The Order (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

'We're the Catholic Pete, Linc, and Julie.'"

The Order

Director: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Benno Fürmann, Peter Weller, Francesco Carnelutti
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-09-05

A looming silhouette fills the screen, robes rustling. "Every life is a riddle," begins the solemn voiceover. "The answer to mine is knowledge born of darkness." And so, you think, he's going to tell you just how he's come to be this silhouette, lonely and looming. Before that, though, he continues, "In the beginning, the mystery still remained." And so, The Order be about that mystery part.

This first shot is set in Rome, where rustling robes are fairly common attire. And here, you learn immediately, adherents to the Catholic Faith are expected to shut up and do as they're told, and most definitely not seek out knowledge, whatever it's born of. Any sign of overweening earns swift, horrendous punishment. Put another way, as the film so neatly summarizes, "Knowledge is the enemy of faith."

So as to complicate what seems this simple enough edict, The Order offers a handsome young (read: rebel) priest, Alex (Heath Ledger), trained in Rome and now ministering in NYC, where he stubbornly conducts his mass in Latin, like a crotchety old-schooler. This has earned him something of a reputation within the Church, though for what exactly, is not clear. He is called to Rome when his mentor, an excommunicated Carolingian priest named Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti), commits apparent suicide. It's up to Alex and his fellow mentee Thomas (Mark Addy) -- they being the last members of this order -- to identify the body (though everyone in the Vatican knows who it is), solve the puzzle of Dominic's death which is not precisely a suicide, and perhaps attain some knowledge, about something. I think that about sums it up.

Alex has a roundabout route through this morass, partly because he brings along a beautiful painter of sunflowers, Mara (Shannyn Sossamon), who has just escaped from a mental hospital, where she was locked up following her attempt to kill Alex. Again, her motivation is a mystery -- they met some years before, when he was called into do perform an exorcism on her, and during that ordeal, she fell in love with him and decided to deal with it as best she could, that is, by murder. She arrives on Alex's doorstep at this point, she says, because "I heard you call me; I got a feeling that I should with you in case one of us has to say good-bye." Evidently, this is sufficient explanation for Alex, who says only that she has to promise not to try to kill him when they get to Rome.

Once they arrive in town, Mara mostly stays in Dominic's dusty, cavernous, monkish home while the boys poke around (Alex tells Thomas he's brought her because "she thinks differently," but really, she's there to serve as earthly temptation for Alex when he inevitably decides to break the Church's rules as a means to defy its corruptions.) Among their adventures is a trip to a graveyard, where Alex sanctifies Dominic burial illegally (he's officially a suicide), where, as per their illicit training with Dominic, they "deal with ghosts and demons and all manner of undead." They must do this encumbered by rather terrible special effects, such that ghoulish looking children and whooshy things swoop over their heads, make a lot of noise, and when met with a cross and some brief incantation (essentially, "Get thee back to hell!"), duly evaporate.

The crew learns they have been assembled in Rome by Driscoll (Peter Weller, whose face looks painfully stretched), who is, not incidentally, angling for Popedom (that is, he has an interest in getting Alex to do something specific, a point Alex does not see right away). When he comes to size them up, and scoffs at their youth and arrogance, Mara offers what may be the film's most cogent self-description: "We're the Catholic Pete, Linc, and Julie." At which point, he pulls out a very shiny and apparently very old "instrument," that is, a knife, with which he instructs them to kill the Sin-eater.

This would be 500-year-old William Eden (Benno Fürmann, Franka Potente's partner in The Princess and the Warrior [2000]), who is the only means to get around the Church, being extremely well paid to absorb someone's sins before that someone dies, allowing him to enter heaven even if he hasn't exactly toed moral or institutional lines throughout his life (someone might, for example, "get away with murder," without having to repent or acknowledge God or any of that stuff). In fact, this is an intriguing idea, especially given recent turmoil concerning famous Church members' own efforts to get around their own rules; the film's corny set-pieces (a religious mucky-muck in a mask out of the orgies in Eyes Wide Shut looks less awesome than inane) and frankly terrible construction (it feels like it's been hacked up and put back together in a hurry) doesn't bring this idea to any sort of climax, or work through its likely complications.

Better, Eden and Alex (despite and because of needy Mara's entreaties) nurture a provocatively sexual attraction, based on a shared rage at "the order" and penchant for manipulating the folks around them (not to mention tripping lightly through plot turns that emerge from seeming nowhere). Alex predictably protests that he is unlike Eden, but he soon learns otherwise. Just not soon enough.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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

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