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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

J. Edgar

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Over a career that began during World War I and endured almost until the era of Watergate, famed founding director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) battled communists, gangsters, Nazi spies, the Kennedys, the civil rights movement and (albeit reluctantly) the Mafia.

That's a lot of time and a lot of conflict for one movie, which is perhaps why "J. Edgar" (Warner Bros.)—Clint Eastwood's biographical drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the G-man many love to hate—registers, ultimately, as polished but taxing. All the more so since an attempt to reconstruct Hoover's enigmatic personal life, a subject of much gossip then and considerable controversy now, is thrown into the mix as well.

As scripted by Dustin Lance Black, the film informatively chronicles Hoover's rise from obscure bureaucrat to power-besotted keeper of the nation's secrets.

Yet its exploration of the three main relationships in Hoover's life—with his domineering mother, Annie (Judi Dench), his girlfriend-turned-secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and his No. 2 at the bureau, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer)—feels sensationalized at times. A case in point: a fistfight between Hoover and Tolson that consummates in a kiss.

Let it be noted, however that said stolen smooch—more or less exacted by Tolson from a surprised, if not necessarily unwilling, Hoover—is the furthest extent of physical intimacy between the two men portrayed on screen.

There's certainly a lot of pent-up tension between them; the dust-up, for instance, results from Tolson's jealous rage over Hoover's romance with Hollywood glamour girl Hedy Lamarr. And there's also the occasional, ambiguous pat on the hand. But whether their well-documented daily companionship over several decades extended into the bedroom is left up to viewers to decide.

Given that Black also penned 2008's "Milk," it may not be unfair to ask whether this aspect of a historical figure's life is being exploited to advance a contemporary political agenda. Hoover's self-justifying rhetoric in defense of his crime-fighting methods, for instance, does invite reflection on the current debate about the balance between national security and individual liberty. But the idea that his (apparently) conflicted sexuality can serve as a weapon in today's culture wars seems strained.

As depicted here, Hoover is too idiosyncratic, and decidedly too unsympathetic, to be co-opted as an icon of gay victimization—authentic or otherwise.

Steely mom Annie voices a horrifying preference for a dead son over one exposed as a homosexual, and Tolson frequently plays the role of Hoover's conscience on issues of FBI policy. Yet there's no suggestion that if Annie—and society at large—would just have lightened up, Tolson and Hoover could somehow have walked hand in hand into a lavender sunset and found peace together.

Questions of advocacy aside, "J. Edgar" includes material calculated to make it uncomfortable viewing even for mature audience members. The gothic nature of Hoover's filial situation, for instance, reaches a climax in a scene, set after Annie's death, that—mildly at least—evokes Anthony Perkins' interaction with his memorable screen mom in that Victorian fixer-upper above the Bates Motel.

The film contains brief intense but bloodless violence, a scene of semi-graphic adultery, homosexual and transvestite themes, a same-sex kiss, at least one use of profanity and a couple of rough terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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



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Timothy and Titus: 
		<b>Timothy (d. 97?)</b>: What we know from the New Testament of Timothy’s life makes it sound like that of a modern harried bishop. He had the honor of being a fellow apostle with Paul, both sharing the privilege of preaching the gospel and suffering for it. 
<p>Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother named Eunice. Being the product of a “mixed” marriage, he was considered illegitimate by the Jews. It was his grandmother, Lois, who first became Christian. Timothy was a convert of Paul around the year 47 and later joined him in his apostolic work. He was with Paul at the founding of the Church in Corinth. During the 15 years he worked with Paul, he became one of his most faithful and trusted friends. He was sent on difficult missions by Paul—often in the face of great disturbance in local churches which Paul had founded. </p><p>Timothy was with Paul in Rome during the latter’s house arrest. At some period Timothy himself was in prison (Hebrews 13:23). Paul installed him as his representative at the Church of Ephesus. </p><p>Timothy was comparatively young for the work he was doing. (“Let no one have contempt for your youth,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:12a.) Several references seem to indicate that he was timid. And one of Paul’s most frequently quoted lines was addressed to him: “Stop drinking only water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). </p><p><b>Titus (d. 94?)</b>: Titus has the distinction of being a close friend and disciple of Paul as well as a fellow missionary. He was Greek, apparently from Antioch. Even though Titus was a Gentile, Paul would not let him be forced to undergo circumcision at Jerusalem. Titus is seen as a peacemaker, administrator, great friend. Paul’s second letter to Corinth affords an insight into the depth of his friendship with Titus, and the great fellowship they had in preaching the gospel: “When I went to Troas...I had no relief in my spirit because I did not find my brother Titus. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.... For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—external conflicts, internal fears. But God, who encourages the downcast, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus...” (2 Corinthians 2:12a, 13; 7:5-6). </p><p>When Paul was having trouble with the community at Corinth, Titus was the bearer of Paul’s severe letter and was successful in smoothing things out. Paul writes he was strengthened not only by the arrival of Titus but also “by the encouragement with which he was encouraged in regard to you, as he told us of your yearning, your lament, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.... And his heart goes out to you all the more, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, when you received him with fear and trembling” (2 Corinthians 7:7a, 15). </p><p>The Letter to Titus addresses him as the administrator of the Christian community on the island of Crete, charged with organizing it, correcting abuses and appointing presbyter-bishops.</p> American Catholic Blog Meek does not mean weak. Meekness requires true strength (Mt 5:5). True power is robed in humility.

 
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