“Franciscan” Cinema

As we begin to investigate the plethora of material about Francis in order to better know and follow him, we begin this week with cinema: Brother Sun Sister Moon, Francesco, and Into the Wild. All of the movies share a “franciscan” spirit, but differ greatly in style and content.

I’m sorry to all of you that grew up in the 1960s and 70s, but this movie was awful. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (the same guy who did Romeo and Juliet), everything about this movie reflects the hippie culture in which it was made. Focusing almost exclusively on Francis’ connection with nature, the movie is filled with scenes of him running through flowery fields, smiling and singing to animals, and carelessly and aimlessly frolicking through life like someone on psychedelic drugs. I found him to be very socially awkward and out of touch, two things that Francis very much was not.

Undoubtedly aware of the frilly, hippie-like depictions of Francis that are very common, Francesco attempted to place Francis, in all of his raw humanity, accurately into the 13th century world. Using fairly graphic images, it follows him through his experience of pride and indulgence in his youth, barbaric tragedies while he was at war, and real struggles with pain, lust, confusion, and ridicule after his conversion. There is a relatable humanity in his experience, and a realism in his conversion. Poverty appears to be the most emphasized aspect of this movie, but it does an adequate job of showing the development of brotherhood (even showing the disorganization and mutiny that ensued, showing the real human problems that he faced).

The last movie we watched was not about Francis per se, but dealt with a number of issues that Francis did in his early life. Into the Wild is a movie about a college graduate that feels alienated by his upper middle class family, confined by society’s definitions of “free,” and “happy,” and in search of a life with deeper meaning than money can buy. Without telling his parents, he gives away his money, burns his social security card, and sets out to live in complete isolation from all forms of society, finding life outside of society to be the height of existence (in a nonconformist and escapism sort of way). As a rugged individual too guarded for intimacy, he begins to shape the lives of those he encounters, but refuses to see any one of them as more than utilitarian in his own life. It’s only at the very end of his journey that he realizes, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Each movie had a quality to it that I found very endearing, while also having some major flaws. From what I read about Francis and what drew me to this life, was that his conversion was motivated by love of his brother and sister, seeking to be a humble servant to all as Jesus did. Though he expressed this by regaining touch with God’s creation, lowering himself in status and power, and leaving his old self behind, he did not find any one of these things to be an end in themselves. Some aspects of the movies captured his humanity quite well, depicting him as an ENFP (or at least that’s how I see him); other aspects romanticized him a bit too much, stripping him of any flaw or human quality. I think the latter is a great detriment to his life. Ultimately, each captures a unique aspect of the great man that I find so inspiring and hope to be worthy of following some day.

2 Comments on ““Franciscan” Cinema

  1. Casey,
    1970’s hippie type here, smiling broadly at your assessment of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” Given your comments, I’m guessing you didn’t like the music too much either, which has always been my favorite thing about that movie. Sung by Donovan for the movie, he never recorded the music commercially otherwise. I do have a couple of the songs from the movie recorded by Buddy Comfort on my Ipod, which ironically, had come up in a random shuffle of 900+ songs when I looked at your blog and saw you were going to see the film.
    Before you’re too hard on the film, itself, may I offer the advice given by my children’s literature professor in grad school when she was teaching us to write reviews: “Always try to look sympathetically on what the author was trying to do.”
    Take care and enjoy the journey.
    Pax et bonem,
    Mary Louise

  2. Haha! We also have Brother Sun/Sister Moon at home – I’ll have to brush off the dust and watch it again. We purchased it many years ago, watched it once and considered it one for the “dust pile”! Coming from the Cole Family, where movies have been a way of life, you definitely have the right to your opinion of a good movie vs. a bad one. Mary Louise, being a woman of the 60’s myself, I’ll try it again but … 🙂

    I’m enjoying your posts immensely, Casey! P.S. Patrick just pulled away and is heading to his new life in NYC to join cousin Chris and the rest of New York!!! Mom was left at the front door in tears. Please keep him in your prayers. I told him God is in New York too so he’d have to look Him up!
    Aunt Mary

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