Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on rockin’ flatscreen.
Stigmata is one of those weird movies I’d seen before but had no real memory of. I frequently got it mixed up in my head with End of Days because both are pretty generic and deal with religious themes. As might expect based on the name, this is a film about someone who manifests the stigmata of the Christ. And in keeping with the way movies tend to do things, it manages to use the less popular version of the stigmata. If you think that’s a metaphor for the movie, congratulations—you’ve been to this website before.
Before we dive into the movie, I do want to go over that particular aspect of it. Traditionally, the five wounds of Christ are the two in the hands (or wrists, honestly), two in the feet, and one in the side. The movie has decided that the stigmata are the hands/wrists (counting as one), the feet (also counting as one), the side, plus the whips to the back and the crown of thorns.
Anyway, we’re going to start with Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), a former scientist and current Jesuit who is sent by the Vatican to investigate potential miracles. He is in a small Brazilian village investigating a bleeding statue that started its miraculous exsanguination upon the death of local priest, Father Paulo Alameida (Jack Donner). We learn over time that Father Kiernan is jaded as a priest. He’s not sure that he really has a great deal to believe in. We also learn a couple more important things. First, a young boy steals a rosary from the dead priest and sells it to an American tourist. Second, we learn that Father Alameida once had the stigmata.
Now, we’ve got to follow that rosary, right? It ends up in the hands of Frankie Page (Patricia Arquette), who is soon attacked by an unseen force while in the bathtub. She receives the stigmata on her wrists and is hospitalized for them (and it is suspected that she inflicted the wounds herself). Later, on a subway, she asks a priest if he is Father Kiernan. He is not, and when he says he isn’t, she has a second attack and manifests whip marks on her back. She is once again hospitalized, and because she had an audience this time, is not suspected of having inflicted the wounds herself. Naturally, word of this gets to the Vatican and Father Kiernan is sent to investigate.
So what’s going to happen here will not surprise you. I would say what’s going to happen is some Da Vinci Code level goofiness, but this movie is four years older than Dan Brown’s book. Regardless, the plot threads that we’re going to follow is that Frankie is going to continue to have increasing attacks of the stigmata, adding new stigmata each time, building up to the final stabby bit to the chest. Meanwhile, she’s going to start suffering other attacks of a spiritual nature, which includes her speaking and writing in Aramaic. She’s also going to start coming on to Father Kiernan. And, of course, there’s going to be all sorts of intrigue going on at the Vatican centered on Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathan Pryce), because what is a religious thriller without kicking the Catholic Church in the balls? (And, for the record, I am pro-kicking any church in the balls. I just want that out there.)
To add to the Da Vinci Code feel to this, much of what happens centers around a lost gospel of Jesus Christ, allegedly containing the true text of what he told his disciples and how he wanted the church to be carried forward into the coming centuries. There is a physical copy of it somewhere, but where could it possibly be? And what does it say that makes Cardinal Houseman potentially murderous?
To be honest, I don’t love religious thrillers like this one. It presumes the truth of Catholic doctrine for starters. The entire plot depends on the idea that the Catholic Church really is the one true church. But it makes an even dumber assumption than that. It assumes that the people in the church, the power structure, knowing that they have the one true faith and knowing what the penalties are for going against that truth are, would still be willing to disobey a god they have literal proof of existing for temporal power here on Earth. It’s dumb, and it’s the kind of bullshit plot hole that many of the religious won’t see as a problem because that’s exactly the same shit they say atheists do all the time.
The truth is that Stigmata isn’t very good. There is a good movie lurking in her somewhere, or at least a potentially good movie based on these story elements, but it sure as hell isn’t the one that we have here. I buy Byrne as a priest. I buy Pryce as a cardinal. I buy nothing else here.
Why to watch Stigmata: Lots of bloody stigmata moments.
Why not to watch: Ultimately, it’s pretty dumb.