This biography of Father Damien, the Catholic priest who in 1873 volunteered for service on the eponymous Hawaiian leper colony, doesn't hesitate to idolize its subject, and why should it? For 15 years Damien ministered al... more »most single-handedly to the quarantined community, supplying what medication he could procure while struggling against the red tape from organizations (religious and governmental) that would rather have forgotten all about the hundreds of people slowly dying in primitive conditions. He won some battles and lost others, finally succumbing to the disease himself in 1888. The film can't overcome the inherent weaknesses of projects such as this: high officials given to improbable speeches recapping the relevant historical events for us, a certain formlessness generated by skipping through the years and only hitting the high points, stock bureaucratic villains whose motives are never fairly explored. On the other hand, screenwriter John Briley has an Oscar on his shelf for Gandhi, so he knows how to string the lessons together and make them go down smoothly. The earnestness of the project no doubt led to the who's-who supporting cast (Sam Neill, Derek Jacobi, Peter O'Toole, Leo McKern) (oh yes, and Kris Kristofferson), but it is David Wenham who must carry the film as Damien, which he does well enough--not spectacularly but with a touching humility not above a tetchy self-righteousness. Director Paul Cox was an inspired choice, however, bringing to the project his patient fascination with emotions at their most subtle and restrained; as a result, Molokai's low-key sense of conflict, often a fatal flaw in similar movies, becomes the film's saving grace, a manifestation of its subject's quiet, persistent faith. --Bruce Reid« less
Stephen M. Bauer | Hazlet, NJ United States | 07/14/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Molokai is the story of a priest, Father Damien, who chose to spend his life serving in a leper colony. The movie is a heroic story of great compassion and persistence in the face of physical hardship and isolation. Filmed on location on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, the scenery is gorgeous, and it touches on the history and culture of Hawaii. I found the movie very, very moving, but some may find the conditions of the lepers too depressing to bear.An Australian, David Wehan plays the role of Damien. Two other actors you may recognize are Kris Kristofferson and Peter O'Toole, who both play lepers. Peter O'Toole, who I never like previously, seems to have really enjoyed his role.Molokai is one of the more remote Hawaiian Islands. During a leprosy epidemic in Hawaii during the mid-nineteenth century, the government established a peninsula on the island of Molokai as a leper colony. It was chosen because it was so difficult to get to or escape from.In the movie, there is a scene where, instead of transferring the lepers to rowboats, the crew forced the lepers at gunpoint to jump overboard and swim to shore. These included women and children. In the actual historical incident, some people drowned, some died from injuries from being bashed against the rocks on the beach, and others died on shore of exhaustion. Although not shown in the movie, often, ships depositing lepers would tie a rope from the ship to land and the lepers had to climb hand-over-hand to shore.Father Damien had grown up on a farm in Belgium. He was very strong physically and was an experienced carpenter and builder. Before going to Molokai, the historical Father Damien had been a parish priest and pastor in several parishes in the Hawaiian Islands. He learned to speak Hawaiian and understood native Hawaiian culture. In the opening sequence of the movie, Father Damien is shown helping some Hawaiians build a house. Bounty hunters arrive on horseback to take away suspected lepers. Villagers run and hide. The scene is reminiscent of the slave catchers in Roots. Historically, before going to Molokai, Damien experienced parishioners being taken away to the colony, and he had assisted people in avoiding the bounty hunters (not shown in the movie).
Father Damien volunteered to be assigned to Molokai. Damien's bishop instructed him to take all measures to avoid infection. In the movie, we see Damien simply ignoring the instructions. In historical fact, after two months on the island, he formally requested permission from the bishop to risk infection. He did this because it was the only way he could gain the lepers trust.The leper colony was a living hell. When Damien arrived in 1873, there were six hundred lepers with inadequate housing and food, and no doctors, nurses, or medical supplies. Essentially, there was no law. Gangs of physically able lepers looted the belongings of the very sick. Prostitution and pedophilia were rampant. The bodies of the dead were either thrown into a ravine or buried very shallowly, where they were dug up and eaten by wild pigs. To be sure, with the arrival of Damien, there was a significant improvement in the lives of the lepers, but in the historical reality, the conditions and problems Damien faced were far worse than depicted in the movie. Besides serving as priest, Damien's construction worker skills were invaluable. He built, supervised, or organized volunteer labor to build hundreds of buildings-over half the buildings in the settlement. When he arrived, there was no running water. He built a pipeline (In the movie, there is no pipeline). Damien cleaned and bandaged wounds and amputated gangrenous limbs. The son of a farmer, he taught the lepers to grow crops (not shown in the movie). He was the island's undertaker, funeral director, grave digger, and coffin maker-he built over 1,600 coffins. He also witnessed seven murders (not shown in the movie).Besides having no resources to care for the sick, Damien had constant conflicts with both the government health authorities and his own religious order. In addition, he had many critics in the medical and clerical professions. The Hawaiian government's board of health didn't like him simply because he made them look bad. He alone was accomplishing orders of magnitude more for the lepers than the whole state government. His religious order was not able to provide any other permanent people to help, until near the end of his life. To their credit, they tried, but the only other people they could get to go to Molokai were misfits that were so bad, Damien sent them back. The order had other priests in Hawaii doing good work, and they didn't like Damien getting all the publicity. Father Damien did not go to the leper colony just care for their bodies, although he did so tirelessly. He also went to save their souls. In the movie, it is very moving to see Damien administer the Sacraments. He buries lepers with half-bodies of rotting flesh, with all of the dignity and respect that one would expect to be given a member of high society in Paris or Rome. Actual historical witnesses on Molokai said that Damien said Mass every day with the utmost reverence and liturgical decorum in a tiny chapel filled with lepers bleeding and spitting, with Damien seemingly oblivious to an almost unbearable stench of rotting human flesh. Since 1944, medicines have been developed that stop leprosy from being contagious and spreading within the body. The colony on Molokai was disbanded in 1969. At the time of the filming, there were forty-seven surviving patients from the settlement. Today, they are free to come and go as they please, although they all feel like outcasts shunned by society. A number appeared as extras in the movie. Today, Hawaiians consider Damien to be one of the great heroes of their state."
A sleeper that will remain in my top 10
Bill G | Fairfield, CT United States | 07/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I ordered this DVD I knew a bit about the life of Fr. Damien but nothing about the film. I expected it to be "pleasant fare" but not much better. What a surprise! Molokai is as near to being a perfect film as could ever be made. It is an interesting and inspiring story that is told without any of the over-sentimentality one might expect from a "religious" film. The screenplay is wonderful - absolutely believable and natural dialoge delivered flawlessly. The cinematography is breathtaking and the soundtrack is, well, I'm going to track it down to buy it - a first for me. So much for the technical stuff. Fr. Damien was an extraordinary individual and an ideal priest. The film portrays this with great respect as it does with the Catholic Church in general - another rarity these days! There are at least a dozen scenes that stand out as illustrations of true virtue in practice and from which we can draw inspiration to improve our own characters. This is a beautiful film in every sense and will remain in my top 10 list of all time great movies."
Powerful and challanging
Steven R. McEvoy | Canada | 05/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This biography of Father Damien, the Catholic priest who in 1873 volunteered for service on the Hawaiian leper colony of Molokai. For 15 years Damien ministered nearly single-handedly to the quarantined community, supplying what medication he could procure while struggling against the red tape from organizations (religious and governmental) that would rather have forgotten all about the thousands of people dying in primitive conditions. He won some battles and lost others, finally succumbing to the disease himself in 1888.
The films earnestness led to the who's-who supporting cast (Sam Neill, Derek Jacobi, Peter O'Toole, Leo McKern, Kate Ceberano and Kris Kristofferson), but it is David Wenham who must carry the film as Damien, which he does spectacularly and with a touching humility, but with the spirit to fight for those he serves, in the midst of such conflict. Director Paul Cox was inspired in his choices of choosing scenes to highlight 15 years in a single film not two hours long. He uses amazing cinematographic tools to convey the story and the passage of time, a tree stand planted by Damien, the many construction projects he carries out, and watching `Little Bishop' grow up and pass away. Pay particular attention to the music, and the use of the sound of the wind as the film progresses.
This is a story of faith and of service. If you want a film that will challenge your spirit and cause you to examine your own life in the light of the service given by others you could not pick a better film.
The Toronto Globe and Mail stated about the film "A Triumph of the Human Spirit!" Though this film did well at the film festivals it had little or no mainstream release in North America.
[...] Is the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) site about the film.
After seeing this film I have been driven to track down books about Damien and the situation there on Molokai. In watching this film be prepared to be challenged."
An Epic of Stead-Fast Faith
Preston R. Medeiros | Waipahu, Hawaii | 02/26/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is truly an epic gem. A film that not only chronicles a portion of Father Damien's life, but also captures his undying devotion to God. In a grand way, it is Father Damien's story of selflessly helping those people who were strickened with the terrible disease of leprosy. In it's quieter moments, it is a reflection of the lives who were touched by the kindness of one man and uplifted by his neverending faith in God.The film is masterfully photographed by Nino Martinetti and poetically directed by Paul Cox. With a screenplay by John Briley (Oscar winner for Gandhi) and a brilliant cast featuring David Wenham, Kris Kristofferson, Peter O'toole, Aden Young, Sam Neil, Derek Jacobi, Kate Ceberano and the list goes on. Even the music is beautifully composed by Paul Grabowsky and Wim Mertens and features a wonderful symphonic score mixed with traditional Hawaiian chanting. The DVD contains the film in letterbox format (2.35:1) and a wonderfully informative documentary showing the difficulties encountered in filming on location at Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka'i."
Makes you think.
Chris | Colchester, Essex United Kingdom | 06/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a modern world where money and success are now the only goals for many people this reminds us of the story of a man who gave up everything, ultimately his life, simply to care for those who had leprosy. The worst thing about this disease is that those who have it are often cast out from their homes & families for whom the stigma is such that they would rather them have died. It was like this at the time of Fr Damien and in many parts of the world is still like this today. Don't forget to watch the Making of Molokai which is also on the DVD."