Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rite


I saw the movie, The Rite, last week.  I enjoyed it.  It made me think, it made me remember, and it made me want to talk about it with other people who had seen it.

Film critics don’t seem to have liked the movie much.  The several that I’ve read after seeing the movie discount it because it isn’t scary enough or believable enough in its depiction of events.  I disagree.  I think they may have missed the whole point of the movie.

The story is that of a Roman Catholic deacon, a year away from priestly ordination, who doubts his faith and considers leaving the seminary.  His seminary advisor, hearing of the young man’s crisis of faith, decides to send him to Rome to study at a Vatican “exorcist’s school.”  The young man goes off to Rome where his doubts are, if anything, increased as he listens to lectures about the devil and demonic possession.  So that his doubts might be overcome once and for all, the instructor at the school decides to send him to a real practicing exorcist in Rome.

The young man and the exorcist meet and, almost right away, go out on a “house call.”  The exorcist is working with a young woman in Rome who the exorcist believes is possessed.  The young man works with the exorcist in trying to help the young woman, even though his disbelief persists and he recommends psychiatric help for the girl.

There are two other cases of presumed possession in which the seminarian becomes involved.  The movies shows the young man’s gradual increase of faith as the reality of evil reveals itself to him.  We see him finally as an ordained priest going about the routine of parish life.

Some reviews I read said there is no horror in this horror movie.  I think that judgment is all wet.  This isn’t meant to be a horror movie; it isn’t meant to be another Exorcist, with turning heads, pea soup vomiting, etc.  It’s a story about faith and the lack thereof.  Having myself gone from true believer and a Roman Catholic seminarian to my current status as a doubter/non–believer, I may see in the movie what I want to see rather than what the movie–makers intended.  I did talk with my oldest daughter, however, after I had seen the movie.  She also had seen it.  I asked her what she saw as the point of the movie’s story.  She immediately said, “faith.”  She said parts of the movie reminded her of when she was a young kid in religious ed.  Her strong child’s belief in God, she said, always made her feel good, and she remembered that “feel good” experience while she was watching the movie.  I told her that my reaction to the movie was much the same: faith did make me feel safe and secure, or safer and securer, and I miss that feeling.

The movie shows faith as a difficult state to maintain, and I know that such is the case.  I think of what Mother Teresa wrote in her diary about her life–long struggle with doubt.  But the movie also shows faith as a strong and real force in the life of the believer, as a protection against the nastiness of evil in the world, and as a comfort when faced with life’s difficult times.  I accept all that as true.

When I left the movie, I honestly wanted to return to belief.  I wanted to have something to turn to when I am weak, when life gets to be too shitty, when I’m scared.  I wanted that “feel good” experience again.  I really did.  I thought of what somebody said in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air: “I have more doubts about my faith than I have faith.  But I continue to go through the motions of belief because I feel better with the idea of God in my life.”   It’s tempting to talk about “the opiate of the people,” but I think the issue of faith is more complicated than that.

I haven’t entirely given up on believing; I just can’t believe.  It’s that simple.  I feel like the first 40 years of my life, when I was more–or–less a believer, were spent participating in some kind of huge mass self–delusion.  In the seminary, for example, I studied the common Middle Eastern “nativity myths” that were developed for heroes in ancient times.  All the elements of the older myths are present in the relatively recent nativity accounts in the Gospels.  In the seminary I also learned about the frequency with which resurrection was ascribed to heroic figures in eras way before the Christian era.  I learned these things as if they had no bearing on my faith in Jesus’ birth and resurrection as recorded in the Gospel.  They didn’t affect my belief at all; I didn’t believe they applied to Jesus.  Then, in my 40's, dealing with scripture and my gayness, I started to look at things with a more critical mind.  I wrote in my journal on October 16, 1990: “What the fuck have I been thinking all these years?  How could I have been so dense?”  From that time until today, I have seen my old faith as a false comfort and a dangerous self–delusion.  While it may make me feel better not to think but to believe, such an approach to life—for me—is harmful and ultimately deadly.  I am open to the belief of others, but I no longer believe.

The Rite has lots of inaccuracies.  No seminary would send someone with weak faith to an “exorcist school”!!!  No deacon would be allowed to engage in an exorcism, even if that deacon had faith that could move mountains.  No exorcist would allow a man with profound doubts to assist in an actual exorcism.  The movie makes its point, or it did for me anyway, even with all that bullshit in it.

I liked this movie.  It REALLY made me think.

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