Two great tastes don’t always taste great together. Take The Exorcist and MTV, for instance. You love them equally, but probably not as a combo – unless of course, you’re the type who could sit through a two-hour Marilyn Manson video without spewing green like Linda Blair.
If ex-video maker Rupert Wainright’s Stigmata can’t mesmerize a viewer into believing it’s a spectacular film, it can at least try for total enticement via lofty thoughts, blood and water, a rock video visual assault and the two tastes that do seem to pair up nicely: religion and sex. Patricia Arquette plays Frankie Paige, a 23-year-old (the same age as most stigmatics) atheist hairdresser from Philadelphia who is systematically afflicted with the same five wounds Christ suffered before his death. From the first bloody, demonic attack in her fishbowl bathtub surrounded by candles, Frankie becomes the sexed-up urban ’90s victim of Christ’s passion and, in visually seductive flashes, hopefully the viewer’s own.
Besides the fact that Wainright doesn’t make a great movie out of an appealing idea, the themes are filled with forced religious rebellion: transplanting Christian faith from building (the church) to body (a hot blonde); subversive readings of an ancient Aramaic document believed to be the final words of Jesus; and a scientist-priest, Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), falling helplessly in love with Frankie. It’s enough to make a thorn bird wince.
While Stigmata dwells at the emotionally desperate level of a Goth teen writing bad anti-Catholic poetry, it must be given points for highlighting parallels between the gaudiness of the pierced, inked, scarred, polyestered, bleached, adorned and madeup bodies of the ’90s, and the appearance of cathedrals. Sensitive to the desolation of the human spirit and its quest for meaning, Wainright’s head-on, spike-driving collision with the church gains impact as much from the aesthetic value of Frankie’s confused suffering as it does from the corny carnal versions of Bible stories it uses to stir up controversy and raise consciousness.
Of course, it succeeds in neither, leaving us with an overgrown rock video littered with suspense and haunted by moving epigrams.
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