Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rite

In 1973 the movie The Exorcist turned heads, both on screen and literally. It was with some expectation that I was excited about the release of 2011’s The Rite starring Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant and Colin O’Donoghue as Michael Kovak. Kovak has just graduated from Seminary to become a priest and as quickly as he receives his credentials, he realizes he has questions of faith which will prevent him from accepting the collar. A professor recognizes his talents and believes he would be a suitable student to go to an Exorcism school in Rome. While there, his crisis of faith remains and he is soon sent to spend time with Father Lucas Trevant, played by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins it seems is a sort of exorcist in residence and it is here that Kovak is forced to look at the reality of good and evil in a new way. It is as Father Trevant points out in one scene to Kovak, “Be careful Michael, choosing not to believe in the devil doesn't protect you from him.” As the two spend time together, despite Kovak’s skepticism, his faith begins to grow in God as he realizes the reality of evil.

The Rite is made in a thought provoking way with more emphasis on story and the crisis of faith Kovak is going through than it does on the paranormal as many may have become accustomed to in exorcism movies. The film directed by, Mikael Håfström, does a good job of keeping the concept believable, while at the same time, entertaining and thought provoking. As is the norm with these types of films, the haunting musical score plays into the story line as does the dark scenes used throughout the film. While there are certain components that transfer over well into the Blu-ray format, there was a lacking of character development. I was originally supposed to have an interview with the author of the book which the stories are based on, Matt Baglio, but for some reason that interview fell through as I anxiously awaited the opportunity to ask questions regarding the real story and the story on screen. A credit to the plot is it does perk interest in the paranormal and the process of exorcism which has existed primarily within the Catholic and Christian belief system for some years. While many are skeptical of the concept, the evidence seems to indicate an abundance of proof as to these episodes.

The story starts out with a young Kovak working in his family’s mortuary. His father, Istvan Kovak, played by Rutger Hauer, has dealt with the loss of his wife and raised his son on his own. It is the family’s history that one either enters the priesthood or remains in the family business. Kovak has had enough of preparing dead bodies while growing up and decides to give the priesthood a chance. We see the family background played back primarily in flashback sequences. Unfortunately they are muddied and make it difficult to follow the story. There are moments where the viewers have their questions answered, but all too often, there are not enough answers and the questions we see asked seem forced in their answers.

In The Rite we see a crisis of faith not just in the character of Kovak, but also the life of Father Trevant. Father Trevant is based on a real life character that has performed over 2,000 exorcisms. His challenges, if true, would give reason for any student of this Rite, (if it is to be called a skill, calling or Rite) to be skeptical of following ‘the call.’

The Rite is filled with religious symbolism specific to Christianity. There are many interesting questions presented regarding the existence of evil, specific to Satan and his demons, and Christianity, specific to Jesus Christ. There are certain concepts of exorcism that is unique and consistent enough to cause one to wonder about the reality of evil. As portrayed in The Rite, the demonic and evil forces that inhabit the souls of people can cause them to do harm to themselves and/or others, and there is a hatred that exists between the demonic forces and the forces of God. There is no doubt in these portrayals, including The Rite, that ultimately the force of God has more power, and exhibits the abilities to overcome the forces of evil. That isn’t to say it doesn’t come at a cost though. The Rite does a good job of showing there is potential danger to the person being possessed and to the persons performing the exorcisms. It is the unknown aspects of exorcism and possession that provide the scary moments in the movie. The thought that the danger of possession could happen to the individual watching the film has certainly entered more than one mind while watching films like this. It should be recognized that ultimately the power of God prevails over the power of Satan. It is through the power of God that one has the ability to overcome.

Despite the flaws in The Rite, I found myself enjoying the story, especially the last 30 minutes of the film. While it took some time to get to the horror of the film, it does ultimately arrive. We don’t see the horrific scenes we may have come to expect, but we believe in the possibility of what we see on screen. In this regard The Rite stands a notch above many exorcism films. There are definite challenges to the concepts of possession the movie ponders and I like that. I do wish the movie would have had better character development and taken the time to explore especially the role of Kovak’s family.

The DVD also has some respectable special features and the Blu-ray transfer is quite nice both visual and its sound. The edition I have has a digital version, the Blu-ray and standard DVD. There are ample features that will have fans of this type of movie desiring to own it. I personally found the video worth more of a rental than a purchase. This one will get mixed reviews in that area. The questions one could ask, debate, and discuss would certainly be worth discussion, for example, does demon possession exist? What are the rights to perform exorcism? Can individuals outside of the Catholic faith perform appropriate exorcisms? How doe the Devil and his demons present themselves? How does the world of exorcism and mental illnesses coexist? How are they similar? How are they different? These questions and many more are worthy discussions, and The Rite certainly asks and addresses each of these to some extent. Does that make the film worth owning? I don’t know, I will say the questions it raises certainly makes it worth watching.

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