“There Be Dragons”
It’s the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The entire country is in chaos. What began as a kind of populist “occupy movement” turned into a full-blown Revolution, where families took up arms against each other, and after the fighting started there was no stopping it until the bitter end, and in that War there were many bitter endings.
Josemaria and Manolo grew up together as boys in a more idyllic time, when the countryside was not devastated by conflict and the villages weren’t rubble decorated by corpses. Josemaria was the gentle child who was interested in the faith that they were all taught by the Catholic Church. Manolo, for his part, was all boy, and much more interested in the things of the world than the yammering of priests and the talk of the invisible. Josemaria became a priest, and Manolo a working man, caught up in the fervor of a protest movement that fueled such a flame of indignation that it virtually burned down their culture as they knew it.
When the outbreak of combat began, at first it was just men and rifles and pistols---the technology of mere volunteer militia. But it didn’t take long for the tanks and artillery and airplanes to be introduced, and now what began as an enthusiastic patriotic fervor descends into the confusing maelstrom of bullets flying and comrades falling and the cries of the wounded and the grieving of everyone for the former Spain that would never be recovered. Into the power vacuum, predictably, stepped outside powers, and the ascendancy of the Nazis in Germany , and Mussolini in Italy , meant that military aid would be coming from Fascists eager to gain more territorial control. In fact, Hitler would not stop until he had set all of Europe aflame, so the portent of even more grimness looms on the horizon, but here, it’s still just men---and women---with rifles and sorrow.
Yes, there were some women in the ranks of those fighting for The Cause. And their presence as front-line soldiers created some confusing situations. Manolo (Wes Bentley) falls in love with Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko), a Hungarian immigrant fighting alongside them, but the company commander also takes in an interest in her, and she is not ashamed to “give him some comfort” at night in the face of the specter of death that looms over them all each day. When that activity produces the natural result, complications abound, and soon we realize it has a direct connection with the present-day story interspersed here---an old man (Manolo) on his deathbed, reminiscing, and an estranged son, Robert, struggling with forgiveness.
Meanwhile, Josemaria (Charlie Cox), always gentle, meek, and mild, bravely attempts to carry on his duties as priest, even when he could literally be shot on sight by a proletariat taught that the Church is an outdated institution that has been nothing but a leech on their society and economy, and therefore needs to be eliminated. He hears confessions in public parks, and says Mass in an upper room, and sometimes hides in cupboards and basements from the soldiers. When it’s become too risky even in plainclothes, some faithful men smuggle Josemaria out of the country, over the Pyrenees , where he continues in his “Opus Dei”---works of God, and in 1962, the Pope officially canonized him as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. (Never mind the subsequent controversy over whatever secrets the Opus Dei society might have harbored---this is only to literally canonize its founder.)
“There Be Dragons” is a reference to what Old World mapmakers used to label territory unknown, and assumed dangerous.
This straight-to-DVD movie called “There Be Dragons” is about Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), the official saint of 20th-century Spain, but also about the demons within us all that cause the terrible context of a canonization such as this. Josemaria Escrival was canonized in 2002.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas