“The ‘how’ is not important, only the ‘why.’”
Although the above line is actually a bit of movie dialogue from St. Dominic to St. Ignatius, it accurately summarizes my thoughts about the recently-released film Ignacio de Loyola.
A production created by the Philippines Province of the Jesuits, this two hour movie illustrates some of the key chapters of the life of St. Ignatius Loyola.1 Beginning with his soldierly career, the plot follows Ignatius’ infamous cannonball injury, grueling recuperation, initial conversion, and subsequent time as a semi-itinerant preacher preceding his studies at the University of Paris. Basically, this movie follows Ignatius’ life until he meets the men who will join him in becoming the first Jesuits.
After I saw the movie, many of my Jesuit brothers could not wait to ask me, “So how was it?”
I wanted to say: “It was great!” It’s a full-length movie about the founder of the Society of Jesus. How could I, as a Jesuit who continues to be inspired by the life of Ignatius, not love this movie?!
The thing is, it wasn’t great. And I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad. The costumes, set design, and music offered me newfound insight into the social milieu in which Ignatius grew up and lived. In what proved to be my favorite scene of the movie, pre-cannonball Ignatius, in the midst of a chivalric daydream, leaps and spins through a castle hallway, employing his admirable sword fighting skills in combating a dastardly and imaginary assassin seeking to murder the castle’s resident princess. Ignatius defeats his nonexistent enemy, only to be discovered at play by the very princess he was aspiring to “save.” The level of awkwardness in that moment was palpable to me, despite being 3600 miles and almost 500 years removed.
I found this particular scene so endearing because it underscores the vibrancy of Ignatius’ imagination throughout his life. Those familiar with the life of Ignatius know that his initial conversion came about because he imagined himself imitating Sts. Francis and Dominic (which is the origin of the line I quoted above). Ignatius employs the imagination throughout the Spiritual Exercises, as he instructs retreatants to imagine themselves as participants in Gospel scenes, speaking with Christ, and so forth. However, to see that Ignatius’ imaginative prowess preceded his fateful encounter with the cannonball serves to emphasize this key aspect of Ignatius’ personality throughout his life.
As effective as some of the film’s moments of sharing Ignatius’ imagination were, others proved to be the film’s undoing. Late in the movie, the audience is brought into the painful interior grappling to which Ignatius subjected himself as part of his on-going conversion in the cave at Manresa. The film illustrates this interior battle by pitting two versions of Ignatius against each other. “Good” Ignatius talks about the desire to serve God while “evil” Ignatius rebuts that because of his sinful past, only the fires of Hell await him and so any time spent imagining serving God is an utter waste. For heightened effect, this debate is set on what looks like Mount Doom from “Lord of the Rings,” complete with thunderstorms. Is this an important point to highlight from Ignatius’ conversion? Of course. But it also felt entirely too dramatic and seemed to occupy most of the second half of the movie.
So, “How was it?” Alright, not great. But, perhaps more importantly, “Why was it?”
Ignatius was and is a fascinating character. He was a passionate, imaginative individual, focused entirely on pursuing a knightly life. However, because he remained open to God’s presence in his life, that very passion and imagination came to be used to serve God. In some way, Ignatius’ story is all of our stories: God meets us where we are and calls us into ever-deepening relationship.
This is a story that deserves telling and retelling, and so this is a movie that deserves watching. Just maybe without the overly-dramatic Mount Doom part.
Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user Tim Ellis, available here.