The trailer: Scene 1) Amicable priest gives old-school rendering of the snares of the devil, who appearing in many different guises leads us to perdition, that is, unless we have recourse to God’s help. Scene 2) 14 year old Maria, taking this to heart, won’t participate in gym class with rock music, whose “satanic rhythms” she objects to - whereupon she gets interrogated by her teacher and mocked by her peers. Scene 3) Maria gets excoriated by her mother when she timidly announces she wants to sing gospel music - to the peril, as her mother puts it, of her immortal soul. The voice-over intimates a tragic outcome. Trailer ends.
Sigh. Another assault on traditional Catholicism? But how exactly does today’s crop of Germans claim to know what traditional Catholicism even looks like, let alone name its potential pitfalls? German Catholicism has been under the spell of secular ideology for generations, thanks in part to the generous church tax which has effectually incentivized lax teaching. Of those who still identify as Catholic, few even attend mass, and of those, very few genuinely struggle with the full content of Catholic teachings.
The voice-over tells us that Maria belongs specifically to the “Paulsbrüder”, which we should understand as the real-world “Piusbrüder”, that is, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist faction that broke from Rome in the 1970’s. It’s hard to get a sense of how large the SSPX exactly is, but in Germany they do have one seminary and some amount of the 600,000 lay adherents worldwide. In all, a small presence. Reading further between the lines, it’s not a stretch to see the Paulsbrüder as a stand-in for anyone with a traditional orientation towards Catholicism.
And this is compounded by the pervasive German phobia of Sekten (sects), which for them includes anything lying outside of widely acknowledged institutions. Many bristle at Tom Cruise movies due to his involvement in Scientology, for example.
Er kaempft unter vielen Flaggen, the priest says of the devil, he campaigns, or battles, under many flags. Or, we might say, his only loyalty is to destruction. Yes, we should add, even within the life of religion itself, warping the universal vocation to holiness into a channel for humiliating power struggles. If anything, the mother’s heartless rebuke vindicates priest’s teaching on evil. (Grant that I not so much seek to be understood but to understand, right?). But here we are prompted to see it as a consequence of that teaching.
Typecasting traditional religion as intolerant and psychically warping? Blurring the broad lines between lived religion and maternal abuse? Playing the old religion-as-repression card? Insinuating that it is reference to positive evil, and not evil itself, that degrades human nature? Why would the Germans need a movie like this at all? It’s not like this is a contended issue in secular Germany anymore: religion there is passé. Why re-vanquish an already vanquished enemy - except in order to go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway, but now mit gutem Gewissen? Or rather, with an even clearer conscience - because, now it would appear, the old enemy wasn't just outdated but downright evil. If there were such a thing. Again, I certainly hope the movie turns out to be more probing than the trailer promises. Knowing German cinema, which routinely blows me away (I still can’t get over Der Untergang), there is certainly a good chance it will.