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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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Martyrdom of John the Baptist: The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance and the hateful heart of a queen combined to bring about the martyrdom of John the Baptist. The greatest of prophets suffered the fate of so many Old Testament prophets before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice crying in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak the truth. But why? What possesses a man that he would give up his very life? 
<p>This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the people for the Messiah. His vocation was one of selfless giving. The only power that he claimed was the Spirit of Yahweh. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power. John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is John the Baptist who has pointed the way to Christ. John’s life and death were a giving over of self for God and other people. His simple style of life was one of complete detachment from earthly possessions. His heart was centered on God and the call that he heard from the Spirit of God speaking to his heart. Confident of God’s grace, he had the courage to speak words of condemnation or repentance, of salvation.</p> American Catholic Blog Those who pray learn to favor and prefer God’s judgment over that of human beings. God always outdoes us in generosity and in receptivity. God is always more loving than the person who has loved you the most!

 
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