Friday, October 28, 2011

Rites and wrongs

Anthony Hopkins managed to make The Rite somewhat interesting. A skeptical young seminarian from Ohio is sent to a Roman program on the renewed rite of strengthen his faith. He gets involved with Hopkins, who has been exorcising demons for thirty years. Mayhem ensues.

It was typical of Catholic/exorcist movies in one way and not in others. Typically, it showed little respect for the details of Catholicism: a scene which was clearly an ordination to the diaconate --a big deal-- was treated as a moment prior to "first vows". Apples, oranges and wrong. At least the vestments were right.

(They did manage to deck out Ciaran Hinds as a Dominican correctly --above--, though giving him the Jesuit name "Xavier" is unlikely.)

But in a couple of ways it was unusual. Although the unsure young man does meet an attractive woman, she never tries to seduce him and they remain just friends, even allies, but no romance. And the priests in the movie are all both intelligent and humane, even if, or because, flawed, not the clergy cartoons frequently seen:

a. heartless orthodox organization men bent on political power
b. the misunderstood (usually lefty) victims of the above men
c. tortured but hot semi-believers having an affair
d. doddering clueless old capons with all the testosterone of Barney the Dinosaur
e. nutcase exorcists or apocalyptic conspiracy freaks

The exorcists here were, of course, unusual men, but not nutcases.

Plus, the ending of the film is surprisingly untypical, along with its seriously countenancing the reality of The Evil One in a way not reducible to the psyche.

Hopkins did a good job, although he sometimes slips into Hannibal Lecter mode. And the young man, though handsome, was soulless and dull throughout. Something which made his climactic scene more unbelievable. The Italian journalist who befriends him, she has a lot of life, intelligence, sympathy and courage. And shows no feminist vengeance streak.

Most religions have demons in them. But it's Christianity, as any Jungian will tell you, which has raised the opposition between the diabolical and the divine to the highest pitch. Although mainstream Western Christians no longer like to emphasize it, Jesus was quite the exorcist, as well as a faith healer. One of the embarassing results of the Christianization of Black Africa is that when these folks read the New Testament, that jumps out at them. Their native churches focus strongly both on healing and exorcism rather than social justice, something the post-Enlightenment Euro missionaries wished they wouldn't. But there it is.

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