Thursday, January 27, 2011

Satan the Tapeworm, Christian Movies, and The Rite - Updated Twice

The Rite is coming, that movie starring Anthony Hopkins about priests in Italy and exorcism. John Zmirak talks about being invited to "Christian" movie previews and having been disappointed in the past.
... it bothers me that so many of the movies promoted this way are not really "spiritual," much less Christian; they're simply bland and inoffensive.

The Catholic faith is neither. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food (think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive. It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war waged by invisible entities (deathless malevolent demons and benevolent dead saints) whose winners will enjoy eternal happiness with a resurrected rabbi, and whose losers will writhe forever in unquenchable fire. Sometimes I step back and find myself saying in Jerry Seinfeld's voice: What's with all the craziness? Why can't I just enjoy my soup?
His piece is a tour de force and you need to go read it.

What he says about movie preview presenters rings all the truer to me, having gone to the rough cut screening of There Be Dragons last week (about Josemaria Escriva's early years). That movie actually came out somewhere in between the Bosch-esqueness which Zmirak points out and the sweet unworldliness he rightly deplores that are all too often the result of "Christian" movies.

"Dragons" looks as if it will actually be a fairly good 'un though it is impossible to tell without all the scenes in it, but it was the post-movie presentation that was a turn off. I later found out it was called a "Leadership" screening, meaning that ministry leaders would be there. The presentation was aimed at them and it was all that Zmirak describes.

Actually I've begun to have faint hopes that The Rite movie might be all right (ha!) after reading this interview with Father Gary Thomas, who was the subject of The Rite book. I been interested in what Hollywood would do in the movie portrayal, since I loved the book so much (my review for Patheos is here).
One discrepancy Fr. Thomas pointed out was that he went to Rome as a 50-year-old seasoned priest with a desire to learn more about the rite of exorcism  – hardly a cynical seminarian in the midst of a faith crisis.

Despite the differences, however, he called the film “very good.”

“The human side of the priesthood is very well developed,” he said, adding that the portrayal of “the institutional Church comes out very positively.”
This doesn't tell us, of course, as to whether the movie is a good movie, a watchable movie, a movie that we want to see, but I do have my fingers crossed.

Incidentally, what Zmirak says about inoffensive, bland movies?  As my friend Scott Nehring continually reminds us, the answer to that is that we don't need is people making "Christian" movies. What we need are great movies made by artists who are "Christian."

Steven D. Greydanus, Catholic movie reviewer par excellence, gives context for Hollywood's depiction of exorcists in an article at Christianity Today.

The Anchoress has a comprehensive looking round up of The Rite links.

Fried crickets? Really?

I don't know what Mexican food Mr. Zmirak eats but he needs to find new restaurants or recipes. Maybe Aztecs enjoyed fried crickets but they also had their chocolate "sin azĂșcar" (that's without sugar to you and me ... which is, actually, I think ... offensive because it is a sin so we don't really want to go there).

Next time you're in Dallas, Mr. Zmirak, please do say howdy and we'll grab some brisket tacos. Which are Tex Mex, but have fully enough flavor and zest to make your point. We'll even get some habaneros on the side for you.

(And yes, before foodies ask, yes, I know about the cricket-ish delights of Oaxaca. I get the point. But there's no fun in that ...)


  1. "Fried crickets? Fried Crickets???"


  2. Thank you for that reminder ... which I meant to comment upon (so funny really) but never got back to ... I have amended that above. :-D

  3. I have heard that the picante powder they put on your fruit cup in Oaxaca is ground up bugs.

    RE: Movies and Catholicism. I watched "Over Her Dead Body," which involves a psychic (Lake Bell) trying to contact a dead woman (Eva Longoria). Lake goes to her priest to ask him to do an exorcism. He is presented as nice and intelligent. He tells her to quit dabbling in the occult and come back to church and she does. The wedding in at the end takes place in that church. It was nice to see church presented as a normal part of life, even though I don't think all priests do exorcisms.

    I wasn't thrilled about the usual jab against Republicans, but I have come to expect it.

    The show "Friday Night Lights" also shows church as an ordinary part of life and it does it without sneering at the churchgoers.

  4. That reminds me to never have a fruit cup should I be in Oaxaca (which seems unlikely in the extreme). :-D

    Catholicism is also shown respectfully in Henry Poole is Here where you see believers and a priest shown as intelligent ... and also the subject of devotions, such as when the face of Jesus appears somewhere, being treated humorously but with respect. A rare thing these days.