Salvation Is For Sale In 'The Order'

The Order has a veiled reference to The Exorcist and its demon Pazuzu. It’s illustrative to compare these two films, for they’re both concerned with the same themes—occult knowledge and the nature of evil.

The Order

Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Benno Furmann, Shannyn Sossamon,
Distributor: Fox
Rated: R
Year: 2010
Release date: 2010-09-14

In a candlelit room in Rome, a young American priest slowly undresses a beautiful brunette. She’s loved him for a long time and he finally submits to her, breaking his vows. The scene is exquisitely shot, without a word of dialogue as Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon make love on a Persian carpet. In a moment of transcendent beauty, a man gives up his soul and a young woman surrenders her future. Only the power of cinema can reveal that passion and its consequences.

Originally released in 2003, The Order on Blu-Ray highlights the strengths of the film. It’s brilliantly shot and scored, particularly the scenes in Italy. The film transfer is first rate with razor-sharp HD video. The audio track in DTS-HD is equally impressive, providing a crisp surround experience. Add in an excellent cast and you have the potential for a great film.

However, all of these qualities cannot hide the film’s major flaws. The Order was written, directed, and produced by Brian Helgeland, so all credit and blame resides on his doorstep.

Ledger plays Alex, a member of the Carolingians, a renegade Catholic sect that specializes in exorcisms and hauntings. When Dominic, the head of the order, dies mysteriously, Alex is summoned to Rome to investigate. He inexplicably brings Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), a beautiful young woman who was traumatized by an exorcism and has recently escaped from an asylum.

Mara: I’ve never been to Rome.

Alex: Promise you won’t try to kill me this time.

Mara: Cross my heart.

In a post 9-11 world, one wonders how Mara, an escaped mental patient, can board a plane in New York City when the police are looking for her.

When Alex arrives in Rome, he discovers the existence of a ‘sin eater’, an immortal being with the power to consume the sins of others. He offers salvation to the damned—for a price. In the words of a church elder: “A sin eater is a renegade who provides a path to heaven… outside the church, outside the power of Christ.”

The sin eater is a sophisticated aristocrat named Eden (Benno Furmann) who’s an effective foil to the intellectual Alex. The problem here is that Eden’s moral nature is never fully explained. Alex’s sidekick Thomas baldly states, “I think he’s evil!” yet that claim is never proven. When confronted by Alex, Eden is cagey about his true nature. “Am I a man? I eat, shave, and make love. Does that make me a man?”

Another persistent problem is dialog loaded with exposition, as in the opening scene as Dominic takes communion inside his garret in Rome:

Eden: Brother Dominic… scholar of Catholic arcane. Believer in the un-sanitized church of stigmata and exorcism.

Dominic: I believe in many things.

This dialog is stiff and unnatural—Dominic’s background can be revealed in other ways. The Order is sometimes too clever for its own good. A church elder refers to Alex’s report of a sin eater by stating, “You couldn’t have shocked the bishop more if you were possessed by a Phoenician demon.”

This is a veiled reference to The Exorcist and its demon Pazuzu, a film that Helgeland obviously admires and tries to emulate. It’s illustrative to compare these two films, for they’re both concerned with the same themes—occult knowledge and the nature of evil. The Exorcist is tightly written, enthralling, and terrifying. The Order is none of these things, but it does have moments of brilliance.

When Eden is summoned to the deathbed of a Mafia don, the attending physician challenges him.

Physician: What can you do for him that I haven’t?

Eden: Science and medicine… you measure life with a ruler and a scale. You take away the mystery that gives life meaning. You pretend to understand, but you know nothing.

This is the best line in the film, a stirring rebuke of rationalism.

The Order will be remembered as one of the major films of the late Heath Ledger. The performances of Ledger and Furmann nearly save The Order as both actors provide dramatic weight to their roles with a keen understanding of their characters.

Alex is an anachronism, a scholar of the occult born in the wrong century, who would be more at home in a medieval scriptorium than a modern parish. Eden is just the opposite, a man of clear purpose with no room for doubt or weakness. Furmann plays the immortal sin eater with Shakespearean grandeur.

Helgeland has an uncanny knack for staging dramatic scenes, and he does this well. He also has an aesthetic sensibility that can be quite moving, as when Mara describes sunflowers to Alex as God's "brilliant mistake", an apt metaphor for their doomed relationship. However, Helgeland is a much better director than writer; his script is plagued by plot holes, banal dialog and exposition that eventually sink the film.

The extras on the Blu-Ray disc include deleted scenes, trailer, and director's commentary.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.