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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

There Be Dragons

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Wes Bentley stars in a scene from the movie "There Be Dragons."
What many people think they know about the Catholic spiritual movement Opus Dei likely comes—unfortunately—from the slanderous misrepresentations of it fobbed off on the public by author Dan Brown in his 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code." Brown's fallacies, moreover, were only perpetuated by the 2006 screen version of his feverish fantasy, helmed by Ron Howard.

A healthy antidote to such sensationalized misconceptions—a murderous albino monk, you say?—comes with the release of "There Be Dragons" (Samuel Goldwyn), a generally powerful, partly fictionalized dramatization of passages in the life of Opus Dei's founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (1902-75), intensely yet appealingly portrayed by Charlie Cox.

As fictional Spanish-born reporter Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) investigates Escriva's life, he's surprised to discover that his own father Manolo (Wes Bentley)—from whom Robert has long been estranged—was the future religious leader's childhood friend and seminary classmate.

With the tumult of the Spanish Civil War looming, however, the two men took diametrically different paths.

Once ordained, Escriva labored for the establishment of a community dedicated to achieving personal sanctity through everyday work, an organization whose structure—unprecedented in the modern church—would embrace women as well as men, laypeople as well as priests.

Having rejected the faith in favor of a bitterly cynical materialism, meanwhile, Manolo is shown pursuing a duplicitous role in the conflict engulfing his society.

Not the least of the obstacles Escriva confronted in furthering his "Work of God" (the English meaning of the Latin phrase "Opus Dei") was the increasingly violent anti-clericalism of the Loyalist side in the Spanish struggle.

Yet when these leftists begin desecrating churches and murdering priests in cold blood, Escriva remains evenhandedly neutral, sympathizing with his adversaries' motivations and aspirations and urging his handful of early followers to react with Christian forbearance.

This nuanced and charitable approach to the situation belies Escriva's reputation, in some circles, as an unabashed devotee of Franco's fascist vision.

The striking portrait of an anything-but-plaster saint that forms the heart of writer-director Roland Joffe's hybrid tale grippingly conveys its subject's struggle to discern his vocation and to live out the Christian message of peace, even in the most trying circumstances.

But the impact of these fact-based biographical elements is blunted by the fictive framework with which Joffe has chosen to surround them, a storytelling device that turns out to be more burden than enhancement. Thus, imaginary subplots such as the conflict between Robert and Manolo never seem quite convincing, and only serve to distract from a primary story which is both spiritually valuable and ably depicted.

The significance of that central chronicle is such, however, as to make "There Be Dragons" probably acceptable for older teens.

The film contains occasionally bloody action violence, a few sexual references, a couple of crude and a half-dozen 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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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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