MPAA Rating: Not Rated at the time of this review
USCCB Rating: Not Rated at the time of this review
Reel Rating: 3 out of 5 reels
The Apparition (originally L’apparition) resides in a personal favorite genre of mine: supernatural mystery. In the footsteps of Dr. Dana Skully and Fr. Damian Karras, agnostic journalist Jacques Mayano (Vincent Lindon) is called upon by the Vatican to investigate the validity of a recent Marian apparition in rural France. There are plenty of twists and turns as he interviews a wide variety of people surrounding the event. Eventually, the film concludes in a manner that confirms a few assumptions of both supporters and detractors without ever giving a definition answer. Much like the post-modern world at large, the film suggests there is “something out there”—but lacks the courage to pursue it to the end.
This assignment is unusual for Jacques. Until recently, he was a war correspondent, but after witnessing the violent death of a friend he fell into a deep depression. It is unclear why he agrees to help the commission, but one senses a small but significant desire for meaning beyond the world’s suffering. The apparition involves sixteen-year-old religious novice Anna (Galatea Bellugi), who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary.
“She wants us to undergo sacrifices to help bring peace and ease the suffering of the world,” she tells Jasques without hesitation. On the face of it, Anna seems genuine and the message appears to be in line with Catholic teaching and other Marian apparitions. Yet there is a wide circle of vultures around Anna, especially the television producer Anton (Anatole Taubman) who want to capitalize on her experience, including profits from holy cards, statues, documentaries, and even a blood stained “relic”—although it is unclear whose blood resides on the sheet.
The movies is a reminder that one of the appeals and unique characteristics of Christianity is the deep importance of the visible, material world. God entered time and space as a Man so that man could directly experience, in his senses and his physical nature, the reality of divine Love. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” proclaims the Fourth Evangelist in his Prologue, “full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14). When Thomas refused to accept the resurrection, the risen Christ invited him to “put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing” (Jn 20:27).
The Church, trusting this, freely invites skeptics to investigate claims made about supernatural events such apparitions or miracles. The Apparition does an excellent job of explaining and demonstrating this process through Jacques and his colleges from the Vatican. “We don’t declare an apparition factual,” one priest explains, “only worthy of belief.” Apparitions belong to the realm of private revelation, and even well-established examples like Guadalupe and Fatima are not required for salvation. At the same time, of course, if this really is the action of Mary, the faithful should listen wholeheartedly and respond to her requests.
Anna is totally convinced that the apparition is genuine, and soon even Jacques cannot doubt her sincerity. Yet he also senses that something is not right. Anna had been given over to the state at birth, and Jacques begins to track down former foster parents and friends. Through this, he learns that Anna has been secretly keeping correspondence with someone and that several of her protectors are lying about a variety of things. The final “reveal” was a big surprise that managed to assert the truth of the apparition—and be a huge letdown. Without spoiling too much, I will only mention that while God invites, man always has the freedom to say no. While the conclusion doesn’t convince Jacques to become Catholic, but it does give him the courage to return to his family and normal life.
Every aspect of filmmaking craftsmanship in The Apparition is stellar: the acting, the writing, the editing, the score. There is also nothing overtly offensive and even a few things a Catholic might find instructional about canonical investigations. Yet this is also part of the problem. The film wants to believe and finds reasons to believe but doesn’t want to offend anyone or anything, including “modern sensibilities”. I was reminded of the great scene in Risen in which the centurion, in the presence of the resurrected Jesus, still can’t bring himself to believe. “What are you afraid of,” Jesus smiles. “Being wrong,” the Roman replies gravely.
Despite its quality, The Apparition is a testament of our times and a bit of a disappointment. Watch Henry King’s 1943 classic The Song of Bernadette; it’s a hundred times better.
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