Virtuous Clergy? At The Movies?

In 2006, the major studio Columbia Pictures put out "The Da Vinci Code" with great fanfare, including a week of "On the Road with the Code"publicity from NBC’s "Today" show. Based on a massive best-seller, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, it had the full power of Hollywood behind it. It also happened to be a vicious smear on Christianity and the Catholic Church, a ridiculous tinfoil-hat conspiracy movie based on wacky theories like Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a baby.

At the eye of its murderous historical hurricane, "Code"especially trashed the Catholic order Opus Dei, founded in 1928 by the Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva (designated in 2002 as St. Josemaria Escriva by the Vatican). The scariest villain was an albino monk, and it made no difference to Hollywood that "Code" author Dan Brown made stuff up, like the idea that Opus Dei had monks.

On May 6, a small cinematic rebuttal of sorts surfaced, a movie with the title "There Be Dragons." The only instantly recognizable Hollywood name attached to it is director Roland Joffe, who was nominated for Best Director on his first two feature films ("The Killing Fields" in 1984, "The Mission" in 1986).

In any city where it opens, moviegoers just scanning movie titles and times will presume it’s a medieval movie, not a 20th-century tale. The Latin phrase for "Here Be Dragons" was used on early maps to indicate unexplored territories where no one had traveled.

It’s a story based in Spain, starting in the 1970s and then flashing back to the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The story sprouts from two childhood friends – Escriva and a fictional counterpart named Manolo Torres. The movie begins with Father Escriva’s death in Rome in 1975, and how Manolo’s son, a journalist, is assigned a few years later to write a book on his life. He then discovers his estranged father and Escriva were childhood friends.

Back in the 1930s, Manolo, the son of a wealthy factor owner, favors the Franco cause, but goes undercover with the communists. Josemaria doesn’t take sides, and tries to stay in Spain, but it quickly becomes apparent that the churches will be persecuted and priests are being shot on the street, and he must find a way out of the country.

It’s only a partial Opus Dei rebuttal because Escriva is only half of the picture, and his order is only part of the plot. Joffe’s script makes no attempt to correct the slanders of "The Da Vinci Code" other than to suggest that this Spanish priest was devoted to Christ, and that he had a gentle, loving heart. That stands in contrast to Manolo, whose lives much of his life with a hard-hearted anger that refuses to let love in. But in the end, as his death nears, Manolo and his estranged son struggle to overcome their mutual bitterness and see eye to eye and heart to heart.

For Christians, it’s refreshing to see a movie in which the hero belongs to the clergy, and his heroic actions don’t involve guns or his fists, just his spiritual ministry. It’s also refreshing to remind moviegoers that Christians have often been persecuted for their faith, since Hollywood usually casts the clergy as the most vicious kind of hypocrites (again, see "The DaVinci Code" films).

Escriva’s life is worthy of exploration: His best known book is "The Way," which has sold more than five million copies in 50 languages. His writings have sold a total of eight million copies. Opus Dei reports it has more than 80,000 members. His appeal comes from insisting that every work we do in our mundane lives can be done for God.

Joffe, who recently joked, "I'm not a very spiritual person, unfortunately, being a Brit. We tend to go for humor over religion." But he’s serious about this subject, and impressed by Escriva and the controversy around him: "I don’t think an uncontroversial saint is a very good idea. I’m not quite sure how you could be an uncontroversial saint, because…if you are a saint, that means you stand for something."

You don’t have to be an incredibly religious person to enjoy this film. This movie is a story about two very different men on two very different journeys. But in the end, finding love is the only way you can find the reason for living. Whenever you can find hope and respect for faith at the cineplex, it’s a good time to vote with your feet. 

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis