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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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