The Third Miracle

Ed Harris, Anne Heche.
Directed by Agnieszka Holland.
Running Time: 118 mins
Rated: M

It is refreshing to find a screenplay that deals with complex religious issues in such depth and gets so many things right. The Third Miracle is about the need for multiple miracles to be proved in the old process for canonisation. The writer of this film has done his sums and sets The Third Miracle in 1979. This means the film can pursue the idea of three miracles and have a Devil's Advocate. Both of these features in the process were abolished in the revision of 1982.

Fr Frank Shore (Ed Harris) is the postulator for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In the middle of a crisis of his own faith, he is ordered by his Bishop to resume his duties and investigate a local cult developing around Helen O'Regan (Barbara Sukowa). During her life, Helen was known for her outstanding goodness. On the first anniversary of her death a statute of Mary weeps blood over Maria, a young girl whom Helen befriended, and Maria is cured of lupus. Other healings and mystical occurrences are reported. Fr Shore has a proven track record in disproving such phenomena and the local Bishop wants him to do so again.

Shore is vulnerable. He is not sure whether he wants to be a priest or whether he believes in saints and miracles. This case draws him to confront his faith, his priesthood and the power of God.

On the whole, screenwriter Richard Vetere, has done his homework. The definition of what a saint is, why there is a need for a local cult, the reason for miracles, the role of the postulator and a positio are all intelligently demonstrated. Vetere takes mysticism very seriously, but not uncritically.

Director Agnieszka Holland, however, lets the side down in some of the characterisations and the overactive camera movement, especially in the many close ups. The local auxiliary bishop is too vain and officious. The visiting Cardinals and Archbishop sent from the Congregation for Causes of Saints are a little too pompous. The speed with which Fr Shore falls in love with the Servant of God's daughter (Anne Heche) is a little too hasty. Every nun in this film parades around in veils and wimples. When will Hollywood get over its grief that the vast majoroity of religious women in the West no longer wear these habits? The effect is that the direction distracts from the engaging subtlety of the script.

Ed Harris is a very fine actor who has recently specialised in fatherly roles, as seen in The Truman Show, Apollo 13 and The Third Miracle. His dramatic range in this film is compelling. In this film there is no problem in establishing two miracles for Helen O'Regan's cause. The third and fourth miracles come in the final scene. And while they affirm the goodness of God they will not help Helen's cause in Rome. But the audience knows that these miracles, while the least spectacular, are the most powerful of all the acts of God's grace.

Richard Leonard SJ


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