CathBlog - What's in a film for Catholics?


Previously I have written as the moderator of the CathNews discussion boards about comments from outraged readers who consider a particular story has no place on CathNews. Paul Hogan’s latest visit for his mother’s funeral, for instance, earned some condemnation as a story choice, as did one on Zsa Zsa Gabor calling a priest for anointing as her health failed, and another  about  Mark Wahlberg, in Australia to promote his latest film, going to Mass daily. They are simply all examples to me of Catholicism in action at the pressure points of life or in daily practice.

Sometimes the outrage extends to the film reviews and comes from readers who wonder why on earth a particular movie has been reviewed. This was one such recently, posted by 'POB' of Cairns, about a film reviewed on September 3 by CathNews’ film reviewer, Father Peter Malone MSC:  ‘I read CathNews occasionally and was shocked by this review. Why is CathNews reviewing The Kids Are Alright (pictured) and not connecting it to our Catholic faith? I can go to other film reviews if I wanted a world view of a movie. What is the point of reviewing movies, books, dvds etc... if (the review) is not related to how as Catholics/Christians we should view them?  The Kids are Alright is definitely not the sort of movie that I would recommend viewing by any Catholic. Where is CathNews’ Christian responsibility in terms of subject matters? ‘

It seemed to me that POB raised important questions, so I sent a copy of the comment to Father Richard Leonard sj, Director of the Australian Catholic office for Film & Broadcasting, for his response. This is what he wrote to POB, but it is informative to many who sometimes wonder about why a particular review is on CathNews:  ‘I am sorry you are sometimes shocked by our film reviews, but I thank you for raising some important issues and which enables me to reply to your concerns. 

There seem to be two issues:  Why does the Catholic Film Office review films that do not have a connection to our Catholic faith? And in what ways do our reviews vary from other more secular outlets, especially in regard to the film The Kids are Alright

We take your concerns very seriously and I shall pass on your email to Father Peter Malone MSC, who was the reviewer of The Kids Are Alright

For now, let me deal with the questions. 

Why does the Catholic Film Office review films that do not have a connection to our Catholic faith? 

The short answer is that very few films offer an explicit connection with our Christian or Catholic faith, and when they do it is often quite negative. Films in recent years where this is true include: Stigmata, End of Days, Lost Souls, Bless the Child, Dogma, Possession and The Magdalene Sisters. I am delighted to report that there have been outstanding films on religious themes as well, which have been generously reviewed by our office as well. Molokai, Mary, The Green Mile, The End of the Affair, Looking for Alibrandi, Keeping the Faith, The Bank, The Man who Sued God and The Third Miracle come to mind.   

The readership of CathNews, however, is diverse and there are two groups in particular at whom the film reviews are aimed: parents of teenagers and young adults, and teachers in our Catholic schools. There is an argument to say that films like The Kids are Alright should not be reviewed in the Catholic press, but if we accepted this argument, where would Catholic parents and Catholic teachers go when they need to find out what a film is like, and how they might best respond to their children or students who are seeing these films, or wanting to do so?  One thing is for certain, as the Holy Father has said on more than one occasion, we can no longer ignore the film and television culture, or that by ignoring it pretend that it is not influencing us. What this office tries to do is to bring the values of the Gospel and our Catholic tradition to bear on the material on the screen, which many of our children will see, whether we like it or not. If all young Catholics hear from the Church is that we find nothing of value in the secular world, including the cinema, then how will we help them find God there? We hope that our film reviews offer an intelligent, informed and Catholic response to what the secular world is putting on our agenda. The feedback from parents and teachers on this point has been especially encouraging. I am sorry you do not agree with them. 

In what ways do our reviews vary from other more secular outlets, especially in regard to the film The Kids are Alright

To be fair to this Office and Father Malone, I think we fulfilled our mandate to offer an intelligent, informed and Catholic response to what the secular world is putting on our agenda in the review of The Kids Are Alright.  I doubt you saw the film, so there was enough information there to alert you that this would be the last film you would want to or need to see. So the review enabled you to make an informed decision. 

From the outset, we told you it was rated MA 15+ for strong sex scenes and infrequent drug use. Father Malone said that the film was concerned with a lesbian couple who have been in a long-term relationship within which they had two children through artificial insemination. Father Malone goes on ‘The son (Josh Hutcherson) wants to find out about the sperm donor for his and his sister's conception.  The daughter makes enquiries and quite easily discovers Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and they meet.’

I do not know any other secular reviewer who explicitly outlined the plot in this way and in this detail. None of our readers were left to be shocked after they had paid their money at the box office. There would many Catholics would never want to see a film about this subject matter. 

Father Malone told our readers that this was a “serious comedy” which offered reflection on contemporary issues and that ‘Audiences who have previous views may not alter them one way or the other.  But, while the kids are all right, the presence of the male father-figure sometimes makes them better.’ I doubt there would be a secular reviewer in Australia who would write that last line, and, if they did, I doubt they would get it published. 

While the review does not directly condemn same-sex couples and their families as you might like, it does have a gentle admonition, and provide viewers with ample information to make an adult decision about seeing this film. 

This film is number eight at the Australian box office. You and I might not like that, or we may hope that the issues this sort of this film presents would just go away, but that would be to hold on to our Catholic faith in a vacuum. Respectfully, if we stayed away from the world outside the Church for fear of temptation and being led into evil, then our greatest missionaries, martyrs and saints would have stayed at home. The modern media is now a mission field for the Church, one we ignore or fail to evangelise at our peril. I invite you to pray for us in what is sometimes a difficult endeavour on behalf of the Church. Yours sincerely in Christ, Rev Dr Richard Leonard.’

Thanks, Father Richard. Your lucid explanation about why this movie, and others like it which raise the hackles of some readers, make it into the Film Reviews of CathNews, is very timely. CathNews is about informing and alerting our readers to what is in the marketplace, so they can make educated and responsible choices. The fact that Father Peter and Father Richard make that education so pleasurable is an added bonus. Happy viewing to everyone!

Christine HoganChristine Hogan is the Communications Manager for Church Resources, and moderates the sometime immoderate discussion boards of CathNews.



Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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