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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Season of the Witch

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

"I serve the church no more!" declares the main character in the baleful and boring medieval adventure "Season of the Witch" (Relativity). And, given the relentlessly negative picture of the era's Catholicism that screenwriter Bragi Schut and director Dominic Sena present throughout their film, it's little wonder he feels that way.

Said personage is a warrior named Behmen played, with much huffing and puffing and stomping about, by Nicolas Cage.

Together with his buddy and comrade Felson (Ron Perlman)—a dim bulb with a good heart—Crusader Behmen has mown down Muslim infidels by the thousands. But an atrocity involving the church-sponsored slaughter of innocent women and children causes a change of heart in both, and the friends go AWOL.

They find the territories through which they pass, as they make their way home, ravaged by the plague. (This is a somewhat surprising turn of events, given that, in the real world, the end of the last crusade preceded the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe by more than 70 years. But we digress.)

Eventually identified as deserters from the sacred cause, Behmen and Felson are brought before the horribly disfigured and dying Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee) for judgment. He threatens them with incarceration—and perhaps worse—unless they agree to escort a young unnamed prisoner (Claire Foy) to a distant abbey so she can stand trial as a witch whose black magic has given rise to the fatal pest.

Accompanied by Father Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the priest responsible for the accused sorceress' interrogation (we're shown the grim scars that process has produced), and by a motley crew of others, the pals set out on their rather less than epic journey.

Amid these proceedings, Schut and Sena dredge up every hoary cliche about the period from a con man pilloried for selling bogus relics (Stephen Graham) to a procession of flagellants scourging themselves to repel pestilence. Later, Debelzaq proves himself so ignorant of his faith that he begins Christianity's most famous prayer by saying, "Our Lord who art in heaven."

Not surprisingly, then, in the climactic showdown between good and evil, Debelzaq and the others rely not on the Bible or the established rituals of the church but on a fictional version of an occult text called the Key of Solomon. As recited onscreen, this turns out to consist largely of Latin gibberish with some phrases from the extraordinary form of the liturgy thrown in for no very apparent reason.

One need not be blind to the serious shortcomings that characterized the human element of the church during the Middle Ages to recognize as gross caricature its portrayal here as a superstitious, oppressive force against which this forgettable action outing's central figures nobly rebel.

The film contains pervasive anti-Catholic bias, occult themes, brief partial nudity, much -- mostly bloodless -- violence, some gruesome images, at least one use of the S-word and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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



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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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