Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #5

Re: Faith and Film Criticism

My husband and I were in a local Catholic book store and came across the title Movies that Matter written by a Jesuit. it is a series of film critiques on different modern movies through a Catholic lens. He is very interested in the book and wanted to take it home immediately, but a few of the movies in there seemed a little oddly chosen. so, first I wanted to contact you to see if you were familiar with the book and could give any guiding pointers on it.

As well, we would like to know of any other books similar to it that you do recommend. My husband is a long-time film buff and I wrote my thesis for the bachelors in theology on Evangelization through film. I would love to see his criticism take on a more Catholic bent; I know that that would make it a deeper, even more thought-provoking analysis. Thanks very much!

While I’m not very familiar with the book you mention, I’ve spent some time looking it over, and it does indeed appear to be deficient in regard to Catholic teaching. Interestingly, at times the author seems too lax (an obvious example being Philadelphia, the discussion of which falls gravely short of an adequate treatment of Catholic teaching), but at other times is arguably too judgmental (to call the protagonist of Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle” a “fraudulent minister… deluded by his own charisma” strikes me as a ham-fisted oversimplification).

Beyond that, even when the films are well chosen and the discussion is adequate, the chapters are so brief and superficial as to be hardly useful. (What can you really say in a few hundred words on The Godfather AND The Godfather Part II, or the Three Colors trilogy?)

Fun fact: I happened to notice the phrase “vexed issue” recurring in the book at least three times, always in conjunction with the phrase “for some/many Christians” (two references to “a vexed issue for many Christians” and one to “For some Christians… a vexed issue”).

For the record, the author’s three “vexed issues for Christians” are nonviolence (“the vast majority [of Christians] are not pacifist”), homosexuality (“many maintain a hard line against the homosexual ’lifestyle’”) and “women in leadership roles,” i.e., ordained ministry (“Because of the way tradition has been appropriated, women have been excluded from ordination or ministerial commissioning”).

In other words, “vexed issue” appears to mean something like “issue regarding which the Church’s teaching and the historical Christian understanding is vexing to me.”

I’d take a pass on the book.

I can’t think of a book in this vein by a Catholic author that I would particularly recommend (which isn’t to say there isn’t a good one out there). Right now my favorite book on movies from a Christian point of view is my friend Jeff Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly.

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Mail: Re: Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

In your original review of Molokai, you wrote that you were reading biographies of Fr. Damien because a couple of scenes in the film didn’t ring true. Did you find anything to disprove these scenes?

I found nothing either to directly justify or to directly debunk either strange scene, but it doesn’t change my basic skepticism toward the scenes.

It is possible that Damien had some sort of sensibility regarding Hawaii’s “old gods” that might have seemed scandalous to some, but I doubt that the movie line accurately reflects this. It is also not impossible that Damien officiated at a wedding that would not have been permitted by canon law, but I suspect this would have involved considerations not presented in the film.

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