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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Eagle

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum star in "The Eagle."
The contradictions of imperialism and the relationship of a marginal culture to a temporarily dominant one are background themes that add some depth to the period action-adventure movie "The Eagle" (Focus).

Even so, adults and mature teens who approach this vigorous screen version of Rosemary Sutcliff's popular 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" looking for nothing more than a swords-and-sandals outing—or a toga-toting buddy movie—will likely come away satisfied as well.

Taking that outing and making for an unlikely pair of pals are Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a young Roman soldier stationed in second-century Britain, and his native slave, Esca (Jamie Bell). Together they embark on a quest to recover the titular military symbol lost 20 years earlier when the legion Marcus' father, Flavius, commanded disappeared, under unexplained circumstances, in the wilds of modern-day Scotland.

Tormented since childhood by Flavius' ambiguous legacy—did Dad fight to the end or show cowardice by abandoning this gilded emblem of Rome's honor?—Marcus hopes to restore both national and familial pride by returning the totem to imperial custody.

But to achieve this, he will have to journey beyond Hadrian's Wall, the northern limit of the Empire, an undertaking considered impossibly reckless by the cautious uncle (Donald Sutherland) at whose villa Marcus has been recuperating from the battle wounds that put an end to his active military career.

In fact, once he enters this alien world populated by hostile Britons, Marcus will be wholly dependent on Esca as interpreter and guide. Yet, Esca himself is unsure of his loyalties.

As the enslaved son of a local chieftain killed by the occupier, Esca detests Rome and everything it represents. But his first encounter with his master ended with Marcus saving the lad's life, an act Esca —no stranger to the concept of honor himself -- feels duty-bound to repay with faithful service.

Their arduous journey sees the fraught relationship between these representatives of competing civilizations veer from friendship to hostility to mutual understanding, and displays the moral shadings present in both their communities.

Director Kevin Macdonald keeps the pace lively and the battles mostly gore-free while a sense of conflict-transcending human solidarity helps leaven the macho atmosphere that permeates Jeremy Brock's screenplay. (Not only is there no "love angle" in the story, there's nary a female character to be seen.)

Despite the elements listed below, the moral lessons awaiting attentive viewers of this historical expedition make it probably acceptable for older adolescents.

The film contains considerable but largely bloodless combat violence, brief distant images of unclothed corpses, a single use of the S-word and a couple of crass 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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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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