THE THIRD MIRACLE wonderfully and powerfully draws the audience into lapsed Catholic priest Father Frank Shore’s (Ed Harris) search for faith while investigating the validity of the miracles and possible sainthood of a Chicago Catholic laywoman. Anne Heche plays the woman’s unsaintly daughter who tempts Father Frank. THE THIRD MIRACLE is one of the most impressive movies to deal with the issues of faith and reason, reality and miracles, in spite of moments of foul language, adult situations and some Maryology.
THE THIRD MIRACLE is a rare treat for the Christian community – Director Agnieszka Holland has crafted an intelligent and uplifting movie, passionately exploring the possibility of faith amidst ordinary, contemporary life. Told with refreshing sincerity and directness, it treats the subject of faith and miracles without cynicism, melodrama or demonic overtones.
Ed Harris plays his role as Father Frank Shore with wonderful balance as both a hardened “ordinary” man of the people and a passionate, spiritually seeking man of the cloth. A lapsed Roman Catholic priest, he is called by the Catholic Church to once again take on the role of postulator, a spiritual investigator who examines the life and miracles of candidates for sainthood. His faith weakened by his previous assignment in which he earned the name “Miracle Killer” by unearthing the demonic thoughts of a possible saint, Father Frank travels to Chicago seeking the truth about the alleged miracles of Helen O’Regan, a deeply devout Catholic laywoman.
Three miracles must be verified in order for a person to be considered for sainthood (only two now, but three when the script was written). The first seems to be the healing of a young girl who suffered from terminal lupus. As Father Frank investigates, he struggles with his own disbelief and temptations, becoming romantically involved with the unsaintly Roxanna (Anne Heche), the daughter of Helen. Discovering the truth about the miracles puts Father Frank in the midst of the gritty street elements of the Chicago inner-city as well as the wealth and pomp of the church elite. His searching leads him into the dangers and graces of both worlds. Through a life-changing experience of a miracle, he decides to defend Helen’s case for sainthood against the formidable Archbishop Werner (the always wonderful Armin Meuller-Stahl). During the hearing, another miracle is discovered and verified by an improbable source. Renewed and given fresh hope, the movie ends with Father Frank in search of the third and final miracle – a miracle which Holland leaves the audience to decide – is it his own newfound faith or a miracle yet to come or be discovered?
What makes this such a powerful and uplifting movie is Holland’s genuine search for the answer as to whether miracles really occur (thus making faith possible) or if they are merely human inventions or psychological crutches. As a result, she is not afraid to probe honestly or to expose the unpleasant reality one must encounter while seeking the Truth. THE THIRD MIRACLE doesn’t take sides – people of the Catholic Church and “regular” people both have the capacity for less than ideal behavior and thoughts. Gracefully, even the characters who make your blood boil (Archbishop Werner is a stellar example) are given the benefit of the doubt – they aren’t malicious, just well-intentioned but misguided.
Make no mistake, the world Holland brings us into contains brief snapshots of ugly, jolting reality – swearing, war, prostitution, drugs, child abuse, murder, church politics, faith bordering on cultic proportions, etc. While many movies include unsavory elements to titillate, their inclusion in THE THIRD MIRACLE is done with integrity – only enough is presented to deal honestly with the realities of life. Not only does she treat them seriously, never lingering on them or celebrating them, but also she gives us a profound Christian truth – miracles are performed within the everyday, the ordinary and the sinful. The Archbishop Werner scoffs that an “American housewife” couldn’t possibly be a saint, but Father Frank realizes that Helen is a “saint of the people, people who live in the ordinary world,” echoing Christ’s incarnational love that is manifested in His relationships with sinful and disturbing people. A man haunted by doubt and imperfection, Father Frank wonderfully becomes the vehicle for faith and redemption of others – true Christian irony.
Importantly, however, THE THIRD MIRACLE doesn’t push a “miracles are within us all” humanistic stance. Miracles are truly from a higher power, implicitly God, though Holland does not choose to focus on who God is. While tackling intellectual issues of faith and doubt, the movie successfully draws viewers into experiencing the anguish and joy of Father Frank’s journey, leaving them with a sense of mystery and hope. Rarely has the tension between faith and reason, miracles and reality, sinfulness and redemption been treated with more sense of reverence and skillfulness than THE THIRD MIRACLE.
(BB, CC, Ab, LL, V, S, NN, AA, DD, M) Although not explicitly Christian, contains many elements of a biblical & Christian worldview, with some naturalistic portrayals of sinful people, including religious leaders; 4 profanities & 9 obscenities; mild war bombing scenes, dead man with bleeding head wound, very brief & blurry cigarette burning on arm of child, & blood streaming down a statue of Mary; implied solicitation of prostitution & implied fornication; nude upper backside of cripple & nude upper backside of man after implied fornication; some casual alcohol drinking & one instance of mild drunkenness; implied morphine use in the background; and, brief images of demonic drawings.
THE THIRD MIRACLE is a powerful and uplifting movie that explores issues of Christian faith. Ed Harris plays a lapsed Roman Catholic priest, Frank Shore, who finds a kind of personal redemption when he sets out to seek the truth about the alleged miracles of a deeply devout laywoman. Anne Heche plays the woman’s unsaintly daughter who tempts him. After experiencing a miracle himself, Father Frank decides to defend the laywoman’s bid for sainthood against the formidable Archbishop Werner, who doubts that an ordinary housewife can be a saint.
THE THIRD MIRACLE contains references to sinful behavior, including swearing, prostitution, drugs, child abuse, murder, and church politics, but it doesn’t push a “miracles are within us all” humanistic stance. It contends that miracles are truly from a higher power, implicitly God, though it does not focus on who God is. While tackling issues of faith and doubt, the movie successfully draws viewers into experiencing the anguish and joy of Father Frank’s journey, leaving them with a sense of mystery and hope. Rarely has the tension between faith and reason, miracles and reality, sinfulness and redemption been treated with more sense of reverence and skillfulness