Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
Scorsese fills ‘The Departed’ with Catholic imagery; at the bookstores, ‘The Kite Runner,’ ‘The Theocons’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Oct. 26, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review
Several years ago, it was pure torture to sit through an extremely violent film, Gangs of New York, directed by Martin Scorsese. And I did not see where a miscast Leonardo DiCaprio was much of an actor.

Scorsese’s new film, The Departed, also is filled with brutal violence and foul language. But it appears to be a near masterpiece. And DiCaprio proves he is a great actor along with an powerful cast. The screenplay, by William Monahan, is outstanding. It is based on a 2002 Hong Kong film titled Infernal Affairs that was not widely seen in the United States. The editing, by Thelma Schoonmaker, is especially fast-paced for the first 45 minutes or so. Scorsese’s direction makes sense of an extremely complicated plot in a thrilling way.

Boston Irish crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is kind to a poor young Colin Sullivan. Later Sullivan (Matt Damon) graduates with highest honors from the Massachusetts state police academy. Colin than becomes Costello’s mole within the police investigating organized crime.

Meanwhile, a Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) browbeat Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to become the police informant who infiltrates Boss Costello’s gang.

Ironically, both Sullivan and Costigan fall in love with the same woman, who is the shrink for the police department, who treats criminals as well as cops, thus enabling Costigan to see her. He has been in jail as a set-up so he could infiltrate the mob. The woman, Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), has no idea the two men are in such compromised positions. And the men have no idea that Madolyn knows both of them.

For Billy, being the snitch among gangsters pushes him toward pills, to take away some of his anxiety. Colin seems relaxed and compartmentalized in his life as the gangs’ secret man within the police department.

As the movie progresses towards its climax, the suspense is non-stop. Many a time you have no idea what is going to happen.

As in most of Scorsese’s films, there are icons of Catholicism throughout. We have nuns and priests, although this time there are several references to the priest abuse sexual scandals. Costello is particularly scatological in his comments and drawings to and about priests. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is on several walls. Someone is hit over the head with a Sacred Heart painting. There are several funerals and a Mass. There are children dressed as angels following nuns in habits. Religion is made fun of. Religion goes to the core of some of the characters. Religion is a part of daily life.

Mark Wahlberg as Sergeant Dignam is so good, if he doesn’t get the Academy Award for best male supporting actor, there ain’t no justice in this world. Matt Damon is very good, as you would expect. But it is Nicholson and Dicaprio who give this movie heart and passion. If you can take the language and the violence, The Departed is a tragedy that you will long remember.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates The Departed R-Restricted (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) because of violence, language, sexual content and drug use. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

Book Reviews

One Sunday after Mass this summer at Assumption Parish in Walla Walla, a parishioner asked me if I had read the new novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I said that I was not familiar with it. She said I needed to read it.

Recently I finished the book, published by Riverhead Books in softcover at $14. And the parishioner was right on target. I thoroughly enjoyed this affecting story of familial relationships from the relative peace of 1975 in Afghanistan to the reign of terror of the Taliban.

Amir, the sensitive son of Baba, grows up in a safe and upper middle class life in Kabul. As Amir grows from six or so through the important pre-teen years, his friendship grows with the son of a servant family at his father’s estate. That good friend is Hassan. Even though they are separated by class and background, the good friends have an almost idyllic childhood in pre-revolutionary Afghanistan. Not everything is perfect. Amir feels distant from his Dad, whom he often doesn’t understand. All this leads up to a beautiful day when there is a contest among many boys to have the last kite floating in the wind. It is on that day that a dramatic event takes place that ends the friendship of Amir and Hassan.

Amir and Baba leave Afghanistan for America during the Soviet Occupation. The story really moves ahead in intensity when, years later, the newly married Amir returns from California to Taliban-controlled Kabul. There he seeks redemption for his failure on the day he won the kite contest with the help Hassan.

The Kite Runner is a beautifully told story of sin and redemption with almost Biblical overtones. It is a story of the love and failure to communicate that can be at the core of some father and son relationships. At times it is exceedingly violent. It brings us face to face with unbelievable fear and coercion. The public spectacle at a soccer game during the Taliban period is reminiscent of Nero’s Rome.

And yet, Amir as an adult comes back to his Muslim faith. This moving story in a distant place touches our souls.

The Kite Runner from it roots in Afghanistan speaks to us with a common universality. It is well worth reading.

*****

Damon Linker is the former editor of the Catholic opinion magazine First Things. The founder of that magazine is Father Richard John Neuhaus, who is a former Lutheran pastor. Linker has written a new critique of his former employer and his friends in the new book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege.

The question that was on my mind from the beginning of reading this book was why an important co-worker turned against the ideas of his mentor so dramatically?

In the Acknowledgments at the end of the book, Linker speaks of his father helping him think his way “out of some recent confusions.” He thanks his wife for “sticking by me and us – through an awful period in our lives that at times seemed interminable.” To his colleagues and Richard John Neuhaus, Linker says, “My break from the theocons had nothing to do with personal animus. It was about ideas and their practical effects. Once I became convinced that the ideology promulgated by the magazine for which I worked was having a significant negative influence on the country, I reluctantly concluded that I had to do what I could to counteract that influence.”

Linker’s thesis in The Theocons is that a small group of religious zealots led by Father Neuhaus have injected their radical religious ideas into the nation’s politics.

The book begins with the radical transformation of Michael Novak and Richard Neuhaus from 1960s liberal radicals to strong conservatives anxious to have their ideas adopted by as many as possible by founding think tanks and magazines. As the book progresses, George Weigel is brought in as the third key figure.

The book argues that these three Catholics in particular influenced public opinion to their point of view as they allied their movement with powerful conservative Catholic forces within the Church and engineered a theological and ideological alliance with Protestant evangelicals.

I personally find the argument of the book overreaching. I do believe these three men and others have influenced the political and theological debate in the last 20 years. But do they have such power as Linker attributes to them? I am not convinced.

However, you do not have to agree with the thesis of the book to find it interesting and informative. The section on the influence of First Things and its writers leading up to the invasion of Iraq is fascinating. The so-called theocons have quite a bit of maneuvering to do as they push for the war and Pope John Paul II speaks out against it. The sections on appointments to the Court and the background on some bishops refusing Holy Communion to some Democratic candidates is very interesting.

From his vantage point at First Things, Damon Linker gives lots of interesting information on this Conservative Catholic movement and its connections to seats of power. There are hundreds of lively footnotes.

For the pages of information on recent history of Church and government, The Theocons is a treasure trove for both Conservative and Liberals in Church and government.

The Theocons is published in hardcover by Doubleday at $26.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)


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