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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Phantom

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


David Duchovny stars in a scene from the movie "Phantom."
Set primarily on a Soviet submarine in the midst of the Cold War, writer-director Todd Robinson's "Phantom" (RCR) pits a crew of seasoned sailors against a handful of the KGB's most ruthless bad guys.

His drama also implicitly contrasts the Christian faith adhered to by at least some of the former with the cynical atheism prevailing among the latter.

Robinson's speculative thriller plays off one of the most mysterious incidents in the long struggle between East and West: the 1968 sinking of K-129, a nuclear-armed Soviet sub whose loss has never been fully explained. His screenplay presents a possible scenario of what might have preceded—and caused—the disaster.

The plot centers on honorable but troubled Capt. Demi (Ed Harris). The son of a distinguished World War II-era naval commander, Demi's own career has been blighted by an incident we initially glimpse only in strobe-lit flashbacks.

On the verge of retirement, Demi is entrusted with a final mission, one seemingly designed to humiliate him. He's ordered to take the helm of an obsolete, diesel-fueled clunker, and steer it through its final voyage.

Accompanying him will be a group of unwanted guests: intelligence operatives led by steel-willed Agent Bruni (David Duchovny).

Demi's dislike of Bruni and his ilk turns to suspicion after he discovers that Bruni is bent on a high-stakes clandestine operation that may or may not have been sanctioned by Moscow. As he and Bruni struggle for control of the creaky vessel, with its vast destructive power, the lower ranks are forced to choose sides.

Comparisons between this dive and 1990's "The Hunt for Red October" are perhaps inevitable; they are unlikely to prove advantageous for Robinson. In fact, this routine military exercise sometimes feels like a warmed-over version of that Sean Connery gripper.

"Phantom" can be honored, though, for its exploration of the nature of heroism. And viewers of faith will be pleased—if not, perhaps, entirely satisfied -- by its sporadic showcasing of Demi's frayed but enduring ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. While Bruni is motivated by a narrow and fanatical patriotism, Demi's broader humanism can be read as an outgrowth of his Christian beliefs.

The film contains some gory violence and intense gunplay, a suicide, fleeting semi-graphic sexual activity, a couple of uses of profanity, at least one rough term and occasional crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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