Portrayal of Religion in Film Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

religion is handled in the movies "Stigmata," "Dogma," and "Going My Way" Discussed: how each movie is different or similar in its portrayal of religion, what make each film good or bad portrayals and how each reflect America. Cite reviews of films.

Portrayal of Religion in Film

Religion in movies is usually portrayed, for better or worse, by the Catholic Church. Due to its global influence, its power and its ancient rituals, The Catholic Church is perfect for religious overtones, or the main subject in movies. Until, the last few decades, the Church was always depicted as all-knowing and all-loving. Given, the recent news articles concerning sexual abuse within the Church, it makes movies such as, "Going My Way" seem rather naive, and gives credence to the meanings in movies such as "Stigmata" and "Dogma."

Going My Way" was released in 1944. It is the story of a new younger priest named Father O'Malley, who shows up at Saint Dominic's Church to help the parish's Father Fitzgibbon, a crusty old priest who sees O'Malley as a threat. O'Malley is portrayed by Bing Crosby and Fitzgibbon by Barry Fitzgerald. Crosby won an academy award for Best Actor and Fitzgerald won for Best Supporting Actor, although, when reviewing the movie, one could create a strong argument that it should have been the other way around. Fitzgerald gives a memorable performance and definitely steals the movie away from crooner Crosby. With Bing in the movie, it should be no surprise that there are several musical numbers, one becoming a top pop hit, 'Swinging On a Star.'

O'Malley finds himself the odd man out when he first arrives. The congregation is leery of him and Fitzgibbon is convinced that he has been sent by the Church to take his place. O'Malley is portrayed as a 'new modern' priest in the movie. Before becoming a priest he sang with a band, and played with the Saint Louis Browns. He not only sings, but plays golf as well. One of the most famous lines in the movie is when he is trying to get Fitzgibbon is join him and another priest for a day on the 'links' and the older priest declares, "A golf course is nothing but a poolroom moved outdoors" (Going pg). The older priest resents everything about O'Malley, from his meddling in the church funds, consoling parishioners, and heading the church's boy's choir.

It seems that the boys of the parish have been 'pulling the wool' over Fitzgibbon's eyes. They are guilty of stealing, lying, etc. And O'Malley is quick to discover this and puts an end to it. He ends up convincing all the 'bad boys' of the parish to sing in the choir, thus giving a stage for the 'Swinging on a Star' production.

Fitzgibbon keeps a bottle of scotch in his room for special occasions, the typical tipsy priest. Throughout the movie, he talks about how he has not seen his mother since he left Ireland, years ago and expresses how much he would love to see her again. O'Malley makes note of this.

One night the church burns down, and all seems to be lost. However, O'Malley rallies the other parishes in town and raises enough money to rebuild Saint Dominic's. He also brings Fitzgibbon's mother over from Ireland and the reunion is perhaps one of the most touching scenes on screen. Fitzgerald gives a truly credible performance.

The Catholic Church is portrayed as the back-bone of the community. The true mother of all, caring, giving, nurturing. Novelist and critic Mary Gordon writes:

Father O'Malley's great gift is to see everyone's need and provide for it. He is infinitely flexible, infinitely equipped with resources. He's both the ideal father and the ideal mother, nurturing yet with access to power, particularly in the sacred American precincts of show business and sports. Although his aura is maternal, his identity is necessarily and inextricably connected to maleness.... His maleness is iconic, but it is a particular kind of maleness cut off from the implications of sexual demand" (O'Brien pg).

O'Malley is the portrayed to be the essence of the Church. He is forgiving, non-judgmental, and exists only to give. The Catholic Church in older movies such as "Going My Way" was always shown in a positive light. There was never corruption on any level involved. Dennis O'Brien writes, "Traditional Christian theology argued that the noble Greek virtues - courage, temperance, justice - were, after all, only 'splendid vices' in comparison to the distinctly Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. This is a defensible claim only if the life of the spirit is our fundamental human reality" (O'Brien pg).

Stigmata" pretty much shatters the faith in the Catholic Church as being an all-nurturing institution. This 1999 release, portrays the secret agenda of the Vatican, its intent to keep the masses ignorant of the true message of Jesus Christ. Should the true message be revealed, the Church would lose its power, control, and purpose for existence.

The main characters of the movie are Frankie Paige, played by Patricia Arquette, and Rev. Andrew Kiernan played by Gabriel Byrne. Paige works in a hair salon in Pittsburgh and is the cliche 'party girl' type. She doesn't go to church, doesn't even believe in God. In the beginning of the movie, she is concerned that she may be pregnant. She receives a rosary in the mail from her mother and very shortly begins to show signs of 'stigmata,' the wounds Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. Kiernan is a scientist turned priest, whose mission for the Catholic Church is to investigate cases of stigmata.

While taking a bath that night, she receives the first wounds, on her wrists. The red blood on the white porcelain tub provides a visual contrast that is quite stunning. The movie is visually effective. Throughout the movie there are numerous scenes that seem to portray the dark, evil verses the pure and saintly.

When Frankie suffers a stigmata attack on a subway train, it is not only witnessed by all the passengers, but catches the attention of a priest who is present. Knowing what this most likely was, the priest sends not only the newspaper clippings from the event, but a copy of the security camera video from the train to the Vatican. Now, enters Kiernan, who has been sent to Pittsburgh to investigate. At first he dismisses Paige, because he says that only very devout people have ever received stigmata. He says that the Church regards the wounds of stigmata as a gift from God, meaning that only the purest of souls would ever receive such a gift. And she is clearly not the purest of souls. She shows him a piece of paper on which she has written a phrase in a foreign language. He tells her that it says, "Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift a stone and you will find me" (Stigmata pg). However, he is not impressed and still dismisses the possibility that she could be receiving stigmata. She pretty much tells him to 'take a hike' and leaves their coffee shop meeting.

Kiernan finds her in the rain that night, possessed, writing on the hood of a car with a broken bottle, talking in a foreign tongue, and experiencing more wounds. He takes her home and nurses her back to recovery. He is becoming a believer now. But he is convinced that she is truly receiving the stigmata when he finds her writing on her wall in an ancient language. He consults with a friend of his at the Vatican, and is told that the language is the ancient language of Christ and that the text she is writing is from an ancient gospel, the true teachings of Christ, that has been kept secret by the Vatican.

When Kiernan learns what the true meaning of the gospel is and the reason the Vatican has been concealing it, he loses faith in the Church and rescues Paige from the Vatican priest who is trying to kill her before she makes the message public. The underlying sexual chemistry that has been obvious from their first encounter is finally confirmed in the last scenes of the movie when Kiernan realizes the corruption within the Church. The message of the ancient gospel is that the true church is simply man and God, not a building. "The kingdom is inside you" (Stigmata pg). Hence the message, "Split a piece of wood and I am there, Lift a stone and you will find me" (Stigmata pg). The meaning is that God is everywhere and inside everyone. There is no need for churches.

Eleanor Gillespie writes, "Stigmata' deserves points for its early scenes that offer an intriguing contrast between religion and medicine, as various doctors try to find a rational explanation for what's happening to Frankie" (Gillespie P9). Throughout the movie, Paige goes through possessions that are confusing to the audience. She is receiving the stigmata,…

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