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Wednesday, July 8, 2015
STIGMATA: A RENEWAL OF FAITH
It’s been some time since I originally saw this movie. I didn’t see it in theaters but when it was released on either cable or disc, maybe even VHS. At the time I remember it felt like a number of other movies that came out about the same time that combined a rising tide of Satanic evil battled by a Catholic church that seemed in turmoil only to rise up and face that evil head on. Maybe it was just a few films being released at the same time or that my memory is not what it once was. In any event, the movie I watched now felt a lot stronger than the one I watched way back when.
Gabriel Byrne stars as Father Andrew Kiernan, a scientific researcher for the Vatican. His job is to go to various locations in the world where miraculous events have taken place to verify or deny the existence of those events. For the most part he discovers that the sudden appearance of say Christ image on a building wall is nothing more than oxidation caused by rusty drains, but there are moments that something truly miraculous have happened.
The film opens with one of these events as a statue of the virgin mother begins to bleed from her eyes in South America. As Kiernan observes the event he stands transfixed while his doubts about his beliefs come into conflict with what his eyes see. The statue began bleeding when the priest in charge of this location passed away. While lying in his coffin as the crowd observes the statue, his rosary is stolen by a young boy who sells it to a tourist in town. Kiernan gathers samples to take with him in his investigation but doesn’t load the statue to send to the Vatican as is usually the case.
The scene changes to Philadelphia and we now come across young Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette). A punked out hair stylist Frankie is a free spirit with no religious connections to speak of. It was her mother that bought the rosary thinking it was just a necklace. Frankie gets it in the mail and shortly after problems begin. Frankie begins to suffer sudden attacks which leave her physically damaged even though no one is with her at the time and the wounds she suffers are not self-inflicted. The first of these occur in her bathtub where she finds holes as if spikes were driven through her wrists.
These wounds and the way they come about are referred to as stigmata, the wounds suffered by Christ on the cross when he was crucified. While they’ve happened to various people over the years Frankie has no idea what is going on or why she is having this happen. Word reaches the Vatican about the event and Kiernan is sent to investigate. Prior to his departure from Rome and just before he receives these instructions we’re witness to a bit of a confrontation between him and his superior, Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce). While it means little at the time it will eventually become one of the most important aspects of the film.
As Kiernan investigates the stigmata occurrences of young Frankie the two begin to form a certain friendship, nothing romantic but more along the lines of Frankie getting guidance when it comes to religion and Kiernan slowly and possibly rediscovering his faith. Which each new mark of the stigmata the effect they are having on Frankie physically and emotionally intensifies. For Kiernan he discovers something more. When Frankie suffers the wounds she also tends to transform, almost as if possessed. She speaks in tongues which Kiernan records and at one point inscribes an ancient language on the wall of her apartment. While Kiernan had no idea what these words mean a friend at the Vatican tells him to back off.
It seems that the words are written in an ancient Aramaic language that was spoken by Jesus Christ himself. What they say could be fatal to the basis for the Catholic Church or interpreted to reinvigorate a belief in God throughout the world. As the secret world of the Vatican is revealed to Kiernan and the viewer as well, the true meaning of what has happened opens up before our eyes. Whether good will triumph over evil, if that is what it really is, isn’t revealed until the end of the film.
The movie has drawn comparisons to being a lackluster EXORCIST rip off but is far from that. The only real similarities between the two are the involvement of the Catholic Church and the seeming possession at times of Frankie. But there are marked differences on hand as well. The question of whether Frankie is demonically possessed, mentally ill or being influenced by something far different is there from the start and not resolved until the final moments of the film. It’s a gripping story that draws you in and holds your interest throughout.
This not just the result of the story but also of the involvement of the actors on screen. Byrne does a fantastic job as Kiernan, playing him as a skeptical priest who one would think in that occupation should be the least skeptical person in the room. As a man of science he seeks proof where faith is usually found. It is through his eyes that we draw our own faith as well. As Frankie a young Arquette does a great job showing a woman in fear for her life while discovering a world she has no inkling of.
The result of this combination of story, crafted storytelling seen in the visuals and cinematography and in the acting combine to make an incredibly interesting story that will possibly renew faith for many viewers. Shout Factory once again offers a fantastic transfer of the film as well as numerous extras that include an audio commentary track by director Rupert Wainwright, a music video, featurettes, theatrical trailer and deleted scenes. If you loved the movie this is the version to own. If you’ve never seen it, it’s one worth watching. In troubled time like we live in perhaps a movie that renews faith is just what we need.
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