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Only in Hollywood
A Catholic at the multiplex

By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:08:00 07/27/2008

Filed Under: Entertainment (general)

LOS ANGELES?It?s an interesting time to be a Catholic at the multiplex, for a change.

Two new movies??The X-Files: I Want to Believe? and ?Brideshead Revisited??delve into the Catholic faith and some of its issues and complications. Refreshingly, these movies are not out and out indictment of Catholicism, which is a favorite and easy target of Hollywood. Instead, the second ?X-Files? movie and the film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh?s classic novel present the different sides of Catholics, good and bad, and they actually somehow affirm the importance of faith itself.

Make no mistake, these movies are not about religion per se. Without spilling the plot details, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson?s second big screen outing as Mulder and Scully contain graphic and sordid elements while ?Brideshead?? tackles adult material.

A day of interviews with David, Gillian and co-writer, director and ?X-Files? creator Chris Carter at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, California naturally involved discussions about believing. The movie?s themes come from Chris? spiritual search.

Struggle for faith

?I?m very interested in faith and religion,? Chris said. ?This movie reflects something that I?ve gone through in the last five years. It?s something that I continue to go through. I?ll call it the struggle for faith. ?I Want to Believe? represents that struggle. Everyone who?s truly honest about his faith doesn?t just accept things without question. They work through it.?

The silver-haired filmmaker added, ?Instead of ?I believe,? it?s ?I want to believe.? I am working to believe. I want that religious experience, as the quote suggests.?

Since we interviewed David first, he got to tell the incident that inspired Chris to include a crucial line??Don?t give up??in the script of this second big screen treatment of the phenomenally popular but now-defunct TV series. David narrated, ?Chris went to a lecture by Huston Smith, an expert on world religions. According to Chris, Huston gave a long, inspiring talk. Then Huston opened the floor to questions and somebody raised his hand and asked, ?What is the motto that you live by??

?Chris said that he shrunk in his seat thinking, ?Here is this brilliant guy and you?re asking him for a T-shirt slogan?? Huston answered with, ?Don?t give up.? Chris went, maybe I was wrong to not like the question because Huston?s answer resonated with me.?

Movie catchphrase

David shared his take on these three words that are significant, especially in the movie?s exploration of faith. ?It?s about continuing to try and in many ways that also became our catchphrase for making this movie,? the actor explained.

In the center of the film?s story of missing persons is a priest, played by Billy Connolly, who may be experiencing true psychic visions. Known as a comedian in the US, Billy was an engaging comic raconteur when we visited the movie?s set in Vancouver, Canada early this year. The location site was appropriately creepy?an old, deserted mental patients? facility that serves as a Catholic Church-run hospital where Gillian?s Dr. Scully works. Billy surprised us with his convincingly grave, complex performance in the completed film.

?He?s a classic ambivalent, dark yet somewhat heroic character,? David told us about Billy?s Father Joseph Crissman character. ?He?s a man who is using his last chance at redemption. He has committed the worst act that a human can do. He?s a pedophile and yet he?s also a man of God.?

Final redemption

Of the fallen priest?s supposed visions, crucial in helping Mulder solve the disappearance of individuals, David said, ?He claims to have his gift but he doesn?t really have a strong connection to it?it just comes upon him. He doesn?t know if he?s lying or if he just feels that God is still speaking to him. It?s a tragic situation that he?s in. It?s very moving when you think that here?s a man who betrayed the trust of his position, humanity?s trust and you could say God?s trust and yet he still feels like he?s being spoken to. That must be the reason why he?s been given a chance for a final redemption.?

On the movie?s previews and ads showing Father Crissman shedding tears of blood, here?s David?s explanation: ?Mulder believes in those things. All I can think of when you talk about blood coming out of the eyes is that there?s very little CGI in this movie. It?s an old-fashioned, well-made thriller.

?Scully gives an explanation that?s plausible, which is, the point is not always that what you believe is true. The point is the power of belief. If this man believes what is happening to him, don?t rule out a physical manifestation of that. If yogis can hold their breath for 10 minutes at a time, I believe in the mind or the spirit?s ability to control bodily functions. I think we all must. Blood coming from the eyes admittedly is quite dramatic but to me, it?s not out of the realm of possibility. Belief is a strong thing.?

Gillian, asked about her own faith, had this to say: ?I have a lot of different beliefs based on different things. It?s more of a spiritual than religious nature. I?m definitely more open-minded than Scully is about many things but then sometimes I?m incredibly close-minded and skeptical about other things. This film opens a lot of issues that haven?t necessarily been dealt with before. It?s timely and provocative. I love all the different directions that it goes to and where it takes people during the course of the film.?

Operation of grace

While ?Brideshead Revisited? also ponders class and the pursuit of individualism, it?s the film that?s more implicit in its examination of Catholicism. Written by Evelyn Waugh, a converted Catholic during World War II, ?Brideshead?? is included in Time magazine?s Top 100 novels. Evelyn wrote that the novel ?deals with what is theologically termed ?the operation of Grace,? that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself.?

Fortunately for filmgoers, the movie version is an absorbing adaptation, anchored by Emma Thompson?s award nomination worthy performance as Lady Marchmain who rigidly enforces Catholic doctrine on her aristocratic English family. There was an acclaimed TV miniseries adaptation starring Jeremy Irons in 1981. Ensnared into this clan is Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) who is first entranced by the feminine Sebastian (Ben Whishaw?who is excellent) and by his sophisticated sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). Charles? atheism begins conflicting with Lady Marchmain?s zealous beliefs.

Matthew and Hayley had concrete ideas about their movie?s source material in interviews held at the Four Seasons Hotel. ?The novel is as much about bad parenting,? Matthew opined. ?This is a classic example of someone beating religion into people who should have had the chance to discover these things for themselves. It?s not religion?s fault.?

Happy ending

Hayley also had a specific take on the fate of her character: ?Some people have argued that the film is very sad because my character, Julia, ends up having to reject Charles. But I thought that in her mind, it was a happy ending for her because she chose faith. She chose her belief in the mercy of God over her passions of the flesh and over a man who ultimately buys her for a painting.

?I don?t think Charles fulfills anything for her and yet there?s this God the Almighty who sang ?I was always here; I?m never going to leave you and I?m going to perform miracles on your father?s deathbed.? That provides the way out for her which is why, she says at the end, ?I can?t escape from His mercy.? It?s a good thing for her as a Catholic.?

Luckily for Hayley, her real life mom is not at all like Emma?s Lady Marchmain. ?My mother is the complete opposite of Emma?s character who breaks her children?s spirits in the name of God,? she said. ?Lady Marchmain is incredibly cruel. It?s very painful to even think of it. There will be takes where Emma would say cut because she would laugh kind of nervously with disbelief as to what her character is doing to these children.?

E-mail the columnist at rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com and read his blog, ?The Nepales Report,? on http://blogs.inquirer.net/nepalesreport.

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