Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Reckoning (2003)

I had not even heard of Paul McGuigan's The Reckoning (2003) until I stumbled upon it one Christmas on a cable channel. I was intrigued by the plot involving a medieval troupe of players and a fallen priest. Last night we rented the DVD and were genuinely impressed by the levels of meaning and mystery in this morality play within a morality play. Paul Bettany stars as the lapsed cleric, whose career as a wise pastor and brilliant preacher are destroyed by an affair with a woman parishioner and the subsequent, unintended murder of her indignant husband. Bettany conveys the inner torment of guilt and struggle for redemption of one anointed to God's service. Even in his defrocked state, Father Nicholas strives for truth, justice, and the salvation of others. He cannot escape the Divine call.

The movie opens with the words from Romans 8: 21: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. God can bring good out of the worst situations, as Father Nicholas' discovers when he is adopted by the band of traveling players, with Willem Dafoe as the gifted leading actor. Dafoe is a master of his craft, as always. The film shows how medieval theater was an extension of religious worship, as the Bible stories are dramatized in "mystery plays" at festivals. In this case, as in Hamlet, the play becomes a means of solving a brutal murder, a deed which has traumatized the inhabitants of an English village. The heart of the mystery lies in the imposing Norman fortress on the mountain, and Father Nicholas will not rest until justice is done, hoping to expiate his own crime.

The Reckoning boasts of authentic sets and costumes, many examples of wholesome Catholic piety (as well as some exaggerated ones), and the not-so-wonderful examples of medieval bawdiness, blasphemy, disease, and dirt. My main criticism of the film is that in the beginning it states that Church and state were united in oppressing the masses, when we know that there were many, many times that various saints of the Church defended the people from tyrants. There were good priests, bishops, and kings in the Middle Ages; even in the movie it shows the king's officers being the arbiters of justice, investigating reports of abuses. In our own enlightened times, we are not without oppressive barons, and innocent lives are still sacrificed to lust.

1 comment:

Julygirl said...

To filmmakers, the Church and State are always guilty of suppressing something. But thanks for bringing this film to our attention. I admire the work of both actors.