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
‘A Mighty Heart’: ‘great acting ... impressive storytelling’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 2, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

The new Paramount Vantage film of the last days of the life of Daniel Pearl vividly brings us a detective story where we know the ending. A Mighty Heart, based on a book by Mariane Pearl, is both a thriller and a romance. The idyllic love relationship between Daniel (Dan Futterman) and Mariane (Angelina Jolie) is told mostly in flashbacks. The thriller aspect of the movie is shown with the stark realism of a documentary style. There are hand-held cameras that fill the story with anxiousness. The sounds of the streets of Pakistan are so realistic that you almost believe you are there and can smell the smells of the cities.

The story begins on the last day or two of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and his wife Mariane’s time together as he goes off to meet a mysterious Sheikh Gilani who is suppose to have information about the shoe bomber, Richard Reid. The meeting in 2002 is scheduled for a public restaurant that is supposed to provide some safety. All of a sudden, after a diner party that Daniel was scheduled to arrive home for, Mariane and her husband’s assistant begin to worry that something very dangerous and threatening has happened. At this point the movie begins to gather detectives and newspaper associates at the place where Mariane is staying in Karachi. Then we have an intriguing police procedural film which is filled with excitement.

Angelina Jolie plays Mariane with a dignity that allows her to show the feelings that are pulsing through her. When she is said by someone else how great it is that she is in control of her feelings, she lets loose with her anger and disbelief at the statement. The scene of complete emotion as she confronts the initial revelation of her husband’s death is intense. Some might feel it is overdone. But if you are into the story, it seems plausible and real.

There are scenes of prayer and religious celebration in the film. Several times we see Buddhist believer Mariane kneeling in prayer at a small shrine in her home. We see the earlier Jewish wedding filled with love and ceremony in Paris some years before. Numerous times as each day passes we see the loudspeakers of the mosques of the city calling people to prayer.

The film is certainly from the point of view of Mariane Pearl, and is a film which she knows her son Adam, born after the death of his father, will one day watch. It is a film that is deeply personal and yet touches the feelings of the viewer. Mariane, like her husband, was a journalist – in her case, for French radio and television. Her story is told with the dispassion of a journalist. But with quick takes and wonderful angles, director Michael Winterbottom makes the film move at lightening speed, with lots of tension.

The supporting cast, which includes Asra Nomani as Daniel’s assistant, Irrfan Khan as the head detective, and Denis O Hare as Daniel’s boss, are all excellent.

A Mighty Heart has had trouble finding a large audience when it came to theaters in late June. My guess is that many just don’t want to go to a film when they already know its tragic ending. But A Mighty Heart is a very good film that has an excellent story about a devastating event. It deserves to be seen for its great acting and impressive storytelling.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R, because of language. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting has rated the film A-III – for adults.

Book Review

For 11 years during my time at Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman, I was a member of the monthly World Religion Dialogue at the K-House, close to the WSU campus. We had representatives from many of the religions of the world, including Judaism, Islam and Hinduism. Each month during the school year we would discuss a topic, such as God, or funeral practices from the different religions. It was one of the highlights of my life. My memory of the content of the participants on Islam was a discussion of a peaceful, prayerful God-centered religion.

Some months ago on C-SPAN I saw an articulate, impressive woman of Somali-Dutch background answer questions on the personal experience of Islam in her life. Her statements, based on her African and Saudi Arabian experience, gave a much darker view of Islam. After being a member of Parliament in Holland, she is now at a Washington D.C. think-tank. Her name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali and her new memoir is titled Infidel. It was published this year in hardcover at $26 by Free Press of New York.

The first half of Infidel takes place in and around Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya. With the skill of a fine writer, Hirsi Ali tells the story of growing up, from very young years until her 20s, with a separated Mom and Dad and a brother and sister. We walk with her through economic difficulties, beatings, religious education, and female genital mutilation. She obviously loves her Mom and Dad and has all the conflicts with a brother and sister that would be typical in any family.

Her religious practice goes from intense to questioning. The first half of the book is the more difficult section to read, as we experience the emotions of her dramatic journey to young adulthood.

In the second half of the book, which I found easier to read, Hirsi Ali escapes an arranged marriage to which she has said “no” by leaving a plane in Germany and asking for asylum in Holland after she has crossed the border into the new country.

Here she vividly tells us her story as an immigrant in a new and strange country that lets her be free in ways she had never thought possible. We see her begin the process of becoming legalized and eventually a citizen. We follow her as a translator for Somali persons in Holland. She finds that much of the control and sexism she has confronted is still present in the Somali communities of Holland. She studies first at a technical college and then, as she masters Dutch, goes after a university degree in political science. Eventually she is invited to run for Parliament on the Liberal (free market) ticket. Her critique of Islam makes her well-known throughout Holland. She wins with a higher vote total than ever expected.

She feels compelled to leave the Muslim religion and says that she is an atheist. She asks the film director Theo van Gogh to film a 10-minute critique of Islam which she titles “Submission.” Theo is dramatically killed by a Muslim. Hirsi Ali takes a great deal of guilt on her shoulders as she blames herself for the death of her friend. And then she is endangered and we live through the intense events of a person being protected by the federal police and moved from place to place, even to a small town in the United States.

Without doubt, Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes with passion as she tells us, from her point of view, the damage she has seen done to woman throughout her lived-out experience of Islam in Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Holland. I do think her sincere reporting of what to her are definitely facts needs to be balanced with the stories of Americans who are believers of Islam as a religion of peace.

I marvel at Ayaan Hirsi All’s intellect and skills. And I’m not so sure the story of her religious unbelief is the final chapter. She must be heard, but I don’t think she is the only voice to which we should be listening.

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

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