- Catch Me If You Can - Stephen Spielberg (2002)
4 weeks ago
Devoted to the discussion of film expression
The film opens showing the mentally-ill Johannes wandering about the moors asserting that he is Jesus Christ and warning the multitudes, “woe unto you for lack of faith” (lack of faith in the “fact” that he is Jesus). The Borgen family, knowing that Johannes is not of sound mind, chase after him. Later during a family discussion, we learn that Johannes went mad while studying the works of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who famously wrote attacks on the Danish Church a century earlier. It is in this section that we learn of an important difference between Morten and his son Mikkel. While Morten is a upstanding member of his parish and devoutly religious, his son Mikkel confesses that he lost all faith in God and believes one must rely on human reason.
The viewer will get the impression in this section that Johannes will be a key narrative thread, but actually Johannes soon more or less disappears into the background until the closing stages.
2. Anders and Anne
Now the story moves to the concerns of Anders Morgen and Anne Petersen, who wish to marry but need permission from their parents. Here, too, the viewer may believe that the love story between Anders and Anne will be a major narrative thread, but in fact Anders and Anne are not significant characters in this story. The real issue here concerns the religious differences between Morten Borgen and Peter Petersen which block their children’s union.
3. Inger’s Plight
49 minutes into the film, a new situation arises. Inger’s pregnancy takes a bad turn, and a doctor is urgently summoned. It turns out that Inger is in a life-threatening situation, but after the doctor surgically aborts the fetus, he assures the family that she will be all right. They all rejoice, and there seems to be no evident remorse about the death of the stillborn child. Only Johannes is grim, and he tells them that if they had believed in him (that he is Jesus), this tragedy would not have happened.
“You are seeking grapes on thorn bushes. The vines you pass by.”Inger’s innocent daughter Maren then comes to visit Johannes in his room, and he tells her that Inger will soon die and that only he could possibly resurrect her, if the others would let him.
In an earlier discussion between Morten and Inger in Act 1 about Johannes’s condition, Morten had lamented that miracles no longer happen because we are lacking true faith in God. But Inger responded that she believes God’s miracles are happening all the time but that we don’t notice them. Now here in this part of the story, the Pastor and the Doctor get into their own discussion about belief in miracles. The Pastor confesses that God no longer performs miracles, because they would be in violation of His own laws of nature that He has set up. It was only during the exceptional situation with His son, Jesus, the Pastor says, that God permitted miracles. The Doctor just smiles and says he believes in the scientific miracles like those that he performs.
Johannes is more doleful. Now he arrives and pronounces ominously to all of them that he has just seen Death with his scythe arrive on the scene and to take a life. And so it eventuates. Shortly after the Pastor and the Doctor depart, Mikkel goes in to Inger’s room and discovers that she has passed away.
This departure of the most compassionate and understanding character in the story with thirty more minutes remaining is unsettling. Inger, it seemed, was the person who held things together. But her death does bring them all together to mourn her passing.
Now at this appoint, just before they are about to put the lid on Inger’s coffin, Johannes, who had disappeared into the moors on the day of Inger’s death, suddenly reappears, this time without his customary mournful cowl, and now looks perfectly sane. He again castigates them all for their lukewarm faith in God’s miracles. Maren comes up to him and innocently asks him to restore Inger to life. Johannes smiles when he sees her complete faith in him and looking upward says,
“Jesus Christ, if it is possible, then give her leave to come back to life. Give me the Word, the word that can make the dead come to life.”Inger stirs in her coffin and comes back to life. Mikkel rapturously hugs her and says to her, “Now life begins for us.” Inger kisses him passionately and responds wondrously,
“Life, yes. . . Life. Yes. Life.”
“My faith is the warmth of life, and yours is the coldness of death”.However, when Morten prays for a miracle and it doesn’t happen, he has a mechanistic belief that his own lack of faith must have made the pray–>God–>miracle process not work on that occasion. This is similar to the feeble and non-falsifiable "Law of Attraction" notion that gets passed around these days .
"Dreyer, like Mizoguchi, always had a fascination and sensitivity for the feminine role in human interactions . . . Like Kenji Mizoguchi, the feminine role is not an abstraction for Dreyer, but is always a very physical presence in his films. Yet it is far distanced from the typical male fantasy of a feminine abstraction. . . . Von Sternberg’s” women are idealized and viewed from the man’s perspective. But throughout Dreyer’s career, his women, like Mizoguchi’s, are grounded in the physical world, and yet have some strangely 'spiritual' dimension, too."The resurrection that happens at the end, in my view, is not just a matter of Maren’s sincere belief that makes the pray–>God–>miracle mechanism (that Morten referred to) work this time. No, it was actually a true, incomprehensible miracle that defies our understanding but which Inger embraces, as she does all aspects of life.