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:
Despite errors and exaggerations, ‘Angels & Demons’ a ‘good thriller,’ but don’t take it seriously

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the June 11, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

It is summer season for movies. The movie companies are releasing big blockbuster films each week. This year in the midst of severe recession the movie industry is up 16 percent in sales and 13 percent in attendance.

One of the big “popcorn” movies recently released is Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons. The movie is based on the popular book by Dan Brown that was published before The Da Vinci Code. The movie treats this story as a sequel to The Da Vinci Code.

If you ignore the many mistakes or exaggerations in history and science, Angels and Demons can be seen as an intriguing thriller that on many levels is way over the top. At the least the film has removed the preposterous piece that was in the book, about one of the main characters jumping out of a helicopter and being saved by his suit coat catching the air and acting as a parachute. This change is indeed a blessing.

Harvard University’s Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), whom we remember from the first film, is called to Rome by Vatican authorities. An antimatter bomb that will destroy the Vatican has been place there by a secret society call the Illuminati as revenge for the Church’s persecution in the 17th century. In reality, the secret society was not founded until the 18th century in Bavaria, and was a pretty tame group that does not exist now.

Langdon meets with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), who helped develop the antimatter that was stolen from the CERN facility in Switzerland. They are then to follow various clues and go down lots of manhole covers to try to save four cardinals who are being held captive and are scheduled to be killed every hour for four hours in different churches throughout Rome.

While this is all happening, a papal election is taking place that the Illuminati are trying to control. The four cardinals in danger of death are the prime candidates to be the next pope.

So Angels and Demons is fast-paced as Langdon attempts to follow the clues and save the cardinals, all the while explaining to Vittoria (and us) what is happening.

The film has considerable violence as people are killed in very gruesome ways. If you take the whole thing as pretty cartoonish it may not bother you. If you don’t see movie violence even of a cartoonish-type very often this film could well bother you.

The amazing feat of the movie is that through the use of computers, you would hardly realize that the film company was not allowed to film at St. Peter Basilica, the Vatican, or several churches in Rome. It is my understanding with the amazing power of computers, St. Peter Basilica was done on a southern California parking lot.

Angels and Demons is an enjoyable movie for the person who likes a good thriller. The acting is serviceable. The external pomp and circumstance of Roman Catholicism are convincingly pictured. But one would hope director Ron Howard would return to making high-quality movies like A Beautiful Mind.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Angels and Demons PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rates the film as L-for Limited Adult Audience – films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.

Book Reviews

This spring I have been reading a great classic book on Mary that has been reprinted in softcover by Christian Classics of Notre Dame for the list price of $11.95. The book is Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God, first published in England over 65 years ago.

Houselander has a beautiful opening section on Mary’s emptiness that she connects to three metaphors: a reed, a chalice, and a bird’s nest. She beautifully weaves details about each of these objects into an explanation of the power exemplified in the emptiness of Mary. In that humility we find the key to her gift of Christ to the world.

One of the key themes of the book is based on the Biblical account of Jesus remaining at the Temple for three days while his parents frantically searched for him. For Houselander, Mary is always looking for Jesus, and at the same time letting him go, especially up to his Passion and death. Mary does this so that we will be able to walk with her in our lives as we seek to find the Christ, and day by day come closer to him.

At times, Houselander challenges the reader to look at life with new eyes and examine the journey to and with Christ. In her chapter titled “Idols” she strongly proclaims: “Above all, how is it that those in whom the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of fire and light, truth, beauty, wisdom, and love – abides can so often be narrow, bigoted, timid, mediocre, dull and tepid, impotent in spirit, prudish, detached, suspicious and careful at the very marriage of heaven and Earth?”

On the more positive side, in the same chapter she says, “What we are asked to do is to be made one with Christ, to allow him to abide in us, to make his home in us, and gradually, through the oneness that results from living one life and through the miracles of his love, consummated again and again in Communion with him to become Christs, to live in him as Our Lady did. When we are changed into him as the bread into the Host, then with his power we can follow his example.”

For the most part, The Reed of God could be written today. Sure, there are some references to military service personnel fighting in World War II, but for the most part, Houselander easily speaks across the years to us today. She makes the Blessed Virgin Mary come alive as a person. In so doing Houselander continually draws us to Mary’s Son.

The Reed of God is a true gift for today’s reader, as it was for many in years long past.


When I was in Pullman last January, parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish, and Father Joe Schmidt at St. Mary Parish in Moscow, Idaho, asked if I had read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time. I had not, but I sensed a lot of enthusiasm for the book. It is written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, and published by Penguin Books in large-size paperback at a list price of $15.

Well, having finally got to this wonderful biography of Mortenson, I too found it a fascinating and inspiring book.

Mortenson, originally from Wisconsin, is a mountain climber who spent much of his life as a child and a teen growing up in Africa, when his parents were Lutheran missionaries.

The story opens with Mortenson attempting to climb K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in September of 1993. He fails to make it to the top and has an extremely difficult time getting down the mountain to safety. His porter, Mouzafer Ali, leads him to safety off the Baltoro Glacier and takes him to his village, Korphe, in the very remote part of Pakistan. It is in that village that the people slowly nurse Mortenson back to health. In thanksgiving Mortenson promises to return with $20,000 to build a school for the young people of the village.

The story of how Mortenson returns to the United States and, with much travail and some luck, finally obtains the necessary money and returns to Korphe, is a real page-turner. And then he has to learn to trust the villagers and let them take control of building the school.

Thus begins an obsession-like effort to build schools especially for girls all over the remote areas of Pakistan. Some 55 schools were built in a 10-year period.

Until page 225 we continually see the heroic side of Mortenson, although we well know his family life is limited and the amount of sleep he receives each day is slight. Mortenson is driven, and certainly that is part of the reason he has been able to do so much good for so many.

Some of the stories of Mortenson’s endeavors, especially in the Taliban regions, read like a major thriller. For Catholics, the section on Mortenson in Calcutta, on his way home to Bozeman, Mont., is especially interesting. He was able to be present in the chapel where the body of Blessed Mother Teresa was placed for visitation and prayer. She had been one of the great heroes of his life.

One of Mortenson’s friends, Haji Ali, who was the Village Chief of Korphe, is quoted as explaining the title of the book: “Here we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die.”

In light of the recent violent events in Pakistan, Three Cups of Tea has even more reason to be read. But above all, you will find a series of memorable events, told beautifully.

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

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