Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the Boredom that makes ‘Skins’ possible

Santiago Ramos has a different take on ‘Skins’, and it’s well worth your read. From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

MediaPicJan28 Supply and Demand
On the Boredom that makes ‘Skins’ possible

By Santiago Ramos

It’s interesting that the teenage actor Sofia Black-D’Elia, one of the stars of the controversial new MTV series Skins, defended the show in a recent interview by saying: “It’s what teens are doing.” To say that a work of art reflects how life really is, how “things actually are,” has been considered for a while now to be a foremost mark of quality and relevance. To take a highbrow example: The fog of critics who praised Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, which came out earlier this year, have largely praised the novel because it describes “the way we live now” (as proclaimed on the cover of Time magazine).

While it may be true that, among suburban affluent high schoolers of America, there are many stories taking place which resemble the vodka and marijuana-inspired sexy escapades concocted by the writers of Skins, what I wonder is: Why do we care to use our televisions as mirrors? Why aren’t more people bored with seeing themselves on television? Where is that outrage?

Those, of course, are rhetorical questions, because nothing on TV is really like real life. In the pilot episode of Skins, an SUV containing five high schoolers plunges into a deep river, and after a few tense seconds, all five troublemakers swim to the surface, smiling, with only the SUV as a casualty. (The SUV is owned by an adult and adults don’t matter in this show.) The hope in real life would have been more like a 3/5 swim-to-safety ratio. But my question, thus refined, is not so much why we want shows which sort of reproduce our lives (with the added bonus tingling pleasures running throughout and slightly happy endings), but: Why don’t we want something different? Not a drab, naturalistic depiction of life and not a fantasy, either. Our lives, yes, but compacted into a story which makes it seem like normal life is dramatic and meaningful.

There is an undercurrent of boredom and docility in our culture which makes a show like Skins possible. Corporate entities function according to the law of supply and demand. While the makers of this show have run the risk of breaking child pornography laws by filming an underage actor partially nude, they could easily trim those offensive scenes and end the controversy with the name of their show splattered all over the media and an attendant boost in ratings. Any further outcry against the series could be swiftly be defended by an appeal to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and… “It’s what teens are doing.” The point is that their target market would be fine with it, would not leave them, and would not demand anything more of the quality of the show.

The dreary pilot episode of Skins places a lowlife, ugly kid named Tony on a quest for marijuana and an end to his sexual virginity. It also features a McMansion house where rich kids made fun of slightly richer kids and someone tracks mud onto an expensive European rug. A girl overdoses, but then she’s fine. And there’s the SUV incident.

What if I were to say to MTV: Why can’t your characters discuss Dostoyevsky, or Balzac, or Jonathan Franzen? Why couldn’t a sixteen year old student decry the excesses of his affluent suburban life and begin a Das Kapital afterschool reading group—only to have his father lose his job at the law firm, and be forced to work at Walmart, wherein he meets a blue collar Republican and has a political rebirth? Why couldn’t twin brothers debate the existence of God, one become a Benedictine Monk and the other a Buddhist, and start a family feud during the next Thanksgiving—only to join forces against the drab materialism of their parents? “But it’s not what teens are doing, it wouldn’t be realistic.”

What if I started demanding—or at least desiring, desiring loudly—more interesting stories?

No doubt if I did, someone would point out that I am merely not watching the right shows. You want something different? We can offer you historical fiction: The Tudors, Boardwalk Empire, and, of course, Mad Men. You want highbrow science fiction? We have (or, alas, had) Caprica. You want lowbrow science fiction? V! You want lawyer shows, cop shows, teacher shows… The market always supplies.

Yes, yes, but again, this is not what I mean, and not what I want. I am not against the (natural) instinct within us which searches for self-recognition in the stories we see on television. What I oppose is the fact that, within a “realistic” show like Skins, there are few if any characters who reflect something more intimate within the heart of the viewer than a mere catalogue of his sins and misadventures: the desire for life to be more than life, to be more beautiful and lovelier and simply more. There is more to realism than facts. But as long as this desire is kept in abeyance, then mediocrity and crudity reigns.

In the preview to the second episode of MTV’s Skins, a character says: “Is it too much to ask—for someone to be interesting?” If more people asked this question, this show and a few others would be in trouble.

Santiago Ramos has written for The Pitch, Commonweal, First Things and Image Journal. He is currently pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Boston College.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Opening of Cause for Beatification of Founder of Mary’s House

Following Solemn Vespers Jan. 21, the Cause for the Founder of Mary’s House, where millions of Christians and Muslims offer “their petitions to the Mother of God, Theotokos, and to the Lady of the Koran,” was officially opened at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City.

Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn has written earlier about Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey and why her cause is taken up in Kansas City. The excellent SERVIAM blog has details from Friday’s ceremony, and John Caulfield has a gallery of pictures, from which those here are taken. Also, Fr. Z has a post on “heroic virtue,” which is the quality this diocesan phase of the cause will seek to determine in the life of Sr. Marie.

Below is Bishop Finn’s homily from the opening ceremony which succinctly explains the importance of Sr. Marie and Mary’s House:

Your Excellencies,
Brother Priests and Deacons
Esteemed Religious,
Particularly Members of the Vincentian Congregation and Daughters of Charity
Family Members of Sr. Marie
Friends in Christ all,

The Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich retold her mystical experiences of the life of the Blessed Virgin, describing in astounding detail the little stone house which overlooked the Bay at Ephesus. These accounts stirred the heart of Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey, who already loved our Blessed Mother deeply. Sr. Marie prevailed over the skepticism of her Vincentian co-workers, persuading the scholarly priests to scour the hot dusty slopes of Nightingale Mountain. Mary herself, it seemed, refreshed the seekers in the cool waters of a spring God had first provided for the Mother of Jesus and St. John the Evangelist.

Fathers Poulin and Jung were compelled by the sincerity and humility of Sr. Marie, the holiness they saw in her and which draws us together tonight in this unlikely place to ask God’s grace and blessing on a new journey: the study of Sr. Marie’s life and work.

Adelle Louise Marie de Mandat-Grancey, as a young lady, determined to leave the world and the family she loved dearly. She wanted to be among the simple maids she had observed in the streets of Paris, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul. At Rue du Bac, where Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal had appeared to Catherine Laboure, she was formed more fully in the humility and generous faith that was, early on, a hallmark of her life. Near Paris she cared for orphans. She gathered youth in the catechesis of the Children of Mary. When the need was great she went to Turkey, and in time, was pressed into service as Superior.

When God had prepared her, He acquired her will and her heart so that the gift of Meryem Ana Evi, Mary’s House, could be revealed to the world. Sr. Marie acquired the property with the help of her family, and she and her Vincentian spiritual fathers carried forward the excavations and restorations. They prayed there and walked the path of the Cross which was once traversed by the Lady of Sorrows herself. Today it is visited by Popes, and it is the place of prayer and devotion to millions of children of Mary each year: Christians and Muslims together. They adorn its walkways with their petitions to the Mother of God, Theotokos, and to the Lady of the Koran.

In the humility characteristic of her Order, it seems that the foundress of Mary’s House, never published a book or signed her name to any teaching, but her spirit of prayer and courageous determination endures nearly a century after her death. After world wars, and cultural and political upheavals in Turkey, admiration for this strong holy woman, Sr. Marie, has persisted.

Half a world away, in Kansas City, Missouri, we also have heard her story, and now we seek to fulfill the mandate of the Church and to satisfy the hunger of God’s people for saintly models and friends in every age and place.

Our Evening Prayer is a song to God in honor of Mary. In the fullness of time she bore the Savior. At the foot of Jesus’ Cross she became our Mother. Under the care of John, she lived her last years on earth in the little stone house near Ephesus. There the Virgin Mother received the Eucharist from the apostle’s hands. Her daily devotion was the Via Crucis which, according to Anne Catherine Emmerich, she marked on the hill beyond the house. Along that path she would finally be carried by the apostles, laid lovingly in a tomb corresponding to the sepulcher of Jerusalem, only to be assumed body and soul into heaven and crowned before the Most Holy Trinity.

Three years ago, I too knelt in that holy place and felt I had arrived at our Mother’s home. On that same trip I went to nearby Izmir, and visited with His Excellency Archbishop Ruggero Franceschini. I could see his love for Smyrna, and for the ancient Basilicas in Ephesus where more than 1500 years before the bishops of the Church affirmed definitively the profession of the faithful who kept a torch lit vigil in the streets and made the great proclamation of the Council of Ephesus: Holy Mary Mother of God, Theotokos!

Archbishop Franceschini, carrying the cultural challenges and political turmoil part and parcel of his historic See, expressed deep affection for the holy house and admiration for its founder, Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey. Two years later he would ask me to take the Cause in his stead, a request that was hard to refuse when requested by his good predecessor and envoy, Archbishop Bernardini. Let us offer fervent prayers for Archbishop Franceschini and the Church in Turkey. While I accept this privilege on behalf of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I pledge that if God’s will unfolds in accord with our prayer and work – we will, in a sense, give Sr. Marie back, not only to France, or to Turkey, or to the United States, but to the world, as a friend and intercessor.

It is a joy and honor for me, and I know also for Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City Kansas, and Bishop Raymond Boland, Emeritus of this diocese, to pray in this sanctuary with the Archbishop Emeritus of Izmir, His Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini, who himself has done so much to shepherd this effort.

Tante Grazie e Benvenuto Monsignore Bernardini!

We also wish to welcome Mrs. Madelaine Kunz, the associate and representative of Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, whose nomination as postulator has been confirmed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and whose reputation as a brilliant and dedicated churchman is well established by his work on so many such Processes. Welcome Madelaine. Please assure Dr. Ambrosi of our prayers and esteem.

Today we are also honored and happy to have among us some of the family of Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey. Baron and Baroness Jacques and Rosario de Mandat-Grancey, Baron Philippe de Mandat-Grancey, and Sister Elisabeth.

Chère famille de Soeur Marie. Merci d'être venus. Que Dieu vous bénisse, vous et vos familles.

This week I have received a letter from the head of the De Grancey family. Unable to be with us, Count Adrien de Mandat-Grancey offered his prayerful support in our effort. “Concerning our eldest branch,” he writes, “and all those of the family who will not be able to [come] to Kansas City, we will organize a collective prayer and Mass in the Holy Chapel of Rue du Bac, on the very same day you begin the ceremonies in Kansas City! Our joined prayers will be going simultaneously to the Lord from two continents!”

From the homeplace of Sr Marie I have received other messages of support: from His Excellency Roland Minnerath Archbishop of Dijon; from Sr. Evelyne Franc, Superior General of the daughters of Charity. From France, and from Turkey, and from the heart of the United States we are joined in prayer for this blessed commission.

I also wish to acknowledge and thank one of the many who have worked so hard to spread the story of God’s providence through the example of Sr. Marie. I welcome Mrs. Erin Von Uffel who first introduced me to the holy Servant of God. To Erin, and her steady co-worker Lorraine Fusaro, welcome, and we are grateful for your zeal and your faith. I made that first trip with members of the family of George B. Quatman, founder of the American Society of Ephesus. Bill Quatman and Georgia Quatman Lynch continue to do so much to support and promote the holy sites, and are a great blessing to our Diocese.

It is a joy to greet the Daughters of Charity who have come today. You and our other Religious – there are so many here tonight - have yet another beautiful example in Sr. Marie. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the presence of our Vincentian priests who have long served in our Diocese; particular greetings to Vincentian Fr. Carl Schulte who is a biographer of Sr. Marie. Thank you Father, for your very important contribution.

In the Ceremony following Vespers, I will call forward and receive the oath of the Tribunal assigned to conduct this Process and the various commission members and assistants who will carry forward this important work. Thank you all, in advance, for your generous service. What you do will bring many significant graces to our Diocese.

Dear friends, the Evening Prayer of the Church echoes the Song of Mary and resonates in every place and time. May God receive our prayer tonight, confirm what we do, and bring it to completion in conformity with His holy will. Holy Mary – Mother of God and our hope: Pray for us!

Photos by John Caulfield:

Top – Painting of Sr. Marie. Bishop Finn blessed rosaries in front of this picture which were distributed to all in attendance.

Middle – (l-r) Bishop Finn, Archbishop Emeritus of Smyrna Giuseppe Bernardini, Kansas City in Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Bishop Emeritus of Kansas City-St. Joseph Raymon Boland.

Bottom – Bishop Finn signs the instrument opening the Cause of Beatification.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bishop Finn: ‘Abortion too monumental a disgrace to neglect’

While officially titled to commend the upcoming March for Life, Bishop Finn’s column this week is worth sharing for a number of other reasons.  Chiefly, he reminds us all with regard to the Christian’s attitude toward various issues – abortion, capital punishment, nuclear proliferation, migrants – that “Man-made law does not, of itself, establish right and wrong.” He also firmly reiterates his assertion, that particularly with regard to abortion, “No elected official or appointed judge is worthy of our support, if among their many acts of just advocacy they will not support the most vulnerable of our human race.”

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

March for Life: Culmination of Many Efforts to Support and Protect Human Life

By Most Rev. Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Throughout the past year the realities of the world around us have caused us to look long and hard at a many issues that endanger the well being of God’s people. In these columns I have shared with you the principles that help to insure the respect for human life and the dignity of the human person.

Here we have reflected on health care, capital punishment, the legitimate human needs of migrants, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. All of these issues and many more have a “common denominator”: the life and dignity of the human person, given to us irrevocably by God. Man-made law does not, of itself, establish right and wrong. God grants His graces, including the inestimable gift of human life. Law must work to safeguard and protect this life, and to establish norms for the good order of society. If law does not honor the primacy of human life, we as citizens must work to change and improve these structures in a manner that secures man’s most basic protections.

January 22, 2011, marks a particularly destructive moment in our nation’s history: the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions: Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion in almost any circumstance and at any moment in a pregnancy. Almost 60 million surgical abortions have been recorded in the United States since then – the most horrendous taking of human life in history. The numbers of abortions worldwide are certainly greater as other nations have “followed our lead.”

Washington D.C. will again be the site of the “March for Life” which commemorates this sad anniversary. Because of some other important commitments this weekend in our Diocese, this is the first time in quite a few years that I will not be able to go to the March. I am very gratified that four buses of faithful from our diocese will make the trip this year. Bill Francis, Director of our Diocesan Respect Life Office, with the help of our parish coordinators, has organized a pilgrimage which is devotional and educational for the participants. The age-range of those traveling is between 8 and 80 years. I have made the trip more times than I can recall, and the bus ride is long and cramped; the D.C. weather is often snowy. But the crowds in the hundreds of thousands are inspiring. We mustn’t stop working peacefully, prayerfully, and within the legal structures of law to end abortion in our country. It is too monumental a disgrace to neglect or forget.

Critics will sometimes suggest that “Pro-Lifers” only care for people before they are born. The record shows that this is not true. Our own Catholic agencies – and so many of our parishes – care for people at every moment, “from the womb to the tomb.” There is, in fact, no other private institution that does as much to aid people in need than the Catholic Church; Period. As Catholics we also support with our taxes the many governmental interventions that assist people. No one has more soup kitchens and food banks; no private organization provides more counseling, or has more senior housing, or has more adoption centers; None. We train people for worthy employment; we aid released prisoners in getting a new start; we serve the urban core and the furthest rural communities. We look to the legal, physical and spiritual needs of migrants. In our Catholic hospitals we have never stopped caring for the sick and the dying. In our schools we form young people, in faith, for service and authentic leadership. And yes, we are among the most persistent champions of human life from its first moment until natural death.

I know you will join me in prayerfully supporting those who March in Washington this Monday, and all who speak and act, peacefully and prayerfully, in defense of the unborn. No elected official or appointed judge is worthy of our support, if among their many acts of just advocacy they will not support the most vulnerable of our human race.

We commend our efforts to our two most powerful patrons: Mary, Mother of Life and St. Joseph, Protector of the Family. Holy Mary our Hope; St. Joseph: Pray for us!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

You’re Invited to the Opening of a Cause for Beatification

Back in November, we reported that the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph was to take up the cause for a French Daughter of Charity regarded by the Church as the Founder of Mary’s House at Ephesus. Mary’s House at Ephesus is believed to be the place where Mary lived with St. John after the death and resurrection of her Son and the place of her Assumption. It is a place of pilgrimage for Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims. You can read about Mary’s House and Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey’s role in discovering it in our earlier post.

Now, however, Sister Marie’s Cause for Beatification will formally open with Solemn Vespers at the Cathedral if the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City on Friday, January 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. This notice was already in the paper last week. I’m posting it here because there are many readers of the blog who do not live in the diocese, yet may be within a distance to attend the event. How often do you get to attend the opening of a Cause for Beatification?

You are all invited!

From the previous edition of the Catholic Key:

Solemn Vespers Will Open Process for Beatification and Canonization

By Bishop Robert W. Finn
Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph

An Edict will soon be posted on the doors of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City. It will formally announce the opening of the process for Beatification and Canonization for Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey, and it fulfills one of the many requirements for the detailed investigation into the holy woman’s life. By the Edict, I ask for anyone who can give testimony or provide writings pertinent to Sr. Marie’s life to come forward. It must be publicly displayed at the Cathedral prior to the ceremonies.

The celebration of Solemn Vespers on Friday, January 21, 2011, will be historic. The Evening Prayer will be followed by a ceremony in which I will take an oath to oversee the work ahead in honesty – not withholding anything, good or bad, that we may learn about Sr. Marie. I will then administer the oath to all those who will assist in the “diocesan process.”

Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, whose office is in Rome, will act as Postulator of the cause. Dr. Ambrosi continues to work on many such investigations: John Cardinal Newman who was recently beatified, Pope John XXIII, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Frs. Stanley Rother and Emil Kapaun, and many others. He will be with us on January 21, as will several family members of Sr. Marie, from France, and Archbishop Giuseppe Bernardini, Archbishop Emeritus of Izmir, Turkey.

I have established a Tribunal here in our diocese that will oversee the work of the next few years: Fr. Matthew Bartulica, now finishing his graduate studies in Rome, is the Episcopal Delegate; Fr. Joseph Totton is the Promoter of Justice; Mr. G. William Quatman is the Notary. There will be an Historical Commission to research all the information we can gather, and a Theological Commission to evaluate the findings. There will be translators and copyists and typists. Similar processes in other dioceses often take about two or three years, before everything is sent to Rome for evaluation and, ultimately, recommendation to the Holy Father.

One of the most demanding elements of the work will be the evaluation of ‘special graces from God’ that can be considered ‘miracles’ and are attributable to Sr. Marie’s intercession.

It is my hope that, by learning more about the heroic sanctity of one Religious Sister, we will all be inspired to grow in holiness.Born into French nobility in 1837, Adele Louise Marie de Mandat-Grancey surrendered a life of privilege to enter a religious community. As a Daughter of Charity, she devoted her early ministry to care for the sick and teach orphans in Paris. Under her leadership, the orphanage tripled in size and inspired the necessary donations of food and clothing to care for the children. In 1886, she moved to a medical mission at a hospital in Smyrna, Turkey. There, she joined archaeologists in researching the location of Mary’s Home and rescuing it from oblivion. Contemporary popes – Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI – have honored the Shrine at Ephesus with pilgrimages to the site. Today, Meryem Ana Evi, or Mary’s Home, is a place of pilgrimage for millions of people, Christians and Muslims alike.

Please pray for God’s blessing on this work, and join us at the Cathedral, on Friday, January 21, 2011, at 6:00 p.m.



In accordance with article 43 of the Instruction Sanctorum Mater, I, the undersigned the Most Reverend Robert W. Finn, Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, declare that I have received and accepted the petition of Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, Postulator for the Cause Beatification of the Servant of God Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey. Therefore, this Cause will be opened during a formal session at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the 21st of January, 2011. I have asked my ecclesiastic tribunal to carry out all necessary steps to instruct this diocesan process. All those who can give valid testimony, even if they have negative proof, are advised to come forth and contact the aforementioned tribunal. Moreover, those who possess writings of any kind regarding the Servant of God are asked to put them at the tribunal’s disposition.

Kansas City-St. Joseph the 5th of January, 2011

In faith,
Most Reverend Robert W. Finn
Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Detour–A Review of ‘The Tourist’

From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

The Detour

By Santiago Ramos

The Tourist
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Written by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie, Julian Fellowes
Starring Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton

The_Tourist_PosterI will forgive director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck for making this movie. But this means he committed a fault. The director of The Lives of Others (2006) - a brilliant thriller, a work of art, easily one of the top films of the decade just passed - has played beneath his strength in The Tourist.

This film is supposed to be a break from von Donnersmarck's more serious work. He said as much to Charlie Rose. After a long period of research for a film about suicide, von Donnersmarck decided that he needed a respite from this bleak task, and along came Angelina Jolie with a screenplay: “Reading this screenplay somehow put me in a good mood, and I thought that maybe it would have the same effect on an audience seeing it,” he told Rose. “I felt that 99 percent of people have a harder life than I do and I would want them to also have this opportunity to escape into a world where…in the end things will be alright.”

This is not to say that The Tourist is mere moneymaking schlock. It is not Transformers. It is an exercise in the type of escape provided by classic Hollywood films where, according to von Donnersmarck, we are given great actors, beautiful settings, and a “sense of lightness and joy.” It is also an echo of the classic 1951 Hitchcock film, Strangers on a Train, and it silently teems with nostalgia for Golden Age Hollywood. So we should critique this movie not against what I would have wanted von Donnersmarck to do (something serious, like The Lives of Others) but against what he set out to do. But we can also critique the value of what he set out to do.

The first thing needed for an escape into a world of lightness and joy is a bridge between it and the real world of the viewer. That bridge is the protagonist in the movie with whom we can get along and understand. Johnny Depp plays that character. He stars as Frank Tupelo, a middle class, widowed math teacher from Wisconsin who, in an effort to confront the boredom in his life and defeat it, travels to Italy and takes a train from somewhere to Venice. It is on this train that he meets the mysterious Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie), who asks him, “What is your name?”

The similarities with Strangers on a Train end there. In that film, the plot-triggering encounter begins on a train when one man attempts to coax another man into a conspiracy for convenient murder. The suspense that follows arises not only from the criminal acts that ensue but also from the torment of conflicted motivations on the part of the nominally innocent. The only conflicted motivations in The Tourist are those of Elise, who was once a secret agent for the British MI6, and who fell in love with the man she was tracking, the mysterious billionaire Alexander Pearce.

Pearce is wanted by the MI6 for tax evasion, and by this former boss, the much nastier billionaire named Shaw (Steven Berkoff), for stealing two billion dollars from him. Both of these forces are tracking down Elise in order to find Pearce. Elise needs a lookalike decoy and onto the action stumbles a mild-mannered American with a voice like you and me, but with a haircut more like Eddie Vedder’s than a Wisconsin high school would permit for its teachers.

Frank will slowly fall in love with Elise, and she with him. But Elise doesn’t seem anymore bothered about her conflict(s) of loyalty and affection than a college sophomore is about mounting debt from student loans. Nothing much weighs on her—and that’s the point. We see her glide from gown to gown (twelve dresses in all, says IMBD.com), through the watery lanes of Venice, from hotel to ball to action scene to close up of her glowing eyes. She barely ever frowns.

Why do I say that von Donnersmarck has committed a fault? Despite some technical flaws—the pace is uneven, too slow in the beginning - I enjoyed the movie. It was a sweet time I spent in the theater. But I felt empty after such an indulgence. Tron, which I saw the next day, didn’t inspire this emptiness - or at least I didn’t feel guilty over the emptiness. But I expected less from Tron.

When I first saw it in 2006, The Lives of Others opened my eyes to the power of film as an art form. The subtlety of feeling in its writing and musical score, the gravity of the filmmaker’s conceit, the struggle that his characters go through in figuring out what to say and what to do, and the film’s final line - “This is for me” - shook me. There were no tourists in Lives, only people grappling with real circumstances. Reading up on von Donnersmarck, I discovered that he was a former apprentice-novelist who wanted to bring novelistic density to his films - he pointed out in several interviews that the German word for poet, dichter, also means “dense.” He could appreciate both the tradition of European art film and the genius of Hollywood at its best.

I want another film by that guy. Escapism, whether crude or refined, is readily available for all. The entertainment industry makes sure that supply always exceeds demand. But an artist is something that few demand and all need. Escape makes us tourists; art makes us men. I hope von Donnersmarck quickly returns to the project he was preparing before Angelina Jolie gave him a call.

(Ed. Note: Visit www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2007/07/why-dictators-fear-artists to read Ramos’ article on The Lives of Others.)

Santiago Ramos is currently pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Boston College. He has written for The Pitch, Commonweal, Image Journal, and First Things.