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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Rite

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins and Marta Gastini star in "The Rite."
Any movie that opens with a quotation from Pope John Paul II and ends with the sight of a dedicated priest hearing his parishioners' confessions is well calculated to win the support and approval of viewers of faith. And so it is with the religiously honorable drama "The Rite" (Warner Bros.).

Considered purely as a piece of cinema, however, this descent into the tortured world of the demonically possessed, and of those who courageously minister to them, proves aesthetically tentative, its ultimate impact weakened by the effort to showcase its main character's spiritual journey—a conversion tale based on real events—as an old-fashioned chillfest.

That central character is skeptical seminarian Michael Kovak, played by feature film newcomer Colin O'Donoghue in an impressive first outing.

Having pursued priestly studies mainly to get a free college education and avoid following in the footsteps of his undertaker father, Istvan (Rutger Hauer)—with whom he shares a tangled relationship —Michael sends off a resignation e-mail soon after his ordination as a transitional deacon.

But the recipient of his message—his superior, Father Matthew (Toby Jones)—is convinced that Michael possesses at least the pastoral qualities of a good priest. So, to forestall his departure, Father Matthew dispatches Michael to Rome to complete a Vatican-sponsored course in exorcism.

There Michael vents his ongoing doubts—not just about devils and such, but about the very existence of God as well—both to fellow student Angeline (Alice Braga), an Italian reporter who has enrolled in the class for research purposes, and to their instructor, Dominican Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds).

Knowing a hard case when he sees one, Father Xavier arranges for Michael to serve an informal apprenticeship with veteran demon fighter Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a forthright Welshman renowned for his unusual but effective approach to his work.

The inexplicable experiences that follow, as Father Lucas and his initially reluctant protege wrestle with the dark forces at work on pregnant teen Rosaria (Marta Gastini), force Michael to reassess his secular certainties.

The idea that a contemporary doubter should be moved toward belief in the source of absolute good by witnessing the effects of absolute evil run amok is certainly an intriguing one.

But Michael's story—a fictionalized version of the life of Father Gary Thomas of the Diocese of San Jose, Calif., as recounted in journalist Matt Baglio's 2009 book, "The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist"—would have been more effectively presented on its own terms.

Instead, it has been wedged, somewhat uncomfortably, into the mold of a conventional horror movie. The effect is to diffuse its valuable underlying message, though enough of that endures to make the picture, despite the objectionable features listed below, possibly acceptable for mature teens.

The film contains incest and suicide themes, some gruesome imagery, incidental irreverence, a couple of uses of profanity and a few rough and crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. 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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Joan of Arc: 
		<p>Burned at the stake as a heretic after a politically-motivated trial, Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.</p>
		<p>Born of a fairly well-to-do peasant couple in Domremy-Greux (southeast of Paris), Joan was only 12 when she experienced a vision and heard voices that she later identified as Sts. Michael the Archangel, Catherine of Alexandria, and Margaret of Antioch.</p>
		<p>During the Hundred Years War, she led French troops against the English and recaptured the cities of Orléans and Troyes. This enabled Charles VII to be crowned as king in Reims in 1429. Captured near Compiegne the following year, she was sold to the English and placed on trial for heresy and witchcraft. Professors at the University of Paris supported Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvis, the judge at her trial; Cardinal Henry Beaufort of Winchester, England, participated in the questioning of Joan in prison. In the end, she was condemned for wearing men's clothes. The English resented France's military success–to which Joan contributed. </p>
		<p>On this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake in Rouen, and her ashes were scattered in the Seine River. A second Church trial 25 years later nullified the earlier verdict, which was reached under political pressure.</p>
		<p>Remembered by most people for her military exploits, Joan had a great love for the sacraments, which strengthened her compassion toward the poor. Popular devotion to her increased greatly in 19th-century France and later among French soldiers during World War I. Theologian George Tavard writes that her life "offers a perfect example of the conjunction of contemplation and action" because her spiritual insight is that there should be a "unity of heaven and earth."</p>
		<p>Joan of Arc has been the subject of many books, plays, operas, and movies. </p>
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