Nope, this is not about the Morse code distress signal. It’s about one of the recent novelties in moviedom, There be Dragons by two-time Oscar Nominee Roland Joffe of The Killing Fields and The Mission fame.
Saint on Screen (S.o.S). That’s the Dragon’s novelty. A big risk for Joffe and company because the theme of holiness is not exactly big in Hollywood. But Joffe is sold. And that’s the irony. A self-confessed agnostic is hooked by the story of a saint.
“I have no idea whether there’s a God or not, and it seemed to be a fascinating thing to think about…”
Joffe confesses that he originally didn’t make much of the project. He was about to refuse it when at the last minute, he saw a get-together of St. Josemaria Escriva in which the latter demonstrated an incredible openness by not forcing the issue of conversion to a Jewish girl to Catholicism against the wishes of her parents.
From then on, Joffe was hooked on the idea of reconciliation and forgiveness and his interest in the saint grew in crescendo. He did his research on the life and works of St. Josemaria until There be Dragons took shape. A veteran director, he knew just what angle would sell in Hollywood, hence, the focus on the saint’s experience during the bloody civil way in Spain.
“Here is a man who, in a time of civil strife, civil war – when God appeared to be silent – was an example of someone going through a spiritual crisis who never lost the sense that each human being is a saint, that every human being is deserving of love, and he lived that. That is saintliness. Those subjects are worthy of honest storytelling.”
The movie’s promise -and premise- is that to be a saint is to be fully human to the core. He talks about the freedom and power of choice. He depicts St. Josemaria as a priest who chose to stand by his priesthood despite the dangers to his life in a time of persecution. As a friend who honored his friendships despite betrayals. As a person who knew how to love men because he knew how to love God. He made choices that did not dehumanize.
“The question was: Will you be this kind of human being, acting in this kind of way? And one began to see (…) division occurring in Spain in an extraordinary way — a precedent for what was going to happen in Europe in the following years. And in this moment of time, there comes this young man who resists that pressure, who says, among many profound things, ‘Own your own acts, and never allow your decision-making to dehumanize others.’ That was a powerful thing to do at the time. I admired that message about him. I hope I could be that kind of human being.”
Sanctity in the 21st century. Or any century for that matter. It is possible. It is timeless. This, in a capsule, is the message of St. Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, a Personal Prelature of the Catholic Church. Any one, anywhere, anytime can and should be a saint. It’s actually simple, even an agnostic like Joffe got it.
For me, St Josemaria had two especially important messages: this idea that every human being could be a saint – and I notice he said ‘every human being,’ not every believer; and the second thing was the idea that God can be seen not only in church but in everyday acts.”
There be dragons. A Saint on Screen. You’re invited. Not only to see the movie, but to live the message.