Saturday, December 08, 2007

Review: Noelle .... a different point of view

Review: Noelle, the Movie

My husband and I went and saw this movie tonight [eta: last night, actually], in spite of (and maybe, because of) all the controversy that has recently been stirred up by this movie, particularly based on the Catholic League’s review of this movie. [I have yet to see any other Catholic voice review this movie; the closest was an interview in Catholic Digest, but that was not a review of the movie.]

Before I start this review, please let me say that I respect Bill Donohue and the Catholic League and all that they do to protect Catholics and Catholicism in the current American-secular climate. Based on their review of Noelle, we weren’t going to go see it … but cooler heads prevailed and we went to ensure that my husband would be able to address questions from his Catholic high school theology students.

For this review, I’ll quote directly from the December 3rd Catholic League review.

First, the Catholic League titles their review “CATHOLICISM TARRED BY CHRISTIAN FILM”. The movie we watched didn’t “tar” Catholicism. This title alone sets up an animosity that doesn’t make sense after having viewed the movie. This title sets up the preconception that somehow Gener8xion Entertainment, and the Walls and everyone else who had anything to do with this movie have a malignant intent to “dis” Catholicism. If anything, the writers, directors and actors are culpable of benign ignorance in the mistakes they make in this film – Catholic League paints it as malignant.

The Catholic League review continues:

In the synopsis provided by Gener8Xion, it accurately describes Jonathan
Keene as ‘a young Catholic priest seemingly devoid of genuine human emotion’;
his job is ‘to do what he does best: shut down a failing parish.’ Then there is
‘the child-like Fr. Simeon Joyce, a faithful but disillusioned priest who
blatantly disregards church regulations, uses church monies to pay an old
fisherman’s medical bills and spends most of his time drinking at the local
pub.’ Both priests are portrayed as losers.

Yes, Fr. Keene is a priest devoid of human emotion. He is almost an automaton character who shies from human contact and human conflict. His character is one of individualistic theology – he refuses to pray with Fr. Joyce as he says “prayer is a private thing”. And, yes, I’ve met priests over my Catholic life who appear similar to Fr. Keene. There is no mistake that this priest is a realistic characterization. I don’t think he was portrayed as a loser, but actually as more of a successful priest that confuses vocation with career in an almost corporate-sense. At one point, he tells Fr. Keene that putting on the live Nativity will bring the people back and the parish will be much more “profitable … uh, I mean productive.”

Fr. Joyce, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Fr. Keene – he loves his parish and parishioners and gives freely and completely of himself to help the parishioners. He LOVES being a priest and wants Fr. Keene to “believe” as he does. He most certainly is not portrayed as a “loser” but more as someone who thinks his battle is over and he has ALMOST lost but will give it “one more shot”. Yes, he gives parish money to help a fisherman who is very sick which is clearly against what a pastor should do; but Fr. Joyce is the kind of priest who thinks more of the people than the surroundings or the rules. Fr. Joyce’s mistake is in becoming too chummy with the parishioners and crossing the boundary between the pastor and his parish.

This movie shows two very different priests: the one who is too conscious of the job and not the vocation and the other who is just a bit too chummy with his townspeople, trying to get them to come back to the church. Both have problems, both are human, but neither are “losers”. Further, ALL priests are not one of these two “types”; just like all homeschoolers are different, all Catholics are different and all people are different – that’s the way God wants it.

The Catholic League review continues:

Viewers learn that the only reason Fr. Keene became a priest is because he
felt guilty about getting a girl pregnant when he was in college; to top things
off, he pressured her to have an abortion.

Yes, Fr. Keene probably does not have a true vocation. He mistakenly not only converts to Catholicism but also becomes a priest based on his guilt over encouraging his girlfriend to have an abortion. As Fr. Joyce points out though, “Being a priest is a privilege not a penance,” a statement that gets Fr. Keene thinking. Showing Fr. Keene as having an impediment to his vows opens the door for possible laicization … at least that’s the way I saw it.

The Catholic League:

Fr. Joyce, the alcoholic, has serious reservations about celibacy and his
idea of heaven is a jolly good Christmas party. Fr. Joyce tells Fr. Keene he
wants to marry a woman named Marjorie so he can help raise her illegitimate kid,
saying he ‘made a vow to God not to the Church.’

Fr. Joyce, the self-sacrificing priest, is not portrayed as an alcoholic but one who goes to the people in the pub to pastor his flock. He does drink but not necessarily to excess and I didn’t get the impression that he was an alcoholic but a priest who drinks with his parishioners as Jesus ate with tax collectors. I took Fr. Joyce’s decision to marry Marjorie as yet another act of self-sacrifice to help his parishioners – she was in trouble, he didn’t want her to abort the baby, so he decides that the only way to help her is to marry her. Fr. Joyce is in a very emotional state at this point – feeling let-down by his Church and vocation – and doesn’t realize the grave mortal sin he’d incur on himself should he leave the priesthood to marry Marjorie as he plainly has a priestly vocation. Nowhere does the movie imply that he is in love with Marjorie or WANTS to leave the priesthood. The “jolly good Christmas party” is because he finally sees his parishioners enjoying working on a Christmas play and he’s happy for them.

The Catholic League review continues:

But Fr. Keene, a first-class klutz, is also in love with the same woman: he
is shown bolting in the middle of Midnight Mass to be with her, knocking over a
filled chalice and ripping off his vestments.
Fr. Keene has been through a very emotional scene where his righteous anger for the corrupting of the innocent gets the better of him. Shortly after that, the movie shifts to Fr. Keene preparing for Midnight Mass and beginning to celebrate Mass. But the scene is one where you can’t determine if he is just starting the consecration or if Jesus is truly present in the body and blood. Reading this portion of the Catholic League review leads you to assume a scene where Mass is full of people, Fr. Keene “flips out”, leaves Mass, spilling the precious Body and Blood. This is not how this scene plays out. Fr. Keene is prepping for Midnight Mass that no one attends. Suddenly, as if the Holy Spirit told Fr. Keene that Marjorie was in trouble and needed help, Fr. Keene leaves the altar – but his spilling of the wine before the consecration would not be a trivialization of the consecration or the transubstantiation.

The Catholic League review concludes:

Throughout the film, confession is trivialized, celibacy is ridiculed, the
Virgin Mary is disrespected, nuns are belittled, last rites are mocked, and
priestly vocations are caricatured. In short, that which is uniquely Catholic is

At this point, I’m not sure the Catholic League and I were watching the same movie.

· Confession is not trivialized but instead the confessional becomes a place of drama where the parishioners feel real remorse and come to confess that they haven’t been true to Fr. Joyce and have let him down. This humbling act is not “trivial”. When the grandmother confesses her hatred of her granddaughter’s seducer, she clearly wants to be absolved of this hatred. Fr. Keene, who is not “a people priest” as he himself explains, does not act appropriately in the confessional, but that’s his character.
· Celibacy is never ridiculed in the version I saw.
· The Blessed Mother is dealt with in Protestant terms or in terms for an unbeliever, which at this point is what Marjorie is. She doesn’t have the faith formation necessary to clearly understand the Catholic doctrine of virgin birth. She is also in highly emotional situation and not thinking clearly.
· When were nuns belittled? If the Catholic League means the scene where Marjorie says “so you can send the baby to a monastery where the nuns never wanted to be mothers”. I took this as Marjorie lashing out and trying to anger Fr. Keene.
· Last rites were not mocked, but Marjorie does make a joke as she tries to lighten the mood whilst recovering from having passed out and while she is in premature labor. How many women in the midst of labor contractions don’t make flippant remarks?

One of the last phrases in the review really got me:
It means nothing that the movie has a pro-life message.
I have to strongly disagree with this comment. I think it means everything that there is a strong pro-life message in this movie marketed to the secular and religious movie-goer. I think it’s very important that this movie shows the guilt the father feels when he talks his partner into an abortion … a guilt that can have life-long consequences, a guilt that is rarely portrayed (but rather, the illegitimate father is usually shown walking away with no feelings of remorse or guilt). I think it’s very important that Marjorie WANTS to keep her baby but doesn’t know how that is possible and feels pushed to abort but stops whenever she sees the priest. I think it’s very important that Fr. Joyce is willing to give up his own wishes, to lay down his life, to save his parishioner from committing a mortal sin.

I’m saddened that so many of my very good Catholic friends and colleagues want to take the Catholic League’s review and decide not to give this movie a chance. So much of the talk on-line about this movie has been so negative and yet no one had seen it. Judging without full knowledge is such a waste … and could cause movies like this one – that is trying to do the good – to flop whilst movies like The Golden Compass are box office hits.

Please understand that this review is MY opinion/interpretation of Noelle. It is far different from the Catholic League review. Your take on the movie may be somewhere in between the two reviews. But don’t just assume …. go see it yourself! I don't think I'd take younger children to see it, but teens and older could take away alot from this movie and be able to "talk to" some interesting questions.


Theresa said...

Excellent review, Mary. Very level-headed. I think I will see this movie, but it will likely not come to my area. Perhaps on Netflix next year!

Alice Gunther said...

Brilliant, well-written, thoughtful, complete, and engaging. All the things I've come to expect from you, Mary.

Nissa said...

Thank you so much for your review. You stated so many of my own feelings about Noelle, only much more eloquently.

We're looking forward to seeing it, too.

Kerry said...

Mary, Thank you for having the courage to see Noelle, and for your in-depth analysis. God bless you.


Leonie said...

Great review - makes me want to see the film. Thank you for such a well thought out response.

+JMJ+ said...

Mary, I do appreciate that you offer so much charity to the sarcasm against Noelle. Perhaps the Catholic League felt rightous indigation? There's always the question of how radical is radical enough for Christ? To what lengths would we go to defend Him? (And the consecrated hands HE comes through?!) What constitutes a slippery slope? Haven't we seen little acts of disrespect make it eaier for bigger acts of disrespect?

There are a lot of images we choose NOT to watch because some day we'll be accountable to God for those choices.

For me, and my family, I think we'll continue to spend our time praying for Priests rather than watching a criticism of their failings. Yes, they are human too. So, on Saturdays we devote our prayers to all religious using a book from called The Chalice of Strength.

Without Priests we don't have the Eucharist which we are to believe is the Real Presence of Christ,Body,Blood Soul & Divinity. The Eucharist, worthily recieved, bring us such graces! This situation also reminds me to pray for fallen away KNOW WHO it is you are missing every privileged Sunday and in the Sacraments and the consequences....I pray they come to Jesus and obediently follow all that His Church teaches.

From the Catholic Pieta Prayer book, see this on criticising a Priest For myself, I see quite an opportunity to say many Hail Marys!

I am inspired by your desire to reach out with love. It is people like you, Mary who bring people back to the Church. You were named perfectly as our Blessed Mother Mary's job is to bring us to her Son.

Sacred heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

Donna said...

Thank you so much for this review - it gave a much better context in which to weigh my own concerns.

Becki said...

Thank you for your review and your comments.

Len & Heather said...

Thanks for the food for thought!!!

Regina said...

From what I've gathered about this movie from your review and others':

-one priest shows romantic feelings for a woman, violating his vow of chastity
-one priest leaves the altar and carelessly spills the wine--or Precious Blood, if it was consecrated--it seems no one is sure of this point. Regardless, for a priest to LEAVE THE ALTAR when he is supposed to be saying Mass is totally unacceptable
-one priests breaks the seal of confession, which is a grave sin
-one priest misues parish funds
-one priest abandons his sacred vows and leaves the priesthood
-several aspects of Catholic faith are either misrepresented or trivialized


It seems to me that, although the filmakers may have had very good intentions, they cast the priesthood in a very bad light, and perpetuate the ignorance of the faith that is already so prevelant in our culture.