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Film / Stations of the Cross

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Well, this can only end well.

"The film is not an attack on faith or religion, but an examination of how faith goes wrong."

Stations of the Cross is a German language film with fourteen shots, one per scene, with each one paralleling a Station of the Crossnote . The protagonist here is not Jesus, but Maria, a girl haunted by thoughts of sin and self-hatred as a result of her upbringing by her oppressive mother and the fundamentalist (and fictional) Priestly Society of St. Paul.

Anyone who knows how Jesus ends up in The Four Gospels has an idea where Maria's story is going, but the rather loose connection between each scene and each station, along with the film's subversion of religious imagery, makes it interesting to look at in the context of the tropes of religious life and cultural change.

Stations of the Cross provides examples of:

  • As the Good Book Says...: The priest who leads Maria's Confirmation study quotes Jesus's command to "Love God and thy neighbor as thyself" to make a point that even if people "fight under Satan's flag," Maria and her classmates must do whatever they can to save their souls from the sufferings of Hell. The specific wording of the priest's phrase isn't found in The Four Gospels, but it's a fair contraction of Matthew 22:37-40, which is where "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is deemed one of the the two Great Commandments. Fair enough, at least, that it creates a dissonance between the beauty of the scripture he quotes with the weight and anxiety this is putting on the already depressed Maria.
  • Confessional: The fifth station, where Simon helps Jesus carry his cross, has Maria confess her sins to her traditionalist parish's young priest. Instead of the atmosphere of honesty and forgiveness typical to most Confessional scenes, the Fifth Station sees the priest interrogate Maria and extrapolate sins of lust from Maria's innocent crush on a school boy, leaving Maria more uncomfortable and convinced of her own sin than before she entered the booth. The scene, like all others in the movie, is made up of a single shot, this time focusing on a sideview of Maria's face as she speaks into the screen with the priest on the other side.
  • Crucial Cross: The last shot of focuses on a giant white cross that contrasts with the dirt and grime of the rest of the frame, which gives a visual clue that despite the sadness and evil seen throughout the rest of the movie, the film's Christ figure has finally found her happiness. The white cross, by the way, is to be used as her tombstone, after she starved herself as a sacrifice to God.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Hey, if you screamed your fourteen year old to tears, would you then stop talking, start buttering a bagel, and ask your other kids whether they want meat or cheese, all while said fourteen year old is sobbing all over the table? No, because you're not a robotic mother who's trying to scare the sin out of her beautiful, horrible daughter.
  • Driven to Suicide: Maria is so burdened by her constant guilt over sin, her hatred for her body, and her mother's scathing criticisms that the only good thing she feels she can do is sacrifice her life to God, or in plainer words, kill herself. Despite talking about sacrificing herself to her priest, he can only say that God would like more people on Earth to help convert more people, with no attempt to understand or address Maria's emotional trouble.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: Maria's self-hatred and shame are the shadow of her worship for Bernadette, the family's beautifulau pair who's perfection is only furthered by the fact that she's not plain German like Maria is, she's French.
  • Evil Matriarch: Maria's mother, despite her best intentions, berates her daughter and leaves her ashamed of her appearance, her growth, and her friendships. She refuses to let anyone else have any control in her daughter's life, not even a doctor who's trying to save her from anorexia. The contrast between her strict Christianity and her monstrosity towards her daughter is only made more clear by her role in scene four ("Jesus encounters his mother.") where, despite taking the place of the Virgin Mary, Maria's mother acts without any of the mercy or compassion characterized by the saints.
  • Fainting: As a result of her malnutrition and stress, Maria faints in front of the Archbishop at her Confirmation. Fittingly, the station here is "9. Jesus falls for the third time."
  • Foregone Conclusion: The twelfth station is "Jesus dies on the cross," and Maria's only solace is in her dream of sacrificing her whole life to God. Sure, there aren't a lot of Crucifixions nowadays, but that doesn't mean Maria's fate will be more pleasant than Christ's.
  • Good Wears White: In contrast to the somber grays and blacks of Maria's family and clergy, the doctor who treats Maria and confronts her mother is dressed in a strikingly white lab coat, in an office as clean, light, and comforting as him.
  • Heaven Above: Stations ends with the camera (which hasn't moved the entire movie) ascending into the clouds, but in contrast to the church's dogmatic view of religion, the sky is hidden and unclear.
  • Henpecked Husband: Maria's father says nothing in the movie that doesn't affirm his wife, who yells at her children and orders them around with nary a glance at her calmer husband. He seems troubled by his wife's behavior however.
  • Irony: The twelfth station has Maria administered Holy Communion, the Bread of Life that Christ changes into his own Substance in order to nourish the soul of his followers so they may live eternally. Maria chokes on the Bread of Life and dies.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The camera doesn't move or cut within the movie's fourteen scenes, remaining as unmoving and distant as the impersonal teachings of Maria's fundamentalist parish. Even when a scene is set in a moving car, the camera barely moves. The only two exceptions are in the tenth station, where Maria moves from the pews to the altar for her Confirmation, and, more shockingly, when the camera moves from Maria's grave to the beautiful fields and finally to the Heavens for the Fourteenth station.
  • Light Is Good:
    • The first thing Bernadette, a genuinely good Christian, can think of when asked to describe Heaven is "a great light," before going on to describe the songs the saints will sing and the great joy they will feel.
    • Maria's mother insists her daughter is given a white dress in the penultimate scene, because she believes her daughter has proven herself to be completely pure, ignoring how self-destructive Maria's devotion has become.
  • Makeup Is Evil: One of the most insistent teachings of Maria's church is that make-up, fashion, and dresses are self-absorbing topics that serve only to invoke lust in men and keep women from God.
    • The first scene sees the parish's priest mention fashion and dresses as a temptation of the Devil to lead the people of the real Church astray.
    • In the second scene, Maria tries to avoid being in a picture to avoid thinking of her appearance, but her mother orders her to. Ironically, Maria's mother chastises her, not for lacking confidence, but for being too preoccupied with her appearance by not being preoccupied with her appearance. Faced with a family that will always see her as self-obsessed, Maria ends the scene on the verge of tears.
    • In the fourth scene, Maria's mother smiles and tells Maria she can buy a dress with stripes for her Confirmation, as if that's something rebellious and unlikely for a mother to allow. She does at least acknowledge the dissonance, but only in the context of decrying the fashion of the modern day.
    • In the fifth scene, the priest pushes for Maria to confess that she's been attempting to stir lust in a boy she's been talking to, even though Maria knows that's not the truth. Still, it confuses her enough to want to avoid that boy entirely.
  • Meaningful Name: So, our protagonist is in a fundamentalist sect of Catholicism that sees every other denomination and religion as an arm of Satan's empire, so what is the name of the one non-fundamentalist person she gets to talk to? Christian, a mainstream Catholic who befriends her, defying her expectations of a Satanic pawn.
  • Moral Guardians: Maria's church sees pop music as corrupted by "Satanic rhythms." That sounds silly on paper, but when it leads to a fourteen year old being screamed at until she cries just because she wanted to go to a modern choir, it is difficult not to take seriously.
  • The New Rock & Roll: The Priestly Society of Saint Paul split from the Catholic Church in part because the Church began to incorporate secular music like that of Bach, gospel singers, and soul artists into the liturgy. The members of Saint Paul see these musical genres as being the instrument of the Devil, who uses their satanic rhythms and demonic baselines to seduce children into the evils of dance and sex.
  • The Oner: All of the movie's fourteen scenes are in one shot, from the First Station to the Fourteenth. The Fourteenth distinguishes itself from the others with the positioning of the camera. The camera begins rigidly focusing on Maria's tomb, before ascending over it, looking over the beauty of the Earth, and then moving upwards into the clouds, perhaps portraying Maria's ascent into Heaven or her liberation from the rigid and abusive upbringing her mother trapped her in.
  • Passion Play: Each scene is modeled after one Station of the Cross, following the Catholic tradition of how Jesus went from being condemned to death to his burial. The role of Jesus is played by the soon-to-be-Confirmed Maria, the Virgin Mary is played by her abusive mother, the righteous Simon of Cyrene is played by a sin-shaming priest, and the women of Jerusalem are condensed into a schoolboy who has a crush on Maria. Although each scene only loosely follows its respective station, it ends as one would expect a Passion to.
  • Political Correctness Is Evil: Maria's gym teacher turns off the class's music so Maria can participate in class without violating her religious belief. The teacher tries to make a point about tolerance, but Maria's classmates ask how she isn't being intolerant by assuming their music is Satanic, and quickly dismiss a boy's appeal to religious freedom as an attempt to express his love for Maria.
  • A Saint Named Mary: Maria from Stations of the Cross is explicitly named after the Virgin Mary, and she is the only member of the fundamentalist Society of Saint Paul to be shown not to be silent, dogmatic or cruel. All she wants is not to sin and be closer to God, but she struggles in a life where her infant brother is sick and underdeveloped, and like Mary with her son, she cannot bear to see her little boy suffer.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Maria's church has a very high bar for modesty and sexual purity, so when she begins to talk to a boy who likes her, her priest insists she's tempting him to lust and her mother screams at her until she cries over the dinner table. This abuse culminates in Maria asking the boy to never talk to her again and worry about his own soul, leaving Maria friendless.
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Despite being lectured about the sinfulness of crushes, dancing, and fashion, Maria only hears about the sinfulness of suicide after her Confirmation and it doesn't come from her fundamentalist mother or zealous priest, but from her friend, Bernadette. Even though this is the only time the lovely Bernadette talks about sin, Maria refuses to believe her, because of the insistence from her community that nearly everything about her was an insult to God. If her one hope of doing good for God was also a sin, then Maria would only have her self-loathing and shame.
  • Tableau: Every scene is presented with a static shot of characters in dialogue, with little movement and detailed sets.