I just saw this movie today after it opened here in two multiplexes, one of which only rarely carries independent films. It's really a remarkable movie in so many ways, but as can happen especially with independent films, occasionally, it raises for me two ethical dilemmas. First, it's misleadingly advertised as a traditional Christmas movie, but won't be found to be such by most viewers; and second, it includes a strong dose of anti-Catholicism.
But setting aside these two unpleasant features of this film, I found so much of this movie really very appealing. The storyline and the supporting script, anti-Catholicism aside, are really very interesting and so often moving. The characters in this movie are developed vividly and engagingly. We meet Father Jonathan Keene, who at first has the heart and social skills of a cash register, but we rejoice as we watch him developing into a human almost despite himself. We meet Father Simeon Joyce, full of love for his parishioners, though seemingly doomed to alcoholic ineffectiveness.
The story really revolves around relationships more than anything else, and some of the relational scenes were to me simply delightful to behold. One of my favorite scenes like this has Father Keene and the bartender engaged in a dialog that is just full of wit and poignancy. I really think this scene, and the delightful scene at Mrs Worthington's party, will stay with me for a long, long time.
The acting is almost uniformly very good, even though the actors and actresses apparently have had very little film experience. There is one exception: I thought Sean Patrick Brennan's performance as Father Joyce was wooden and monotonous. In contrast, David Wall gives a wonderful, wonderful performance as Father Keene.
The cinematography is excellent. Again and again we are treated to the most lovely vistas shot (I think?) in wintry Massachusetts. What beautiful settings for a beautiful story.
the story is partly beautiful. But that brings me to the movie's ugly side: its anti-Catholicism. I won't say anything more about the other ethical problem with this movie, its marketing as a traditional Christmas story when it clearly isn't. The misleading marketing isn't really part of the movie as such after all.
But about the anti-Catholicism so prominent in the movie. The story could well have been told with a much less denominational context, but the movie singles out one particular religion for representations that could have come out of any number of anti-Catholic tracts known for their bigotry. The director/writer/producer, David Wall, is reported to be prejudiced against Catholics. This certainly comes through in his movie, in which he depicts Catholicism from a point of view that could be termed liberal, post-Christian, and anti-Catholic.
The Catholic archdiocese is painted as greedy and interested solely in money
a superfluous characterization that apparently has nothing to do with the story. We are treated to a Catholic priest who is an alcoholic who asserts no interest in priestly abstinence from sex. The same priest disdains Midnight Mass, a distinctively Catholic religious service of special affection to most Catholics. The priest is depicted along with a congregation that has lost interest in a Midnight Mass either. The other Catholic priest walks out, twice, on a Mass, a religious service considered important to Catholics in general. He also walks out on a poor woman's Confession; and breaks the Seal of the Confessional, betraying to others what he has heard in confidence in the Confessional. And by the end of the movie our priest has formed a romantic attachment and we are given to understand that he's become a nice, normal married man that has left that nasty old Catholicism behind.
As one feature of Catholicism after another is trampled underfoot, the movie apparently expects us all to applaud. If you're wondering what this has to do with the wonderfully humane storyline as such, I wonder as well.
One of the dilemmas of a moviegoer confronted with what is actually plain bigotry, mixed with so much beauty and so much humanity, is to know how to respond. I don't know the answer. I'm guessing that the same dilemma would have confronted a moviegoer in South Africa a few decades ago, who might have been watching a movie full of good things yet jarringly pro-Apartheid. Or perhaps a moviegoer in Nazi Germany might have found himself or herself watching a movie full of much beauty and humanity on the one hand, while coupled painfully with implicit or explicit celebrations of Nazism.
Can one applaud the beauty and humanism in such a movie while denouncing the ugly prejudice that's also there? I'm not sure
but I hope so. Each of us I'm sure must make our own decisions about how to approach such material, if we approach it at all.