Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Review: "The Rite"

Following is a review of the 2011 movie "The Rite." This thread may contain details that could "spoil" the movie for some readers. However, I think I have not given away anything vital that would spoil any surprises. At the end of this post you will see a SPOILERS warning for a scene at the end of the movie which you may wish to skip if you have not seen the movie.

"The Rite" is a film about a skeptical Catholic seminarian (or perhaps a deacon---there was a voiceover that indicated he had been ordained a deacon although they refer to him as a seminarian) who travels to Rome and observes the exorcisms of a veteran priest. The seminarian Michael Kovak is played by Colin O'Donoghue, and the exorcist Father Lucas Trevant is played by Anthony Hopkins. The opening credits state that the movie is "suggested by the book by Matt Baglio" which is called "The Rite: The Making of an Exorcist." According to radio producer Nick Thomm (MP3), the book and film were written simultaneously so the movie can't really be said to be "based" on the book. Rather it seems there was inspiration and collaboration between Baglio and the screenplay author. As of this post, I have not read the book.

Overall, I give the film 6.5 out of 10. I would classify this as another film Catholics can view as favorable to the Church. It is fraught with Catholic imagery, statues, much of which takes place in Rome. Rosaries and Hail Marys are said, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are called upon during exorcism, confessions are heard favorably, the rite of exorcism is used along with the priest's drive to ascertain the demon's name, the warning for lay persons to not address the possessed, etc. Priests are also portrayed positively on the whole throughout the film. One bizarre moment that never comes into play was when a priest indirectly threatens Kovak financially if he dropped out of the seminary. The other bizarre thing about this priest is that it is quite unlikely that he would send a skeptical priest to learn about exorcisms because exorcism is dangerous work that demands great faith.

The best scenes in the film are early on when Kovak witnesses Father Lucas' exorcisms of a pregnant 16 year old (played by Marta Gastini, who I would say was the best actor in the film). These scenes get to the heart of the exhaustion and real battle that takes place during exorcisms. (Stories by actual priests can be read in good books like An Exorcist Tells His Story, The Devil, or Begone Satan which tells the story of a 23-day exorcism in Iowa in the 20th century. Another book I have not read is Interview with an Exorcist by Father Fortea. His talk to seminarians on exorcism is worth a listen.)

Kovak also plays the role of a skeptic throughout the film. He tries to offer scientific explanations of phenomenon whenever he can, even if his explanations are less-plausible than the demonic. There was one line where he said something to Father Lucas like: "It's hard to believe when no proof is considered proof." He said this in response to Father Lucas explaining how the devil hides so that others will doubt. Kovak's comment was left unchallenged and I wish they would have addressed the nature of faith in the face of evidence. We put our very lives at risk in the absence of proof such as when we trust the the brakes on the car will work or the food in a restaurant is not poisoned. Yet when a possession victim speaks alien languages, regurgitates foreign objects, makes impossible bodily contortions, the Kovak character was apt to demand some sort of "proof" that would dispel his own capacity to think of unlikely alternative explanations. As Blessed John Henry Newman wisely wrote well over 100 years ago: "For directly you have a conviction that you ought to believe, reason has done its part, and what is wanted for faith is, not proof, but will."

One point the film was clear to make is that in Catholicism, natural explanations must be "exhausted" before someone can be considered possessed. The character Father Lucas is himself a doctor. The medical staff at a hospital admit to having run out of medical options in another case. This is important because it shows the prudence of Catholic teaching in diagnosing this phenomenon. One does not want to fuel a victim's delusion if there are natural or psychological explanations for the disorder at work.

At times the film is a little slow and much is left unexplained. It is unclear when the devil is at work or when actions have other causes. It is also unclear when the devil "wins" any particular battle. Sterile flashbacks to Kovak's childhood are scattered throughout the film that I found more interrupting than informative.

As exorcism movies go, I would rank this second behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose and ahead of The Exorcist. All three movies do attempt to get theological portrayals correct with varying degrees of accuracy.

EDIT TO ADD: Since posting this review, I have completed a review of the book The Rite.


One questionable flaw in the movie was the portrayal of the seminarian (or deacon) Kovak performing an exorcism. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1673 When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.
In the film, Kovak does read a rite from a book and it is unclear whether or not this was licit. Not only did he enter the exorcism with lingering doubts of faith which likely would have rendered him weak or even succumb to the devil's wiles, but without priestly ordination, the exorcism lacked the spiritual gifts given to a priest at ordination.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Monster: The Catholic Ending

This is an alternate ending to my original "The Monster" cartoon. This "Catholic Ending" version is about 3:00 long. Also suitable for children. :)

You can see it at YouTube here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Movie: The Monster

Ok, this post isn't really a "Catholic" one, per se. It's something I worked on for the last few weeks using Flash CS3. It's a movie I made about a giant monster who wreaks comical havoc on "Chicago." It's about 4:20 long. Suitable for children. :)

You can see it at YouTube here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The scope of Christ's sacrifice for "all"

In Catholicism, the fruits of Christ's work on the cross are considered to have been made available to all mankind. The Catechism reads:
CCC#616 It is love "to the end" that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now "the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died." No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.
In other words, Christ died for all persons.

Many followers of the Reformed Christian tradition and others who share their sentiment on atonement do not believe Christ died for all, but only for a specific group of people. For instance:
Jesus Made Atonement for the Elect Alone
In doing the will of the Father by atoning for the sins of His people, Jesus Christ death was on behalf of a specific people group. ... It is primarily for this reason that atonement within the Reformed Tradition has been dubbed limited, because Christ’s atonement was limited to the elect alone. (
In one sense, Christ's atonement is "limited" in that it is not finally appropriated to all souls since some go to hell. The difference between the Catholic and "limited atonement" position is this: a Catholic insists Christ's work on the cross is made available to all. He rightly can be said to have "died for all men." No one is deprived of the graces poured out by Christ's work, and thus it is possible for anyone to go to heaven. (For an apologetic treatment by a former Protestant, see James Akin's A Tiptoe Through TULIP.) The "limited atonement" tradition says the graces poured out by Christ's sacrifice are limited in that they are never made available to a certain group of people, but only made available to the elect.

I think there are a number of ways to support the Catholic position over the "limited atonement" position. This post is to show one of them.

From the Apostle Paul:
Romans 5:12-19 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned -- sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.
Notice a few things stated in this text:
  • Adam is a type of Christ.
  • Adam's trespass brought death to all men.
  • Jesus' obedience brought life to all men.
Notice the symmetry. Notice how Christ is a reversal of Adam. The "limited atonement" interpretation reads the "all/many" pertaining to Adam's half of the equation as literally "all mankind." The "limited atonement" interpretation of Jesus' half of the equation is read as "only all the elect." (See the Editor's note #169 in John Calvin's commentary on Romans for an example reflecting this interpretation.)

However, this interpretation violates a basic Biblical principle: New Covenant types are better and more glorious and perfect than their Old Testament antetypes. As I have written prior on this blog, the Old Testament is fraught with imagery that foreshadows counterparts in the New Testament. The OT manna that brought only physical life represents the NT bread of eternal life (John 6:31-35); Noah preserved physical life through the waters of the flood which represents the superior spiritual life conferred through the waters of baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21); the book of Hebrews has numerous examples of the superior types in the NT including a "better covenant" (Heb. 7:22), "better promises" (Heb. 8:6), "better sacrifices" (Heb. 9:23); etc. Paul teaches that the new is much more splendorous than the Old (2 Cor. 3:11) as was prophesied by Haggai (Hag. 2:9).

So a key principle in typology is to recognize the superior qualities of the New Testament types over their Old Testament antetypes. But what happens when one attempts to say Christ's sacrifice was only for some? Consider the following illustration:

So we ask, does the "limited atonement" interpretation remain faithful to the superiority of New Testament types? The answer is no. The "limited atonement" interpretation considers the scope of Christ's work to be weaker than Adam's. Adam's work is actually seen to be the more powerful of the two. Thus, the idea of a limited atonement not only departs from the balance and symmetry of the text in Romans 5, but does not give proper justice to the Biblical concept of typology. Christ, as the superior New Testament type, cannot be made the less powerful agent of the two. The Catholic interpretation recognizes that the scope of Christ's work is the overturning of Adam's. Adam's path of death for all mankind is turned by Christ into a path of life for all mankind.