Christianity vs. Celluloid

One of the reasons it’s so hard to put Christianity – the thing itself, as opposed to allegory – on screen is that it really is, in many ways, a B-movie faith. The personal devil. The total Deus ex Machina quality of miracles, and even God’s answer to prayer. The emphasis on blood (even if it’s only the cleansing blood of the Lamb) and death (to self, but also ordinary physical death) – I can imagine someone making a case for The Passion as B-picture. The real threat of hell, and the real promise of heaven for the faithful. Sure there are complexities going in, but after judgment, you’re either saved or damned, and that’s that. And perhaps especially – or at least, right up there with the devil – the freaky stuff that goes on when you get a saint in your midst. The stigmata? Visions? Mystical Ecstasies?

Take, for example, the recently released Teresa: The Body of Christ. It’s one thing to admire Teresa in Ecstasy when it’s depicted in the cool safety of white marble (though even there, it’s perhaps a tad unsettling); it’s another to put it in full color.

UPDATE: Okay, I removed the link and the suggestion that you go check out the trailer, at the behest of a priest-friend of Godsbody whom I hold in high regard. Here was his reason for asking me to do so:

He thought the trailer promised “a prime example if not of malice, at least of of the inability of those who have not been chaste to understand that the sexual language used in describing mystical experiences is adopted precisely because these experiences transcend expression, and so must be expressed poetically by a kind of recapitulation/sublimation to the analogy of the sense of touch which is the beginning of conscious experience. This means that the sexual language is
used simply to express the immediacy and intensity of the experience, NOT to make union with God like intercourse with demons, a kind of illusory experience of sensual exaltation, which unfortunately does occur among those so depraved as to seek such things. Yes, Our Lady is stunningly beautiful in her glorious and prelapsarian body: but she does not appear to even her most passionate devotees as a succubus. Christian mysticism is not Tantric eroticism. And it ought to
be hard for a Christian to view the wounds of the Savior with the detached speculation of the film director.

I think we have here a film that combines the Da Vinci Code gone Spanish baroque, with a strong overlay of Name of the Rose Monastic grotesque, and some plain blasphemy.”

I don’t know if I quite agree with him on the last bit, and I suppose there is an interesting discussion to be had with regard to his point about sexual language and mystical experiences. So bring on the comments. In the meantime, I will take his counsel on the link.


  1. Jeff Miller says

    I am not so excited about this movie even though I love St. Teresa of Avila. From what I have read the will make her into a proto-feminist like they do all modern retakes of Joan of Arc.

    For example I previously posted the following.

    He was prepared for a possible controversy, but said: “The vision we have been offered of St Teresa is very close to a holy image. So far, everybody has been careful not to touch on certain uncomfortable subjects — her sexuality, her relationship with God, which was so close, nearly skin to skin.

    Loriga said: “I’m convinced she’ll be the sexiest Saint Teresa ever seen on screen. Teresa was also a very pretty woman. In my opinion, her pleasing aspect helped to save her from the stake. Very likely, plainer and less sassy women were burnt alive for less.”

    He said he had taken care not to portray the Church as the “bad guy”, but added: “I think that the conflict between the Catholic Church and women hasn’t been resolved.

    “So far, they’ve only offered two models to women — The Virgin Mother, which, in my opinion, is an aberration and quite harmful to women, and the redeemed whore symbolised by Mary Magdalene. These role models worry me. The Church hasn’t been able to find a better explanation for women within the context of our relationship with God.”

  2. I’d be truly surprised if there wasn’t some “exploration” of “repressed” Catholic sexual expression. Call me cynical, but mortification of the flesh, which I’m assuming is what’s shown in the movie gallery, can hardly be treated theologically in a medium that’s so starkly visual.

    “These role models worry me. The Church hasn’t been able to find a better explanation for women within the context of our relationship with God.”

    Nice. Maybe this guy hasn’t heard of the Little Flower, or Catherine of Siena, or Mother Teresa, or St. Maria Goretti, or Ann Seton, etc.

  3. mrsdarwin says

    I think a major quibble with the film (and of course I insert here the disclaimer that without having seen it one is just speculating) is that according to all the material on the website, they’ve strayed so far from the historical path as to make straw men of the film’s main issues. It’s easy for a director to say, “My film is a potent exploration of the Church’s unresolved stance on XYZ.” Sure, but if you’re treating historical characters and incidents, you have to be honest about the factuality of your account. Otherwise you’re just jousting with fantasy knights on the plains of imagination.

    “Name of the Rose” — now there’s a film that sucked.

  4. The fact that you mention the movie in your post is the equivalent to linking to it, no? It would take me two seconds to Google it.

  5. Matthew Lickona says

    No, it’s not equivalent. It takes considerably more intentionality to google something than to simply click a link – especially after I have printed someone’s deeply felt reasons why the thing ought not to be seen. You have to say to yourself, “I don’t care about Father’s reasoning, or about Godsbod’s decision to remove the link. I am going to see this.” I’m not judging that decision, just saying that it’s your decision. I report on goings on in the porn world as well, and a soul could easily google up some porn after reading a Today in Porn entry. But that’s not the same as clicking a link on this blog and being taken to porn.

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