Sunday, August 19, 2012

ParaNorman [2012]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB ()  Michael Phillips (3 Stars) Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Michael Philkips' review -

ParaNorman (written and codirected by Chris Butler along with Sam Fell), since it is a movie in a sense about witchcraft, is one that many Catholic and otherwise Christian parents will probably not particularly like.

Yet, Catholics and other Christians did burn heretics and then specifically women accused of witchcraft at the stake throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and up until the time of the Enlightenment.  Further, this practice extended to the early settlers of the English colonies that eventually made-up the United States through the (if we are honest, the "Taliban-like") Protestant sect called the Puritans.  The Salem Witch Trials in the Massachusetts colony are a matter of historical record as are various atrocities committed by Catholic/Christian fanatics across the ages.  Indeed, the Muslims were as appalled at the behavior of Christian Crusaders like Richard the Lionhearted a millenium ago as Westerners (Christians and non) today have been rightly appalled by Muslim fanatics like Al-Queda founder Osama Bin Laden.  (Then ask a Serb Orthodox Christian about what he/she thinks of the (generally Catholic) Crusaders, and you'll _still_ get an earful ...).

So a movie like this, intended for children, does give everyone, including Christian/Catholic parents, a chance to reflect on: (1) what happened? and (2) what do we want to preserve of the Christian message?  The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus ought to be a message of hope: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:38-39).  This "Good News" ought never to become an excuse to hate one or another or even a large number of groups that are declared to be in some way (and they're _always_ cast as being in some "important way") "different" from us.

Catholics in particular, since they belong to a Church that sees its mission to be UNIVERSAL (hence big enough for all) ought to be (and, again if one is honest, actually _generally_ have been...) very careful in drawing boundaries that would out-of-hand exclude entire groups of people from communion with it.

Indeed, Catholics/Christians have the Christmas tree today because St. Augustine of Canterbury, when coming to Christianize the pagan (and by reputation even _cannibalistic_) Anglo-Saxon "savages" in Southern England decided that ultimately there's nothing wrong with the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) practice of bringing evergreens into their homes in the winter.  The Bible, after all, is full of references to trees.  Why not just "baptize" the symbol and be done with it, rather than _choose_ to condemn the practice as some sort of "nature sorcery?"  Throughout the history of the Catholic Church/Christianity, similar accommodations to local culture/sensitivities have been made to the obvious enrichment of the whole).

The Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate declared that the Catholic Church "rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions." [NA#2].  If then for its past sins, the Church has to "eat crow" for a while, well that's something that average Christian / Catholic experiences in his/her day-to-day life _anyway_ when one realizes that one has failed or otherwise sinned against someone in the past and embarks then on a path toward restitution and reconciliation with the hurt/offended party.  But this is not the end, and indeed, admitting one's sins actually lifts the burden of continuing to have carry them and offers us an opportunity for New Life.  And how Catholic / Christian is that! ;-) ;-)

So then ... returning to the film.  The film's about a little boy named Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit McPhee) with a gift.  He "sees dead people."  Why?  Well probably because film-makers saw The Sixth Sense [1999], and like a lot of others found the gift of the child in that film (again of "seeing dead people") really, really cool and then useful in the telling of this new story.

Norman also lived in a town somewhere in the American North East, a town that was "celebrating" the 300th anniversary of a "witch trial," in which a young girl was accused of witchcraft.  Prior to her awful death (again witches were _burned at the stake_), the girl had cursed those who condemned her to suffer as a result.  In the film, no one among the townspeople particularly believed the legend.  But the town certainly enjoyed the "tourism business" that the legend brought in ... ;-).

Well it turns out (in the story) that there was something to the legend.  Indeed, Norman's family had actually "kept the peace" in the town over the 300 years since the trial and burning of the poor little girl by each year going to her grave to read her a bed-time story (THE LITTLE POOR GIRL HAD BEEN THAT YOUNG...) and this would cause the ghost of the little girl to sleep for another year without rising to wreak vengeance on the town that had so mistreated her.

The year of the film, however, Norman's uncle, the last one to keep up this tradition was no longer able to fulfill this task (he had died just before the anniversary) and so the town was in danger of finally feeling the little girl's wrath, and on the 300th anniversary of all this having taken place, no less!  Enter Norman ... (a little boy who was also rather misunderstood/picked-on in his time...) ... Much ensues ...

Actually, sounds like a nice story, huh?

And one can't help but feel sorry for the little girl who was named Agatha (voiced by Jodelle Ferland): "They used to call me Aggie" she tells Norman.  (And whether the film makers realized it or not, Agatha is actually the name of an early Christian Martyr, St. Agatha, who had been horribly tortured and ultimately murdered for refusing to renounce her Christian faith when Christians were being tortured and killed for holding onto a "new" and "subversive religion.")

So parents, this is a complicated story.  I would understand why a lot of Christian / Catholic parents would not necessarily like it.  However there's a lot to this story that is very nice and it does invite us all to reflect on (and teach our kids) what is actually essential to our faith.  And hopefully hate isn't part of it.

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