Video Clips

Blog August 2008

A few films I saw recently on TV got me thinking again about religion in the movies, and in many cases there were interesting marriage scenes that might be useful ice breakers in class when discussing relationships and marriage.
Intolerable Cruelty is another cracking film from the Coen brothers (their most recent being Oscar winner No Country for Old Men). It was quite raunchy in spots, but was a marvellous send up of American divorce culture. Despite all the marital shenanigans the film did seem to favour real love and lifelong commitment. Dealing as it did with marriage, it wasn't surprising that religious imagery figured - there was one wedding scene in particular worth mentioning. It was a garden wedding, and the priest, strumming his guitar, approached the happy couple while singing Simon and Garfunkel songs! Grist to the mill, I'd suspect, for those who might not be enthusiastic about the liturgical changes of recent years. The "religious" wedding was a more attractive proposition than a later registry office wedding which had a Scottish theme, complete with a bagpipe version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. Yuk! I didn't find the religious wedding imagery in any way offensive, perhaps because there was a good humoured warmth about the film.
The wedding scene in Wedding Daze was more problematic. A third rate made-for-tv movie, it started well I thought, as a warm tale of a father and his three daughters, but it quickly descended into pure and irritating corn. A triple wedding was arranged, the father delighted in the money he was saving in not "renting" the cathedral. This time the priest didn't turn up at all and so, as they weren't too fussy they persuaded a nearby rabbi to do the honours! The religious sensibilities of a groom's Italian parents were quickly overcome.
I really enjoyed The Bachelor, which starred Chris O'Donnell as a young man with commitment issues. His miserable efforts at proposing to his loved one were particularly hilarious. When told he must marry by a certain deadline to inherit the family fortune and save the family company he becomes even more desperate, leading to one of the most bizarre wedding scenes ever (the priest is in a police car, the groom on a nearby fire escape, and the bride sandwiched between hundreds of other brides). And there's an earlier attempted wedding of convenience that might also be a useful clip for R. E. class. The film is ultimately pro-marriage and pro-commitment, but some may find the treatment of the sacrament lacking in respect. The Catholic priest (another fine turn by James Cromwell) seems quite willing to go along with efforts at the inheritance driven marriage with scant regard for Church standards, but there is a touching scene, about two thirds way through, where he has a chat with the groom in a boat - telling how he was married with children and became a priest late in life when his wife died - he has only the best of praise for marriage and this helps the groom to overcome his fear of being tied down.
More troubling was the use of religious imagery in Shanghai Noon, This was one of Jackie Chan's comedy martial arts westerns so we can't get too worked up about it, but for no reason to do with the plot the final shoot out took place in a church. From the statement of the crooked Marshall Van Cleef (a good, bad, or ugly joke?) - "I'm glad to see we're all church goers here", it smacked of disrespect. Statues were shot to bits and we were supposed to laugh. In fact the whole church was pretty much wrecked when the mayhem was over. Overall it was a funny film, but it's hard to find sacrilege and desecration funny.
The religious imagery in Before and After was brief but more positive - we saw a funeral scene with a priest comforting a woman whose daughter had been killed - an image that's more true to life. The young man who was the chief suspect ran away from home, but wrote to his parents, telling them he knew they didn't pray, but asking them to pray now, for him. The father (Liam Neeson) impulsively covered up for the son, but the mother (Meryl Streep) was more pure of heart - she wanted to do what was right and tell the truth, even though she was mocked for her principles and "absolutes" - not too often you find a leading character supporting the idea of objective and absolute truth. Not only that but the film seemed to support that point of view - it was seen as a healthy thing for the family to face up to the truth, even though there was a cost. The film wasn't entirely enthusiastic to religion however - some religious bigot harassed the family by phone when the son was a suspect (yes, I know, there are plenty like that who give religion a bad name), and there was a negative comment from the father about the Abraham and Isaac story, which raised father-son issues that he thought relevant to his own situation. Overall a thoughtful and unpredictable film.

Finally got to see The X-Files: I Want to Believe, recently arrived in Irish cinemas. There are lots of scenes I'd like to look back on, so perhaps I'll revise my initial opinions when it comes out on DVD. First off, it was great to see Mulder and Scully back in action - it's been about 6 years since the TV show ended. The film was certainly true to the spirit of the show, though apart from the principals only one other character reappeared. As with the TV show there were strong religious elements - the title "I Want to Believe" says it all.
I'd say religious believers won't be entirely happy with the way religion is presented - one of the main characters is a paedophile former priest, still referred to as Father Joe, played with deadly earnestness by comedian Billy Connolly, a strange but effective casting choice. Scully can't hide her revulsion when in his presence, but at least he seems repentant. So though, on one level, the character might be reinforcing lazy stereotypes, he is humanised and challenges the judgementalism of Scully and the viewer. But there is negative portrayal of other priests also - in particular a rather cold fish at the Catholic hospital where Scully is treating a young boy for an apparently incurable disease. At best this priest is a fussy administrator, but the young boy says he doesn't like the way this priest is looking at him.
The plot centres around "Father Joe" helping the police find some missing women because he says he has been having visions. Is he in league with the perpetrators or has God answered his prayers of repentance? Mulder in particular wants to believe he is genuinely psychic, but Scully is more doubtful, still conflicted about such matters, though Fr Joe describes her as "a woman of faith". She was often thus in the series, so it seems her character hasn't progressed much in the intervening years, and for that matter Mulder seems driven by the same concerns as always, though the alien theme of the so-called "mythology" episodes doesn't figure this time. There are many discussions about faith during the film, especially a dramatic confrontation between Scully and Fr Joe when she reluctantly goes to seek his help - (in this scene he says of abusers that they hate themselves and hate each other). Other discussions fall into the trap of wordiness that was one of the faults of the TV show. These are the scenes I'd like to see again to form a more rounded judgement.
The plot also features the stem cell research issue, and treats it in an interesting way - Scully dabbles in it to try and save her young patient, but the bad guys are also into it for more gruesome purposes, so it advocates and critics alike may feel somewhat satisfied. The distinction between adult and embryonic stem cell research doesn't figure.
For most of the X-Files series Mulder and Scully were just good friends - this close but platonic relationship was one of the show's attractions, but if I remember correctly there was a hint in the 9th series that the relationship had become physical, and in this film they seem to be living together at least some of the time. And in another sign of the times two of the bad guys are married to each other! Have tried not to give away too much here, but if you do go to see it be sure to stay until the end of the credits!

(for my article on the religious themes in the X-Files TV series click here)