10 September 1999 | jester-30
A clever blend of Christian mysticism and 20th Century narcissistic cynicism
STIGMATA: Well, this one is certain to be somewhat controversial with hardcore fundamentalist Christians and the equally dedicated Catholic, but I personally found the movie to be far from irreverent, and actually rather faithful in parts. Though the film balances psychological terror and armchair Christian mythology, the movie manages to present a thought-provoking dramatic episode by clashing the faithful and the faithless, the true spirituality and hypocrisy, the sincere and the mundane.
The film centers on the experiences of a young woman who is a self-professed athiest who manages to somehow be afflicted with The Stigmata, a paranormal experience wherein the "victim" or the "gifted" (dependant upon one's point of view) is afflicted/touched by God and with manifestations of the wounds Christ suffered at His Crucifixion. These include the wounds through the wrists, the feet, the crown of thorns, the scourging of the back and finally the spear through the side.
Into the mix is tossed a mildly agnostic Catholic priest/scientist assigned by Rome to investigate supposed "miracles." Also blended into the story is a sub plot full of political goings on inside the Vatican and the attraction between the priest and the young woman afflicted. So not only does the movie examine The Stigmata, spirituality, Christian myth, and the Catholic tradition, but it explores the inner workings of the Church (to a very critical degree) and the meeting of man, woman and God. It's also entertaining.
The movie seems to be marketed as a modern-day "The Exorcist." I don't think the comparison is fair. Though there does appear to be some sort of possession story happening, it somehow ends up being mostly the desperate actions of a benevolent spirit of a deceased priest trying to get attention and bring the Truth to light. Obviously the more fundamental Christian believer familiar with the Christian mythos would find this plot element suspect, and dramatically it's only mildly fulfilling. For this reason the mature and educated viewer might find the ending of the film anticlimactic and arguably "sell out," but the casual viewer would probably find nothing questionable about the Hollywood ending. Personally, I thought it tainted an otherwise splendidly atmospheric film. The integration of Catholic mysticism with MTV-era music video filmography at times seems nearly as visually attractive as Madonna's "Just Like a Prayer" video, though not quite as sublime.
I'll give the movie 3 stars, mostly solidified by strong dialogue and exceptional performances from both Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne as the woman and the priest. On it's own merits, the film manages to create a foundation from which the viewer is challenged to fill in the blanks re: the spiritual goings-on, but it loses points where it attempts to find cheap thrills and reinvent the spiritual-psychological horror portrayed in The Exorcist by turning an interesting and engaging look at mystic spirituality's interaction with the 20th Century's narcissistic cynicism into something more akin to the later OMEN movies.