“Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up!”
Recommending a film on a particularly liturgically-meaningful day such as today always seems a bit incongruous to me. Audacious, even. Yet I’ve always tried, spurred on by the fact that I myself have had several transformative cinematic experiences on Good Friday (most of them revolving around Dreyer’s harrowing, redemptive The Passion of Joan of Arc).
This year was a bit of a puzzle to me, though. (Calvary was the first film that sprang to mind, but it’s not readily available from the usual streaming suspects. And besides, it’s almost too much to take, even for me.) But then I saw this Critic Wire piece on Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront, and it gave me an idea. And the more I thought on it, the better I liked it.
Firstly, because it features one of my very favorite cinematic representations of the priesthood: Karl Malden’s perfectly human, perfectly drawn Father Barry, who might not be the heart of the film (that’s Eva-Marie Saint) but is most definitely its soul. (Interestingly, Father Barry is loosely based on Father John Corrigan, the real-life inspiration that lead to the film in the first place).
But secondly (and more thematically) because there is a way in which Terry Malloy’s suffering is a crucifixion; less horrific, less fatal, and far less efficacious, to be sure. And Malloy is far, far from an innocent victim. But at the same time, there are some striking (and, perhaps, instructive) parallels.
Winner of eight Oscars, director Elia Kazan’s classic morality tale stars Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a has-been boxer who experiences a crisis of conscience while working for mobbed-up union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry turns a blind eye when Friendly’s thugs kill a fellow dockworker to keep him from testifying in a corruption case, but he has second thoughts when the victim’s sister (Eva Marie Saint) urges him to take a stand.
“Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront you’ve got another guess coming!”