Here is a sobering question: Has there been a single substantial, positive depiction of Catholic faith or identity in a major Hollywood non-horror film in the last 10 or 15 years?
One area of representation is disproportionately ignored: how Hollywood deals with religious belief and identity.
A self-described atheist, Sir Ridley Scott has developed a generally bleak vision of religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian tradition, throughout his work, above all in historical sagas like Robin Hood (2010) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992).
At last, a horror film for disaffected Catholic traditionalists embittered against the Church for post-Vatican II changes; who see the Church itself, not just the larger culture, as compromised by modernism, and impeding orthodox clerics from carrying out true spiritual work.
Director Scott Charles Stewart seems to be making a career out of erasing Jesus from history, and celebrating supernatural heroes who rebel against God for the greater good … in apocalyptic action/horror movies starring Paul Bettany.
I don’t use Google alerts or otherwise troll for people talking about me online, so it was only happenstance that I happened upon a self-labeled “rant” about my Magdalene Sisters essay from a Bill Van Dyk, whose website is called Chromehorse.net.
That the Magdalene asylums represent a phenomenon as deserving of critical scrutiny as the trial of Joan of Arc or the ecclesiastical abandonment of the Guaraní missions, I don’t question. Mullan, however, betrays his subject with smug Catholic-bashing. It’s a tragedy that the enormity of what went wrong at the Magdalene asylums has been trivialized by cheap manipulation.
The Ryan report confirms the substantial truth of the sort of stories dramatized in The Magdalene Sisters. These stories need to be told. But the report also reconfirms my fundamental objection to the way that The Magdalene Sisters tells its story, depicting the world of the asylums solely in terms of unremitting abuse, cruelty and sadism unbroken by any hint of kindness or humane treatment. This is not in accordance with the memories of those who endured the Irish institutions, according to the Ryan report.
Once you’ve established that your story is set in a world in which Jesus Christ is explicitly not God, and the Catholic religion is a known fraud perpetuated by murder and cover-ups, it sort of sucks the wind out of whatever story it was you were going to tell us next. Langdon could be ironing his chinos and helping little old ladies across the street, and it would still be set in that world, and those of us who care about such things will find it hard to bracket that and just go along with the thrill machine.
When Sony Pictures, the production company behind the hit film The Da Vinci Code and the new sequel Angels & Demons, reached out to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN management in Geneva saw a high-profile teachable moment for science.
In a Q&A billed as an “interview” on his own website, Brown writes (in a comment recently highlighted by Carl Olson in This Rock), “My goal is always to make the character’s [sic] and plot be so engaging that readers don’t realize how much they are learning along the way.” Or how much misinformation they’re absorbing.
The most serious problem with Constantine’s Sword, though, is not its historical distortions. The most serious problem is its out-and-out attack on Christianity as such. It is not merely antisemitism that troubles Carroll. It is not even only Jesus’ death and resurrection. Ultimately, it is the very belief that in Jesus God did something both unique and definitive, something with universal applicability for all mankind.
Overarching all of this is the depraved caricature that the books call “the Church” or “the Magisterium,” but is referred to in the film solely by the latter, less familiar term, which many viewers won’t recognize as a real-world reference to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Obsessed with preserving “centuries of teaching” from the dangers of “heresy” and “freethinkers,” by deadly means if necessary, Pullman’s Magisterium is not just oppressive but essentially equivalent to the forces of darkness, akin to Tolkien’s Mordor or the Empire in Star Wars.
A lurid sort of Christopher Hitchens vision of history pervades Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to his 1998 art-house hit Elizabeth.
Is The Da Vinci Code anti-Catholic? Well, if it isn’t, then we must simply conclude that no such thing as anti-Catholicism exists, or at least that no anti-Catholic movie has ever been made.
Fans and philosophy students endlessly debate whether the world of The Matrix is most influenced by Eastern mysticism or Cartesian philosophy, Christianity or gnosticism, humanism or post-humanism. No such debates will be occurring over V for Vendetta, which weighs down what could have been a thought-provoking dystopian scenario with leaden specificity and sanctimonious ideo-political commentary.
The comic-book Constantine is a blond Brit based in Liverpool (think Sting by way of Christopher Lee in Terence Fisher’s The Devil Rides Out). For the film, the casting of Keanu led to a change of setting to California and LA. Similarly, the casting of Shia LaBeouf (Holes) as Constantine’s ally Chandler turned the character from a seasoned comrade in arms into a Jimmy Olsen-like junior sidekick. (Whatever happened to casting actors who fit the part?)
Even in the silent era, with Douglas Fairbanks playing every legendary hero from Zorro to Robin Hood to D’Artagnan, seeking adventure everywhere from the Spanish Main (The Black Pirate) to Arabian Nights territory (The Thief of Bagdad) to South America (The Gaucho), King Arthur was overlooked.
In one sense, I’d like to see more films like this made. At the same time, Luther is also a seriously flawed film. Relentlessly hagiographical in its depiction of Luther and one-sidedly positive in its view of the Reformation, the film also distorts Catholic theology and significant matters of historical fact, consistently skewing its portrayal to put Luther in the best possible light while making his opponents seem as unreasonable as possible.
We must not be too quick to judge any particular portrait of Christ merely because it challenges our expectations or makes us uncomfortable, or because it doesn’t immediately evoke his divinity. After all, Jesus himself often confounded the expectations of his contemporaries, and didn’t necessarily impress most of them as being divine.
Like the creators of Dogma, I feel the need to begin with a disclaimer of my own. This review is an exercise in film criticism and commentary informed by Christian faith. It is neither an anti-Dogma activist polemic nor a pro-Dogma apologetical treatise. I come not to praise Kevin Smith, nor to bury him, but to critique his work.
From a religious point of view, Kevin Smith’s Dogma comes a lot closer to making sense if you just accept one premise: The angels in it — fallen and otherwise — are all really bad at theology.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.