Wednesday, May 25, 2011


MPAA (PG-13) CNS/MPAA (O) Mike Philips (1 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB Reviews -
Mike Philips' review -,0,7130757.story

Priest (directed by Scott Charles Stewart, screenplay by Cory Goodman, based on the graphic novel series entitled Priest by Min-Woo Hyung) is a movie that many movie critics and many Catholics would certainly find much objection to.  Yet, as I often do in the case of movies like this, I found both the movie and the concept behind it far more intelligent than its critics would like to make it out to be.

Priest is based on a graphic novel series by the same name created by South Korean writer Min-Woo Hyung.  The graphic novel series’ mere existence underlines several points.  First, about 1/3 of South Korea’s population is Christian and about 1/3 of that is Catholic.  Catholicism has made definite inroads in South Korea’s cultural imagination and that has gotten expressed in some surprising ways, including in this particular graphic novel series.  We should feel so lucky if America’s teens would generally find priests _so cool_.

As is often the case in comic books and graphic novels, the story in this movie is written in _broad strokes_ and must be taken symbolically.  Man is presented as having been fighting from the beginning of time blood-sucking vampires, that is Evil.  This Evil could not be defeated until the Church came along with its priests trained in combating “Vampires” (Evil).  The Priests succeeded in this “Battle” so well that Evil was consigned to “Reservations” and locked-away from the general populace.   Subsequently, the Church disbanded the Evil fighting force of the Priests and became complacent.  So Evil began a comeback, something that the Church leadership in the movie initially sought to deny.

Ok, let’s go to our world.  The world really was an awful place before the arrival of the Church/Christianity.  The Church/Christianity did, in good part, civilize the world.  Perhaps we did become complacent and Evil did make an attempt to re-enter the world (through among other things, the priestly sex scandals of recent years, a scandal that the Catholic leadership initially tried to paper-over/deny).

Thus I do think that the movie’s essential point regarding the Church is an interesting one: “If the Church’s purpose is largely to fight Evil and it ceases to do so (papering it over/denying its existence) then what good is the Church?”  And the movie shows the Church (and indeed Humanity) as being saved by its individual Priests who continue to fight Evil.

As I wrote in a review of another recent heavily stylized “Apocalyptic” movie, Suckerpunch, I do believe that a danger in this genre of storytelling is that the struggle against Evil is _externalized_ when virtually every religious tradition, including Christianity, has told us that this struggle is, above all, internal.  Even Jihad in Islam is supposed to be an internal_ battle.  However, apocalyptic literature has always been popular, witness here the enduring popularity of the Book of Revelation that ends our Bible, or more recently the Left Behind series.  On a symbolic Good vs Evil level, these stories speak to us.

So would I recommend this movie?  If the movie is to be taken as a “The Church is to be hated” sort of way, OF COURSE NOT.  However as a call to the Church to take seriously its mission of combating Evil, yes, I would recommend this movie.  And I do believe that a lot of good, sincere, YOUNG Catholics are going to see this movie and _like it_ and I’d like to give them permission to do so, to yes, dare to believe that Catholic priests can be cool, fighting (spiritually please) Evil.

Indeed, I do believe that many who’ve liked Bladerunner, The Matrix and/or the Book of Eli would probably like this movie as well.  There are even shades of the Star Wars movies, if actually MORE CATHOLIC in this movie (than in the Star Wars movies) and I’ve long believed that the most compelling contemporary _pop-cultural_ presentation of why someone would want to give-up marriage and family was given in the Order of the Jedi Knights of Star Wars who took a vow of celibacy to focus on their mission of keeping the Universe in Balance on behalf of "The Force" and for the benefit of all.

I do understand that I may be a dreamer here.  I understand that many critics simply don’t like or don't understand movies like this (and don't wish to).  I also understand that many in the Catholic hierarchy would not particularly appreciate as being portrayed self-serving and complacent.  But I do believe that movies like this have much more positive in them than meets the eye.

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