A discussion about grace and Flannery O’Connor’s upcoming biopic
With an increasing number of Catholic voices gaining notoriety in the mainstream media, Bishop Robert Barron has been quick to cover many of the interesting personal stories behind the most prominent people involved on his show “Bishop Barron Presents.”
Most recently, he had Ethan Hawke (“Dead Poets Society,” “First Reformed,” “Moon Knight”) and his daughter Maya Hawke (“Stranger Things,” “Asteroid City”) on to discuss their film “Wildcat,” about the southern Catholic short story author, Flannery O’Connor. Maya Hawke stars as O’Connor with Ethan Hawke co-writing and directing the movie.
In the interview, Barron cultivates a conversation about both actors’ relationship with the work of O’Connor, and how they used their love of her work to faithfully portray her life and her stories in the film.
“I didn’t know if it was possible,” said Maya, “and then a couple months later we were sitting in a café and he presented to me this idea of how imagination, faith, and reality intersect and how we could tell that in a movie by interweaving the stories and the life.”
O’Connor’s stories often focus on the weird and the ugly parts of life. She never sugarcoats her southern gothic world and even writes some of her characters with few redeeming qualities.
That focus on the ugly, unidealistic parts of life that are so prominent in O’Connor’s short stories comes up, with Maya Hawke talking about how contrary O’Connor was to the typical feminine identity and how she wrote her female characters to reflect that in herself as well.
But each of her narratives reveal something unique about the human person, such as in “Good Country People,” in which the central character with a wooden leg, Hulga, who changed her name from Joy out of spite for her mother, claims to be an intellectual and an atheist. She has many academic achievements, even having a P.H.D in philosophy, yet she acts immature and obnoxious, presenting herself as an inconsiderate nihilist.
However, by the end of the story, she encounters a man who truly is an inconsiderate nihilist and her own self-perception is confronted. O’Connor ends the story leaving the reader wondering if Hulga will change her ways or act any differently after the story, and that’s a part of what makes O’Connor’s writing so compelling. She never makes it easy for whoever reads it to extract what they need to out of it, and interpret the parts left unwritten.
They further discussed the theme of greatness that accompanies a conversation about O’Connor well. Specifically, if the pursuit of greatness is inherently selfish and how exactly it can be used to serve others and God. O’Connor herself struggled with this idea.
“I want so to love God all the way. At the same time I want all the things that seem opposed to it. I want to be a fine writer,” O’Connor said.
Both of the actors talk with Barron about how prevalent this idea has been to them throughout their lives and thus, how it relates to the film, which will hopefully add a deeper level to Maya Hawke’s portrayal of the author.
The recent rise in Christian movies has been promising with releases such as “Nefarious,” which have worked to bring separate denominations and even non-believers together. Barron’s episode just previous to this one jumped onto the surge.
Around a year ago he had Shia LaBeouf on his show to anticipate the release of LaBeouf’s role as Padre Pio in the then upcoming film.
The interview sparked interest in the project, as it enlightened the spiritual conversion that LaBeouf had while preparing for the role. The interview itself is beautiful and definitely worth checking out if you are in need of a good fruitful conversation to listen to, but when the film released it was met with much criticism.
The greater story wasn’t focused on Padre Pio and didn’t live up to exactly what people expected the film to be. However, LaBeouf’s performance as the saint was incredible, which could be seen even with as little as we saw of him in the film.
From Barron’s interview with the Hawke’s it seems to be a different story as Ethan Hawke himself has been so involved in the production process. However, only time will tell.
To hear the Hawke’s talk about their intimate knowledge of O’Connor and how attached they are to her stories on Barron’s show certainly makes the film seem promising and, based on the interview, I’m looking forward to seeing it and how it hopefully will accurately portray O’Connor and her stories.