Stigmata (The Movie, The Concept)
I’m attracted, to be sure, by a certain genre of mystical, overheated Catholic-oriented movies — like today’s subject, Stigmata, but also The Mission, The Third Miracle, The Exorcist.
Stigmata was released in 1999, stars Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne, was directed by Rupert Wainwright, certainly didn’t make box-office millions, but has gained a second life on HBO, video, etc. The poster for the movie luridly takes an image of Patricia Arquette in extremis from the movie (crown of thorns, bloody wrists) and adds the blurb, “The messenger must be silenced.” Well, fair enough, considering the Vatican authorities’ investigation into her case, but on the other hand, “Oh, C’mon.”
The blurb makes the movie out to be yet another opus dei expose of the hollow core of the Roman Catholic church, yet again out to stifle any evidence of the miraculous. And yes, the arc of the movie does follow that line, but that’s not what interests me.
What interests me is Frankie Paige, and her struggles. She lives in New York City, cuts hair, hangs out in rather loud clubs, drinks a lot, goes home with guys she barely knows. In sum, Frankie is in trouble. Early in the movie, she confides to a friend that she might be pregnant, and in the following scene has some kind of fit in the subway — it’s a screaming fit, scares everybody in the car with her, and involves visions of herself being tortured. She ends up in the hospital, with the marks of nails having been driven through her wrists. She’s put on suicide watch, which she objects to: “You think I did this to myself? I’d never do this to myself, I’m a happy person. Ask anyone!” Her doctor also thinks you might have epilepsy and tells her she wasn’t pregnant.
Gabriel Byrne arrives on the scene soon after (we’ve been introduced to him already, in the context of a miracle in Brazil). He’s a scientist\priest, a Vatican investigator whose job is basically to debunk miracles.
You can probably see where this story line is going, more or less has to go. But Byrne’s character, Father Andrew Kiernan, says something interesting early on: “Frankie, the stigmata is manifested in people who are in deep spiritual pain.” And that’s Frankie exactly.
The remainder of the movie works out Frankie’s increasing downward slide, her troubling visions and fits, Fr. Kiernan’s efforts to help her. It all ends pretty explosively, demons and fire, etc. — but one point of the Frankie story seems to be to introduce the Gospel of Thomas, a “sayings gospel” found at Nag Hammadi, the Dead Sea Scroll site. The Gospel of Thomas perhaps predates the Synoptic Gospels and definitely predates the Gospel of John. It consists of no narrative but only sayings attributed to Jesus, including one Frankie is quite taken with transmitting (writing it in an Aramaic dialect on her bedroom wall, speaking it out loud during her fits): “If you remove a stone I will be there; look under a log and you will find me.”
The over-arching point, for Frankie anyway, is that the Kingdom of Heaven is inside us, around us — not in another dimension and for another time but her and now.
Scholars and Church authorities are as-yet undecided on the provenance and the authority of Thomas’s Gospel, but it’s always a wonderful thing to find a new text from the middle First Century.