time. By God’s grace, I’ve never suffered anything like the abuse O’Connor has suffered. But I have become increasingly aware of, and horrified by, the hypocrisy of the evangelical Christian communities in which I was raised. Look at the compromises they justify now. Look at the liars and misogynists and hatred they excuse now in order to make the world in their own image and call it “Christian.” So, yes, I recognize something of the trauma, the grief, and the rage that is at the root of Sinead O’Connor’s voice. No wonder I’ve always felt that her music felt more like prayer than rock-and-roll, even before I was awake enough to understand why. And when I did finally see her live in 1997 on the Seattle waterfront, and heard her sing “Fire on Babylon,” I knew what it was like to stand in the presence of a prophet as the Holy Spirit does Her mighty work.

If you were between the ages of 16–22 when O’Connor was on magazine covers in the late ’80s and early ’90s, you should see this movie all the way through to understand yourself, your world, and O’Connor better.

If you’re that age now — I would be so pleased if you would watch this all the way through, to understand yourself, your world, and, perhaps, Billie Eilish better.

This is, in a way, Sinead O’Connor’s late, great triumph. Time reveals the truth slowly. And all those who hastily cursed and mocked her are hereby exposed for their hard-heartedness, their deafness, and their cowardice.

I believe in Sinead O’Connor. I think Jesus does too.