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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Beautiful Creatures

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert star in a scene from the movie "Beautiful Creatures."
On its surface, the gothic romance "Beautiful Creatures" (Warner Bros.) comprises a passable if pretentious, blend of supernatural elements reminiscent of the "Twilight" franchise and a lush setting straight out of a Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

But a mixed religious outlook makes the occult elements underlying writer-director Richard LaGravenese's screen version of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's 2009 novel more troubling than they might otherwise seem.

In fact, few in the targeted audience of teen date movie consumers are likely to possess the discernment necessary to bring this kaleidoscope of positive and negative spiritual attitudes into proper focus.

Viewed from the perspective of restless teen Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), life in the small town of Gatlin, S.C., is nothing short of a nightmare. Overrun with churches and populated by moronic, book-banning evangelical Christians, it's a venue of stultifying boredom.

All that begins to change, though, with the arrival of mysterious new-girl-in-town Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), for whom Ethan quickly falls.

Like Ethan, who can't get enough of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "Slaughterhouse-Five," Lena is a literary rebel. She not only fancies Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"—which the Gatlin authorities, for unexplained reasons, have seen fit to censor—but the works of anarchic poet Charles Bukowski as well. (How LaGravenese resists the temptation to drop angst icon Sylvia Plath's name into the mix is anyone's guess.)

Since Lena's blue-state cultural tastes obviously make her "different," her blinkered classmates and their equally close-minded parents jump to the ridiculous conclusion that she's a witch. Thing is, they're right. But Ethan is no disapproving Darrin Stephens of "Bewitched," so this revelation doesn't bother him a bit.

Still, it's not all monotony-breaking fun and games for Ethan and Lena. Their heterogeneous relationship draws the steadfast opposition of Lena's warlock uncle and guardian Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons); it also places them at risk due to the schemes of her spell-casting mother, Sarafine (Emma Thompson).

Appropriately, given that he's 17 and she's approaching her 16th birthday -- a pivotal event in the life of a young witch, so we're told—Ethan and Lena's physical interaction is generally restrained. One scene, however, does end ambiguously enough to leave the audience wondering whether their onscreen necking leads on, after the cut-away, to something less acceptable.

In the case of Ethan's best pal, Link (Thomas Mann), plot complications and writhing visuals leave us in no doubt that he has been seduced, as well as bewitched, by Ridley (Emmy Rossum), a troublemaking relative of Lena's.

By contrast to the mercilessly caricatured Anglo-Saxons of Gatlin, the burgh's African-American librarian Amma (Viola Davis) is enlightenment personified. Thus she blithely combines her role as a custodian of conjuring lore—as well as her practice of seeking guidance from deceased ancestors after placating them by placing tidbits of their favorite foods on top of their graves—with faithful church attendance.

The wrap-up does celebrate the power of sacrificial love, a theme obviously in keeping with scriptural faith, and even a local preacher's sermon is used to reinforce this message. But by then, most of the Christians of Gatlin have been shown to be so hateful—and witchcraft portrayed as so much fun—that impressionable viewers may be too confused to pick the wheat from the chaff.

The film contains an ambivalent portrayal of Christianity, brief sacrilegious behavior, restrained scenes of violence with fleeting gore, semi-graphic nonmarital sexual activity, at least one use of profanity and some crude and crass language. 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 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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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