Skip to comments.Join the clubbed: Catholics know pain of being bashed
Posted on 02/10/2004 5:20:54 AM PST by joobers
Join the clubbed: Catholics know pain of being bashed
February 10, 2004
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" won't be released until Feb. 25, but it's already one of the most controversial films in history.
For months Gibson has been showing rough cuts of the movie to religious leaders in an effort to stem mounting criticism that his interpretation of the last hours of Jesus' life will foster anti-Semitism.
I'm not sure the plan is working. Last week I received a 47-page packet from the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Titled "The Passion: A Resource Manual," it's filled with background information, essays, biblical passages and even "talking points" about the film.
From the cover letter: "As the controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming film 'The Passion of the Christ' continues to escalate, [we're] taking this opportunity to provide you with the enclosed resource material on the film and the concerns of the AJC toward it. It is AJC's view, after having viewed two versions of the movie, that the Gibson film represents a reassertion of hurtful and discredited anti-Jewish elements. The film is a disturbing setback to the remarkable achievements in Christian-Jewish relations over the past 40 years . . ."
I've seen the version of "The Passion of the Christ" that will play in theaters starting on Ash Wednesday -- and I'll soon share my views on the film. In the meantime, I've been pondering some other religious-themed movies I've seen in my four years on "Ebert & Roeper."
Catholicism has been represented far more frequently than any other faith. I've probably seen more films about the Catholic Church (and movies with nuns or priests as supporting characters) than all other religions put together. Just from the last four years, I could easily put together a Catholic Film Festival -- but I don't think too many Catholics would be pleased with the entries.
Crooked priests, cruel nuns
Last year we had "The Order," a laughable thriller with Heath Ledger as a rebellious Catholic priest investigating the supposed suicide of his mentor. Turns out the elderly priest died after a ritual known as "sin eating." Peter Weller plays a ruthlessly ambitious and sinister cardinal.
Then there was "The Magdalene Sisters," an excellent but unforgiving film about the real-life Magdalene laundries in Ireland. In 1964, three young women are sentenced to a convent that is nothing more than a glorified slave labor camp. For years, the girls are subjected to abuse from nuns who are no more sympathetic than Nazi guards. Equally horrible is the priest who sexually abuses a mentally impaired young woman.
In "The Affair of the Necklace" (2002), Hilary Swank is an 18th century woman determined to restore her family's good name. She has to contend with Jonathan Pryce's Cardinal de Rohan, a lecherous, despicable schemer.
The terrific "Evelyn" (2002) tells the true story of Desmond Doyle, an impoverished single father in Ireland who fought to regain custody of his three children, who by law had been placed in Catholic orphanages. The priests and nuns treat young Evelyn and her sisters with utter cruelty.
Catholic-bashing, Part II
In "The Crime of Padre Amaro" (2002), an older priest, Father Benito, has been having an affair with a local woman for years, and he has ties to leftist guerrillas and drug peddlers. When young Father Amaro (Gael Garcia Bernal) arrives, it seems like mere days before he takes up with the 16-year-old daughter of the older priest's mistress. When the girl is impregnated, the young priest takes her to get an abortion.
Another 2002 film, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys," stars Jodie Foster as the stone-faced, one-legged Sister Assumpta, who torments her young students and calls William Blake "a dangerous thinker." (Movie priests and nuns often rail against thought. In "The Order," a cleric says, "Knowledge is the enemy of faith.")
In the leering comedy "40 Days and 40 Nights" (2002), Josh Hartnett swears off all sexual contact for 40 days and 40 nights, and if you don't get that subtle biblical reference, Hartnett's brother is a priest, and they often meet in the confessional to gab about sex.
Antonio Banderas is a combat soldier-turned-archeologist-turned- priest in "The Body" (2001), and Olivia Williams is the Jewish archeologist who discovers a skeleton that may be the body of Jesus Christ, proving that he was a mere man. (Of course, there's smoldering tension between Banderas and Williams.) Derek Jacobi is an older priest who commits suicide.
In these movies, priests are suicidal, corrupt and/or lascivious. Nuns are heartless and sadistic.
Before you run to your keyboard: yes, I'm aware of scandals, past and present, involving the church. And yes, some of the films listed above are powerful, important works based on true stories.
But a lot of this stuff is just exploitative garbage. And no other religious group gets bashed with such frequency. Can you imagine a similar number of films with Jewish leaders playing villains and moral weaklings?
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Contrast these with the magnificent, blockbuster, cast of thousands, biblical-themed films we saw growing up!
I seem to recall Martin Sheen being in some bizarre series called "Insight" (I think) back in the 1970s.
One of the best TV events I recall with a Catholic context involved a couple episodes of "The Fugitive" in which Dr. Richard Kimball (David Janssen) helps a nun.
"The Flying Nun" and "Father Dowling" never really grabbed my attention for some reason...
I suppose the episodes of Buckley's "Firing Line" (particularly the conversations on faith with Malcolm Muggeridge) were pretty good.
The comedy farce in the '70s "Soap" had a priest character involved in an affair with a woman. And "Barney Miller" did an episode where a guy was possessed. Mildly amusing. "The X-Files" had Dana Scully as a lapsed Catholic.
My choice would be Jesus of Nazareth