Anger at the Church
Release Date: January 31, 1997
Starring: Bridget Fonda, Christopher
Walken, Tom Arnold, Janeane
Garofalo, Gina Gershon, Lolita
Davidovich, & Skeet Ulrich
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Paul Schrader
Producer: Lila Cazes & Fida Attiech
Writer: Paul Schrader
Address Comments To:Frank Mancuso, Chairman & CEO, MGM/UA
2500 Broadway Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061
Newcomer Skeet Ulrich plays a young Catholic worker named Juvenal. A former monk, Juvenal, received the gift of healing while serving in Brazil. Now, Juvenal quietly heals others as he works as an Alcoholics Anonymous leader at the Los Angeles Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center. A blind woman is healed by a touch from Juvenal and she tells former evangelist, now huckster, Bill Hill (Christopher Walken). Intrigued at the possibilities of big money in promoting Juvenal’s abilities, Hill recruits a young attractive female music promoter, played by Bridget Fonda.
Fonda pretends to be an alcoholic and checks into Juvenal’s program. He sees right through her and realizes that she is not an alcoholic, but a curious person interested in his powers. Unfazed by her interest, he doesn’t protest when she discovers that he even has bloody stigmata, wounds resembling the crucifixion wounds of Jesus on his hands and his side. Soon, many people are thinking about how they can involve Juvenal in their own causes.
Tom Arnold is a religious fanatic who wants to use Juvenal to further his cause. He has a group called Outrage, which promotes a return to traditional, orthodox religious practices in the church. Janeane Garofalo plays a deal-making reporter who wants to break Juvenal’s fascinating story. Finally, Gina Gershon plays a TV talk show host who is interested in big ratings.
Fonda falls in love with Juvenal, thinking him to be pure and innocent, and they eventually fornicate. Fonda decides that she doesn’t like others capitalizing on Juvenal, but he says if he allows himself to be promoted, then no one is taking advantage of him. Nevertheless, as the media circus grows, Juvenal distrusts his love for Fonda and momentarily loses his powers to heal. Arnold becomes so angry with Juvenal and Fonda’s relationship, he breaks into their home and threatens them both with a gun, resulting in a freak accident. Yet Juvenal is able to restore order through another miracle when he promotes some of the basic fundamental tenets of Christian faith on Gershon’s talk show.
Clearly, Schrader has found a perfect vehicle for expressing his frustration with organized religion. He shows a preacher who left preaching to become a greedy businessman. He shows a priest who has a weak bladder and constantly needs to make trips to the bathroom. He shows a man, not unlike a Pharisee, who loudly calls for a return, not to Christ, but to religious trappings. This man, leader of Outrage, eventually becomes crazed and violent, making threats with a gun. Schrader shows a woman who firmly holds onto her label as a practicing Catholic even though she is a stripper by profession. Even our hero, Juvenal, who acts as an innocent, and has had a career serving Christ as a missionary, yields to lust and fornicates. Even the non-Christians are crooked, with interests in advancing their own careers or personal agendas.
Religious hypocrisy does exist in the church, but Schrader’s modern day TARTUFFE is a poor attempt at satire which backfires. Without offering any solutions to the problems in the church, Schrader merely takes pot shots at it and gives the viewer the impression that he is an angry and embittered person. Schrader does try to say that it is not good to exploit religious gifts, but Juvenal doesn’t seem to give God any glory for what happens. If anything, Juvenal downplays the role and involvement of God. At one point, Juvenal says that the important matters of faith are love and the teachings of Christ, but this is said casually. We never hear him say anything about the teachings of Christ in the rest of the movie.
The Steve Martin movie, LEAP OF FAITH, had some redemptive elements because Martin’s character repented and left his deceiving ways behind him. Juvenal isn’t deceptive with his gift, but he does eventually leave town to live a quiet life, supposedly without practicing his gift. Walken’s character doesn’t change or grow at all. He is as crooked at the end of the movie as at the beginning. All he wants is to make a buck. Likewise, other characters don’t mature or change.
With the exception of TAXI DRIVER, none of Schrader’s movies have done well at the box office. By making constant attacks on Christianity and Christ, he is keeping away a large potential audience. This movie may get some critical acclaim, but it isn’t as sharp and insightful as some of his earlier work. Adding to the woes and bad movies of MGM/UA, such as SHOWGIRLS, TOUCH is far from touching.
Every couple of years, Paul Schrader writes a movie that demonstrates his discontent with the Christian faith Schrader’s latest work, TOUCH, examines religious hypocrisy and supernatural healing. A former monk, Juvenal, received the gift of healing while serving as a missionary in Brazil. Now, Juvenal quietly heals others as he works as an AA leader in Los Angeles. A blind woman is healed by Juvenal and she tells former evangelist, now huckster, Bill Hill. Intrigued at the possibilities of big money in promoting Juvenal’s abilities, Hill recruits a young attractive assistant, a reporter and a talk show host. Soon, everyone is offering ideas on how Juvenal should share his abilities.
This movie expresses a lot of frustration with organized religion. Every Christian character has a flaw or sinful practice, even Juvenal Even the non-Christians are crooked, with interests in advancing their own careers or personal agendas. Religious hypocrisy does exist in the church, but Schrader’s modern day TARTUFFE is a poor attempt at satire which backfires. Without offering any solutions to the problems in the church, Schrader merely takes pot shots at it and gives the viewer the impression that he is an angry and embittered person. This movie contains some violence, fornication, nudity, and foul language