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The miraculous transforming power of love

Author: gimlet_eye from United States
22 February 2015

An adolescent is a young adult struggling, at first fitfully, and at last urgently, to escape the chrysalis of childhood into adulthood. It is a process that is at best awkward, and at worst destructive and even self-destructive.

Ralph is an adolescent of 14 who is prematurely confronted with issues that even a boy of 17 or 18 would find daunting. He is, in essence a secret orphan who undertakes to support himself (through deceit and petty crime) in the desperate hope that by retaining his autonomy that he will somehow be able to rescue his dying mother from her fate as long as he remains in control of his own. To Father Fitzpatrick, the strict and narrow-minded priestly headmaster of the Catholic parochial school Ralph attends, the boy appears to be nothing but an authority-defying rebel, who is to be tolerated and allowed to remain on the schools rolls only out of a formal, obligatory kind of charity that recognizes the anguish of losing one's last parent. The authorities, however, have no idea that Ralph is living on his own.

Ralph, though young and naive, is an intelligent, intuitive boy, who not unreasonably sees his own life hanging by the thread of his mother's life, and in any case he loves her deeply. His mind and soul is thus, given his thoroughly Catholic upbringing (his adolescent chrysalis is a typical Catholic one), fertile ground for a belief in miracles.

And this isn't just an inspirational movie: it is a story about the possibility and meaning of miracles, which lie at the heart of Christianity, especially in its traditional Catholic form.

That might seem to limit the movie's appeal to those of us who don't believe in miracles (at least in this modern scientific age), and the generally very positive, but at the same time slightly puzzled and critical, reactions to this movie, I think reflect this dilemma. In particular, the criticisms revolve around the miraculous, and therefore categorically unrealistic, goal that Ralph adopts as his personal quest: not just running the Boston Marathon, but winning it.

To put it still more starkly, it would seem that either this is a movie that speaks primarily to Catholics who yearn for a revival of the passionate beliefs that once infused their religion, or that if the movie is intended for a more general audience, that it is significantly flawed by its unrealism.

However, just as it is possible for a modern educated person (not necessarily a Christian either) to salvage the fundamental meanings of the fantastic Bible stories by reading them metaphorically, so it is possible to experience this movie as an inspirational fable that speaks to all of those who seek personal transcendence. And understood in this way, "Saint Ralph" emerges as a drama about personal transcendence through love - real Christian caritas, not formal, Pharisaic charity.

Ralph himself is the fountainhead of love in this story. Yet he is in every other way a typical 14 year old male adolescent, a bit more rebellious and independent than most, perhaps, but a boy just about any of us can identify with. But he discovers in the course of the burgeoning crisis in his young life that he has a vast, heretofore untapped, reservoir of overflowing love, and at the same time an unexpected capacity for faith in himself. And this love indeed works miracles of a kind that even a non-believer can believe in and appreciate.

Ralph's love spreads out from himself, first to his one or two friends, then to his would be mentor and father figure, Father Hibbard, who has been in grave danger himself, under the influence of his despotic headmaster, Father Fitpatrick, of hardening into a desiccated life as a mere functionary within a system. Hibbard reluctantly, but duteously, accepts his headmaster's commandments to stifle and regulate his own intellectuality and passions, even, directed as they are to his chosen mission in life: to develop and foster the minds, characters, and spirituality of his young charges. And in accepting this discipline, no doubt formally required by his religious order, Hibbard has kept himself on track to become another Father Fitzpatrick - a petty tyrant hated and feared, presiding over a barren realm of decorum and order, whose own residue of love is dispensed in carefully measured teaspoons.

However, as Ralph's overflowing love begins to transform him into a great runner, it becomes transformative also for Father Hibbard, who like Ralph begins defying his headmaster, at first in secret, and eventually openly. In the end Ralph's love, spreading out in widening ripples, conquers all.

In short, Ralph can be seen to be the modern secular equivalent of a saint, although his inspirational story is told with the faintest tinge of irony.

I think that this was the intention of the creators of this movie, and if their story requires somewhat of an imaginative transformation that may not be congenial to all viewers, and certainly poses some unnecessary difficulties that may reasonably be accounted flaws, I think that the movie is on the whole a considerable success. Long distance running is a classic metaphor for life, and the movie ably captures, largely through its cinematography, the triumph of faith and joy over pain that can be achieved in that sport, which I believe from my own personal experience, comes just about as close to miraculous self-transcendence as one can hope to achieve in this life.

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a must see for anyone over 40!

Author: KexUK from Sweden
2 April 2013

In a world of compromises and contradictions it is always joyously refreshing to watch a story unfold that disarms the contradictions and denies the compromises. So do not watch this film if you are surrounded by the clouds of comforting complacency. It is a beautiful story that challenges the ugliness of cynicism and predictable ritualised religion and the intransigence of 'adult thought patterns'.. It is well filmed, well directed and outrageously well acted.There are some incredible performances, given the genre and the whole film has that 'so believable' quality about it. It's just the kind of scenario you could imagine happening in your own street (one must allow for the period in which it is set). I bought it as a 'cheap offer DVD' a few years ago. I needed to watch it again tonight for the sheer refreshment of watching something that made my heart and mind both joyful and optimistic. It is one of my most used films for that purpose.

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Small map

Author: Armand from Romania
24 September 2009

Subtle, delicate and strong movie. About the ordinary pieces of life, about the forms of believes and the colors of miracles. An experience and good exercise for self-definition. A boy and a gray world . The solution is basic. The steps are parts of a competition for be not only the winner but the master of hope. And so, God is more a myth or a lesson, or a far fly. Adam Butcher is perfect option as Ralph and Campbell Scott, with his autumn air - final part of this circle. Vision about religion and surviving, about duty and courage, about metamorphosis of a small universe as fruit of touch of a teenager, " Saint Ralph" is , in fact, recipes for to be yourself. A nice story and a small map.

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Charming, Uplifting Film

Author: hupfons5 from United States
18 November 2006

A charming, feel good story about a young teen who's love for his mom drives him to strive for something that's seemingly unachievable -- winning the Boston Marathon as a 14-year old neophyte marathoner.

Great acting by the entire cast, especially Adam Butcher as young Ralph Walker, who faces becoming an orphan.

This film is not for everyone, and it does have some shortcomings, but, if you like feel good movies, then you'll like this one. In the end, it's a hopeful, redemptive tale that will resonate with anyone 18 or older -- and maybe even with those who are a few years younger.

The director's commentary is worthwhile. The "making of" feature ended too abruptly for this viewer. Good soundtrack too.

An excellent DVD to buy. Definitely worth watching more than once.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Inspiring movie

Author: Scott Ross from Dallas, TX
29 November 2010

I was interested in this movie because I grew up watching the Boston Marathon go through my hometown. This movie is inspiring. Ralph wants to win for a miracle to bring his mom out of a coma. Seems a little far fetched that a kid who just started running could win the Boston marathon. Hit home for me on a lot of fronts - I had a very sick mother in my youth and I grew up Catholic although I just missed out on going to Catholic school. Very enjoyable. Good family movie although there a few sexual references. I would compare this movie to Rudy which is one of my favorite movies of all time but not as good. I liked how Ralph leaned on certain people for guidance. That was very cool. The acting was spot on - very good production value

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Saint Ralph will bless your heart (and get it running)

Author: arieliondotcom from United States
6 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A wonderful mix of laughter, inspiration, tears and thought-provoking questions. A teen-age Catholic boy struggles on the precipice of adulthood and being an orphan at the same time while being raised by priests in a Catholic Canadian school. His wild ways (no different than any teen) seem magnified by a strict senior priest and the boy's own misperception that he must personally perform a miracle to earn the healing of his comatose mother.

That all sounds quite morose but the plot is held together by a jeweled rosary of bright, witty humor, stirring pathos and deft acting by all, especially the young lead. Also one of the best tie-ins of musical themes I've ever heard for a movie. Listen closely to "Hallelujah" which is beautiful and painful in its near blasphemy of real humanity, that same mix of humanity and Spirit that is the true Gospel. GOD loves us anyway, at our worst, which is (when we "get" that) what compels us to want to give Him our best.

A wonderful opportunity for parents to have some meaningful conversations with their teen sons and daughters, but be prepared to blush as this movie, though fantasy, "keeps it real" in a lot of ways.

See it. Watch it with your family. And be prepared to be entertained, embarrassed, challenged, and blessed. Especially if you grew up Catholic. Or Be prepared to do penance. :)

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Great Inspirational Movie

Author: Camden003 ( from Cary, NC
25 September 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There is a whole lot of lessons to be learned from watching Saint Ralph. The main message is anything is possible through hard work and faith in God, as shown in the movie. Even though Ralph loses the race he comes within a hair length of winning by finishing 2nd place. All that hard work sure made his mother proud and we see in the end that she does come out of her coma, even if it is only briefly. It shows that anything is possible with a little faith and hard work.

This movie is much better than the senseless horror or extreme violence films being produced. There needs to be more inspirational innocent movies like this out there.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Oh Canada ... Film Industry!

Author: LivingDog from NYC, NY
18 December 2007

First let me quote another commenter's words: "Take Your Family and Go See This Movie!, 17 April 2005 10/10 Author: gbbetts from Canada" Indeed, you would be remiss to not see this excellent movie.

First of all the cast could not have been better selected. Each playing their own part marvelously. But special kudos to Adam Butcher who played the lead role of Ralph Walker. His talent carried the lead, what seemed to me to be, quite easily.

Campbell Scott as Father George Hibbert; the priest who befriends Ralph, was endearing; Gordon Pinsent as Father Fitzpatrick (aka "Fitz" by the boys) brought back all the fears I had of such authoritarian teachers; Jennifer Tilly as Nurse Alice ... all you need to say is "Jennifer Tilly" and every man's heart in the theater melts; Shauna MacDonald as Emma Walker (Ralph's bed ridden mother) has a small part but I felt completely convinced that she was his mother and she loved him. The rest of the cast was equally well balanced in their roles. 10/10

PS: it takes place in a Catholic school, and I am no Catholic. IOW, you must see this movie no matter who you are - it's about being fallible and being human.



my faith:

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Hallelujah! They Did It!

Author: fwomp from United States
3 July 2007

SAINT RALPH is a pleasant surprise most watchers will find hidden away (or absent) at most video rental stores simply because it didn't get a lot of notice in the States. Filmed entirely in Canada by a Canadian crew and cast, this film will make it to the top of many favorites lists once viewers get a chance to see it.

If you're a fan of HOOSIERS, ROCKY, or some other underdog story, you'll slowly fall for Saint Ralph in similar style.

The story is that of a troubled 14-year-old at a parochial Catholic school in 1950s Ontario. Ralph Walker is his name (relative unknown Adam Butcher) and he's acting out at school. He smokes. He uses God's name in vain. He has "impure thoughts." And he has a mother who is very sick; a type of brain cancer is easily surmised. Ralph's father died in WWII and he now lives alone in a dilapidated home. Using school chum Chester (Michael Kanev) to help fake notes from Ralph's non-existent grandmother and grandfather, Ralph is able to fool the Catholic school's principal, Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent, THE GOOD SHEPHERD), into believing he resides with his aging grandparents.

Ralph's mother Emma (Shauna MacDonald) eventually slips into a coma and Ralph is now truly alone in the world. Grasping at anything that is more anchored than himself, Ralph begins falling apart but holds himself together thanks to a kindly nurse at the hospital named Alice (Jennifer Tilly, TIDELAND) and a good-hearted priest named Father George Hibbert (Campbell Scott, MUSIC AND LYRICS). Father Hibbert one day initiates an interesting discussion in class about miracles and saints. How ordinary people of the past begat divine miracles. And when Ralph was at the hospital recently, Nurse Alice told him it would take a miracle for his mother to wake up from her coma. The idea to do something saintly so that his mother will awaken comes to him and he settles on winning the Boston Marathon. With the help of Father Hibbert's training, Nurse Alice's weight-lifting, and his classmates wavering support, Ralph eventually runs the Boston Marathon and ... we'll have to stop there.

Uplifting isn't a word I would associate with myself, simply because I'm not a religious person. But one not need be to enjoy the messages entrenched in Saint Ralph. The uplifting music (Hallelujah), and the study of human endurance and friendship are a part of each of us regardless of our "godly" make-up. It is hope that'll keep viewers watching, not any sense of the miraculous, simply because many can't or won't believe in miracles (myself among them).

It is also nice that the makers of this excellent movie didn't drop to the lowest religious denominator and thankfully made Ralph be a horribly flawed young man (including drinking, enjoying things that rub against his crotch, cursing, smoking, and nearly giving up on everything and everyone).

The final sequence of scenes will remain with many as we watch Ralph return to school from Boston and meet up with many of his detractors and supporters. Yeah, it's uplifting but hallelujah! it's not corny.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Loved It

Author: dlowery from Saint Louis Missouri
27 December 2006

This is simply a beautiful movie of a 14 year old boy, dealing with some huge life problems. It centers around his love for his mother, and for the Catholics in the audience, a nostalgic trip back to problem resolution in the 50's Catholic church.

This picture is a gem for those who want to feel good about life after watching it.

The casting is wonderful, and photography tops. The screenplay perfectly captures and illuminates the many complexities of growing up.

My wife and I have watched it twice, and cried each time.

Simply a wonderful movie.

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