In 2010 journalist Matt Baglio brought to the consciousness of modern American Catholics and secular persons the true story of Father Gary Thomas: the making of an exorcist. The sober and unapologetic chronicling quickly grabbed the attention of the masses spawning a second edition and now a major motion picture complete with all the fixings, trappings and Hollywood movie-making that makes honest works into mere sugar-coated happy endings void of life but full of the promise of money for exploitation. These are the basic sentiments for this film.
The opening credits perhaps spoke the most truth when the attribution to Matt Baglio’s book, The Rite, appeared on the screen reading, “suggested by the book…” This “suggestion” already clued me in. There was going to be more liberty taken with the screen rights of this film than I have seen before with concern for a film adaptation of true life events.
That said, I cannot completely knock the film as Anthony Hopkins turned in a great performance as Father Lucas as did the remainder of the cast. Furthermore, it would seem that the director was sincere enough in his approach to show some details that others may overlook, such as the robes of Father Xavier, a Dominican. But the story still felt pressured for Hollywood showmanship rather than the truth of Rite.
These disappointments came primarily in two flavors:
- Changing all but the essence of the related primary characters of the book: Father Gary Thomas, Matt Baglio and Father Carmine in addition to altering the nature of their relationships.
- Although the film’s protagonist elects to follow his vocation to the priesthood after having “found and accepted” the grace of faith via the disturbing events of the film’s climax, it does not excuse the fact that the director choose ignore major facts concerning the priestly vocation. For example, Father Gary Thomas was already a priest when he began his specialized training to become an exorcist. Next, the director chooses color completely outside the lines for the benefit of the narrative, completely destroying what made the book a stirring work, that is the acknowledgement that the Church and the priests therein are fully and completely representatives of Jesus Christ – the latter sharing in the High Priesthood of Our Blessed Lord. An untrained seminarian would have no place in the events depicted either on film and especially in the book. Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the soul of Michael would be no different than any lay person and thus would be an ineffective witness at commanding any demon to do anything in the name of Christ. (The Church has always taught that by virtue of the baptism into the Body of Christ, the laity has the ability and efficacious power of prayer when it comes to minor deliverance but never when there is explicit demonic activity especially that of possession.)
The lapse in acknowledge the necessity and authority of the priesthood is one that ruined the experience of the film for me as it did not reproduce the impact that the book did. Again, that does not take away from the fact that this is one of the few instances where the Church, the priesthood and even the interpretation of the unseen world were represented with some care.
In this vein I would like to address a couple of issues that were alluded to in the trailers and ominous poster featuring Anthony Hopkins and state outright that The Rite is not a scary at all. No this does not mean that you can watch the film with the entire film (the subject matter is not for the faint of heart) but that there is no sense of fright like that of The Exorcist or other films that dig into the mind to evoke the real sense of fear. What is done properly here reminds of the another, more “realistic” film on the topic of possession and exorcism, that of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, also based on real events.
Like Rose, The Rite, is successful setting the ambiance of danger, dread and despair. The cinematography, sound and editing come together effectively to produce that sense of foreboding necessary to engage the viewer and bring them into the journey. Once more, loose depiction of the priesthood and Michael’s struggle does a disservice – how much so depends on the level of knowledge of the viewer. There are also great “BAM!” moments in the film; (You know, the ones where you are watching the movie and there is an air of silence and then all of a sudden BAM! something jumps out at you.) enough that if I were to have taken my mother to see this in the theaters she would have screamed enough for all watching with us. (I love you mom!)
So to recap:
- The movie by itself is okay.
- It is a very liberal adaptation of the book.
- It plays fast and loose with the vocation of the priesthood and the necessity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to truly combat the Enemy in such intimate confrontation.
- Finally, rent it first and come back here to buy it, especially of you like Anthony Hopkins!
I wrote this review of The Rite ( 2011 ) for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
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