directed by Rupert Wainwright
(MGM, 1999)

Mystical stigmata is an experience where an ecstatic person is inflicted with the marks and sufferings of the Passion of Christ on the hands, feet, side or brow (the crucifixion wounds of Christ). Mystical stigmata can either be visible (the marks on the physical bodies) or invisible (only having Christ's suffering without the physical marks). (Check out The Catholic Encyclopedia for more information on mystical stigmata.)

The film Stigmata is based upon the visible stigmata suffered by Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette), who, unlike other stigmata sufferers, is an atheist. Frankie starts experiencing her stigmata after receiving a stolen crucifix from a recently deceased priest. Medical science is unable to offer explanations, but her case attracts the attention of a Vatican division that investigates rumours of miracles pertaining to the Church or Christ. Father Andrew Kiernen (Gabriel Bryne), a scientist turned priest, is sent to investigate these rumours.

Kiernan, a priest suffering from lack of faith and too much science, encounters Paige and the stigmata she suffers from. He sees first-hand her experiences and finds himself facing strange writings, which are later to be revealed to be the secret writings of Christ. It turns out that the priest (whose crucifix now belongs to Paige) was working on translating the missing work after being excommunicated by the Church. The Church is trying to destroy all evidence of the missing writings, and Kiernan must find his faith not in the Church walls, but in the faith that Christ started in order to help save the stigmata-traumatized Paige.

Arquette does a reasonably good job as the atheist hairdresser who is suddenly afflicted with the mysterious stigmata. However, one of the items that she does not convey is the gaining of faith that the character seems to obtain as the movie progresses; there are hints of the character's beginning of faith, but Arquette does not manage to bring that to the watcher. Bryne, playing the somewhat tortured priest, does a stoic rendition of the his character, trying to maintain scientific clarity in the face of his lack of faith. However, the prize must go to Jonathan Pryce, who plays a Vatican bishop trying to keep his Church intact from the dangerous potential that the missing writings might pose. He makes a believable character trying to protect the very essence of his life -- the Church -- regardless of the price he might have to pay in the afterlife.

The premise of the film is extremely interesting, and the visual effects hammer home the message the film is trying to convey. However, at times, the visual effects do become too much and become the emphasis of the film over the plot. The film does not delve deeply into the issues that it raises, leaving the watcher to wonder and think about the implications of such a possible document (which reportedly does exist, but the Church does not acknowledge) and where faith truly lies.

[ by Jade Falcon ]

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