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Politics of Religion
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.




V FOR VENDETTA (L, R): Shot in digital format, this is a futuristic thriller of the first order. Evey (Natalie Portman) is caught outside in the streets of London after the curfew set by the British totalitarian government. She is rescued by a strange masked man who calls himself “V” (Hugo Weaving). He urges people to join him in the overthrow of their oppressive government that uses religious sentiment to manage the masses.

Adam Sutler (John Hurt) is a chancellor who rules England from a secure underground retreat. By way of a televised image, he orders the police (Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves) to find V.

V for Vendetta is a dark, pop-culture feast with bits of classical culture: religion, literature, art, music, philosophy, cinema, history, politics, semiotics, war, violence and communications. It delivers an ominous commentary on how the politics of religion can manipulate a nation into willing acquiescence.

Director James McTeigue worked with writers Andy and Larry Wachowski on the Matrix films. While Vendetta condemns the Machiavellian dictum that “the end justifies the means,” the story is about vengeance, greed, terrorism and the use of fear and religion by the government to control people. But it is also about the future of humanity, heroism, freedom from tyranny and the masks we wear.

Although intensely violent in parts, it is a sharp, intelligent, appealing and riveting film that will remind you of current events, as well as books and films such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and The Phantom of the Opera. There is an odd lesbian fantasy that is difficult to decipher, and other parts of the film may be obscure to some viewers. Attempted rape, problem language and intense stylized violence.



EIGHT BELOW (A-2, PG): Geologist Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) arrives via plane at the National Science Foundation’s outpost in Antarctica in search of a meteorite. Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) reluctantly agrees to take McClaren on a search and hitches up his eight sled dogs.

When they return to camp, everyone must evacuate, due to increasingly bad weather. Shepard is distraught at leaving the dogs behind, due to lack of room on the plane. But the base director, Dr. Harrison (Gerard Plunkett), promises that they will return the next day for the dogs. Shepard and cartographer Charlie Cooper (Jason Biggs) secure the animals so they won’t run away in the blinding snow.

When the humans cannot return because of weather, the dogs must fend for themselves. Although these dogs are never “cute,” each one has a personality. Their adventure, ordeal and performances balance well with those of the humans struggling to return to rescue them.

March of the Penguins fascinated us with the Antarctic life cycle in 2005. Eight Below is set in the same frigid and unwelcoming terrain (though shot in Canada, Norway and Greenland). Director Frank Marshall, who gave us Alive in 1993 (about the survival of the Uruguayan rugby team in the Andes), reminds us once again of the gifts of nature that empower creatures to endure and triumph over the greatest odds.

Eight Below is an adaptation of a 1983 Japanese film that was based on true events that occurred in the 1950s. This fine Disney version is inspiring for all but the youngest children, who may be frightened by the peril the humans and animals face.

WATER (not rated, PG-13): Set in 1938, Water completes Indian director Deepa Mehta’s trilogy named for earth’s essential elements: Fire (1996) and Earth (1998).

Chuyia (Sarala) is a happy eight-year-old Hindu girl who has just been married to a much older man. When he dies shortly after, Chuyia is left a widow, without any idea of what this means.

Her father shaves her head and she is left at an ashram, a kind of monastery for widows who, according to Hindu tradition, must never remarry.

Left to the mercy of charity, the women live out their lives in physical and/or emotional misery. One widow, Kalyani (Lisa Ray), is forced by the lazy head of the house, Madhumati (Manorama), into a life of prostitution to help support the community of widows.

A young Brahmin, Narayana (John Abraham), just home from university and inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, sees the breathtaking Kalyani as she returns from a client. They fall in love. Narayana believes, as does Gandhi, that widows should be allowed to go free and remarry, contrary to religious law and traditions.

One widow, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas), watches over Chuyia and Kalyani as best she can. She seems stern, but is kind and a seeker of truth. She believes in her Hindu faith but begins to question it with her spiritual guide, asking if one must obey religion or conscience.

Water parallels the birth pangs of India’s modern democracy as it tore itself from the colonial dominance of the British and the grip of its own oppressive religious traditions at the same time. Some of the women became bitter and as cruel as the traditions that bound them; others reached a level of holiness as they tried to do what they believed was God’s will.

The story of Chuyia and the other women is told with great sensitivity by director/writer Mehta. The exact number of widows forced into ashrams today is unknown, Mehta attests, but there are many. And some still retire there willingly to pursue an ascetical life after their husbands die.

Mehta, whose other films deal with the politics of war and the politics of sex, clearly makes the point that the search for truth will free us and that justice flows when an upright conscience and sincere faith unite in the soul of a person and a nation. Water is a beautifully rendered, thoughtful film about the politics of religion and is well worth seeing. Mature themes and brief drug use.

INDEPENDENT LENS: The Devil’s Miner (PBS, May 23): When Spanish conquistadors discovered silver in the mountains of Potosí, Bolivia, they enslaved the indigenous people as miners and converted them to Catholicism. It is believed that more than eight million miners have died in the Bolivian silver mines in the last 450 years. The silver from these mines underpinned the economic stability of the Spanish empire for centuries.

When the Indios rebelled, the Spanish told them that the devil was the God of the mines, and if they did not appease him, the miners would suffer mishaps and die in the mines. A tradition that continues to this day contradicts the Catholicism practiced by the people outside the mines.

This outstanding documentary about faith and social justice is by noted documentarians Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani. It explores the lives of 9,000 miners, hundreds of them children, through the eyes and voices of brothers Basilio and Bernardino Vargas. Like their ancestors, these boys believe that the devil will keep them safe. (Check local listings.)

IN JUSTICE (ABC, Fridays): A late starter this season, this show is already one of my favorites. Attorney David Swain (Kyle MacLachlan) works with former cops headed by Charles Conti (Jason O’Mara), young attorneys and investigators to form the Justice Project. Their mission is to investigate criminal cases where the defendant seems to have been wrongly convicted and, sometimes, sentenced to death. This series has excellent character development, fresh plots and lots of heart.


AQUAMARINE (A-2, PG): This underappreciated fable is based on a novel by Alice Hoffman about awkward adolescent girls who discover a mermaid in the pool after a hurricane. The mermaid grows legs during the day and falls for the same lifeguard the girls like. The three forms of love (agape, philia and eros) emerge as the main themes and offer much to talk about. Mildly sensual.

FAILURE TO LAUNCH (A-3, PG-13): Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is a 35-year-old who won’t leave the nest. His parents hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) to lure him to autonomy. An O.K. romantic comedy with some insight about parenting, but the real treat is the quirky comedic performance of Zooey Deschanel as Parker’s roommate. Some implied sexual situations and a comic instance of rear male nudity.

THE SHAGGY DOG (A-1, PG): This remake of the 1959 Disney classic that starred Fred MacMurray should make animal-rights activists happy, and it has something thoughtful to say about genetic manipulation and healing family relationships. You can’t help smiling when a grown man—and lawyer (Tim Allen)—growls at opposing counsel in the courtroom and runs across front yards on all fours in a business suit. Funny enough.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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