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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

French fries and a movie

- Alex and Thomas escape the catacombs

This week's movie rental was the 2003 film The Order, starring Australian actor Heath Ledger and Peter Weller. The genre of the movie is religious/occult thriller, along the lines of Stigmata, but not as well done. I'll try to reconstruct the plot below ...beware of spoilers!

The story begins with Ledger's character, Alex, a New York priest of the almost defunct Carolingian Order (?), who has a mentally deranged friend, Mara, with a crush on him. When his Cardinal, played by Peter Weller (thinking of RoboCop, I almost want to cry), tells him that the head of his Order, his mentor, has died in Rome under mysterious circumstances, Alex and Mara, and the only other Carolingian priest, Thomas, fly to Rome. Once there, Alex visits the Vatican (we get to see inside St. Peter's) and learns that the head of his Order was a suicide and an excommunicado as well, for heresy.... he had been fraternizing with a sin eater!

Time out for some info on the interesting concept of sin eating ...

The term sin-eater refers to a person who, through ritual means, would take on by means of food and drink the sins of a deceased person, thus absolving his or her soul and allowing that person to rest in peace. Sin-eating is a form of religious magic, part of the study of folklore. This practice was said to have been practiced in parts of England and Scotland, and allegedly survived until modern times in Wales. Traditionally, it is performed by a beggar and certain villages maintained their own sin-eaters. They would be brought to the dying person's bedside, where a relative would place a crust of bread on the breast of the dying and pass a bowl of ale to him over the corpse. After praying or reciting the ritual, he would then drink and remove the bread from the breast and eat it, the act of which would remove the sin from the dying person and take it into himself ... - Wikipedia

In the film, the Vatican is upset ... they want Catholic priests to be the only ones who can forgive sins, but the sin eater allows people to bypass the Catholic Church and still get to heaven. Alex and Thomas secretly bury the head of their Order in hallowed ground in the dead of night, against Vatican wishes, and then set out to hunt down and destroy the sin eater. Alex eventually meets the sin eater, Eden, but rather than killing him as he had planned, finds him fascinating - he watches him consume the sins of a dying man and considers Eden's proposal .... that Alex take his place as the new sin eater (like the dread pirate Roberts thing in The Princess Bride).

It's sadly all downhill from here - Alex, encouraged by Eden, has a romantic interlude with Mara, and when he later finds her dying with her wrists slashed, he despairingly gives up the priesthood and accepts Eden's proposition to become a sin eater ... too late does he realize this choice of his has been manipulated and constructed by Eden and Weller's character from the time of his childhood, for their own nefarious purposes. The only guy who makes it through the movie un-mortally damaged in body or soul is Alex's friend Thomas, the last, I guess, of the Carolingians (heh).

Bad as it was, the movie did touch on a few interesting ideas, but even then, they were examined through the patina of unnuanced movie Catholicism where all the rules are medieval in the worst sense and where the Vatican has only one purpose in life (the same one Agent Fox Mulder attributed to the government) ... to deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate.


Blogger Liam said...

Reading your description, they lost me at "Carolingian." Why would a religious order be named after a medieval Frankish dynasty (of course it could just have been founded by a guy named Charles, but it doesn't seem like they ever got that far in their reading).

The "sin eater" thing was news to me. Very interesting. If I were to be a sin eater, would it have to be a crust of bread? Or could I use some tasty pork dumplings?

So "Stigmata" is good?

3:08 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Why would a religious order be named after a medieval Frankish dynasty

OOps - carolingian, merovingian, I need to get more sleep ... delete, delete, delete.

Stigmata is pretty good for that genre. It has Gabriel Byrne and Patricia Arquette, who are good actors, and there's someveiled reference to the gospel of Thomas, but no Academy Award nominations looming :-)

Yeah, the sin eater thing is interesting - sort of eucharistic in a weird way. I thinkpork dumplings might be too messy because you do have to eat them off the person's chest.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

No, no... no problem with you -- both the Carolingians and Merovingians were Frankish dynasties.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Garpu the Fork said...

last religious thriller movie I saw that I liked was "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," although the ending--Mary asking Emily to be possessed--kind of lost me. I can't see Mary (who's a mortal enemy of the Devil) asking someone to be possessed. Unless it was another trick...

12:44 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

We ended up seeing "Stigmata" last night. It was a fun ride, though suffering from the anti-Catholicism typical of the genre and misleading about the Gospel of Thomas.

1:16 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Garpu - I read a good review of that movie by Roger Ebert. Maybe I'll rent it. It's based on a real life incident, apparently. I actually find it hard to believe in possession, even though I read that even JPII did a little exocising himself :-)

1:52 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Yeah, the movie made it look like the church tried to suppress the gospel of Thomas?

Have you seen The Prophecy? It has some pretty good actors - Elias Koteas, Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen - and scary angels! But sadly, no Carolingians :-)

1:57 PM  

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