Spirituality and Religious ideology are two things that people hold very close to their heart. However, because people have such a spiritual connection, there is always someone there to exploit them for their beliefs. And this level of corruption has been documented and compiled for today’s list. Sadly a majority of them are based on a true story. The new Tom Hanks film Inferno (2016) is being released, and it just got me thinking how some evil people in the world use religion to justify their actions. Just be advised, today’s list features some upsetting material so readers discretion is advised. And honourable mentions go out to Theo van Gogh’s Submission (2004) and Bill Maher’s Religulous (2008), although both interesting films, they do not deal with today’s topics.
10. Agora (2010)
Rachel Weisz stars in our first entry playing mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria. In the 4th Century Roman Egypt, Hypatia was under a lot of scrutiny from the church after she found flaws in how our planet orbits. Many people did not take her approach well, and soon civil unrest would become her downfall. I will argue that this film is more for the science heads out there interested in history in their field. But it is still a good example of mass hysteria and religious persecution, just for having an opinion.
9. Primal Fear (1996)
Edward Norton’s amazing debut is next. Martin Vail (Richard Gere) is a hot shot attorney in Chicago. But when a beloved archbishop is murdered, the number one suspect is the meek and frail altar boy Aaron Stampler (Norton). As it appears that Aaron really did kill the bishop, his reasons behind why are quite distressing. A real tough crime thriller with elements of film noir for good measure, the film shows a sympathetic approach towards someone so fragile who suffered so much. And that ending is still unforgettable.
8. Song for a Raggy Boy (2003)
Hitting closer to home now in our next entry (and their will surely be a few more to come). Aidan Quinn plays a teacher who has just come home from the Spanish civil war. After landing himself a job in a reform school for boys, he encounters the cruel and sadistic behaviour inflicted on the boys from both Brother John (Iain Glen), and his paedophilic brother, Brother Mac (Marc Warren). Although he sees the evil that is plaguing the school, he hopes to still break through to the boys who all have the potential to be better than they think. Pretty rough and unflinching in its depiction of the abuse brought upon the boys. And although there is heartbreak and tragedy, it is still an inspirational film to watch.
7. The Boys of St. Vincent (1992)
Another sad case of a sadistic teacher. Brother Peter Lavin (Henry Czerny) is a sadistic priest who doles out horrific physical and sexual abuse towards the young orphans he is supposed to care for. The film’s sequel deals with the cover-up followed 15 years later, and the mental scarring the orphanage has left on many of the boys there. Released as a TV movies in America in the early 1990’s, it’s still another tough and unflinching watch. The corruption of the institution in terms of the cover-up, and blatant denial of what happened to those boys is appalling. And yet there is sadly still more to come.
6. The Magdalene Sisters (2002)
Back in Ireland now for more harrowing details. The story takes place in a Magdalene Asylum in the 1960’s. Four young women (Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora Jane Noone and Eileen Walsh) are sent by their respected families after they appear to have brought shame on them. What follows is the brutal depiction of what these young women have suffered through the hands of the abusive nuns running the asylum. And even from the start, you wonder if they will even make it through the end of their ordeal, as many women have not. Directed by the great Scottish actor Peter Mullan, the film got into a lot of controversy due to people not accepting the events as true. But it sadly was, as the women played in the film are based off of real people. It’s really frightening stuff.
5. Spotlight (2015)
A more recent entry now with a very high profile cast. The story follows The Boston Globe journalistic team, who back in 2001 discovered a string of sexual abuse at the hands of religious organisations and, yet again, their attempts to cover it up. So now the team are ready to track down and bring whoever was responsible for the cover-ups around Boston to justice. A great all-star cast including the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and so much more, it’s a brilliant piece of work around investigative journalism, and the power and corruption of not only the church, but also the police.
4. Philomena (2013)
I suppose something a little bit more light-hearted by now would help out some people. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a journalist, who stumbles upon the story of an elderly Irish woman, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). Back in the 1950’s Philomena gave birth to a son whilst she was under the care of the sisters of Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea. While there, her son is forcibly removed from her and sent away with some adoptive parents from America. Now Philomena and Martin must do what they can to uncover the truth and identity of her son. Although a lot of films on this list are very dark in tone, this is a much more heartfelt approach towards the subject matter. And after only seeing it for the first time last year, it was one of my favourites as the chemistry between Coogan and Dench was just perfect.
3. The Devils (1971)
Set in 17th Century France, Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is the protector of the town of Loudun. Although more sexually adventurous than most catholic priests, he does what is best for his community, and tries his hardest so that the walls of Loudun remain standing. However, when the local Mother Superior (Vanessa Redgrave) begins to spread a salacious rumour, it isn’t long before the outside forces trying to break down the walls, seize their opportunity. Although the film still remains in a cut version, it is a masterpiece of set design, amazing acting, and a story of mass religious hysteria and false testimony leading towards the downfall of a good man. Check it out – it is phenomenal.
2. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012)
Now we get to the real core of the problems. The Alex Gibney directed documentary follows the story of four men who suffered at the hands of clerical abuse. They were also known to be one of the first victims to bring forth the case in America, with ramifications leading as far as Ireland, and even the Vatican. Alex Gibney is a master of documentary filmmaking with the likes of this and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015). And on the accounts of the four men who suffered under the same priest, it is really some bone chilling stuff. Although harrowing, it is not as creepy as our final entry.
1. Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
The film that really creeped me out after watching it. The documentary follows defrocked priest Father Oliver O’Grady, who during his time in California, had molested up to 25 children. The film is unflinching especially when interviewing O’Grady himself, he had no problem discussing his sexual preferences, in a park full of children. Hearing the tales recounted by his previous victims is harrowing enough, but to see him walk around care free while discussing his sexuality is truly spine chilling. And even worse the fact that the religious institutions did nothing but move him around rather than do something about it, is what really drives the nail home here. A very difficult viewing, but otherwise essential in my opinion.