A few years back, Dan Brown's feminist fantasy, the DaVinci Code, was the talk of the globe for its depiction of sacred women, and Catholic bogeymen personified by Silas the murdering monk from a nefarious, woman-hating, history-occulting, enemies-list-keeping, right-wing organization called Opus Dei. Noman recalls wishing that such bigotry wouldn't resonate so with the public, that the "who-done-it" as a genre would someday experience a renaissance, and that somebody would make a movie about the real organization just to set the record straight. Little did he know, or believe it possible, that within the decade that movie would be made, and by someone that wasn't a Catholic, or a believer.
The soon-to-be-released "There Be Dragons" is the creation of Roland Joffe, a twice academy-award-nominated director for "The Killing Fields" (1984), and "The Mission" (1986). Not to be overlooked are the investors who put up $40 million to make this commercial production possible, and Samuel Goldwyn films, which bought the rights to it. The story portrays events surrounding the founder, and founding, of Opus Dei.
Joffe is generally no friend of traditional Catholicism--though that seems to have changed somewhat through his study of St. Josemaria Escriva (played by Charlie Cox) in preparation for this film--as evidenced by his panegyric to liberation theology in the second half of "The Mission." His movies nevertheless explore spiritual themes, especially those of conversion and forgiveness. In "The Killing Fields," it is a NY Times reporter who seeks the forgiveness of a Cambodian friend who escapes the nightmare of that country many years after the reporter has deserted him there. In "The Mission," the first half of the movie is a beautiful story of conversion and forgiveness for Robert De Niro's character, a hardened trader of slaves in South America. In "There Be Dragons," the conversions and forgiveness are those of Manolo Torres (played by Wes Bentley) and his estranged son Roberto (played by Dougray Scott), as well as those of St. Josemaria's followers who are angry and vengeful at the atrocities committed by supporters of the anti-clerical Republic.
Noman had the privilege of attending a pre-release screening of the movie this evening, and thinks it will go a long way towards raising the estimation of Opus Dei, Catholicism, the priesthood, and sanctity in the eyes of the movie-going public. Opus Dei exists to foster the search for holiness and apostolate in the everyday circumstances of ordinary life and daily work. The movie underscores its lay nature (it is not monkish), the universality of the call to holiness, and the liberty of conscience in political matters enjoyed by members. It portrays the founder in an appealing light, which, whether or not it draws people to the organization, will undoubtedly draw people to Christ. That was St. Josemaria's point, though Dan Brown didn't get it.
The storyline generally follows the divergent paths of two boyhood friends, Josemaria and Manolo. One chooses the paths of faith, hope and love; the other chooses skepticism, cynicism and isolation. Not surprisingly, the first discovers meaning and strength, while the other encounters hardness of heart and estrangement, mostly from life. The context for this drama is the Spanish Civil War, a difficult subject precisely for the brother-against-brother bitterness of the conflict, and the tendency of both sides to slide into barbarism. The movie captures those warts, and also fairly depicts a saint who by all accounts tried to rise above the conflict to be a sower of peace, despite the imminent danger he was often in. Finally, the movie entails a love story that diverges from the Hollywood standard, as well as Josemaria's love story, which diverges even more.
Does Manolo eventually find peace? Does he reconcile with his son? Do he and Josemaria reunite? The reader will have to see for him- or herself. The movie debuts in Spain on March 25th (The Feast of the Annunciation), and in the US on May 6th.