There Be Dragons

Just returned from the movie in the trailer above, There Be Dragons, based on the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva, who founded Opus Dei (God’s Work). This post is not a review, and contains no plot spoilers — but lots of people in our parish are interested in the film and want to know how “strong” a PG-13 it is, and I wanted to capture a few thoughts before I lose them.

I would rate it a solid PG-13. It is violent and emotionally intense at times, and characters are juxtaposed to show virtue and moral ambiguity. Numerous people die in battle, and others die from assassination, murder, suicide, illness, and (thankfully) natural causes. Most of the deaths are not dwelt upon, however, there are a few relatively brief but bloody scenes. There is no nudity, relatively little sexuality (implied or actual), especially for a PG-13 movie in 2011, and a sprinkling of strong language throughout (it is a war movie, after all). Our 13-year-old, Brendan, will see it tomorrow with a friend of ours and her son. Our almost-11-year-old, Gabe, wants to see it, too, but despite his desire to be a priest, and the film’s beautiful portrayal of the priestly vocation, he will wait until we can rent it and I can watch and discuss it with him, pausing as needed.

I knew very little about Fr. Escriva, Opus Dei, and relatively little about the Spanish Civil War, and yet followed everything well enough. The structure of the movie, which features a handful of complex relationships between people shown at different ages and times, and used flashbacks and a present-day narrator to convey the story, can be a little disorienting, but again, I followed well enough. I was struck early on that this is a film shot in an old way: somehow it looks to me like a classic film of the 1960s, and some of the scenes (particularly of the main characters as children) seem more deliberately acted, almost theatrical. It occurs to me that this may help convey the sense of a young boy’s memories, but I will admit, I noticed it as film-making (assuming it was intentional).

Two final thoughts:

  • First, another friend at the same showing said he enjoyed watching it so soon after Blessed John Paul II’s beatification. I missed the beatification coverage, but not long ago, listened to the JPII biography Witness to Hope, and you can definitely see parallels between the lives and priesthoods of the late Fathers Escriva and Wojtyla.
  • Second, there is a powerful scene following a heartbreaking act of violence in which Fr. Escriva teaches his followers how close the edge truly is, and how any one of us might slip into darkness and violence. On the heels of Bin Laden’s death, that scene was particularly thought-provoking to me.

The reviews I’ve seen for this movie have been mostly mediocre to terrible.* I thought it was a very good movie, but I’m Catholic and had some idea what I was getting into and what I hoped to get out of it. See it!


*The USCCB has a complete review of the film online, which may also help parents decide which kids to take. I find they are more conservative than me, and they suggest that older teens could see it, so I think we’re in the ballpark…

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