April 14, 2012

God Is the Bigger Elvis

In the quiet of a Friday afternoon yesterday, I finally got around to seeing Rebecca Cammisa's God Is the Bigger Elvis, the short film about Dolores Hart which came to everyone's attention when it was nominated for an Academy Award this past year.

I appreciated several aspects of the little documentary. Most simply, as a Connecticutian myself, I had always been curious about the Abbey of Regina Laudis, but had never visited or known much about it.

On a deeper level, though, I was grateful for the way the film treats of the religious vocation in an individual life. In addition to the story of Dolores herself, the vocation stories of a couple of other nuns are touched upon as well. There's a reverence about the treatment, in the sense that a religious vocation is, on the one hand, something for which no apology needs to be made. On the other hand, the film communicates well that the experience of vocation touches upon certain intimacies and mystery that defy being shared with an audience.

I also appreciated how religious life is displayed in all of its unglamorous plainness. I was reminded of the Trappist who told me that his favorite aspect of Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence was that it showed the monks with unsightly nose and ear hair. "Religious life is not so pretty as it usually seems in the movies, brother." (Of course I also loved seeing the Abbey liturgy. The sisters were praying in Latin (according to the spirit of Vatican II)  and were shown receiving Holy Communion by intinction--and I mean the right way, on the tongue and without illicit self-communication.)

Most of all, the film made me reflect on celibacy. In it one meets Dolores's former fiancé, with whom she broke up in order to enter the Abbey. He is even shown making a visit. Almost fifty years later he admits that he isn't over Dolores, and doesn't appear to have ever married. The whole business sits at the awkward intersection of sweet and sad. Anyone in professional ministry will have their boundary buzzers go off during these scenes, but perhaps it reminds us that boundaries are often messier than what our textbooks taught us.

Even though I reflect on it from time, I don't blog on it because I don't have anything solid to say, but the film certainly convinced me even more that female and male celibacy are somewhat different things. Maybe some readers have thoughts on that.

Maybe I missed it, but one thing I was surprised to miss was a mention of Dolores having played St. Clare in Francis of Assisi (1961).

God Is the Bigger Elvis is really worth a look if you have a chance.


From George said...

I found your distinction between male and female celibacy a puzzle. Men and woman are certainly different, have different vocations but isn't celibacy a choice for Christ and His kingdom no matter what sex you are?

Brother Charles said...

I guess I'm thinking about the style of how one prays in it and constructs its spirituality.

From George said...