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Lourdes: an exercise in theodicy

Lourdes, a new film about the French Marian shrine from a secular art-house perspective, has won acclaim in the secular press and prizes on the independent film circuit.

In the film, Christine (Sylvie Testud), a young woman who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is confined to her wheelchair, travels to Lourdes with the Order of Malta. We learn that Christine goes on pilgrimages in order to travel (It’s not easy to travel in a wheelchair, she says) and that she preferred Rome to Lourdes. She is not particularly religious. The pilgrims do all the typical Lourdes things, visit the baths, pray, go to confession, Benediction, Mass.

Madame Hartl, an elderly and pious lady who shares a room with Christine, starts looking after her. She wheels Christine to the front of the crowd at Benediction, prays for her, makes sure she goes to the baths. A miracle happens and Christine is able to walk again.

America Magazine’s Fr James Martin (chaplain to the Colbert Report and author of My Life with the Saints) gives the film a rave review.

For him, the film perfectly depicts the humanity and reality of Lourdes.

He writes: “Overall, “Lourdes” reminded me of the film “Into Great Silence,” about the Grande Chartreuse monastery (and not simply because I saw it in the same theater!) Quiet, slow, deliberate, important, mysterious, profound.”

Fr Martin’s optimistic review of the film—he describes his companion describing Madame Hartl as God—is token to the strength of his faith.

My own reading of the film was very different: I saw it as an exercise in theodicy where God loses. In a quiet dispassionate way, Jessica Hausner, the film’s Austrian director, paints a bleak picture of a world where fate is a blind, arbitrary force and human beings clutch at the straws of faith, half-truths in their cowardly despair. The suffering are not healed, human nature is selfish and the problem of pain is not solved. God can’t exist because he isn’t fair. Christianity offers a web of half-truths obscuring a nihilistic reality.

This week I interviewed Hausner and she gave an interesting insight on the film. The article will be up on the website later this week as will Andrew M Brown’s review of the film. But here is a taster:

“The film wants to show the ambivalence of a miracle: the miracle is a metaphor for fate: people have their wishes and longings, their hope to find fulfilment in life or a kind of salvation. But they have to face the ambiguity of fate. There is no such promise to be kept. You might be a good person but still you might not achieve what you are longing for. There is no justice.

“When I did the journeys to Lourdes I was looking for different characters who could personalise different points of view, what you might expect from a miracle. The different characters are all part of this ambiguity. Each of them has a different point of view and expresses another aspect of what is happening. And still you find out that no one’s right, that no one has the right answer for it but there is no one who finds a satisfying answer. This is what the film is really about.

“Yes it’s possible that something truly miraculous is happening but what next, what does this miracle tell us? Does it give us any hints or clues about what to expect next? And the ending of the film is this consciousness of decay. That even if you find your happiness you might not be able to keep it.”

Lourdes opens at Chelsea Cinema, Curzons Richmond & Soho, Renoir & Key Cities cinemas on Friday March 26.

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Written by annaarco

March 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm

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  1. […] are somewhat divergent reviews on Catholic Commentary and Anna Arco’s Diary. My view is somewhere in-between and, FWIW, I loved the main character. Worth seeing if you get a […]


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