dir. rupert wainwright
wri. tom lazarus, rick ramage
st. gabriel byrne, patricia arquette, jonathan pryce, nia long, thomas kopache
USA, 1999, 102 mins, rated R

Stigmata the movie, much like true religious stigmata, is merely a symptom which acts to further obscure the matter, to hide the thoughts of those above us, to confuse us. (Like this introduction, really.)

Father Kiernan (Byrne) is a priest who suffers from a major existential crisis. A former academic chemist (so why he is not long haired and does not download Sarah Michelle Gellar pictures is completely beyond me), he is deeply sceptical of religious phenomena and yet believes in god. This may be contrived, but it provides a rich minefield for the issues (both dramatic and philosophical) of the great dichotomized paradigms in our world, belief and disbelief. Director Rupert Wainwright throws these opportunities away like so many video hits.

Meanwhile, Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) is a smokin' chick, a drinkin' grrrl, a tattoo parlourin' kinda archetype who is infected with the soul of a deeply religious priest via rosary beads. To her, there is no cause and effect or logic to the stigmata she begins to suffer, merely occasional music videos accompanied by strobe lights where she gets progressively decked out like the big JC. Yo! Crown o' thorns in da house! The increasing ferocity of her attacks and its link with a book of the bible banned by official catholicism eventually culminate in a deluge of fairly meaningless (but pretty!) special effects.

Byrne and Arquette in the lead roles are wasted. They have no energy and no focus, no direction. They have been much better before and seeing them so limp is frankly disappointing. Their interaction is far too rational; they resolve all of their conflicts with emotionally balanced logic, which adds nothing to the practically non-existent passion.

Between Frankie and Father Kiernan there are flickers, sparks that Wainwright captures, and to his credit he even discusses a great number of deeply complex issues without appearing masturbatory - science against religion, human belief, and the nature of undiscoverable mysteries such as the stigmata. Even dogma and true beneficence is given air time (Frankie is a weekend alcohol abuser who smokes and peddles in visual enhancement, yet continually gives to the poor and worries about her lifestyle-incongruent possible-pregnancy, while catholicism is seemingly ruled by rules and little else). Unfortunately Wainwright merely touches base on all of them as bit players to his love affair with architecture and visual novelty, and leaves us with the mental equivalent of an empty stomach.

Despite these major detractions, Stigmata is visually impressive. Wainwright is to be commended on his mythologizing of the city. Instead of prefab urban jungle, all Lloyd Wright lines and 1980s penis architecture (the twin towers... really, wasn't one enough?), buildings twist into ornate figures, with Frankie's studio practically an Egyptian burial chamber via art deco (the difference being nearly zip, at any rate). At once moody and beautiful, Wainwright's shooting shows a real love of the city. His shots of the Vatican display less affection, but he could be forgiven for the mystery he infuses into his cityscapes. If only he loved his actors as much.

huan-tzin goh
comments? email the author

reviews | features | archive
toto :: cinema matters