I hadn't made the connection of what a great follow-up Lourdes would be to my recent musings on In Your Hands, but having had the chance to see the two around the same time was wonderful, albeit accidental, timing. Both films deal with the miraculous, and both deal with believing and unbelieving women who grapple with uncertain, but perhaps heavenly, events. Both also deal with hands that are evidence of God's touch. In Your Hands has two sets of hands representing evidence of the miraculous, given to the world. In Lourdes, a set of hands is the first thing we notice -- very much like the fingers on the hands in Dreyer's reputable last scene of Ordet -- that are a sign of a blessing received.
Wheelchair-bound Christine has already made several trips in pilgrimage seeking healing from the multiple sclerosis which has paralyzed her from the neck down. Her latest trip is to the commune Lourdes, which is "famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes that are reported to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous."
Millions trek to this region every year in hope of a touch of power from beyond, a physical miracle of healing to take place in their lives. Lourdes functions for the Catholic the same as Benny Hinn to the evangelical, albeit quieter and filled with awe and respect, escaping the circus-like spectacle that surrounds Hinn's approach.
A miracle does take place in Christine's life, but one that is open to interpretation by those surrounding her in the story, and the viewer of the film itself. Felt tension between science and religion directs her toward Catholic authorities and doctors who want to fully diagnose the authenticity of the miracle. The viewer tries to digest it, too, but options are certainly narrowed by the end. Is this act caused by a cruel, sadistic God who likes to play jokes on those in need, or are science and nature more unfair than we ever really want to admit?
The color and framing, and the juxtaposition between darkness and light make the film wonderful in the theater setting. The Bergmanesque feel of God in human relations creates formal shifts in perspective, like the spider in Through a Glass Darkly. The idea that we're aiming at a perspective, maybe even a handful of perspectives, rather than a truth, causes us to view from a side of the brain that favors open-ended hope over our cravings for concrete resolution. That is the film's greatest strength -- but it's also the film's hardest aspect. We long to see Christine healed and living as a "normal" human being, but we're left with questions about what healing actually is, and who is worthy of it, and why.
I am somwhat perplexed by this film, and that may be some of the point.