Saturday, December 08, 2007

Controversial Religious Movies

Responding to a posted review of "Noelle" by a faithful supporter of the movie, I reminded myself that I have supported a somewhat controversial movie, The Nativity Story. Many Catholics were offended by the directors' portrayal of the Virgin Mary.
I recently purchased the DVD for our home viewing, and enjoyed it with my older children.

Read my review of it here.


love2learnmom said...

Thanks for making this important point. There are definitely times when we like something in spite of some particular content too.

Faith said...

I am curious about seeing this movie too. Our parish showed parts of it in connection with their Theology of the Body for Teens study that they are currently doing. I have a hard time looking at religious movies because I often have trouble with the portrayals. They so often seem callow or overdone or just too Hollywoodish for my tastes.

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I've never seen a convincing portrayal of either Jesus or Mary, but that's to be expected. Even so, when I see a rendering of some portion of the greatest story ever told, I hope to find something with substance that helps me to see something I have not already seen in the biblical narrative. Movies have several technical advantages over text that should make that possible.

Movies, unfortunately, can also introduce an interpretation that is wide of the mark, and sometimes this can be deeply offensive, as in the absurdly revisionist novel by Kazantzakis (brilliance does not always guarantee a good grasp of the truth, as Jesus himself observed), and the highly gratuitous additions of the Hollywood version of "The Last Temptation of Christ."

By comparison, "The Nativity Story" doesn't seem to stand out either as an exposition or exploration of scripture or as a blasphemous revision of it. It's more along the lines of a "how would you describe the Nativity Story to someone who knew nothing about it" kind of movie. It's chief virtue is its portrayal of the emotional undercurrents of the story. It's chief flaw is its low Christology. I understand the Pope liked it, and why not, it's harmless enough.

For me, it's not at all difficult to imagine what those emotional undercurrents must have been based on the biblical story, itself.

"The Passion," on the other hand, was brilliant in its portrayal of some very difficult themes, including the physical, emotional and spiritual torments of Christ, the relationship between Jesus and his mother during the years before his ministry, the sufferings of Mary, the jealousy and unscrupulous use of power of the members of the Sanhedrin, the psychology of the mobs, the very different cynicisms of Herod and Pilate. It also had a number of brilliant technical features: ironic flashbacks, an androgynous Satan, the demonic schizophrenia of Judas. Unlike the vast majority of such films, it gave me a lot to chew on.

It may be that "Noelle" addresses its themes (forgiveness, fear, a misguided vocation, a diocesan system with inverted values, love, the joy of living, among others) with sensitivity and subtlety.

I don't think anyone should be offended by a portrayal of a priest who entered his vocation for the wrong reasons. I was a lot more offended by the portrait of an ignorant priest in "Million Dollar Baby" because he was intended as an icon for the director's view of the Catholic Church, not because I've never met an ignorant priest. It was a cheep shot in a movie that failed utterly to consider the chief strengths of the novel.

By contrast, "Noelle" could have all the charm of "Babette's Feast." I'm curious to see it.