Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Hansen, Regina, Ed.: Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Hansen, Regina, Ed.: Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery

Article excerpt

Hansen, Regina, ed. Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery. Jefferson: McFarland, 2011. 289 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-7864-6474-6. $45.00.

This collection of twenty-one essays Regina Hansen has put together under the title Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Spectacle, Ritual and Imagery is insightful in many ways. Filmmakers do indeed produce profound effects when they make use of Catholicism's "supernatural claims, its rituals and artifacts, its moral exigencies and contradictions" (1). The notion that guides the first of the three sections of Hansen's book is "Marvelous Catholicism," a characterization that speaks to the ways "both Catholicism as a religious tradition and film as an art form have used spectacle in to evoke a sense of the fantastic-marvelous" (5). "Uncanny Catholicism," the guiding theme of the second section, is located first in the eighteenth-century Gothic novel and moves into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through Gothic archetypes associated with the immigration of Catholics into America, working to highlight the sense of Catholics as ethnic other in an ostensibly Protestant culture. The third and final section of the anthology is called "Ridiculous and Monstrous Catholicism," which Hansen locates in filmmakers' use of the trope of fantastic Catholicism to "satirize or critique" (13) the tradition.

John Regan's essay, "'When the Saints Go Marching In': Saints, Money and the Global Marketplace in Danny Boyle's Millions," begins the first section. His analysis of Millions rests on the argument that at its core the film is a fable with the message "money can both corrupt and cure" (17). His argument bears out through nuanced descriptions of Damien's "naivety and unquestioned faith" (20) in the Catholic Saints who appear to him. By pointing to the Saints' various historical opinions about wealth, along with their sometimes comical oddities, his analysis cleverly preserves the fantastical atmosphere of Damien's experience. The next essay in Hansen's collection, "Blasphemy in the Name of Fantasy," is Christopher McKittrick's reading of Terry Gilliam's films through the lens of Christian theology. His analysis spans a great many of Gilliam's films, from his work in Monty Python to his recent offering The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Pointing to doctrinal differences between Reformation thinkers and medieval theologians, McKittrick concludes that Gilliam's treatment of topics such as sin, free will, redemption, and evil bear out as particularly Catholic regardless of Gilliam's Protestant upbringing.

Despite the incorrect statement that opens the next chapter, "J. R. R. Tolkien was, as is well known, a Catholic from birth" (41; Tolkien was in fact born into a Protestant family), Em McAvan's essay, "Sacramentality Between Catholicism and the New Age in Lord of the Rings," offers an interesting analysis of the trilogy. In light of its recent cinematic incarnations, McAvan asks, is "The Lord of the Rings ... a Catholic novel and a New Age series of films?" (48). The answer for McAvan lies in the various representations of the Catholic principal of sacramentality in conversation with consumer-friendly New Age movements. In the films, this effects a kind of layering of meaning "in which New Age meanings lie on top of earlier Catholic models" (49). The following chapter, "'The Devil Made Me Do It,'" takes a different tack than the previous essays. Rick Pieto uses interviews with four horror fans to demonstrate that "discursive formations such as religion" have more bearing on "what [the participants] believed to be true ... than any real experience with possessed humans, demons or satanic children" (52).

The last chapters in this first section analyze first exorcism films and then films focused on Marian imagery in the context of religio-political clashes with the institution of the Catholic Church and its most powerful representative, the Pope. …

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