Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of Gods and Men

I have two confessions to make.  First, I loathe -- LOATHE -- watching programs that involve priests.  Like, throw my shoe at the screen and wish that it went through the display and there were sparks and fire hate.

It's not because 95% of the priests you see on TV are tools, although keep a tally, it's true.  No, there are plenty of priests that are tools. In fact, take a survey, and for each one of us you'll almost definitely find people who have really good reasons why they think we're tools. For that matter, you'll probably find at least one other priest that thinks that whichever priest you're thinking of is a tool.  (Hey, we live together, we know from.)

No, the reason I loathe them is, they never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ring true.  Ever.  Ever.  They're like the Platonic ideals of priests --except, you know, the opposite of ideal.  The good ones are good in all the wrong ways -- life without imperfections (i.e. borr-ing), complete with the light streaming in from an upper window onto their head (the modern equivalent of the halo). Or they're chumsy-whumsy in the way priests in the 1950s might have been, but almost no priest is today, because it just rings so FAKE.

And the bad priests -- well, that's the real kicker. Villains are fun to write. You can incorporate all sorts of specific, moustache-twirling details like pet cats they stroke or glass eyeballs or a penchant for Eastwood films, and we just lap that stuff up.  And good villains have really specific rationales for their way of thought.  They're not just "bad" -- they have goals, they have expectations and reasons, etc.

Now that's a villain.

But on television or in films, you rarely find any of that specificity when it comes to priests.  They're just generally lame -- they say the wrong thing, they make arguments that are utterly hollow, they don't seem to care. All of which happens in real life, but not the same way. In real life, we're detestable in much more particular ways.

So, TV episodes with priests, I head for the hills. Films, the same way, even (maybe especially) if the priest(s) are supposed to be good guys. 999 out of 1000 they're going to get it wrong, the guy's going to be treacly and milk toast and I'm going to have to be escorted out of the theater after I start throwing shoes and screaming about it.  (It really is a weird sort of thing to see "your people" so grossly misrepresented.)

Now, there are exceptions. Eastwood usually gets closest to getting it right.  If you haven't seen Gran Torino, you really need to.  An amazing religious film, period, but also with a pretty fair priest. He starts from a very weird position that I cannot imagine most priests ever being in, but little by little he really grows on you.  At the end, I still wouldn't want to live with him, but he was close to recognizable.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, tonight I went out to see Of Gods and Men, a new film about the true story of 8 French priests in Algeria in the 1990s during a very scary time in its history, who have to decide whether to stay with the people in the midst of this horrible time and almost certainly face their own deaths, or to flee.

I won't tell you how it plays out.  And the film's not for everyone; the director clearly wanted to get us into that slower, prayerful pace of monastic life, and so, especially early on, it takes its time.  If you're looking for a Michael Bay film, look elsewhere.  (Of course, if you're looking for a Michael Bay film, are you really reading this blog?)

But let me say this -- that group of men, none of whom are actually priests, I recognized. Most of those guys, I've lived with.  And the ones I haven't are out there somewhere in my order.  And most of them, over the course of the film, have nice little specific details given to them that make them both human and also individual.

Here's the trailer:

The film's only just opened in New York City and LA.  I'm sure it'll make the rounds of the art house cinemas all around the country. I hope you can see it. It really is such a strong story, with this great moral dilemma, and such wonderfully realized men.

Oh, and my confession -- I'm not going to write about Matthew today. :)


KenAnselment said...

Isn't that the Mirovingian from the second two Matrix movies playing the lead priestly fella? I don't know if I love the movie, but I love the overlay of Beethoven's 7th on it. That music is DEFINITELY not for tools.

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...