11 May 2000 | jonie v.
the pains of believing
The Hymens Parable takes another stark, pained look at the reality of faith in this turbulent, disbelieving and tormented world of ours. In the best tradition of contemporary films that deal *seriously* with faith (the Catholic faith in particular), Hymens is metaphor-heavy, as its title suggests-the OED definition of `parable' reads as `narrative setting forth in terms of something else, fictitious story told to point a moral, apologue, allegory.' Hymens' story-line centers around a young and handsome soon-to-be priest whose faith and vocation are equally shaky. Jason's attraction to the religious life is, it appears, completely indebted to his sister Cassie's visionary and `crazy' mysticism. At the same time, Jason harbors resentments of all sorts against Cassie, whose obsessed devotion puzzles and angers him.
Cassie works in the film as a reminder of the other-worldly nature of faith, whose uncompromising, heavenward nature cannot but be `read' by our brutal, cold, over-scientific world as mental illness. Brought up in a highly dysfunctional family (part of a highly dysfunctional world), Cassie suffers in her flesh the contradictions and tearing paradoxes of the evil that surrounds her: she's indomitably drawn to self-inflicted pain and thirsts uncontrollably for wine (preferably the sweet wine used in the Mass). With the same single-mindedness of Joan of Arc with respect to the solaces of sacramental confession, Cassie craves the solaces of the Eucharist. Unable as a woman to be a priest herself, Cassie conditions Jason from his early childhood to choose the priesthood. Jason follows this preordained path, though not, as I said, without misgivings and doubts.
Jon Springer, who has written, photographed, and directed this film, may have bit off more than he can chew. Because he wants to show the high contemporary relevance of the Eucharist-which is at the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation-he finds himself having to confront the trickiest mystery of all, the mystery of evil. This he does through the troubled personal lives of Jason and Cassie, but also through its ultimate 20th century example, the Holocaust. This mish-mash of horrors can indeed be too much for anyone to take, and we sympathize with Jason's struggle to believe. At the same time, though, it's hard for the viewer to gain understanding of Cassie's mystical obsession. Without meaning to sound facile, I still think that most of us believers manage to do so in a more joyous, light-spirited, less tortured way. Why is God, one wonders, not showing these siblings that there's genuine beauty and joy and RELIEF in faith? At the end of watching Cassie and Jason go through their exhausting ordeal, one is tempted to wonder: what's the good of faith?
I want to point out something that I found very valuable in this intense film. Many nowadays protest the supposed exclusion of women from the heart of the Church. Hymens asserts in no uncertain terms that women are perhaps right at THE heart of the religious experience. As in other recent films that deal with Catholicism (Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead comes to mind), women are the ones who see and point the way, while men try to follow as best they can. That women should, as a consequence, be certified as crazy and locked up in psychiatric institutions by a world that makes no room for the supernatural is a painful but ultimately validating fact. See this movie and judge for yourself!