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The Vatican sends a priest to verify some miracles, performed by a woman who has been nominated for sainthood. During his investigation, the priest, who is experiencing a crisis of faith, re-discovers his own purpose in life. Written by
"Dogma" showed that throwing darts at the Roman Catholic Church isn't hard to do. Similarly, "Stigmata" created villains within the Church hierarchy with relative ease. The hard part is making some sense of what motivates priests and nuns to carry on in spite of this undeserved negativism. That's what makes "The Third Miracle" a joy to watch - a film that goes beyond stereotypes and biases to try to find answers. There is something in this film that believers and non-believers can take away from even though "The Third Miracle" has decidedly taken a strong stand about matters of faith. The linking of a wayward postulator, Father Frank, searching to legitimize a common woman for sainthood, with his own personal search for God is very effective. Equally so is how the film shows the powerful role of secularism in the lives of men we call 'holy' (can it be any more obvious than the Bishop's mud bath?). A stroke of trickery at the end doesn't spoil the way this film invites us to consider faith as truly an all-or-nothing proposition. Certainly for Father Frank, the invitation to faith and to his own priesthood was based on a shaky bargain with God to spare the life of his father. For Roxane, the daughter of Helen O'Reagan, the decision to exclude God was equally as capricious - that God would take her mother away from her just because she had to do God's work. For Archbishop Werner, the God he defends and the God he internalizes are two different beings - one who is all knowing and all powerful, the other who cannot see beyond things black and white. "The Third Miracle", then, is not just about canonizing a dead woman, a holy housewife, but about how these three living players interact and struggle with each other to arrive at their own faith. This interaction is played out so well due to brilliant performances by Anne Heche, Ed Harris, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Miracles strengthen one's faith but the visible miracles are more likely to move those who need a sign to believe. The irony of Father Frank is that he was instructed to disprove the very extraordinary acts of faith which he desperately needed to save his own spiritual life. It took him two hours, the length of this film, to find his miracle. "The Third Miracle" leaves us with a similar challenge, how long will it take for us to find that same miracle, that same faith.
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