It’s a miracle! Hollywood is allowing Catholics who are not corrupt or pedophiles to appear on screen again
Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo
Religion films don’t work when moviemakers get too political
As a practicing Catholic and a devout cinephile, I am constantly frustrated that Hollywood rarely gets religion right. Films and tv shows that touch upon Catholic and religious themes are often reduced to being either saccharine adoration in the hands of believing “conservatives” or vacuous vilification in the hands of agnostic “liberals”.
Considering there are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, and 84% of all people believe in one religion or another, it would seem a wise choice for Hollywood to explore Catholic and religious themed stories with much more regularity, artistic integrity and sincerity.
Hollywood and the Catholic Church need not be adversaries, as they have a lot more in common than one might think. For instance, they both have gobs of money and their hierarchies are littered with perverts and pedophiles. I’M KIDDING! As I said, I’m a practicing Catholic…and as my Catholic gallows humor shows…I definitely need more practice because I’m not very good at it.
Overcoming a fear of the cross
Truth be told, now is actually a great time to be a Catholic cinephile because that den of iniquity, Hollywood, has recently shaken off its allergy to organized religion, and turned its storytelling eye toward Catholicism with a striking spiritual seriousness and cinematic verve.
Tinsel Town’s recent mini-Catholic renaissance began in late November when it dipped its toe into the holy water font with the Netflix film The Two Popes. The movie, which features two compelling performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis respectively, is visually uneven, but surprisingly philosophically vibrant.Also on rt.com ‘A Hidden Life’ is the story of a farmer who resisted Hitler - NOT a metaphor for anti-Trump #Resistance
This was followed in short order by Terrence Malick’s artistically gorgeous and profound film, A Hidden Life, which hit art house theatres in late December and told the story of Franz Jagerstatter, a Catholic Austrian farmer turned saint for his conscientious objection to Hitler and the Nazi war machine.
Then in January, HBO premiered The New Pope, which is a continuation of the network’s highly stylized 2016 drama The Young Pope, a fictional account of Vatican intrigue starring Jude Law as an enigmatic Pontiff. The Young Pope and its new iteration The New Pope, are cinematically lush and quite theologically robust shows.
Catholics should meet filmmakers halfway
Considering that Hollywood is so reflexively liberal, especially in cultural matters, what makes these three projects so striking, beyond them simply being about religion, is that they shine an unabashedly positive light on traditional Catholic ideology.
For instance, I’m not conservative but even I was reticent to watch The Young Pope when it first aired in 2016 because I assumed it was going to be an intellectually lazy and predictably liberal spin on church matters. Much to my cinephile delight, the show has consistently defied expectations, with Jude Law’s character Pope Pius XIII being a brazen crusader for old world traditionalism as an antidote to the menace of new world moral relativity and meaninglessness.
The Young Pope is certainly not reverential toward the Church, and this along with the show’s narrative audacity and occasional racy nature is maybe why some conservative Catholics find it blasphemous. But conservatives who dislike The Young Pope/The New Pope are missing the forest for the trees, as the show is a mature meditation on faith and is extremely respectful to Catholic teachings and belief in God.
The truth is that if conservative Catholics were cinematically literate and culturally sophisticated enough, they would understand that The Young Pope/The New Pope is a beacon for potential religious traditionalists converts lost in the storm of pop cultural vacuity and idolatry.
The same is true of The Two Popes, which treats Catholicism, its adherents and God with the utmost seriousness. The debates in the film between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis perfectly encapsulate the present Catholic conundrum, and the film goes to great lengths to respectfully highlight both men’s arguments as well as their personal failings.
A Hidden Life furthers the traditional Catholic cause by showing the faith in action. Protagonist Franz Jagerstatter is the living embodiment of the commitment to Catholic faith and while his story certainly isn’t a happy one, for serious Catholics, it is ultimately a spiritually joyous one.
The entertainment industry acknowledging and exploring Catholicism is remarkable, bordering on the miraculous, as religion is usually either ignored, ridiculed or vilified in Hollywood productions.
This is why I find The Two Popes, A Hidden Life and The Young Pope/The New Pope to be such a breath of fresh air. Religion, particularly Catholicism with its hierarchical structure and global nature, is a veritable gold mine of dramatic potential, and it does my Catholic cinephile heart good to see it being so exquisitely utilized in artistically and spiritually satisfying ways.
How long can the good times last?
Art and cinema are about asking difficult questions and potentially opening hearts and changing minds, and it seems we are currently in a cultural moment where the madness of the world has become so disorienting that even Hollywood is considering the unthinkable, that traditional religion might be of value in trying to make sense of it all.
I am sure, soon enough, that Hollywood will revert back to its relentlessly diabolical ways and that this glorious mini-Catholic artistic renaissance will be but a faded, distant memory…but for now…I am going to enjoy it in all its glory while it lasts.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.