Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Possession: the most fun a religious person can have...?

Today I am feeling POSSESSED to blog about religious horror films. Screw carpal tunnel and my missing wrist brace and my refusal to get tested for arthritis...I've got stuff to say.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of watching a fantastic religious horror film, Stigmata, directed by Rupert Wainwright. For those of you who aren't weirdly into religion (by which I mean, fascinated by religion in a nerdy way, not in a evangelical way,) stigmata is the name of the phenomenon where a deeply faithful person suddenly erupts in all of the wounds of Jesus.
Like, as a reward...from Jesus..because he loves you so much...

Like any good religious horror flick, the plot of this movie deals with the constant battle between faith and science, and it does it quite effectively. Our main man is a organic chemist-turned-priest who goes around the world trying to assign scientific explanations for miracles. Of course, being stigmatic is a miracle (fun stuff?) so he ends up going to our main lady, Frankie...(?) and trying to scientifically explain her random flesh wounds. Of course, Frankie isn't faithful at all, but in fact a self proclaimed atheist...plot ensues.

It appears that this movie was clearly made by folks who believe in God--the message seems to be that faith (even spirituality, dare I say it?) is an important part of life, whether or not it is necessarily, scientifically true.

Fascinatingly! While this movie certainly has its Gody message to give to us, it's main idea is that the organized church is, for the most part, an ineffective and corrupt vessel for Godliness and faith to be brought to humans. Woah! My mind was blown by the fact that this movie was aware of that. On the one hand, we have Frankie, as a pretty moral-lacking, uneducated twenty something in Pittsburg, clearly in need of some direction in her life (at least, it's portrayed that way...lots of partying, etc. The movie is actually complex enough to portray that her lifestyle choice is her own and that it's wrong to judge, but still have the implication that it's not fantastic.) On the other hand, we have the church repressing history and real religious texts in order to stay in power and get what they want, as well as a criticism of fanatical, literal Christianity--the idea of "Jesus on toast," etc, is taken down pretty early on in the film with organic-chemist/priests scientific explanations.

The other thing I found interesting was how similar the symptoms are when you're possessed by the devil as opposed to possessed by Jesus. Frankie speaks in tongues, has little conniptions, moves around in terrifying ways, adopts a predatory male voice, etc....all of those lovely things we saw in the Exorcist.

Pretty similar....
We've got the eyes rolling back...

The weird flying thing...the list could go on if I felt like taking more screen shots. 

I was quite intrigued by this--how could it be the same thing, essentially, to be possessed by two completely opposite things?

Of course--(we've been talking about binarisms in English class...get ready for some rantin'), I know that Jesus and the devil are not opposite things. One cannot exist without the other, and Jesus had to do some pretty devilish things before he figured out how to be...well, Jesus.

Another very un-Jesus like thing that Frankie does while possessed is to try her (his?) very hardest to seduce a priest...

Come on now, lets not do this...God will strike you down...!
Movie actually does a very clever job of explaining this, as well as the demon/Jesus possession similarities, by saying that people who are close enough to Jesus to experience stigmata are also closer and more open to demons and temptations gettin' in there and infecting their souls and stuff. Is that true, in religious lore? Who knows. But Movie says it is.
God will still strike you down and eat your face off!!
The movie pays some well-deserved homage to the real, historical Jesus, because about halfway through the film it is discovered that the tongues Frankie was speaking in and the words she wrote on the wall were the same words that were in a secret Gospel, that was thought to be the "secret sayings" of Legit Jesus.

Legit Jesus? 
Allegedly, the papacy says that these scrolls are heresy, further blocking out "real" faith and "real" belief in Jesus and his words. The last twenty minutes or so of the movie actually focuses on this issue, and the conflict between the lower levels of the church (priests who are actually scientists and scholars) want to translate and be aware of these words, and the upper levels want to keep them as confidential as possible. If you have crazy possessed young adults running around and writing them on stuff, that's hard to do.

The movie then ends with a little description of what went down with the actual scrolls, which I described before, which is interesting, but also adds a weird tone of propaganda to the whole film. I, personally, hate religious propaganda, so at first I was a bit turned off by this, but since it's propaganda for historical research and against the church, I felt better about it. 

Also, it would probably be worth it anyways, because this movie has some fantastic 90's style surrealism. Very impressive cinematography...a lot of lights and darks, some cool special effects, etc. It depends a lot on close-ups to emphasize thematic elements and to set the mood, which makes it seem a little dizzying (appropriate, since Frankie is having seizures pretty much constantly in the movie,) and trippy. Very 90's, but actually in a good way. 

High recommend this movie for your vacation viewing experience, or for anytime you feel like getting a little bit of church-bashing in to your day...add The Exorcist, The Omen, or Rosemary's Baby for extra fun!

Seriously, though, if Jesus actually looked like Christian Bale then I'd probably convert to Christianity right now. 
[Stigmata is owned by MGM, The Exorcist is owned by WB, and Mary, Mother of Jesus is owned by Hallmark.]

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