John Allen on “There Be Dragons”

Over at the National Catholic Reporter blog, John Allen has an intriguing discussion of There Be Dragons, Roland Joffé’s upcoming film about the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei.

From a journalistic point of view, it’s tempting to style “There Be Dragons” as a sort of anti-Da Vinci Code – a pop culture portrayal of Opus Dei, in the person of the group’s founder, which makes the group seem as heroic and sympathetic as Dan Brown’s potboiler, and the subsequent film, made it appear weird and menacing.

Allen goes on to speculate on whether or not the film will be controversial. Given the strong financial and advisory support it received from some key members of Opus Dei, he suggests that some quarters will be inclined to see it as “Opus Dei agit-prop, a well-heeled effort to whitewash the controversy around Escrivá.” Of course, some quarters would be unreceptive no matter what role Opus Dei played in the film, methinks. But it will be interesting to see how the historical factors play out. (Allen is inclined to think that it will be another yet example of the “love it/hate it” film, with avid supporters and just-as-avid detractors).

Allen also noted a particularly fascinating phenomenon:

As a footnote, here’s something worth thinking about. Joffé has now made films lionizing members of two groups historically regarded as sort of the matter and anti-matter of the Catholic universe: The Jesuits and Opus Dei. It’s ironic – and, perhaps, not a little bit revealing – that it has taken a “wobbly agnostic,” rather than a Catholic, to make movies with something positive to say about both.

Ah, the oft-asked (and endlessly-interesting) “Why don’t Catholics make good Catholic movies?” dilemma rears its head yet again. But I find myself even more fascinated by the question of whether we should be willing to accept Joffé’s self-proclaimed label any longer. Perhaps he’s nowhere near as wobbly or as agnostic as he would like us to think.

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Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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