There be Dragons

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see a movie out in limited theatres.  Hopefully, after the success of the first weekend, more theatres will be picking up the movie so it can see wider release.  If it comes to your area, please go see it — not just for the sake of supporting a movie with Catholic themes, but to see a good film that will give you plenty to think about on the way home or days that follow.

I like movies that don’t spoon feed you.  If there are some parts left open to question, if there are bits not answered right in front of your face — I’m okay with that.  I’m not talking about plot holes or shoddy direction, but rather aspects of a story that are left for you to think about and unpack.  This movie gave me that.

The movie is There Be Dragons, a dramatic film that follows the lives of St. Josemaria Escriva and a peer of his, Manolo.  Manolo is a fictitious character but is based on people in Escriva’s life.   Set in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, the movie follows the divergent paths their two lives take.

The weakness of the film, I believe, is the second storyline that takes place fifty years later, involving Manolo’s son investigating Escriva for a book he is writing.  While investigating Escriva, he comes to know his father, from whom he has been estranged for several years.  While this could be an interesting addition to the story, I found this side of the movie lacking and a bit cheezy.

I have a hard time writing movie reviews, because I never want to ruin the movie.  I will say that my favorite two themes of the movie were fatherhood and community.  Neither theme was specifically “in your face,” and I think some would argue that neither were even meant to be themes.  But I disagree.  I believe the fact that Escriva and Manolo choose such divergent paths can be at least partially traced to their own fathers.

We see the boys as friends in their youth.  They are from different social classes:  Escriva’s father loses his factory, while Manolo’s father is very successful and affluent.  Escriva’s family suffers from the death of several of Josemaria’s siblings, but remain close as a family.  Manolo’s father is distant.  As a result, Manolo has more things, but Escriva “has more father.”  This quote from Manolo says a lot.  While their social classes obviously separated them (Manolo’s father wouldn’t let him see Josemaria after his father went bankrupt), I believe it was ultimately Manolo’s jealously (which we see later in the film is one of his fatal flaws) of Escriva’s father that split the friends.

The other theme is that of community.  Escriva doesn’t live a carefree life.  He loses siblings when he’s small, he lives life in poverty, and he has to live out his priesthood at a time in Spain when priests are being killed.  But he seeks fulfillment in God and in community.   Understanding that man in his very nature is a communal being, he seeks to do God’s Will in a community.  Founding Opus Dei, he answers the darkness, the questions, and the emptiness in his life with the joy of serving God with and in others.

Manolo, on the other hand, while not suffering material privation, encounters emptiness after the death of his father– that father that was never the father he craved.  Instead of filling that emptiness with God and others, he fills with with hatred and jealousy.  In the life that followed, he is never able to find happiness because he never gives himself to others.  He becomes more and more isolated as a result of his choices.   And that isolation will only disappear when he lets go of his jealousy, his anger, and his hatred and opens himself to friendship.

It’s hard to believe the movie was directed by a self-proclaimed agnostic.  The movie is so Catholic — both overtly in the subject matter and imagery, but also subtly in its less-prominent themes.   I’d highly recommend seeing the film — so head over to to see if there’s a showing near you.


2 thoughts on “There be Dragons

  1. Laura says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m was hoping you’d write one! I don’t even attempt movie reviews but yours was really good and makes me want to see the movie.

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