Frankie Paige has absolutely no faith in God. All of that changes when
she suddenly begins to suffer the Stigmata - the living wounds of the crucified
Christ. Frankie's miraculous bleeding come to the attention of the Vatican's
top investigator, Father Kiernan. But when Cardinal Houseman, discovers
that Frankie is actually channeling an extraordinary and provocative message
that could destroy the Church, he's convinced that she - and the force
possessing her - must be forever silenced.
you know what's scarier than not believing in
God? Believing in him. I mean, really believing in
him. It's a fucking terrifying thought."
- Frankie Page
If the makers of Stigmata aren't confused about their theology,
their theology certainly can be confusing. Absent close attention, a movie-goer
might be confused over whether a "stigmatic" is possessed by the devil
or the Holy Spirit. Actually, according to the movie, it's closer to both/and
than either/or: The closer one gets to God, the more vulnerable one gets
to evil. But The Exorcist-like episodes of un-Holy terror (only
the pea soup and spinning head are missing) are more memorable than those
of St. Francis-like gentleness, so Stigmata itself has been rather
roundly crucified at the hands of those critics and movie-goers who tend
toward the hysterically historical. Not fair.
A stigmatic is defined as someone experiencing the stigmata, which is to
say the bleeding wounds of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. The wounds
appear at both wrists and both ankles, penetrated by the spikes that held
Jesus to the cross; the back, deeply slashed by a whip; the forehead and
scalp, punctured by a crown of thorns; and the side, pierced by a spear.
History, as related by the movie, has never known anyone to experience
the stigmata at all five sites.
But Pittsburgh hairstylist-in-training Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette)
is well on her way to being the first. And things aren't looking good for
the young lady: Her "attacks" are cumulative, ugly, and getting uglier.
Frankie, in fact, is convinced she will die -- as Christ is believed to
have died -- should things progress to the spear stage.
On board for the ride is Father Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne), a scientist/priest
sent to Pittsburgh by the Vatican to investigate the matter. At first he's
thoroughly skeptical; Frankie is an atheist, and stigmatics historically
have been among the most devout of believers. Seeing is believing, though,
and hearing is, too: Frankie has spells of speaking in Aramaic, the language
of Jesus. The good Father becomes quite fond of Frankie and, while managing
to resist both the considerable temptations of her flesh and the mysterious
protestations of his boss, he assumes the role of protector and seeker
of the truth behind the affliction.
It should come as no surprise in the current atmosphere of cynicism that
the Roman Catholic Church was assigned the black hat in this story. Father
Andrew's boss, Cardinal Daniel Houseman (Jonathon Pryce), is especially
diabolical. But the level of official Catholic outrage that attended the
release of Stigmata seems to be an overreaction. This is not a great
horror movie, but it's a good horror movie, and, on the goosebumps scale,
it has more than a few moments of being a really spooky horror movie.
Patricia Arquette is remarkable in the role of 23-year-old Frankie, and
it's a tough role to play, physically and emotionally. Somehow Arquette
manages to rise above the many available stereotypes and deliver a truly
three-dimensional, even believable, character. True, Frankie is a party
girl -- a club-going, hard-drinking, sex-loving, body-piercing wild thing.
But in Arquette's hands, she's somebody's daughter, too -- sweet, ingenuous,
witty, conscientious, and scared as bloody hell.
Neither should we fault the filmmakers for putting story above theological
accuracy. This is, after all, a horror movie, not a documentary. And, in
the case of stigmata, being theologically accurate would have required
little less in the willing-suspension-of-disbelief department. Tom Lazarus
and Rick Ramage took a story by Lazarus (no kidding; that's his name) and
delivered a screenplay with a new, off-beat twist to an old premise. Director
Rupert Wainwright deserves considerable credit for simply letting Arquette
do her thing, but he did more than that. Under his direction, Arquette's
work is nicely supported by those around her, especially by Pryce, who
helps set new standards for clerical sleaze. Despite a few cutaways that
fail to deliver on whatever it is Wainwright wants them to deliver, his
film is fast-paced, with special effects that are imaginative and scary
without being overdone.
Despite the inevitable comparisons, Stigmata is no Exorcist -- not even close -- but it doesn't have to be in order to be good for
some scary fun. Those offended by stereotypical and broad-brush bashing
of the Catholic Church probably shouldn't chance it. But those able to
put aside theology texts and suspend disbelief for a couple of hours may
find themselves pleasantly and creepily entertained.
- Some of the footage of the subway car is from Money Train.
You can actually see the steel beam sticking out of the front window.
- To anyone who's ever trained (or even fed) birds, it's obvious
the doves flying into Frankie Paige's hands are eating from her palms.
- Patricia Arquette's character is named Frankie
(short for Frances), similar to the name of the saint, Francis, whom we're
told by Gabriel Byrne's character was the first to receive the stigmata.
- The body of Almeida in the coffin actually was a wax dummy made
in Los Angeles and shipped to the filming location.
- When we see inserts of the crucifixion, while Frankie as her first
attack of stigmata, the arms being nailed are rubber arms with wires that
make the fingers slightly move.
- The subway scene was shot on a fake train carriageway - the same
one used sometimes in Seinfeld.
- When Father Kiernan comes in the Vatican office to get is new
assignment, we can hear a bit of Italian speaking in the back between Cardinal
Daniel Houseman and another priest. Translation: "Rest assured, none of
this will never leave this room."
- During the final scene in the garden, the statue in the background
is of St. Francis of Assisi, the first person to bear the marks of the
- In the subway scene, Patricia Arquette and
Nia Long were the only people who weren't stunt people.
- The producers and director Rupert Wainright originally were thinking
of calling the film, St. Frances of Pittsburgh.
- Patricia Arquette was Rupert Wainright's first choice to play
- The phrase "Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone,
and you will find me there." comes from the "Gospel of Thomas" (Verse 77).
- The "Aramaic" Frankie writes on the wall, is actually ancient
Hebrew, because Rupert Wainright thought looked more intriguing.
- The Gospel of Thomas is a real historical document that some believe
to be the actual words of Jesus to his disciples; however, the real-life
document was written in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language based on the
Greek alphabet, not Aramaic, as the movie states.