4 out of 5 stars
One of the most confronting aspects of the Christian faith can be trying to rectify or justify exposing people to stories that involve the failings of humanity. Addressing issues like substance abuse, sexual content, the demeaning treatment of humanity, lying and murder. These are more concerning when these narratives are found in the first book of the Bible. Genesis and many of the other books contain many confronting aspects of the human condition. Yet, we have no problem encouraging people to read and study these words extensively. Which presents a juxtaposition when Christians discourage audiences from seeing films that contain Biblical themes, but happen to include many of the elements mentioned previously.
This quandary becomes evident when watching the award-winning Polish film, Corpus Christi. A tale from the creative team of director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz, who bring to life the deceptive and redemptive world of the criminal named Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia). Based loosely on actual events, the story is one that brutally introduces a nefarious mixture of sin, heartbreak, redemption and hope.
On the eve of his release from a detention centre, the supposedly rehabilitated criminal turns to the one man who has helped him to consider the inmate's emotional and spiritual awakening. Father Tomasz (Łukasz Simlat) has seen a marked change in this young inmate, but the spiritual leader must be honest with Daniel. Specifically that there is no way for him to apply for seminary. Which means that the only option for the former prisoner is to enter into a trade at a local sawmill. A life that he is willing to accept, until he arrives in the small community and sees that he is merely moving from one life of detainment to another prison. So, the convicted felon decides to go to the only place that he has ever felt peace, the local church.
While praying in the pews, he manages to meet the local vicar and introduces himself as a recently ordained priest. Then through a series of happenstances, the senior man of the cloth is rushed off to the hospital and Daniel is asked to fill in for the elder’s duties of confession, preaching and communion. Relying on his training in prison, he discovers that he has learned much and manages to convince the village that he is the right man for this temporary role. His fresh perspective and unorthodox tactics begin to endear the fake priest to the small community. But when the older priest cannot return for some time, the young deceiver's lies begin to deepen and the fear of exposure grows as each day passes.
What is evident from the outset of Pacewicz’s screenplay is that he desires to viciously peel back the skin of this young man’s life, while still trying to honour the Catholic church. The writer shows the tragic nature of many who desire a fresh start in life, but come up against the consequences of their life choices. Even though the central character does find solace and hope in the church, there is always the shadow of his own self-betrayal. Which leads the story down a path that contains a disturbing blend go Biblical elements wrapped up a multitude of world layers.
To put this vision into Jan Komasa’s daunting and creative hands, this is a journey that tries to shine light into the deep recesses of the unforgiving human heart. This combination proves to be particularly distressing, because this insight depicts some of the best examples of living out the Christian faith. It shows the deepest despair that can be expressed by mankind and how truly wicked society can be towards one another. Despite being based on a lie, Daniel’s life becomes an example of a man truly desiring to be rehabilitated. While he holds onto many of his vices, his actions of servitude and words of hope are examples worth considering.
Corpus Christi will leave viewers feeling battered and bruised upon leaving the theatre, especially with the traditionally brutal Polish conclusion. Yet, it is a film that is difficult to get out of your mind, because it manages to seep into your thoughts and sink its talons into your conscience. Even though it contains excessive violence, substance abuse, sexual content and deception, it does provide something to ponder. This story has the potential to get people contemplating the message of the Bible more than any other movie this year. All that to be said, this review must come with a strong caution that this film will only be palatable and appealing to discerning and mature adults who enjoy an international, art-house film.
The central character manages to show that you cannot hold to only portions of the message of the Bible and find satisfaction. Yet, Daniel’s willingness to serve this community through his interpretation of biblical principles proves to be confronting to anyone who claims to be Christian. You must take time to talk through the themes of redemption, hope, sacrifice and mercy that are depicted on the screen with someone afterwards.
Following this potentially robust conversation, this would be a natural segue to consider reading segments of the Bible. Engaging with the communities and characters at the beginning of Genesis and then jumping over to the narrative of Luke would enrich the conversation even more. Seeing how this book proves that the heart of man has not changed throughout history. Yet, unlike the hopeless conclusion offered by the film, Corpus Christi, the hope-filled message of the Bible provides an answer to the quandary of the human condition.