Last night, my husband and I had Film Night, for the first time in ages. We decided to stream our first-ever film, and settled down with my iPad for the experience, with popcorn. The film we chose was The Order, starring Heath Ledger. You can read the plot here.
Now, I like a good religion-thriller. I had high hopes of this one, especially since it was a religion-paranormal-thriller, which is like triple-chocolate-chip cookies. And it was an enjoyable enough interlude, particularly considering the popcorn. However, it did have some major problems, which could be ascribed to really, really bad editing – either not enough, or too much.
The job of an editor, as I understand it, is to make a story – whether that’s a film or a book – into the best story it can be, by the judicious cutting out of irrelevant crap, and possibly advising on plot holes and parts that need expansion.
The Order is about Alex, a Catholic priest who discovers his mentor (Dominic) has died in mysterious circumstances, in Rome. He goes to Rome – with a girl who’s escaped from a mental hospital, where she was put after trying to kill him during an exorcism – to figure out what happened. With him also goes Thomas, his fellow-priest. So far, so good. When there, they discover that there is a “sin-eater” involved – a person who can perform a ceremony and essentially remove someone’s sins, leaving them in a state of grace and therefore able to enter heaven – without absolution from a priest.
The synopsis promises that Alex will solve a trail of murders, which does not happen. There are pregnant hints of a “fate worse than death”, which also seems to be a bit lacking. However, that’s mostly down to a really, really bad synopsis.
One major problem – for me – is that the girl, Mara, exists solely to get Alex to do things. When they get to Rome, she does nothing except hang about looking beautiful and tragic, until Alex finally gives in and has sex with her (thus breaking his vow of chastity). She then gets murdered, which prompts him to perform the sin-eater ceremony to take away her sins and allow her to enter heaven. She is, therefore, a typical Hollywood female – she has no personality of her own, and no real role in the action. She could be replaced by a hatstand and the plot wouldn’t be much different. This is pretty disappointing in the 21st century.
Mara aside (and it’s easy to put Mara aside, because she’s a cipher), the real problem with this film was the editing. At the beginning of the film, we see Thomas doing what is presumably an exorcism – he and Alex (along with the now-dead Dominic) are apparently the last three members of the Carolingian Order, the mission of which is supposed to be fighting demons and so on. However, the spooky-quotient of the film is surprisingly low, considering the two main characters are both exorcists. Why are they exorcists if exorcising isn’t a significant part of the plot?
There are a couple of children sitting in Dominic’s workroom – we discover later that they’re demonspawn. However, we never find out why they are there, and Alex doesn’t do anything about them. They could be removed from the film completely, and nothing would change. Either cut them, or do something with them. Don’t leave them looking as though they wandered in from Oliver Twist to look around and couldn’t figure out how to get back out.
Important scenes, such as Alex’s decision to abandon his vocation (surely he tells someone about this?), and the later scene where he reveals the dirty deeds of Cardinal Driscoll (one of the two bad guys) don’t happen on screen. You’re told that they have happened – but these are pivotal moments either in Alex’s development, or in the plot. Why don’t we get to see them? If it had been a book, I’d have been checking page numbers to see if my copy was missing a chunk. Important events need to happen where the audience (or reader) can see them, because these are what gives the plot much of its tension.
It’s revealed near the end that Alex’s parents were both killed by the sin-eater (William) to set him up, in some way, to become the next sin-eater. Dominic was complicit in this, and so was Driscoll. It’s never explained why such steps needed to be taken, or, indeed, why it worked. In fact, apart from a short scene where the child Alex says goodbye to his dead mother, we don’t know anything about Alex’s past at all. Since it turns out to be relevant, surely we should have been given more information? Plus a bit more plausibility would definitely have helped.
What you leave in should be relevant to the plot; what you take out should not leave huge holes in the plot that make the audience wonder just what the hell (!) is going on.
The take-home message is that The Order could have been a brilliant film – but it was ruined by poor editing. To show at its best, therefore, a story not only needs editing – it needs good editing.