People have been meditating on the image of a nearly nude and bound Saint Sebastian for centuries. The martyr is usually depicted with arrows piercing his flesh, bearing a rapturous expression — the subtext of which has inspired numerous writings and artworks, depicting the saint as an icon of queer culture. Derek Jarman’s 1976 movie Sebastiane explored similar themes, focused on the sexual/spiritual agony and ecstasy between two Roman soldiers. Severus’ lustful obsession with Sebastiane provokes him to torture the unattainable man, and the intersection of longing, faith, and violence is lyrically captured by the director (translated in Vulgar Latin, even). The film’s homoeroticism and striking realism caused a controversy amongst religious groups. Since the film has arrived on Blu-ray, we wanted to explore other contentious studies of spirituality. Mention your favorites, below.
You’d be hard pressed to find a film by British filmmaker Ken Russell that hasn’t spurred some kind of controversy, but his 1971 film The Devils is one that still stands out from the others. The lurid iconoclast based his chilling tale on the famous Loudun possessions and public exorcisms that created hysteria amongst the Ursuline nuns and found wealthy, wanton 17th century priest Urbain Grandier executed for witchcraft. A lusty Oliver Reed brings the role to life, with Vanessa Redgrave depicting an unnerving, hunchbacked Mother Superior that becomes swept up in the sacrilegious, sexual frenzy. The overt, stunning imagery was troubling enough for critics and censors who found the film reprehensible — condemning its violence, the blasphemous orgy scene, and Reed sexualized as Christ — but the depiction of corrupt religious and political systems angered many groups around the world. It was censored and banned, rarely screened in its entirety post debut. The British Film Institute released the most complete cut of the movie in March, but 41 years later, they were still unable to include all the controversial footage in its entirety.