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Stigmata (1999)

Written by Tom Lazarus & Rick Ramage Directed by Rupert Wainwright

The topic of religion can often be perceived as a rather intense subject; so much so that I choose to discuss such within the confines of my already deviate mind (to deter from arguing about such ‘silly’ matters). Though there would seem no shortage of what people are willing to say when it comes to media outlets of any kind. Whether adding their own spin on certain religious content or fabricating such ideas all together, one thing is fairly certain. That it does its job of stirring up the masses.

Stigmata touches on the Gospel of Thomas, which had been discovered in 1945 in Egypt, near Cairo. With claims of being the actual word of the all mighty spoken down to his disciples. However wildly discarded by the Church as it remained a book of sayings opposed to showing any physical miracle or fulfillment of prophecy being done. With evidence for both sides as to whether any validity could be attributed to such.

In the film we follow Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne); a Vatican Scientist who worked for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Overseen by the Roman Curia, they were meant to investigate any claimed miracles throughout the world as well as determine any who would enter sainthood. Because while the Church may have been willing to accept the idea of a miracle, they were in no way going to enable the act either. Though initially sent in for another assignment, Andrew catches wind of a more interesting case while in Rio de Janeiro attached to the death of Father Alameida (Jack Donner). A statue of the Virgin Mary having since wept blood causing people to collect and worship; willing one particular individual to even steal his rosary and sell it immediately at the nearby market. Pawned off onto some tourist who didn’t heed the merchants warning and sends the item with a few other tokens to her fortunate daughter in Pittsburgh.

Though Frankie (Patricia Arquette) disregards such gifts as though no new gesture from her mother. Constantly in and out of her life, spending such time traveling around the world. Her free-spirited self enjoying ‘living it up’ with close friends Donna (Nia Long) and Jennnifer (Portia de Rossi) who all worked at a salon of many trades. Ultimately no cares in the world; that is until one afternoon in her apartment when stricken with an overwhelming sensation that ends up creating lacerations on her wrists. Rushed to the Hospital where it’s believed to have been done by her own hands. Only such incidents growing worse as they began to resemble the marks received by Christ, ultimately gaining attention from the Vatican. Undergoing tests that determine Epilepsy to be the only explanation behind such events. Which in turn leads the investigating Preacher (Andrew) to assist in the severity of such. Though not entirely convinced, certainly intrigued by Frankie and her story the more he seemed to surround himself with her. Contacting Father Delmonico (Dick Latessa) with hopes that he could shed some light on the situation. Informed of how Father Alameida had spent his last days transcribing the Gospel of Thomas, thought to have been taken with him to the grave. With intent on keeping such hidden, there seemed little that Cardinal Houseman (Jonathan Pryce) wouldn’t do to ensure his people found the scroll before Andrew.

The film itself, varying in a few directions as to what exactly its main point may have been. Overall something more of its time as opposed to anything that held any staying power. This being around when End of Days and Bless the Child were also released with a shared theme of hypocrisy of sorts through the church mixed with a modern edge, making them appear “cool.” Which can be an interesting point of view to begin with. The opening credits for Stigmata alone as though some music video someone on too many drugs found amusement in editing. The songs played throughout funny in that I can’t say for sure I’ve ever found the Bible and its ultimate word to be so…cool? However the tone of the film ultimately mediocre. The acts of Stigmata occur so rapidly and while we were perhaps meant to feel sympathy for this poor girl, why should we? She wasn’t particularly good, nor bad. However not religious (as what occurs with most cases). Yet due to her poor mothers judgement, doomed to undergo such heinous acts in order to pass along the word of our Lord and Savior? I’m not buying it. With an ending thrown together quickly so as to connect any missing pieces. Andrew returning to Alameida’s church and discovering the translated pages in what had to have been a most obvious location. Having performed a exorcism (prior to acquiring) which was obviously rushed for time purposes (spent elaborating on Frankie’s lifestyle excessively). Almost as though finishing the film and then realizing that they had yet to include some way of obtaining the Gospel. With the relationship between Andrew and Frankie only awkward in that, what kind of Preacher was he exactly?! Letting himself comfortable pretty quickly; did he forget a set of vows he may have taken? Simply unnecessary for the story itself and added undoubtedly as a means of creating some type of sympathetic angle, or relationship for Frankie when not needed.

Considering the acting, there weren’t too many characters attached to the script to even have an opinion on. Certainly some familiar faces which neither attributed or took away from the film, as their roles were sufficient as is. Gabriel Byrne having the sort of presence that makes you think twice about his character. So in that aspect I could perfectly see him being some investigating Preacher while simultaneously flirting with the character of Frankie. But for what the story was trying to portray it didn’t feel as though they had made a good choice. He did go on to play Satan (almost immediately after) in End of Days which was by far more fitting. He just looks the type to always have some evil plot brewing. With Patricia Arquette being a bit of a sore subject for myself. Having always shared the same opinion about her which is that while she’s never been a great talent, she is fantastic as far as theatrics go. Perhaps just something that runs in her genes. However a quality that seems to work in her favor regardless. Some of the best scenes in this film being when possessed and despite the voice used not being her own, showing a range of emotion that few others can truly display. But unfortunately, that depth only went so far. Not entirely a loss of a film as it had its entertaining aspects. It just had to be thrown into the pile of all the other unmemorable thrillers that were circulating around the era.