Welcome to PAN & SCAN where you will find film reviews of some of Hollywood's latest productions.
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Starring: Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Rating: R for intense violent sequences, language & sexuality.
Video Release: 29 February 2000
Tagline: "The messenger must be silenced."
Okay, perhaps its not fair to simplify a film into a few words but ... if this was your script and you needed to make a hurried and crafty pitch? Then the above statement would be fairly accurate. Surely, hurried and crafty are two ways to describe Stigmata. A third would be...ironic?
The Bible is well known for its use of illustrious imagery and poetic adventures in order to communicate its messages to the masses who, at the time of its writings, were not the most educated of folk. Stigmata embraces this same type of fantastic storytelling to get its own message across. So where does the irony come into play? The irony lies in director Rupert Wainwright’s reasoning in shooting this film. Was he attempting to recreate a Biblical tale using this time-tested theme of extravagant devices? Or was he just making a statement about today’s "masses" whose MTV attention span rapidly dissipates?
Stigmata's premise focuses around the suppressed existence of the Gospel of Jesus which, if revealed, would threaten the position and power of the Church. Enter our protagonist, Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), a Pittsburgh atheist who lives a hip lifestyle that revolves around the hairdressing salon she works at by day and the clubs she frequents by night. All that changes when her mother mails her a set of rosary beads stolen from a recently deceased priest in South America whose parish is the site of an apparent miracle. It is later revealed that the priest was one of three who were investigating the discovery of a missing Dead Sea Scroll, a perilous endeavor which was abruptly revoked by some high powered officials at the Vatican.
A series of unusual afflictions violate Paige, soon after the arrival of this "gift," which doctors conclude as epileptic fits. The Vatican gets wind of these bizarre mishaps and dispatch Jesuit priest Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to investigate. Kiernan (organic chemist by day, agnostic by night) has his own doubts about these events, as well as the Church, but when he witnesses the stigmata firsthand, his "faith" is quickly redefined.
As Kiernan gets closer to the truth the Vatican, under the iron hand of Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), fights to keep a tight lid on the link of this alleged missing Gospel and the infliction Paige is undergoing. The final conflict arises when Kiernan confronts the very spirit that possesses our heroine and must decide between his own beliefs and that of the Church.
The stigmata? The stigmata are the five wounds of Christ that He received during His crucifixion. The five stigmata wounds are holes through the wrists, holes through the feet, whiplashes on the back, forehead wounds from a crown of thorns, and finally a spear in the side. Certain religious individuals have been traumatized by these bizarre lacerations over the years but why does Frankie, a self-proclaimed atheist, receive this holiest of holy afflictions? The spirit that possesses her (the Brazilian priest who was investigating the missing Gospel) tells Kiernan that, "The messenger does not matter." One of just many stabs at the modern Catholic Church hierarchy which seems to be the apparent whipping boy for this movie.
Indeed, the Catholic Church has sound reasoning to be up in arms over this film. Not only does it feature a vicious and graphic depiction of the Crucifixion (portrayed unlike any Hollywood film before it) but also for its unwavering look at the power and potential corruption in organized religion. Not since The Exorcist has a film sent such a ripple through the core of this two thousand-year-old institution.
So was it Wainwright’s intention to make a statement or just to paint a pretty picture? He seems to have done a little of both. From the opening title sequence (featuring Christian symbolism intercut with "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll") one’s senses are quickly drowned in a barrage of highly stylized montages, skip bleaching color scheme (a look that mutes colors while emphasizing blacks and whites) and an energized MTV rock-n-roll soundtrack. [I was expecting any moment for a "VJ" to step into the frame and announce the next song – didn’t happen.]
Though the camerawork and editing are hyper-charged (and would succeed as a five minute video clip) this "eye-candy" wanes quickly. Slow motion water droplets, white doves fluttering toward high, close-ups without context, double exposures and overexposures of religious imagery etc. are all interesting - once - but their redundancy strewn throughout the length of the film becomes headache inducing.
While Stigmata is cinematically enthralling and has brief glimpses as an absorbing mystery / conspiracy thriller, it’s subject matter is lost in riotous sequences of noise and chaotic imagery. If you grew up with MTV you might enjoy this film but the majority, depending on your religious POV, may find it offensive or just quite preposterous. Rating is a "2."
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).