Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Worthwhile essay, but one glaring error.

Yesterday, an essay penned by film critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times was published. The essay discusses the depiction of Catholicism in recent film, and notes that we bead-squeezers tend to get the short end of the stick. He lists a litany of recent films, but I can speak personally to this one:

The terrific "Evelyn" (2002) tells the true story of Desmond Doyle, an impoverished single father in Ireland who fought to regain custody of his three children, who by law had been placed in Catholic orphanages. The priests and nuns treat young Evelyn and her sisters with utter cruelty.

I've seen Evelyn, and I agree it is a terrific film about a horrifying case. At the risk of this turning into a film review blog, here's a synopsis: Essentially, Irish law used to remove children from the custody of indigent fathers and place them in state-sponsored Catholic orphanages. The law did not do the same to mothers in similar circumstances, it must be said, and the mother in Evelyn abandoned her marriage and family to go catting off with her new English beau.

Desmond Doyle (played superbly by Pierce Brosnan) was an intermittently-employed house painter with three children, the eldest of which is the one referred to by the title. Because of his sporadic employment, the children were removed from his custody. Theoretically, he could get his children back, even with indigent status, if his wife signed a consent form, but she's never seen again.

Doyle decides to challenge the law instead, advancing, with the help of a creative legal team, the theory that the custody law "is repugnant to" (violates) the Irish Constitution. A little sappy in spots, it is well worth a couple hours of your time--Brosnan's portrayal of the flawed but absolutely devoted father is very memorable. It's also all too rare these days--usually, the father is the cad/rogue who abandons his responsibilities. But not here.

All to the good--Roeper's dead-on about the terrific-ness of the film. Where we part ways is over the depiction of the religious figures in the film. Of the four with speaking roles (three orphanage nuns and a local priest), one nun is villainous, one is neutral-to-sympathetic, and the final nun (the one with the most screen time) and the priest are unambiguously good people who love the children and support Doyle's fight. In fact, in one confrontation between the priest and Doyle, it is Doyle who comes off looking like the jerk--not to mention regretting the fact that Father was the seminary boxing champion.

[I, for one, think that's a great idea, and seminary curricula should be reformed to require classes in the sweet science--might solve some of our problems. Any takers?]

Is there some cruelty toward the children? Yes, as I said, one nun is a cruel villain--the classic mean nun that seems to haunt so many of our elder brothers and sisters. But "utter cruelty" from all the religious? Not even close. In other words, Roeper's analysis is seriously flawed for at least one film. I haven't seen any of the others referenced, so I can't speak to inaccuracies in those. Don't get me wrong--I don't argue with the thesis that depiction of Catholicism has fallen a long way from The Bells of St. Mary. But we can't plead our case when we don't get our facts right.

Thanks to Lane for the link.

No comments:

Post a Comment