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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Prisoners

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano star in a scene from the movie "Prisoners."
Any film that begins with a character earnestly reciting the Our Father is well calculated to grab the attention of Christian viewers. And, in the case of the powerful drama "Prisoners" (Warner Bros.), such concentration on the part of believers will be, in some respects at least, well rewarded by what follows.

Yet, for all its thematic and symbolic richness, this foray into psychological darkness is too bleak to pass for casual fare. Weighty but wrenching, it can only be endorsed for older moviegoers of considerable fortitude.

The voice delivering the Lord's Prayer belongs to devout family man Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman). A working stiff in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania suburb, Keller is a seemingly decent man who operates by traditional values.

His commitment to such ethics is put to the test, however, by a horrifying scenario: On a rainy Thanksgiving Day, Keller's 6-year-old daughter Anna disappears, together with one of her playmates. It soon becomes apparent that the girls have been kidnapped, and suspicion focuses on mentally challenged local loner Alex Jones (Paul Dano).

Though the lead investigator on the case, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), takes Jones in for questioning, the evidence against him is insufficient to press charges. Outraged by Jones' release, and desperate to locate Anna, Keller turns vicious vigilante. He abducts Jones at gunpoint and holds him prisoner while trying to beat information out of him.

Loki, meanwhile, doggedly pursues other angles, eventually uncovering a hidden web of satanically evil events and relationships.

Though it presents the facade of a thriller, director Denis Villeneuve's film is primarily an exploration of the human condition, including the chain reaction by which sin begets sin, as well as of the role of religious faith in a fallen world.

Keller is never identified with a particular denomination, and the question of his specific beliefs is muddled by the fact that his devotions include both Catholic and Protestant prayers. But he is a test case for faith under fire and an illustration of the dangers involved in any attempt to make the ends justify the means.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski's script is unflinching in its portrayal of the increasingly brutal measures to which Keller is driven. Add to that such seamy details as an incidental priest figure who is both a sex offender and an alcoholic, and it becomes clear that "Prisoners" requires of its audience not only a capacity for grim material but mature interpretive skills as well.

The film contains harrowing violence, including beatings, torture and a gory suicide, mature themes, a negative treatment of Catholic clergy, at least one use of profanity and constant rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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