Sunday, September 19, 2010

Centurion (2010) a reflection: Romans, Picts a missing legion and... The church as an alternative community of healing, hospitality and love

I went and saw the film Centurion (2010) a couple of weeks ago and it’s taken me a while to think through what I thought about it. It’s an English movie set in the year 117 A.D. on the northern border of the Roman Empire and deals with the 2000 year old mystery surrounding the fate of the ninth legion.

It was advertised as not being able to be pigeon holed as any one genre of movie. It wasn’t a sandal and sword epic, an adventure movie, a chase movie. Hey it does revolve round a chase for most of the movie), I did wonder if it was the English equivalent of a western, with Rome being the invading civilisation trying to domesticate the new lands and the Picts as the Indians, indigenous peoples defending their lands and culture. It is a gripping movie with a well written script and we really liked it (mind you it was the first time we'd managed to go out on a date without the kids for a while which helped).

I went and saw it with my wife Kris and both of us couldn’t help but ask ourselves “Is this about Ancient Briton on modern day Afghanistan?” The might of the superpower of the day finds itself challenged and broken by a fierce tribal grouping (in the case of the movie the Picts) who know and can use their knowledge of the land to their advantage. Even the opening voice over was ambiguous. Centurion Quinton Dias says” that the cold in this place eats into ones soul” and that “the war they are in is a war without honour, a war where the enemy will not face them in open battle but chooses to raid and disappear back into the dark, it is a war without end.”

Quinton Dias identifies himself as a loyal soldier of Rome in his opening soliloquy but as the movie goes on we find his loyalties challenged and changing. After a defeat at the hands of the Pict forces and forced to survive way behind the enemy lines he finds himself seeing his main loyalty is to the men his defeated and imprisoned general asks him to get home. They themselves are a group which show the extent of empire as they are a group who come from Africa, Greece, from the edges of India, Sicily and a Sergeant who simply identifies himself as from the Army, “the army found me in the streets and showed me a better way to live.” But (without giving the plot away this brotherhood is betrayed. Likewise as the centurion alone makes it back to the safety of Hadrian’s wall and Roman society finds himself unwanted and betrayed for political expedience. In the end as a fugitive from Rome he opts to go and live in an alternative community, a place he has found of healing, hospitality and love. A place that is ostracised by both the empire and tribal opposition: A place of new possibilities.

I did wonder if there wasn’t something here for the church in the west as well as a timely reminder of history for the powers in this world. (The splash you just heard was me going off the deep end). The church has been identified with western civilization and its powers know it finds itself once again on the edges. It also does not seem to fit the tribal opposition to empire, a grouping which equally embraces violence and craves power. Perhaps the call for us is to step out and to once again be an alternative community, a place of healing, hospitality and even love in the face of both empire and opposition: A dangerous place to be but one of definite possibility for people from both, all sides to find a new way to live.

The fact that the movie is set in the same area that would later be where Celtic Christianity grew and provided those places of learning, healing and hospitality strengthens those thoughts for me.
I wonder if there isn’t a sense where the church in the west tries to hold onto its central position in the places of power, and in doing so has lost its calling in Christ to be an outpost of a new way: a third way to live. I don’t thing that’s a radical separation and stepping out of the world, it’s interesting how many of today’s cities and towns in Scotland and England grew up around the cells of Celtic monks who had gone off into the wilderness to find a place to encounter God. The question is how in the midst of all that goes on around us we establish these alternative places, these alternative communities?

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