MrsDarwin and I grabbed a rare chance to take an evening out last night and went to see District 9, a science fiction movie that came out a couple weeks ago. Contrary to stereotype, it was actually MrsDarwin who had latched onto this as the movie to see, and I’m glad she did as it was one of the more enjoyable SciFi flicks that I’ve seen in a while. (Movie Trailer here.)
Here, at 8:39, in my opinion, is one of the more profound observations on film about the Catholic Church and History. The evil that men do make many a blood stained page of History, but the Church survives throughout History as Caesars, Emperors, Kings, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Commissars, Fuhrers, Caudillos, Duces, General Secretaries, would be fake messiahs, etc, pass away.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983) is one of the better films dealing with the Catholic Church. Gregory Peck is brilliant as Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, who during World War 2, hid 4000 escaped Allied POWs and Jews from the Nazi occupiers of Rome. Christopher Plummer gives the performance of his career as Obersturmbanfuhrer (Colonel) Herbert Kappler, the head of the Gestapo in Rome. John Gielgud gives a stunningly good performance as Pius XII. At one point when he confronts a Nazi delegation he merely stares at them with steely disdain until they get the hint and leave. I imagine the actual Pius XII used a similar look of disdain when, on March 11, 1940, his response to a complaint by the Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop that the Church was siding with the Allies, was to read to Von Ribbentrop a long list of atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland, which had been compiled by the Church. This is a superb film that should be seen by every Catholic.
Hands down for me the best film portrayal of a pope is Rex Harrison of Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstacy. A sympathetic portrayal of the soldier pope, Harrison portrays him as strong, cunning, a biting wit, a true lover of the arts, and a man of deep faith who fears his service to God has been a failure. Michelangelo was the master artist of his time, perhaps of all time, but he required a rough hewn pope to hold him to his task.
Here we see Michelangelo explaining to the Pope his conception for the ceiling.
At this link here we have the great Pope and the great Artist discussing art and faith in one of the more profound discussions to be found in a popular film. The death bed revival of the Pope is also one of the more hilarious sequences to be found in a non-comedy! I think both Michelangelo and the Pope would have been pleased by their portrayals in this film. It does justice to both of them, and no subject of any work of art can ask for better.
I saw the movie with Liam Neeson entitled “Taken”, the other night. It is the ultimate ‘Dads protecting daughters’ fantasy. It plays on a whole lot of primal emotions- particularly the temptation to give oneself over to extreme violence to protect the lives and sanctity of one’s children. Every father wants to imagine himself capable of defending his beloved children from any and all threats- and the father in “Taken” was that ultimate fatherly force. He represented more of a divine Angelic father who slays spiritually evil forces, than a realistic earthly dad- and as such I was able to excuse the incredible violence as something of a parable of ultimate accountability for those humans who perpetrate the evils of human trafficking and slavery.
For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney. Over the past 27 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny. Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk, who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.
The cast is top notch. Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine. In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman. Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions. Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the ”exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior. Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer. Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg. Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.
In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.
What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted. A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. Continue reading