Monday, September 19, 2011

The Rite (2011)

Father Lucas Trevant: Be careful Michael, choosing not to believe in the devil doesn't protect you from him. ~The Rite (2011)

The Rite is a film that I am glad I saw in spite of some of the lukewarm reviews. Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of an eccentric Welsh Jesuit, living in an antiquated dwelling on the outskirts of Rome with a motley collection of cats, is worth seeing in spite of the film's flaws. Fr. Lucas' blunt and practical approach to casting out the devil is mesmerizing, as well as his admission that he suffers from periods of darkness and seeming unbelief. One is reminded of great saints like the Little Flower who endured with fidelity similar trials of expiatory interior desolation and obsession, feeling that they no longer believed in the cherished truths of the faith. The movie demonstrates how those trials which appear to crush the soul can become the means of redemption for others. Surrender, however, is not an option.

Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael the troubled seminarian, haunted by memories of his excessively morbid childhood at a mortuary, who now projects his disillusionment and bitterness upon the Church and her teachings. Mercifully, he obeys his superior, albeit more out of monetary necessity than faith, and goes to Rome to study exorcism. He is sent to work with Fr. Lucas the famous exorcist. How the Holy Spirit can guide souls through the hierarchy and legitimate superiors, in spite of the personalities involved, is aptly illustrated. Fr. Lucas' house is both charming and creepy with the creepy element generated by the fact that the viewer knows almost immediately that the cottage is the site of exorcisms. The effect is heightened by the murky lighting and music. Seen through Michael's eyes, one gathers that his life at the mortuary, and most especially the early loss of his mother, has permanently tinged his perception of reality.

Steve Greydanus has some thoughts worth taking into account about The Rite:
...Michael Kovak (newcomer Colin O’Donoghue), a doubting seminarian roped into a Vatican-sponsored training initiative for new exorcists, belongs to the postcritical milieu of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Requiem and The Last Exorcism. Michael is among the more thoughtfully skeptical characters in this type of movie, proposing naturalistic explanations for possible supernatural phenomena when he can, and citing other unexplained phenomena when he can’t. Still, Michael seems to respect the priesthood more than some of his less troubled classmates; he rolls his eyes at the future clerics in the dorm room across the hall playing violent video games. “Honestly?” he mutters rhetorically, pushing his door closed.

This is not a world in which demons manifest openly or in which sacred objects like crosses or holy water are omnipotent over the forces of darkness. Exorcism in The Rite is a long, drawn-out process that can last for weeks, months or even longer. In that way, among others, The Rite is probably the most sober, realistic treatment of exorcism in Hollywood history. It’s also a pretty thoughtful depiction of doubt and faith — one of a tiny number of exorcism films, along with the original Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, that offers a spiritual, even theological take on what most films in the genre treat as mere horror-movie trappings.
The rituals of the Church, radiant with the authority of binding and loosing, are shown with respect. Indeed, the Catholic faith in general is treated pretty reverently in the film, and the few lapses are amusing rather than terribly disturbing. Every time a group of nuns appear they all have long flowing medieval habits of the same cut, with different colors thrown in; no orders that I recognized, however. Also, in Father Lucas' house there is quite a collection of crucifixes, usually placed together in a bunch. I was always told that it is liturgically incorrect to replicate the same religious symbol in the same space (one crucifix is usually enough); I can only gather that Fr. Lucas' interior decorator was not up on the rubrics. Nevertheless, I found the repeated use of the symbol of the cross to be an uplifting element in the film, showing how the cross is always with us and is the instrument for conquering evil. The most powerful moments of the film emphasize that the strength of intercessory prayer, especially when united with fellow believers and the sacramentals of the Church, can withstand hell itself.

For more on the rite of exorcism and the true story behind the film, go HERE, HERE, and HERE. Share


Walter said...

Thanks for the review. I had a non-catholic friend recommend this movie to me as well done and a good presentation the catholic "view" n exorcism. I was skeptical but your review means i may be picking this up next time I am at the Red Box.

Julygirl said...

Very believable film. As always a powerful performance from Anthony Hopkins. Only other actor who could have also mastered the roll would have been Daniel Day-Lewis.

Proverbs Thirty One Woman said...

Just saw this film recently and I, also, recommend it. Overall, I think it was really well done and - as always - Hopkins is wonderful.