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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Out of the Furnace

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Woody Harrelson and Christian Bale star in a scene from the movie "Out of the Furnace."
Director and co-writer Scott Cooper's often bleak, sometimes touching drama "Out of the Furnace" (Relativity) is a grim journey into hardscrabble, rust-belt America. Religion in general, and Catholicism in particular, are shown to offer a ray of hope to the good characters who must live within this impoverished landscape. But late plot developments involving vigilantism are treated equivocally at best in Cooper and Brad Ingelsby's script—and thus require mature interpretation.

Set in the decaying mill town of Braddock, Pa., this is the story of two brothers: stalwart steel worker Russell Baze (Christian Bale) and his younger sibling Rodney (Casey Affleck), a directionless Iraq War vet. Together they endure a series of personal misfortunes, ranging from their bedridden father Rodney Sr.'s (Bingo O'Malley) lingering illness and young Rodney's repeated tours of duty overseas to Russell's run-in with the law and the subsequent departure of his live-in girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana).

These afflictions culminate when Rodney tries to make a living as a bare-knuckle boxer. Despite the warnings of local bookie John Petty (Willem Dafoe), who organizes the spectacle in Braddock, Rodney wants a shot at the bigger purses on offer in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey. But that means getting mixed up with vicious backwoods fight promoter Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

With naive Rodney discovering, too late, that he's out of his depth, it's up to Russell and their Uncle Red (Sam Shepard)—effectively the family patriarch -- to try to rescue him.

Though their presence is welcome, the religious details in the background of these downbeat proceedings are somewhat confused. Rodney Sr. has a statue of the Madonna by his bedside, and Red is shown praying the rosary. Yet when Russell goes to church, which he does more than once, the setting seems more Protestant than Catholic.

Perhaps this is merely a bid not to appear too sectarian. At any rate, the implicit message is that faith is a source of at least some minimal sustenance in an otherwise comfortless environment.

Scriptural values are left in the dust, however, as one of the main characters takes justice into his own hands. Though this is hardly presented as a good thing, there is also no clear-cut condemnation of it. So adult viewers will need to bring a well-formed conscience and seasoned judgment to bear on a conclusion as bleak as what has gone before.

The film contains much harsh violence, with some gore, revenge and narcotics themes, cohabitation, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough and crude 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 R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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





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Peter and Paul: 
		<strong>Peter (d. 64?)</strong>. St. Mark ends the first half of his Gospel with a triumphant climax. He has recorded doubt, misunderstanding and the opposition of many to Jesus. Now Peter makes his great confession of faith: "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:29b). It was one of the many glorious moments in Peter's life, beginning with the day he was called from his nets along the Sea of Galilee to become a fisher of men for Jesus. 
<p>The New Testament clearly shows Peter as the leader of the apostles, chosen by Jesus to have a special relationship with him. With James and John he was privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the raising of a dead child to life and the agony in Gethsemane. His mother-in-law was cured by Jesus. He was sent with John to prepare for the last Passover before Jesus' death. His name is first on every list of apostles. </p><p>And to Peter only did Jesus say, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17b-19). </p><p>But the Gospels prove their own trustworthiness by the unflattering details they include about Peter. He clearly had no public relations person. It is a great comfort for ordinary mortals to know that Peter also has his human weakness, even in the presence of Jesus. </p><p>He generously gave up all things, yet he can ask in childish self-regard, "What are we going to get for all this?" (see Matthew 19:27). He receives the full force of Christ's anger when he objects to the idea of a suffering Messiah: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:23b). </p><p>Peter is willing to accept Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness, but suggests a limit of seven times. He walks on the water in faith, but sinks in doubt. He refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, then wants his whole body cleansed. He swears at the Last Supper that he will never deny Jesus, and then swears to a servant maid that he has never known the man. He loyally resists the first attempt to arrest Jesus by cutting off Malchus's ear, but in the end he runs away with the others. In the depth of his sorrow, Jesus looks on him and forgives him, and he goes out and sheds bitter tears. The Risen Jesus told Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep (John 21:15-17). </p><p><strong>Paul (d. 64?)</strong>. If the most well-known preacher today suddenly began preaching that the United States should adopt Marxism and not rely on the Constitution, the angry reaction would help us understand Paul's life when he started preaching that Christ alone can save us. He had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. Now he suddenly appears to other Jews as a heretical welcomer of Gentiles, a traitor and apostate. </p><p>Paul's central conviction was simple and absolute: Only God can save humanity. No human effort—even the most scrupulous observance of law—can create a human good which we can bring to God as reparation for sin and payment for grace. To be saved from itself, from sin, from the devil and from death, humanity must open itself completely to the saving power of Jesus. </p><p>Paul never lost his love for his Jewish family, though he carried on a lifelong debate with them about the uselessness of the Law without Christ. He reminded the Gentiles that they were grafted on the parent stock of the Jews, who were still God's chosen people, the children of the promise. </p><p>In light of his preaching and teaching skills, Paul's name has surfaced (among others) as a possible patron of the Internet.</p> American Catholic Blog The way of the cross is unavoidably uphill. Christians don’t get to carry their cross downhill. Suffering has always been inextricably linked with Christianity, but those who carry their cross willingly in these times can serve as an example and inspiration to all of us.

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