Talking Pictures

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‘Opium’ at the movies.

Posted by keith1942 on September 11, 2018

Perhaps it is my sensibilities but there seems to have been an awful lot of religion on film this summer. We had Apostasy, on which I have already posted. Here one had to sit through an amount of Jehovah Witness theology.

This turned up again in The Children’s Act (2017): another victim declining a blood transfusion. In fact I felt that this was not the prime focus of the film but rather the emotional cataclysm for the liberal judge. The film had the merit of treating the issue from the legal rather than the theological point of view.

Both had been preceded by First Reformed (2017) with another fundamentalist character. He is effectively a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, an organisation which tends towards Calvinism. Their lists of ‘do nots’ is not quite as extreme as the Jehovah Witnesses. This was a higher quality film, though I found the writing by Paul Schrader stronger than his direction. The film seemed to follow the style of a Robert Bresson film for much of its fairly long running time. But the climax suggested the masochism one finds in the Catholic Church; and it also reminded me of some of the themes in the writings of Ian McEwan.

Better than these was The Apparition (L’apparition, 2018). In this film a sceptical journalist is asked to investigate a claim of an apparition by the Virgin Mary. Parts of the film depicted the processes of the Roman Catholic Church in such instances. At times these sequences felt like they could have been written by John Le Carré. The actual investigation and the blessed recipient of the apparition were equally fascinating. And the film managed to effect a surprising climax and resolution, the latter rather indefinite.

Also an improvement, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018). A teenager caught in a Lesbian embrace after a school prom is packed off to ‘God’s promise’ by her conservative guardian. This religious camp supposedly is able to cure her ‘affliction’. The film is critical, funny and, at times, dramatic. As in Apostasy watching and listening to the fundamentalist characters was hard work, though the performers make these characters convincing. What intrigued me most is that the film seems to recycle the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). We have equivalents of Nurse Ratched, the Native American chief, excited viewing of television, a suicide and therapy sessions. And the ending has parallels though it is less dramatic. The film is adapted from a novel of the same name: I am unclear as to what degree the novel shares these parallels. The film certainly changes some things, Cameron is older in the film than the novel.

In Puzzle (2018) we get Roman Catholicism; but this is with irony and sly subversion. Agnes discovers she has a talent for puzzles and teams up with Robert for the National Championships. This enables her to assert herself in the patriarchal family set-up. This is small-town USA with regular church going. Intriguingly religion does not resolve the oppressive situation. Robert, a New Yorker, remarks that ‘life is chaos’ but that when completed puzzles offer a ‘perfect picture’. In fact we never see Agnes reading a bible though we do see her carrying the ‘ash cross’ that marks the beginning of Lent. By the film’s end she is emerging from this wintry fast.

And one I have not seen is Pope Francis: a Man of his Word. This is by Wim Wenders and I would rather see his excellent Buena Vista Social Club (1999) or the more recent Pina (2011), neither especially laden with religious tropes.

At least I was able to enjoy a snippet of Richard Dawkins puncturing the balloon of such superstitions. But only briefly at the opening of Ex Libris. And, of course, The Young Karl Marx offers the greatest modern hatchet job on religion.

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