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The religion and the know how to overcome the evil according to Abel Ferrara

The film director Abel Ferrara was born in the Bronx on July 19, 1951 and has earned a huge reputation as a provocateur using sex, violence and religion as raw materials. His grandfather had come there from Salerno when he was twenty and never spoke a word of English. He now assures that he is not obsessed with images of Christianity and that it is Christianity that has monopolized all the interesting images of our time. He and his more frequent screenwriter Nicholas St. John had a Catholic upbringing, attended Lakeland High School, and were already pointing out ways in their first feature film.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Wednesday, December 22nd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 9 minutes or 1895 words.


Abel Ferrara′s first feature film was titled ′9 Lives of a Wet Pussy′ (1977) and it is actually a pornographic film in which the director himself appears reading the Bible. Just before eating a fish for dinner, breaking bread and drinking wine, Abel Ferrara aka Jimmy Boy reads in great detail the controversial text from Genesis where Lot′s daughters sleep with their elderly father. The image of an elderly father actually reappears right at the beginning of his second feature film ′The Driller Killer′ (1979).

The second feature film begins with a young Abel Ferrara aka Jimmy Laine walking slowly down the central aisle of a dark New York Catholic church. His outdated prodigal appearance is apparent from the foreground taken from behind, but is fully evident when he reaches the bench in the front row. There he seems to recognize an old, bearded man, who murmurs on his knees what seems like incomprehensible pleas about sin.

Abel Ferrara carefully approaches his hand towards him, but unlike Michelangelo′s scene in the Sistine Chapel, when the old man responds by bringing his hand closer, the young protagonist runs scared, denying him and any possible connection to them. could unite. From that moment on, the protagonist begins a delirious spiral of murders of people who, one might think, bear some resemblance to that first father figure.

Decay and the search for redemption

′The Driller Killer′ (1979) has been compared to ′Taxi Driver′ (1976), the work of another director of Catholic education from the same city named Martin Scorsese. Abel Ferrara however takes the scenes of violence further along the lines of what he had seen in ′The Texas Chain Saw Massacre′ (1974) and the madness of the protagonist of him seems to be much more related to the breakdown of a relationship paternal.

Abel Ferrara moved to Rome, Italy, coinciding with the terrorist attacks in his city on September 11, 2001. He is still very active despite the financing difficulties that he always suffers and continues to show the same marked interest in the issues religious that he materializes in the form of dramatized documentaries such as “Mary” (2005) or “Tommaso” (2019), where he literally pays homage to “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) by Martin Scorsese.

Abel Ferrara now works without the help of his screenwriter Nicholas St. John. Dangerous Game (1993) was the last script she wrote for him, just before Nicholas completely disappeared from the media radar. There is much speculation about what the real reasons were, based mainly on the clues that are observed in two other scripts for two sublime films that will be released soon after. The London premiere will in fact be on the exact same day April 18, 1997.

Evil and control over addiction

Abel Ferrara told Daniel Goodwin in 2018 that he considers himself more Buddhist than Christian and that he exclusively believes in the power of decision; but he added that his screenwriter Nicholas St. Johns is a Catholic and wrote on topics such as temptation, redemption or resurrection as a believer in a literal and not a metaphorical sense. ′The Addiction′ (1995) and ′The Funeral′ (1996) revolve around the biblical concept of evil but with the difference that ′The Addiction′ is a story about vampirism and ′The Funeral′ is a story about the Italian mafia. . The theological content, however, is so abundant in both that even literal phrases of a theologian like R.C. Sproul.

It is not probable that the choice of the theologian Sproul was accidental, since in any case the idea that is intended to convey in both films is the inevitability of our sin: ′We are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners ′. The Catholic and Roman theology of the Vatican Council is true that it also upholds the total depravity of the human being when it says that: ′In fact, when man examines his heart, he finds his inclination to evil and feels overwhelmed by many evils ′. But Calvinist theology has become especially renowned for that emphasis, and R.C. Sproul was then probably the most influential of all the defenders of him in the United States of America. Not surprisingly, many artists such as Alice Cooper or Gary Cherone from Extreme then declared that they felt special sympathy for him.

′The Addiction′ (1996) is therefore very far from the vampirism for adolescents that we will see later in ′Twilight′ or ′Twilight′ (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008). The evil of Abel Ferrara′s characters is addictive, destroys their relationships and is taken to its most terrible consequences, the last of which is death. ′The Addiction′ (1996) is even still far from other approaches such as that of the Swedish ′Let me in′ (Matt Reeves, 2010) or the Iranian ′A girl walks home alone at night′ (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2015) , where, despite their crimes, young vampires really have good intentions in their hearts.

′Seventh Circle, huh? Dante described it perfectly. Bleeding trees waiting for judgment day, where we can all hang from our own branches. It′s not that easy ... Finding rest takes a true genius. It′s all about discernment RC Sproul said that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. In other words, we are not bad because of the evil we do, but we do evil because we are evil. Yes. Now, what options do you have Those people? We really don′t have a choice. ′

Annabella Sciorra aka Casanova

The gravity of human relationships

The historical images of genocides that are projected in the philosophy classes, which the main students attend continuously, serve to prove the seriousness of the evil referred to in ′The Addiction′ (1996). Due to the fact that it is shot with a single camera in black and white, visually there is not a great gulf between the images of the holocausts and those of the dark corners of New York. Quotations from philosophers such as Sören Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre or Friedrich Nietszche that Nicholas St. John himself had studied in college, raise questions in the viewer about the extent to which moral relativity may or may not be helping human relationships.

Human relationships were the specialty of Robert W. Castle, who played the role of priest in the two films ′The Addiction′ (1995) and ′The Funeral′ (1996). He will do the same role in fact also in ′Big Night′ (1996) and ′Sleepers′ (1996). Robert W. Castro actually worked as an Episcopal priest, but he was also well known then for the support and activism in defense of human rights that he had developed since his student days. Thanks to his revolutionary fame, after leaving St. John′s Church in Jersey City in 1968, he spent nineteen years without finding work in another congregation. He finally took over as rector at St. Mary′s Episcopal Church in 1987 and his first role was in ′Philadelphia′ (1993).

His characters of him as a priest in ′The Addiction′ (1995) and ′The Funeral′ (1996) have good intentions, but are in any case unable to fight the real problem of evil. They are as incapable as the priest in the movie ′The Exorcist′ (William Friedkin, 1975). William Friedkin has published forty years after the premiere of his influential film, a documentary entitled “The devil and father Amorth” (2017) now available on Netflix. The same concern for evil continues to dominate his thoughts. On this occasion he wanted to record a real exorcism but the conclusions are still very similar. According to his new documentary we apparently still have no control over evil.

′I finally understand what everything is about and how it was possible. Now I see it, good Lord, how we must see it. Our addiction is evil. Our propensity for evil rests on our weakness in front of him. Kierkegaard was right, there is a cliff in front of us. But he was wrong about the jump - there is a difference between jumping and being pushed. There is a point where you are forced to face your own needs and the fact that you cannot end the reality that it′s got hold of you. ′

Lili Taylor aka Kathleen Conklin

Theology in Abel Ferrara′s films

The idea that Christianity is a manual for learning to control evil is a marketing strategy that does not really correspond to the original teachings of Jesus. It′s easy to sell, but it doesn′t work. Christ appears in the gospels asking God to be the one to protect his own from evil, precisely because it is something that we cannot do for ourselves. These films in any case are channels of transmission of the bad news that both believers and non-believers need to hear:

′There is not just one, not even one′, wrote in the 1st century the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. “There is no one who understands, There is no one who seeks God. They all went astray, to one they became useless; There is no one who does good, there is not even one. An open grave is his throat; With his tongue they deceive. The poison of asps is under his lips; His mouth is full of curse and bitterness. His feet rush to shed blood; Ruin and misfortune are in his ways; And they knew no way of peace. ”

That a news is good or bad does not make it more true, what is important is that the news is complete. The good news that is certainly not expressed in Abel Ferrara′s excellent films are those that the apostle himself includes after the bad news: justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. ”

The Bible has proven over the centuries to be a source of information with its own voice and little interest in hiding the good or bad details of each of its stories. It is not by chance that this book has been so persecuted and yet has had such an influence on our contemporary cultures and countercultures. Its uniqueness explains why it has created a context in which, in the words of Abel Ferrara himself: ′It is not that you are pushed to read the Bible, it is the Bible that reads you′.


This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as La religión y el dominio sobre el mal según Abel Ferrara


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