An Agnostic Director Talks about Sanctity

On Sunday, I was able to screen There Be Dragons, the new film about St. Josemaria Escrivá by Oscar-winning director Roland Joffé. Paul Lauer of Motive Marketing - the organization behind the grassroots marketing for The Passion of the Christ - was at the University of St. Thomas, showing the movie to a large group of folks, including Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché. The movie, which opens next spring, is a wonderful portrayal of human goodness amid the brutality of the Spanish civil war. Joffé, who describes himself as a “wobbly agnostic,” talked with me recently about what inspired him to write and direct a film about a Catholic saint. The complete interview will appear online as a Register Exclusive.

It’s ironic to me that an agnostic has worked on a film about a Catholic saint. What inspired you?

When I decided I would do the movie, I wondered what Josemaria Escrivá might say. I think he would be delighted. He had an all-embracing view of human beings. If certain of our values are lining up, how wonderful that is and what a rich world God’s is.
I decided to write about Josemaria from an objective point of view and accept his faith at face value. That’s quite different from the conventional approach which is to ask, “What were his failings?” He had many of them, but they weren’t major.
Here’s a man who, in a time of civil strife, civil war – when God appeared to be silent – was an example of someone going through a spiritual crisis who never lost the sense that each human being is a saint, that every human being is deserving of love, and he lived that. That is saintliness. Those subjects are worthy of honest story-telling.

What do you hope viewers will take away from “There Be Dragons”?

I have tried to make the struggles of the characters in the film available to everybody. I see this as an extremely emotional story about love, redemption, parenting, loving and receiving love, loving and not receiving love, pain, guilt, suffering and death. It’s about those glorious things that human beings share. It’s also about the most glorious thing of all:  that all of our lives have meaning.

I created these characters so the viewers could be part of a conversation.  I wanted to create an atmosphere of conversation in exactly the same way as you would have with someone you really liked. One where you could listen to their story, and actively say, “Yeah, I agree with that”. Or, “I never thought of that!” Or, “Ahh, that’s a difficult point”. I hope to invoke all sorts of responses.

The film acknowledges very human struggles and how different people relate to them.  I hope the film sparks an interest in conversation about where the viewers find and experience faith in their own lives.  If they do that, I will have honored the most important thing that Josemaria gave us—that spirituality can be experienced in everyday living.