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Faith, Film and the Future: A new Millennial Look into Media
by Chandler Caldwell 

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In another time and another place...The Location a GARDEN -- EXTERIOR SHOT -- DAY: The Divine Director sets up His scene.

The Cameras are in place, the Characters enter. Male and Female, He created them. They have dominion over the garden and everything is theirs except one restriction. The boundaries are set. They cross the line. The consequences follow...


At the door of an empty tomb. A Roman soldier observes an empty shroud. He is visibly shaken. Where is the body? Consequences follow. It begins...

If biblical history read as a script, The Divine Director or God, must have thought the movie version of creation would be a box office disaster-- "A Heavens Gate" of enormous financial ruin. God paid for his creation of humanity with the life of his only Son. Jesus paid the price. And the sequel, His triumphant return to Earth, is yet to be seen.

In the meantime Hollywood and other film capitals throughout the world are turning out dramas, television shows and films that in the past have given Heaven and those religious subjects a bad name. As we approach the Millennium it appears to be a more positive day in Hollywood in its interpretation of spiritual characters. Catholic and other Christian characters are appearing more and more in television and film. The Fall 1998 Television season in the United States is offering a number of prime time television series with Catholic story lines, most notably "TRINITY" on NBC about a Boston Roman Catholic family from the Producers of the hit series "ER".

Historically Catholic Christians have always been at the forefront of media communication. Whether the ancient Christians exchanging visual paintings on the Catacomb walls to the middle age "extreme art" of the Vatican; art form non-verbal interaction has been a powerful means of voice for the Catholic population.

In the late 1800s Thomas Edison experimented with early film cameras and documented daily life and world events. From the mundane everyday shots of people leaving Church to newsreel footage of the Pope speaking from his balcony in Rome, these were some of the earliest historical features with a Catholic influence.

In Europe in the 1930s a young Catholic filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock began a career which spanned decades in film and then television that have complex drama and intense character development. It was his formative Catholic upbringing, discipline and world view that offered his unusual take on life. From "39 Steps" and the conflict between good and evil; "Psycho" with illicit affairs, incest and robbery and his consummate "I Confess" exploring issues of Church doctrine and the Sacrament of Penance and Celibacy--the films of Hitchcock were light years above the films of his time.

Other notable films of the fifties and sixties were the controversial "The Nuns Story" with Audrey Hepburn as the willful young Novice tortured by her self-imposed restrictions of Faith during the second World War and "The Hoodlum Priest" a look at an unconventional priest working with rehabilitated criminals. The first film attracted much criticism from the Catholic dominated Hays Office and the Motion Picture Production code. They felt the film was derogatory towards the Church when in reality it was a balanced look at the struggles, joys and challenges of Faith in war torn Europe.

While Europe offered Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis and other popular fiction such as the "Father Brown" novels, it wasn't until the early 1980s that saw the epic TV movie version of Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited". The book and the Granada Television production looked at the life of a pre- first World War family and their struggles remaining Catholic in Protestant England. The film was a cult and critical world wide hit. In Italy, the films of Franco Zefferelli looked at the Faith from a lavish and artistic angle with an eclectic film on the unique life of St Francis of Assisi in "Brother Sun and Sister Moon" and the epic "Jesus of Nazareth". Both films are stylized, lush and elegant in their portrayal of complex characters.

In 1970s America a tide of change, political, social and moral unrest unleashed the devil on the big screen with William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist". The film sent people flying into the Confessional for absolution and peace of mind. It was a landmark offering that progressively moved film art into the uncharted areas of the psyche and the spirit. It gave Jesus and the Jesuits a good name while entertaining people at the same time.

"The Exorcist" showed the powers-that-be in Hollywood that the audience they used to scoff at had brains and spirit. Dollars at the box office turned the doldrums of complacent 1950s America into the last quarter of the millennium fueled by new thought, technology and mind and spirit expansion. Limits were lifted, and the windows opened by Vatican Two finally let the fresh air of change in. The last decade before a millennial change historically speeds up progress; whether in technology or thought. The technology is obvious; the Internet, cell phones, outer space exploration, etc.

In the medium of television there is one show that has distinguished itself with 16 current Emmy Nominations, a world wide cult following and a franchise operation bringing in millions of dollars annually. The truth is that "The X-Files" has taken the world by storm with provocative characters, conspiracy theories that make Washington politics take notice and a focus on spiritual, paranormal and Catholic beliefs that are new food -for -thought on the TV dial.

The X-Files are the fringe Federal Bureau of Investigation cases investigated by Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and his partner Special Agent Dana Scully M.D. (Gillian Anderson). She was sent in by the Bureau to initially debunk the paranormal exploits of Mulder; who believes his sister was abducted by aliens. In the beginning Scully, a medical doctor and lapsed Catholic, was skeptical of anything contrary to her scientific beliefs. As her working relationship with Mulder developed, the extremities of the supernatural cases the Files presented to her and the onslaught of her government-induced terminal Cancer, Scully re-explored and returned to her Catholic Faith. In a segment airing in the 97-98 television season, Scully spends the show in the Confessional and tells her story in flashback about the strength of Catholic beliefs and the search for Truth while solving a murder case .

"The X-Files" the creation of Chris Carter for the Fox television network is entering its sixth season November 8. This comes after the June release of "The X-Files-- Fight the Future" feature film. Carter himself has said that the search for Truth in The X-Files is the search for God. Special Agent Scully's spiritual path has lead her to encounters with a young boy who manifested the stigmata and face-to face with a Seraphim (Angel) -- both encounters increased her faith.

"The X-Files" is unique in that it demands spiritual thought and savvy from its audience. To experience the spiritual benefits from "The X-Files" one has to be open minded and searching for the Truth. It was award-winning television personality and Roman Catholic prelate Fulton Sheen that said that no one can lead a spiritual life unless he or she is born to it. That is, lead by God to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Special Agent Scully has accepted this challenge from God. On "The X-Files" she goes to Mass, wears a cross around her neck - a reminder of her beliefs, and receives the Sacraments of the Church. She tells Father McCue, her spiritual advisor, that she tries to attend Mass much as she can. As a television character, Scully is a powerful and much needed visualization of a practicing Catholic.

Mulder, the spiritual skeptic tells her that organized religion has disguised itself as the paranormal for decades and fostered much evil in the world. Her scientific logic aside, Scully operates from the heart in matters of the spirit. She points out that it is her Catechetical heritage that gives her strength and that God's ways are mysterious and require Faith, not analytical theory for proof.

It takes a person of Faith integrated into society whether FBI Agent or Film Producer to influence the common good in the communication media. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Chapter three, Article 8, part V) speaks on the issue of the use of the social communication media. In Point 2395 it says: "It is necessary that all members of society meet the demands of justice and charity in this (media) domain . Solidarity is a consequence of genuine and right communication and the free circulation of ideas that further knowledge and respect for others."

In "The X-Files" Agents Scully and Mulder are learning to respect their divergent beliefs in the true spirit of the Catechism. The Catechism admonishes us in Part V of Article 8, Point 2499,"... that moral judgement must condemn totalitarian thought that falsifies the media, controls public opinion through it thus restricting Truth." Is it not a thought crime on the part of practicing Catholics to restrict diversified public opinion?

"The X- Files" as a microcosm of society brings together the scientific and the spiritual mind, the believer and the skeptic, the Fox Mulder and the Dana Scully in all of us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it all up in Article 8, Section VI, TRUTH, BEAUTY AND SACRED ART, Point 2500: "Even before revealing Himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos-which both the child and the scientist discover-from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator ... for the author of beauty created them."

As The X-Files says (agreeing with the above): "The Truth is out there."

This article is Copyright 1998 by Chandler Caldwell

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