There be dragons

There was a press screening of There Be Dragons in the UK yesterday – a new film by Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission) about the escape from Spain, during the civil war, of Josemaria Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei.

Turbulent times and an extraordinary person, whether you think Opus Dei is a conservative cabal or a company for compassion. But I have to say, I found the film rather catechetical and hagiographical. You can’t argue against its central message: forgiveness not vengence. But compared with, say, Of Gods and Men, which is also about saints in a time of war, it lacked psychological depth and spiritual insight. I suspect that part of the problem is the film is, largely, funded by Opus Dei members – the producer is part of the movement too – and devotion doesn’t make for critical distance. (Also, the film’s distribution in the UK is being secured by a grassroots campaign, much like The Passion of the Christ.)

That said, reading the press pack on the way home, Joffé has this to say about Escrivá, concerning a characteristic of the man that grabbed the director as a ‘wobbly agnostic’, and me.

This love for God becomes an organising principle that gives him a shape and a kind of simplicity and strength. But that doesn’t make him dull or flat, because this love existed in the real world, and the fruit of that existence in the real, often cruel, harsh world, must for any honest man be doubt: doubt in God and doubt in goodness. This doubt is deeply, profoundly, fertile.

Saints are flawed, like the rest of us. But if Joffé is right, Escrivá’s heroism was that in spite of his doubts, and no doubt mistakes – or should that be, because of them – he ‘never lost sight of the innate worth of each human being’. That is no mean feat during terrible times like the Spanish civil war.