Mark Cirillo, Linda J. Carter, Philip Wilcox, Alex Matute, Javier Montoya, Jason Grasl
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
QC Cinema/Breaking Glass Pictures
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I have an answer.
There is an essential question underlying writer/director Joshua Lim's The Seminarian, a drama about a closeted gay seminarian struggling to deal with the pain of unrequited love and his own ability to tell his own mother the truth.
"If love is a gift from God and love entails great suffering, then what does that say about God?"
I have an answer.
It's simple, really. Love does not entail great suffering, or so I believe. I believe that what entails great suffering is not love, but how we as human beings attempt to express that which is inherently divine. When we are giving and receiving love, our suffering ends. When our humanity gets in the way, and it does, "love" or how we're attempting to express love, leads to suffering. It is our inability to love in the purest and truest sense of the word that leads to suffering, while it is when we find ourselves inching ever more closely to manifesting love that our suffering wanes.
This is not to say that love is unattainable nor to minimize the glory of the human experience. There's something awesome and glorious about living out our human lives experiencing love in a myriad of ways. There's something awesome and glorious about our absolute willingness to fall short, get hurt yet return to love time and time again.
Love is what we are called into. As we come closer to expressing humanely that which is divine, we draw closer to God and to one another.
Ryan (Mark Cirillo) is a closeted gay seminarian entering his last semester of studies and eyeing an Ivy League doctoral program. While his evangelical seminary maintains a hostile attitude towards homosexuality, Ryan is friends with two gay fellow students, Gerald (Matthew Hannon) and Anthony (Javier Montoya), with whom he can confide. He begins a relationship with Bradley (Eric Parker Bingham), a guy he met on the internet, but the relationship is stalled as Bradley himself has significantly unresolved issues from his own "coming out." Unable to confide in even his own mother (Linda J. Carter), a devoutly religious woman waiting on him to marry and have children, Ryan begins to question the subject of his thesis, "The Divine Gift of Love," and his own relationship with God.
Those of you who've read my writing for quite some time are likely aware that I would probably refer to myself as a "liberal evangelical," a tag that carries with it significant baggage on both the liberal and evangelical sides of things. I was originally ordained in an LGBT-friendly post-denominational congregation in Indianapolis. While I have maintained my pastoral standing with that congregation, there came a time to move on that led to my current standing as a licensed Church of the Brethren minister currently attending seminary on a part-time basis.
I will confess to having been completely surprised when called into ministry by my current home congregation in Indianapolis, a Church of the Brethren congregation. While my current home church is, for the most part, LGBT-friendly, the denomination on the whole continues to struggle with issues related to sexuality and there's a tremendous chasm within the denominational body ranging from fundamentalism to quite progressive. As a seminarian, I have struggled with these debates and the often hate-filled language that accompanies them.
It is this struggle, both internal and external, that radiates from Lim's intelligent and sensitively written The Seminarian. While the film is not flawless, it often feels more like a stage production than a cinematic effort, it's a tremendously valuable film for those who care deeply about this issue and issues like it impacting organized religion today.
Mark Cirillo does a terrific job as the conflicted Ryan, an intelligent and gifted young man whose increasing state of confusion is heartbreaking to watch as it unfolds. There's something about the seminary experience, at least the authentic seminary experience, that forces one to come face-to-face with the truth of one's own life, thought, beliefs, wants and needs. Cirillo pulls off this journey beautifully, at least partially owing to Lim's insightful script that captures in a rather low-key way the highs and lows and more lows of the seminary journey.
In fact, you might be surprised how non-inflammatory The Seminarian actually is as a film. While the issue of homosexuality continues to elicit strong responses from all across the theological spectrum, The Seminarian is far more about a young man named Ryan than it is about the theological issue that could very well disrupt his ministry. As the film winds down, one realizes just how successful Lim and his cast have been at pulling off the intimacy and tenderness of this story as Ryan sits alongside his mother, in many ways a broken seminarian yet, perhaps, one who is also ready to live into the truth of the man that God has made him to be.
While The Seminarian isn't likely to change anyone's mind regarding their theological stance on the issue of homosexuality, it's such an intelligent and authentically written film that it could very well lead to valuable discussions and personal examination. Lim, who picked up the Directorial Discovery Award from the Rhode Island International Film Festival for his work here, has created an important film that one can only hope will find a receptive audience.
The Seminarian has been picked up by QC Cinema, the LGBT distribution arm of Breaking Glass Pictures, for a DVD release on March 27, 2012 and can be pre-ordered by visiting the link listed in the credits to the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic