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(The following is an adapted version of my review that appears
elsewhere on the web.)
This made-for-TV movie was shown on U.S. public TV in the 1970s. The story line is very faithful to Brian Moore's 1972 book "Catholics," but with several scenes sequenced rather more effectively than in the book. Unfortunately, all known home video (VHS/DVD) versions have been shortened, with about the first fifteen minutes of the original film deleted.
These first few minutes established the context for the conflict portrayed between the traditionalist Irish monks led by their Father Abbot (Trevor Howard), and the modernist representative (Martin Sheen) of their order's Father General. These missing minutes showed Sheen meeting with the Father General in Rome to discuss the "problem" of the Latin Mass celebration by the monks of Howard's abbey, and the growing world-wide popularity of that celebration. This scene made it clear that the time period portrayed is futuristic. Additional modifications and liberalization of doctrine are supposed to have taken place beyond those of Vatican II. There are mentions of a "Vatican IV" and other hypothetical conventions. Missing the original initial scene, many may believe that the film has grossly erred in or deliberately distorted current Roman Catholic beliefs. It is a tremendous loss to the integrity of the story that the vital first scene of the movie has been edited away. However, this explains the crediting of Raf Vallone as Father General at the start and end of the film, when in fact he never appears in the home video releases. It would be well worthwhile to read the first chapter of the book before seeing a shortened home video release.
Since Vatican II closed 40 years ago, there has existed a Roman Catholic traditionalist movement that today seems to have more Vatican-sanctioned success than would ever have been thought possible at the time this film was made. Some will attempt to relate the events portrayed in this film to that movement. However, this film actually presents far more profound issues of religious belief and its loss. This film will be of interest to anyone, of whatever faith or none, for whom philosophies of religious belief are of interest.
The acting by Trevor Howard is absolutely flawless and authentic. It is masterful, heartfelt, and beautiful. Almost equally so is that of Cyril Cusack in the role of Father Manus. Sheen's role is important, but not nearly so much as Howard's, and not even remotely as well-crafted.
This work is as intelligent and entertaining today as it was when it was made 33 years ago. Perhaps someday soon someone will restore the complete film and finally give us a complete and proper version. I know of no other film that deserves this so much.
This play is about a group of Catholic monks and an abbot and does involve
theological - actually liturgical - dispute set some time in a future that
it now turns out never actually occurred (one in which the Catholic Church
apparently did not all but disappear because of its hierarchy's demented
obsessions with sex). But that is merely the setting; the point of the
is much more universal and has to do with how people tend to huddle
to find meaning in life; how the relationships formed between different
sorts of individuals may in the end be all the meaning there is to life.
the final analysis the monks, a fairly limited lot, are lost without their
abbot, who provides the meaning they need in their lives, and he in turn,
far more aware than any of the others, and therefore most anguished by
common predicament, is lost without his flock of monks' need of his
leadership, which is the only meaning he can grasp in life.
Trevor Howard gives an absolutely magnificent performance. His abbot is intelligent, articulate, cunning and in the end so courageously and purely alone that the final image of him on the screen has stayed with me for years.
My visceral reaction to the plight of a group of traditionalist monks
on a lonely Irish island is rather ironic because I am a card-carrying
agnostic, the quintessential "fallen Catholic." I found myself rooting
for the monks who want to keep the church focused on the fight against
spiritual evil (and the obvious saving of souls) and against the
perfect example of modernity, Martin Sheen, as the epitome of
"Liberation Theology," the liberal emissary from Rome who arrives to
stomp down the monks' celebration of the Mass in Latin.
Catholics (or The Conflict as it appears in the cheapo DVD version from Digiview) lacks much of what makes movies entertaining for most folks--there are no drive-by shootings, exploding spaceships, bouncing breasts, or language to, as Stephen King says so well, "make a twenty-year Navy man blush," but it does have superb performances by Sheen, Trevor Howard, Cyril Cusack, and a number of fine British and Irish actors. It is an intellectual's movie with a smidgen of scifi--it was made in 1973, but it's set in the near future, maybe ten years later, when the Church has been so modernized that bread and wine are just that, not the body and blood of Christ and confession is not between a parishioner and his or her priest.
By rejecting the miracle of the Mass, by denying the personal interactions between the priest and the public, and by refocusing the Church on liberation theology and not the battle between good and evil in a spiritual sense, Catholics shows a congregation lost in the modern world. Sheen is on the island to crush a conservative rebellion and I found myself feeling as sick and as angry at him as many of the monks.
Finally, I have to congratulate the cinematographer and the art director for creating and using locales that are so bleak and cold that the viewer must concentrate on the human drama. The flesh and the blood of the actors are the miracle here (including the tears flowing from the faithful monks and from Howard's abbot who has lost his faith and must live an excruciating lie for his men), even if Rome wants it stopped right now.
Catholics is brilliant, but it certainly isn't popular entertainment. For a buck, I found a gem in the Wal-Mart DVD dumpster.
Sounds like a miracle to me!
Had no idea just how I was going to react to this film and after being rather patient with the slow action taking place in the beginning of the picture, it became interesting. The story is about monks who live in a rather remote area and live with only the bare necessities of life. Their leader is Trevor Howard, (The Abbot), who has caused a great deal of problems with Rome by wanting to say Mass in Latin rather than English. There are other controversial subjects which are mentioned in the film about Communion and how the Body and Blood of Christ is portrayed and how Faith plays a big role in determining how a person wants to believe. Martin Sheen,(Father Kinsella), is a young priest who travels to Rome and tries to stop the problem with Mass still being said in Latin. The Abbot, has some very deep dark secrets which are quite unbelievable, because of the position he holds in the church. If you are not interested in any kind of religion, this is not the film for you.
The landscape of an island of Ireland, the music,
and the subject of this movie prompts introspection
in one's religious behavior, what is meaningful in
such behavior, what is not.
Add to that the question of conflict of personal belief with OBEDIENCE to church dogma and you have the makings of a heavy story, which the actors and director delivered in an "excellent" manner, and I rated it a "9" as a result.
There is an emotional and intellectual hangover produced by getting involved with the film, so beware. It is NOT just ENTERTAINMENT. It should make you THINK about your FAITH and the practice of it.
This is a really good film as far as subject matter goes. It's a product of it's times dealing with the turmoil in the Church during the Vatican II period. The film is thought provoking, yet simple enough, not going into too many complexities of dogma and so forth. How ever, the quality of the film, because it's old, is not as good as it should be, maybe it's just the DVD version i have (Legacy) but as far a quality of the film itself (like colour, sharpness, static etc... not the filming) i was disappointed, however that being said, it's is a very good movie, and definitely a should see if your into religion, and so forth. I rate the movie itself a good 7.5 - 8ish, but quality is like 3 - 4ish (don't let that discourage you)
It's a relief to find a movie that can deal with Catholic religion that is
intelligent yet not sentimental. For some reason other religious groups
been dealt with much better in recent years (think about _Kundun_ or _The
By far the most important event in late 20th century Catholicism was a the Second Vatican Council held in the early 1960s. There, amazingly, a group of bishops brought up in traditional Catholicism set out to revitalize the Church and make it relevant to the modern world. For many liberals (both within the Church and without), they failed, and we are still left with a sex-obsessed church leadership that is focused on bureaucratic control. Few could deny, however, major improvements: the way Catholics deal with Jews, Protestants, and members of the other religions has been transformed; a decisive (and apparently permanent) opposition to the capitalist reduction of human beings to economic figures; and so on.
For most Catholics, however, the greatest changes brought about by the council (and shortly afterwards) were in practice rather than faith: Friday abstinence was abolished; a number of saints were demoted (St. Christopher, St. George, St. Nicholas) or declared non-existent (St. Catherine of Alexandria); and most dramatically the old Latin Mass was replaced by a rather pedestrian English-language "liturgy." For very many people, it turns out, old fashioned "devotional Catholicism" was the root of their existence and the loss was devastating.
Very few movies have addressed the impact of Vatican II (in fact, I find it hard to think of any), and even fewer the pain of the loss of Catholic devotionalism. It turns out that devotionalism was not especially connected with hierarchical power, and that the Vatican centralists have been very happy with the pop-py new liturgy. _Catholics_ addresses a future Church (actually in 1999) where has been devotionalism is destroyed (Lourdes has been closed down; the Vatican has repudiated transubstantiation), but the Church hierarchy is still as power hungry and controlling as ever.
This film is based on the novel _Catholics_ by Brian Moore, perhaps the greatest Catholic novelist in the tradition of Graham Greene. What is this tradition? A tradition which breathes Catholicism, but which stands in critical opposition to the power-seeking elements within Catholic structures.
There are, of course, other elements in the film, addressed by other reviewers, and if you are not concerned with the history of modern Catholicism the film may not appeal. But that is hardly the point.
Not being a Catholic, I think I'm a bit lost in criticizing the movie.
I can't understand for the life of me what the big problem was.
Not that the liberalizing tendencies of John XXIII were bad, they didn't go far enough, but they were a step in the right direction. But if older priests set in their ways wanted to say a Latin mass, why couldn't they?
Martin Sheen is an emissary from the Vatican who's come to this really remote island off the coast of Ireland which some television station broadcast a Latin Mass said by the Father Abbott Trevor Howard. In the Russian Orthodox Church there's this crowd called Old Believers who practice their religious rites from before the Patriarch Nikon introduced his reforms. I'm guessing what Howard is fostering there is a nest of Catholic old believers.
Anyway Sheen's come from the Vatican with a cease and desist order and it's met with hostility by Howard and the monks in his charge.
Call me ignorant here, I plead guilty to it, but why can't the Vatican just make the English or Latin Mass optional? Certainly these guys might take positions on other issues I'd have serious problems with and so would other people. It seems that what language you do your religious observance in should be a matter of choice. If they want to say it Latin, let them.
Of course other issues are touched on, but that ain't why Sheen's there. He and Howard give good performances of two generations of Catholic clergy in conflict.
But should non-Catholic viewers of the film really care?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Some Spoilers) The movie takes place in the not so distance future
where the Vatican had revokes and changed most of it's old time ideas
based on the Old Testament in order to get "with it" and become chic in
the hip modern and not at all that religious world.
Sent by the Father General (Raf Vallone), the new title for the Pope, Father Kinsella, Martin Sheen, travels to the off shore Irish Island of Mork to lay down the law to it's religious leader the Albaesian Monk and Abbott, Trevor Howard, of the Island. The Abbott has been having the Catholic Mass recited in Latin which had been forbidden by the Holy Father, and See, as well as having the practice of private confession which also have been declared obsolete by the new, Vatican V, Vatican.
With the threat of being busted down to Monk or priest, from Abbott, for his insubordination to the Church Mork's Abbott is given an option to either forgo his new, well really old, found religion or be transferred out of the Island of Mork that he's been assigned to all his adult life. Father Kinsella at first does everything to get The Abbott, and his subordinates on Mork, to get on with the program of the Vatican V new edicts in it's modernizing of the Catholic Church.
We, the audience, as well as Father Kinsella and the Monks on Mork at first believe that the Abbott is honest and truly divinely inspired by his actions that can have him booted out of the Catholic Church that he loves so much and served so well and long. It's later that the Abbott lets it all hang out to his real feelings about the Church and those feeling have nothing at all do do with the Latin Mass or receiving private confessions from his church, or assembly, members.
The Island's Abbott in a tearful confession to Father Kinsella admits that for some time he'd given up the faith and stopped prying even when leading his congregation in prayer! The fact that his followers had become extremely orthodox in their Catholic beliefs had really nothing at all to do with him. The Abbott just, in a clever way of hiding his own insecurities, went along with them like a politician looking at how he can get the most votes from his constituent's.
I's then that both the Abbott and Father Kinsella come to a middle ground with him, the Abbott, going alone with the new Vatican edict to the shock surprise and disgust of his followers on the Island. This has Father Kinsella keep the truth from the Father General of the Abbott's real beliefs or disbelief's about the Catholic Church.
The Abbott of Mork Island has lost his faith in prayer some time ago when he traveled to our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France. Seeing people coming from all over the world to have the Lady of Lourdes cure them, and their loved one, of their illness and nothing positive coming out of it just turned The Abbott around. It also turned him against everything that he believed, or was thought to believe, all his life by the Catholic Church.
The movie ends with The Abbott and his parishioners going into the Islands Abbey and kneeling down to pay, in English not Latin, and take the sacrament of their both Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But unknown to everyone that's there, with the Abbott in the front row leading the prayer session, he's the only person in the church who's not prying; he's in fact crying.
I found the dialog in this movie to be extremely relevant and
responsive to many of the issues confronting the Anglican Communion
today. The story line was simple and yet thought provoking. The mindset
of the bureaucracy represented by Fr. Kinsella, with all the liberal
attempts to make the church more relevant to man, seemed to miss that
fact that God had already done that in Christ. This was a good movie
for anyone distressed by the continued liberality of the Church.
I was deeply impressed with the passionate appeals of Fr. Manus (Cyril Cusack) in his defense of the Latin Mass and the language of the Church "in talking to God and not to just one's neighbor."
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