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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Prisoners

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano star in a scene from the movie "Prisoners."
Any film that begins with a character earnestly reciting the Our Father is well calculated to grab the attention of Christian viewers. And, in the case of the powerful drama "Prisoners" (Warner Bros.), such concentration on the part of believers will be, in some respects at least, well rewarded by what follows.

Yet, for all its thematic and symbolic richness, this foray into psychological darkness is too bleak to pass for casual fare. Weighty but wrenching, it can only be endorsed for older moviegoers of considerable fortitude.

The voice delivering the Lord's Prayer belongs to devout family man Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). A working stiff in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania suburb, Keller is a seemingly decent man who operates by traditional values.

His commitment to such ethics is put to the test, however, by a horrifying scenario: On a rainy Thanksgiving Day, Keller's 6-year-old daughter Anna disappears, together with one of her playmates. It soon becomes apparent that the girls have been kidnapped, and suspicion focuses on mentally challenged local loner Alex Jones (Paul Dano).

Though the lead investigator on the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), takes Jones in for questioning, the evidence against him is insufficient to press charges. Outraged by Jones' release, and desperate to locate Anna, Keller turns vicious vigilante. He abducts Jones at gunpoint and holds him prisoner while trying to beat information out of him.

Loki, meanwhile, doggedly pursues other angles, eventually uncovering a hidden web of satanically evil events and relationships.

Though it presents the facade of a thriller, director Denis Villeneuve's film is primarily an exploration of the human condition, including the chain reaction by which sin begets sin, as well as of the role of religious faith in a fallen world.

Keller is never identified with a particular denomination, and the question of his specific beliefs is muddled by the fact that his devotions include both Catholic and Protestant prayers. But he is a test case for faith under fire and an illustration of the dangers involved in any attempt to make the ends justify the means.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski's script is unflinching in its portrayal of the increasingly brutal measures to which Keller is driven. Add to that such seamy details as an incidental priest figure who is both a sex offender and an alcoholic, and it becomes clear that "Prisoners" requires of its audience not only a capacity for grim material but mature interpretive skills as well.

The film contains harrowing violence, including beatings, torture and a gory suicide, mature themes, a negative treatment of Catholic clergy, at least one use of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. 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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