Friday, May 13, 2005

A Hollywood "Life of Augustine"

Or: Be Wary of Hollywood "Getting Religion"

A Hollywood movie about Saint Augustine would focus on his coercive suppression of the Righteous Donatists, who will be reinterpreted as contemporary free-thinkers of the utmost virtue and tolerance who cannot stand the hypocrisies of institutional Christianity. They would be allied and/or conflated with the Manicheans and Pelagians, lenient liberals all.

Augustine, portrayed as a fundamentalist, teetotaling, sex-fearing Puritan who believes the earth is flat, will be the victim of even further creative liberties and be shown him keeping a secret mistress, whom of course he viciously beats. Augustine would preside over a book-burning where the works of Cicero, Plato and the erotic poetry of Cleopatra are given over to the flames. He would make a derogatory remark about the only Jew in Hippo, and one of his old friends from his pagan days, conveniently paying him a visit, would chastise him and leave in a righteous huff, making under his breath a snide remark about the love Christians show for mankind.

Adeodatus, Augustine's real-life son from his pre-conversion concubine, would be the hero. Instead of dying young and orthodox, he would rebel from his tyrannical father and flee to the formidable North African forests to join the freedom-loving Donatists. After a "Getting to Know You" montage sequence, he will become a person as honored among the Donatists as their Amazonian woman leader, who is of course revealed to be Adeotatus's grandmother Monica. Augustine's old pagan friend would show up and offer his service, extending his screentime to three whole minutes. The wise, witty, and well-groomed Donatists would overcome their inherent pacifism and march on Hippo where Adeodatus would confront his father, who is in full episcopal regalia leading hordes of hairy illiterate fanatics with bad teeth. It would end in hand-to-hand combat between father and son, with Augustine dying a superficially ironic death involving a completely fictitious episcopal accessory. If the writers feel generous, he'll say with his dying breath that there was something to Donatism, after all.

Following his death, there will be a big party among the rebels. Augustine's abused mistress will hook up with his generous and wealthy pagan friend, and Adeodatus will make a cliche-ridden speech extolling early Twenty-First Century platitudes.

Some op-ed writer in the pages of the New York Times, in a column opposite one of Garry Wills' pieces, will voice confusion and dismay over the controversy surrounding the film. Various Christian groups will use the film as proof that the secular liberal elite is out to get them. The film will become a minor favorite among undergraduate philosophy clubs, and it will be defended on ReligiousTolerance.Org, MTV, various newsmagazine television shows on the stations owned by the conglomerate which also owns the production studio, and, obviously, by Christopher Hitchens. Catholics and other Christians aspiring to sophistication will cite the film as fact, as will a bevy of New Age spirituality book manuscripts presenting Augustine's theological opponents as bearers of True Christianity. The odd Orthodox Christian, most likely one of those former Evangelicals, will claim that Orthodoxy has always taught that Augustine was wrong through and through and, in a fit of overeager optimism, will even assert that the film will lead to mass defections to Orthodoxy from the Roman Church and other forms of Western Christianity. Elaine Pagels will propose to write a book arguing that the Donatist, Pelagian, and Manichean gospel texts discovered at Oxyrhyncus are all more authentic than the canonical New Testament.

Irrelevant webloggers like me will vent their spleen on the internet, looking with "come hither" eyes at Christendom, weeping for the historical fictions foisted upon our country by idiotic scripts.

Then the movie will bomb a week into its release, all Catholics will laugh from joy and schadenfreude. Ten years after its release, will deliver a scathing critique on the completely forgotten movie. Thirty years from its release, somebody will make a good Augustine movie, and will speak one throwaway line in interviews and the DVD commentary deriding the quality of his film's ignominious predecessor.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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