Padre Pio: Miracle Man


Padre Pio Miracle Man, distributed by Catholic publishing company Ignatius Press, gets high marks for its attempt to present the cinematic endeavor in more than one language and to include subtitles for each language with which the movie is dubbed. The English-language soundtrack is the victim of some stilted English expression, unfortunately complementing some stilted acting.
One reviewer on Amazon.com recommends using the Italian soundtrack in combination with the English subtitles (fortunately, a technical possibility).

The movie presents a version of Padre Pio’s life story largely told in flashbacks at the behest of another priest who is engaging in the (to some) extraordinary effort of investigating (and, at times, interrogating) Padre Pio in the later years of his life. The investigating priest is seen to use a cane, but in spite of having a mobility impairment himself, ignores Padre Pio’s obvious fatigue during the series of interviews. Padre Pio is depicted in the film as intermittantly using an oxygen tank in old age, and occasionally a manual wheelchair. It would seem he had a generalized weakness in later life, but he was still sufficiently ambulatory to celebrate mass, and to be censured by his religious superiors for taking three hours to do so.

When Padre Pio was a child growing up in the Catholic Church, he witnessed a woman in his church praying to St. Peregrine to cure her young son, whom she held in her arms. Growing increasingly frustrated, she left the boy, who appeared to be five or six years old, and initially seemed spastic, but later was depicted as unconscious, at the altar of the church, whereupon, either through the gesture of “leaving him to God/the Church” just below the altar steps, or the mental focus of the young Francisco (later to become Pio) silently and more directly imploring the help of God for the boy, the boy regained consciousness, and got up and walked. The movie did not specify what, exactly, the boy had, but St. Peregrine is the patron saint of cancer sufferers.

While this cinematic retelling of significant events in the life of Padre Pio adheres to the Catholic tradition of equating suffering with holiness by depicting Padre Pio’s more mundane health conditions as well as his receiving of the stigmata, and how Pio and the religious authorities of his time and place dealt with it, it also shows that Padre Pio had a long and active life in spite of some chronic conditions.

When Pio was of military age, he was ordered to report to his draft board for a physical examination, in spite of his status as clergy, for which he should have been given an exemption. Nevertheless, upon having actually submitted to physical examination, he was spared military service by doctors who were seen to examine his chest X-Ray, and to reject him for military service, on the grounds that he would “infect the whole unit”, the implication being that he had tuberculosis.

Indeed, it was because of the fact that people sought him out and Padre Pio developed a considerable and devoted following during his lifetime, that it was a reasonable concern to orthodox Catholicism that because of his influence, people were coming back to the church for the wrong reasons, or more precisely, that they were coming to Padre Pio, because of what would today be termed mediumistic or psychic powers (also said by occultists outside the church to at times be accompanied or caused by a declining physical body). When asked how he was able to know certain things in advance of their actual occurence, Padre Pio gave an answer surprisingly similar to Cayce’s concept of the Akashic Records; “sometimes God allows me a look at his notebook”.

It was perhaps with this and his public influence in mind that Padre Pio’s religious superiors had him effectively held prisoner for a period of time.

The movie does a good job of showing that some miraculous occurrences attributed to Padre Pio may have had alternative explanations not involving the supernatural or the power of God, such as Pio’s ability to tell people who came to him for news about relatives in military service: the priest who questioned him about his life said that it was “the law of averages” which allowed him to predict the fate of soldiers to their loved ones with some degree of accuracy.
However, some other things are left open to belief, such as one incident in which Pio was established to have successfully bilocated in order to be on the scene during a combat incident during the war, and give a dying soldier last rites, while the other priest shrank from going forward to do so, gun shy because the soldier had been killed by a flying bullet and there was still shooting. There was another incident in which he barred the door against a mortally wounded soldier seeking absolution (within the context of Last Rites) because he was afraid for his own safety.

Though the movie dealt with some miracles said to have been committed by Padre Pio, it left out other reputed supernatural abilities, including the fact that at one point in his life, Padre Pio, like some other stigmatics, manifested the phenomenon of inedia.

Padre Pio was said to have survived on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament and an occasional beer. Whether such a feat was truly miraculous is open to more than one interpretation, like many of Padre Pio’s other unusual abilities depicted in the movie. If Padre Pio remained in his bed or wheelchair for most of the day, it may well be that he had few caloric needs at that time of his life. (And everyone knows that beer is full of empty calories!)

The Aristocats

The Aristocats is not thought of as a “disability movie”, but like many Disney movies, it does have a character with physical and visual impairments due to aging to provide visual humor, and a character who may have a more “hidden disability”. The former is an elderly lawyer who comes to the palatial mansion belonging to the old woman who owns the cats who are the stars of the movie. Though she seems physically fit, she is older, and clearly thinking of “end-of-life issues”. She calls her lawyer, Georges Hautecourt, (who obligingly makes house calls) to draft her will, leaving everything to her cats. Hautecourt is portrayed as being senile, but is a label misapplied to a man with a lot of vitality who’s evidently still practicing law despite minor disabilities.

He drives one of those new-fangled motorcars, but has trouble getting out of it

He drives one of those new-fangled motorcars, but has trouble getting out of it

After all, he drives one of those new-fangled motorcars (the movie is set in 1910), attempts to kiss his client on the hand (getting the cat’s tail instead, the only instance in which it is hinted that he may have a vision impairment), and dances with her before getting down to business. He uses a cane to help with his unspecified but obvious mobility impairment (he has visible trouble getting out of the car, and is shown to have an irregular gait when he is seen to be walking up to the grand house.

Hautecourt dances with Madame Adelaide

Hautecourt dances with Madame Adelaide

Hautecourt sling-shots himself up the stairs using the butler's suspenders

Hautecourt sling-shots himself up the stairs using the butler's suspenders.

However, before he came to the upstairs room in which the dancing, romancing, and legal document drafting takes place, he was offered the choice of getting to his destination by taking a (human-operated) elevator, or by climbing a long, treacherous staircase of polished marble. He derides the elevator as “that birdcage” and in one of the most memorable lines of the movie, declares that “elevators are for old people”. He attempts to climb the staircase, and predictably, slips and falls backwards. Luckily, he had been accompanied up the stairs by the butler, who aids him through several slips and falls, the last and most memorable of which resulted in him hooking the butler’s stretchy suspenders with his cane, and effectively sling-shotting himself to his destination. This resulted in the butler’s pants falling down when he showed the lawyer in to the upstairs room. While it is wonderful to have a positive attitude about aging, the lawyer seems to be in denial and in spite of the comedic aspect of the scenario just described, he has put himself in any number of risky situations, setting himself up for some potentially more serious mobility impairments. This scene does nothing to advance the plot of the story, and serves only to add comic relief by poking fun at Hautecourt’s disabilities.

The butler, however, may have a more “hidden disability”. Though he may have obvious reasons to resent his job (how would you like to be effectively “pantsed” by a character like this?) his knee-jerk reaction to get rid of the cats when he overhears his employer declare her intention to leave them her considerable estate bespeaks impulsivity and poor decision making. If the cats were to get the estate, surely they would need a conservator and caretaker (after all, cats are not considered mentally competent and can’t spend money or clean up after themselves).

Ondine

Ondine starts out with a fisherman (with the oddly un-Irish name of Syracuse) who plies his trade with a small boat off the coast of Ireland. Him and his fishing boat are necessary elements to the story, because the tale starts when he pulls up a beautiful young woman wearing a bedraggled gray dress in his net. Initially thinking that she’s dead, he at first thinks of reporting his unusual catch to the authorities, but she turns out to be alive but unconscious, and she quickly revives after he gives her CPR. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want contact with anyone else, and being a fisherman in a remote area, who is lucky enough to have inherited a house from his mother near his fishing grounds, he is initially able to accommodate her wish to hide from the world.

He tells only one person about this unusual occurrence: his young daughter, who suffers from kidney failure and uses a wheelchair, had no book to pass the time during a dialysis appointment; to entertain her he tells her about the strange woman he fished from the sea, claiming that this story is a self-created fairy tale. Having just learned about the Scottish folkloric creature, the Selkie, she comes to the conclusion that this woman has to be a Selkie.

When she meets the woman and finds out that she is more than a fairytale, she starts reading up on Selkies and asking the woman questions. The woman gives her name as “Ondine” (implying that she is indeed a water spirit of some sort), and eventually acknowledges some Selkie characteristics and behavior as the movie goes on. Though the woman initially denies it, the girl and later others in the small town start seeing evidence to support the theory that she is a Selkie.

Most convincingly, when Ondine goes out on the fishing boat with Syracuse and sings, his lobster pots and trawling nets become strangely full. Her attempt to conceal something is taken to be an attempt at “burying her seal coat”, and the appearance of a strange and hostile man who wants to force her to go away with him though she wants to stay with Syracuse and is fast establishing a relationship with him is credited to the folklore concerning “the Selkie husband”. The viewer is left to wonder if she is indeed a Selkie or something similar.

While this movie does use the traditional imagery of the cute little disabled kid in the cute little wheelchair heroically enduring repeated dialysis treatments and patiently waiting for a donor kidney, and indulges in the further unreality of making the girl able to walk for some distance when her new motorized wheelchair becomes temporarily disabled after some able-bodied kids ride it into a big puddle, it is more realistic about physical disabilities and the lives of kids who have them than most other pictures involving a disabled juvenile character. This is perhaps because it is not, strictly speaking, a film about a disabled kid, but rather, a film containing a kid who happens to have some unnamed condition that involves kidney failure and the use of a wheelchair in wheelchair-unfriendly small-town Ireland. The first scene depicting the girl in a manual wheelchair shows us that her father routinely rides her straight over high curbs and cobblestones, and carries her into the car, up stairs, etc. Neither wheelchair ramps nor elevators are anywhere in evidence, those in the know are well aware that she can’t be carried like that forever. The girl somehow goes to school and to the local library, apparently others (her mother and stepfather) carry and chauffeur her as well. Nobody seems to have a van with a wheelchair lift; when Anna gets her power chair, she has to drive herself alongside her father’s car to get home. Though she has a normal pre-teen’s preoccupations, such as watching rock groups on TV and curiosity about the budding relationship between Ondine and her father, her life comes with some unusual risks built in: her stepfather looms as a menacing presence whose conduct and contact with her looks suspiciously on the verge of improper and abusive; her biological father got sober only because he realized someone had to be in order to properly fulfill parental responsibilities to her; his fall off the wagon threatens Anna as well as himself.

Ironically, it was an evening at the pub for her mother and stepfather in which both get inebriated and her mother rode in Anna’s power wheelchair which leads to the death of Anna’s stepfather in an unexpected car crash. He turns out to have a donor card and to be a perfect match for a kidney for the girl. This good luck-bad luck situation is attributed to the wish-granting power of the Selkie after the girl had asked the woman to make her better. Unlike in a lot of movies with a disabled character, the wish articulated by the little disabled girl, “make me better”, did not mean “remove the need for a wheelchair” but rather the life-threatening crisis of the kidney failure.

The true identity of “Ondine” remains a mystery until near the end of the movie when a less supernatural theory of how she came to be where and what she is comes to be revealed. We come to realize that Anna has created a bit of a fantasy for herself in order to cope with the tremendous stresses of her illness instead.