The City Pages

The Hymens Parable

Heights Theater, Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

This locally made indie begins as a Catholic confessional and heads from there into a heavy-hitting examination of rape, hereditary alcoholism, and institutional religious morality. The protagonist is Jason (Shane Barach), a 30-year-old seminary student--and yet another disillusioned Catholic. Even though he's on his way to becoming ordained a priest, Jason cannot reconcile his strong dislike for his sister Cassandra (Melissa Lewis), a woman who's epileptic, prone to divine visions, and fixated on the Eucharist to the point of stealing consecrated wine and consuming it in mass quantities. Jason is also disturbed by having witnessed his father rape Cassandra when she was 12, a memory he refuses to accept. This debut feature by St. Paul director Jon Springer boasts all local talent and a number of familiar Twin Cities locations. Although the filmmaker's inexperience is revealed in several scenes that appear rigid and stale, his ambition more than makes up for it. Aside from Kevin Smith's Dogma, few American films these days even attempt to tackle a subject as cumbersome as Catholic morality. Springer and his cast will be present at the screening. Jeremy Swanson

 The Catholic Spirit

 

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IMDb User Comment

Joanie V., California

Date: 11 May 2000
Summary: The Pains of Believing
11 May 2000
Summary: The Pains of Believing

The Hymens Parable takes another stark, pained look at the reality of faith in this turbulent, disbelieving and tormented world of ours. In the best tradition of contemporary films that deal *seriously* with faith (the Catholic faith in particular), Hymens  is metaphor-heavy, as its title suggests-the OED definition of `parable' reads as `narrative setting forth in terms of something else, fictitious story told to point a moral, apologue, allegory.' Hymens' story-line centers around a young and handsome soon-to-be priest whose faith and vocation are equally shaky. Jason's attraction to the religious life is, it appears, completely indebted to his sister Cassie's visionary and `crazy' mysticism. At the same time, Jason harbors resentments of all sorts against Cassie, whose obsessed devotion puzzles and angers him.

Cassie works in the film as a reminder of the other-worldly nature of faith, whose uncompromising, heavenward nature cannot but be `read' by our brutal, cold, over-scientific world as mental illness. Brought up in a highly dysfunctional family (part of a highly dysfunctional world), Cassie suffers in her flesh the contradictions and tearing paradoxes of the evil that surrounds her: she's indomitably drawn to self-inflicted pain and thirsts uncontrollably for wine (preferably the sweet wine used in the Mass). With the same single-mindedness of Joan of Arc with respect to the solaces of sacramental confession, Cassie craves the solaces of the Eucharist. Unable as a woman to be a priest herself, Cassie conditions Jason from his early childhood to choose the priesthood. Jason follows this preordained path, though not, as I said, without misgivings and doubts.

Jon Springer, who has written, photographed, and directed this film, may have bit off more than he can chew. Because he wants to show the high contemporary relevance of the Eucharist-which is at the heart of the mystery of the Incarnation-he finds himself having to confront the trickiest mystery of all, the mystery of evil. This he does through the troubled personal lives of Jason and Cassie, but also through its ultimate 20th century example, the Holocaust. This mish-mash of horrors can indeed be too much for anyone to take, and we sympathize with Jason's struggle to believe. At the same time, though, it's hard for the viewer to gain understanding of Cassie's mystical obsession. Without meaning to sound facile, I still think that most of us believers manage to do so in a more joyous, light-spirited, less tortured way. Why is God, one wonders, not showing these siblings that there's genuine beauty and joy and RELIEF in faith? At the end of watching Cassie and Jason go through their exhausting ordeal, one is tempted to wonder: what's the good of faith?

I want to point out something that I found very valuable in this intense film. Many nowadays protest the supposed exclusion of women from the heart of the Church. Hymens asserts in no uncertain terms that women are perhaps right at THE heart of the religious experience. As in other recent films that deal with Catholicism (Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead comes to mind), women are the ones who see and point the way, while men try to follow as best they can. That women should, as a consequence, be certified as crazy and locked up in psychiatric institutions by a world that makes no room for the supernatural is a painful but ultimately validating fact. See this movie and judge for yourself!

 

IMDb User Comment

L. Miller, Minneapolis

Date: 7 March 2002
Summary: Beautiful and subtle, but not complete.
7 March 2002
Summary: Beautiful and subtle, but not complete.

The previous poster did a wonderful job of summarizing the plot so I'll let their post stand. My commentary is this - the visuals are interesting, the themes thought-provoking (didn't Christ's people receive him not as well?) and the recommendation for "Dogma" is not entirely appropriate here. "Dogma" is a near-parody about reconciling oneself to faith and the requirements of higher forces.

THP is more an examination of faith as it relates to acceptance in and of the world (Jon's followup film "Heaven 17" also explores the concept of the faithful as fish out of secular water) and why not all prophets are sane, not all insane people are prophets, and many times it's not you choosing the Spirit so much as the Spirit choosing you.

The film is constrained somewhat by budget (though the visuals are worthy of full-blown Hollywood productions) and the characters need an arc (most of the film is flashback and they're not really _doing_ much in the present except for moving from flashback trigger to flashback trigger).

Nevertheless, a substantive work from someone whom I sincerely believe is capable of great work.

 

HHPUB

There is a new independent film that touches on family loyalty, The Hymens Parable (Cricket Films and Catholic Partners,1999), produced, directed and written by Jon Springer.  I saw this film at the 2000 Twin Cities international film festival. Like so many independents, it is realistically filmed on-location, at various points (especially campuses) in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  The look varies from a grainy black-and-white (very chilling in a fatal auto wreck scene) to a use of pencil-like hues that suggests colorized film.  But a major point of the story is that a young man (Jason, played by Shane Barach) studying to be a priest has to deal with his own “hatred” of his mentally-ill and sometimes suicidal sister (Cassandra, played by Melissa Lewis) who, as it turns out, has grown “crazy” in her desire to be consumed by Christ in the context of religious ecstasy.  Later we learn of problems in the family background (especially the father) that explain many of her problems. But the young man will not feel free to pursue his own spiritual goals without coming to terms with how he is expected to “feel” about other possibly “burdensome” blood-family members. The intensity approaches real psychological horror. Let’s home [sic] a FineLine Features or an Artisan Entertainment discovers this film.