Contrasting Films

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 3, 2005

Someone just lent me Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  I am a big fan of Saint Francis (alot of people are), but the movie disappointed.  Through most of the movie, Saint Francis walks around with a big dopey look on his face.  I know they were trying to make it seem that he was filled with an unquenchable joy and love, but it made him seem a bit adle-brained.  The movie showed a sort of euphoric, happy Francis…not the passionate, filled-with-love, but sometimes hard man who challenged the Christian faith.  The film-Francis has no doubts, no real struggles, no anger, no passion.   The real Francis had doubts, had struggles, experienced anger, was passionate to a fault.  The film-Francis was so utterly unrecognisable as a human being that it was difficult to watch the film.  He was even less life-like than Max von Sydow’s portrayal of Christ in the Greatest Story Ever Told. 

Contrast this with a movie I watched on the same day: The Exorcist.  I had never seen the movie before, but a number of friends highly recommended it.  I was surprised about how much of a solid drama the movie was–it is only a horror film secondarily.  The depiction of the priests’ struggles were poignant and nuanced.  The movie is about everyone who comes into contact with the evil in Regan.  The demon-possession serves as a foil to display the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. 

In an odd way, the Exorcist was a more realistic picture…not in the surface content, but in the issues the movies raised.  Brother Sun, SIster Moon shows an other-wordly Saint Francis who responds to the brokenness around him with shimmering faith.  The Exorcist shows us two priests who struggle against brokenness.  The Exorcist’s understanding of faith in the face of a broken world is much more compelling.  The Exorcist shows us that sometimes victory over darkness is gained by being overcome by it.  After all, isn’t this how Christ secured victory for us on the Cross?

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.

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    I might disagree with you a bit on that last part, but I'm glad I've won you over as an Exorcist fan, since that's my favorite movie (and that's my copy you have). You're right, the demon possession really is a device, not the centerpiece. I think the reason it's been named "the Scariest Movie of All Time" is because it strikes a chord with anyone, regardless of their conceptions of evil or God.


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