Thursday, April 12, 2012


Incubus is one of those weird love-it-or-hate-it kind of affairs. It’s filmed entirely in Esperanto, a language none of the actors actually knew how to speak (and it shows). The only existing print of the film that wasn’t burned (no, seriously) has subtitles in the form of a big black box that’s placed almost squarely in the middle of the screen. And the movie has more pretensions than a whole night’s worth of Academy Award acceptance speeches. But on the other hand, it's also got some obvious talent behind the camera (courtesy of the same crew responsible for The Outer Limits television show) who keep the movie visually interesting. And in front of the camera, well, it’s William Shatner, and he’s always fun to watch (although he doesn’t go full-on Kirk until after he gets stabbed near the end of the film).

But, let’s be honest, the thing which probably places Incubus in the win column here at The B-Movie Catechism is the movie’s mixture of solid Catholic dogma (no, seriously) with age old Christian folklore, all presented in a simple, straight forward, no grey areas tale of good vs. evil. Basically, the story follows a young up and coming succubus named Kia who has grown tired of killing off sinners and longs for the challenge of destroying a truly good soul. Unimpressed with the less than perfect clergymen she has been spying on, Kia finally locates Marc, a wounded soldier with a pure heart. Alas for the poor demoness, although she manages to make Marc fall in love with her, the devout Christian spurns any sexual intimacy until they are married. When Kia refuses to get wed (demons aren’t too big on the sacraments), Marc picks her up while she is sleeping and carries her into the local church hoping to force the issue. Which leads to this great scene…

Okay, so as you can probably tell, Incubus isn’t exactly the movie for fans of subtlety (I did mention Shatner is in this, didn’t I?). But c’mon, you have to dig those crazy sixties lighting effects and background organ music. And subtle or not, it still has a ring of authenticity to it. You see, so solid is Kia’s delusion about how things should be, that when confronted with the truth of God as revealed through Marc’s expressions of love and faith, she is compelled to act violently in order to preserve her worldview (notice she even goes so far as to say his profession of love is an assault analogous to rape). As is entirely befitting a creature from hell, Kia’s reaction is that of the compete and utter narcissist.

According to the book Personality Disorders (WPA Series in Evidence & Experience in Psychiatry), “Several studies support the observation that people with high narcissism tend to have strong aggressive and violent reactions to threats to their sense of superiority or self-esteem. Aggressive reactions to criticism may be more or less controlled and obvious—ranging from cognitive reconstructions of events and subtle, well hidden feelings of disdain or contempt, to intense aggressive argumentativeness, criticism and rage outbursts, to more or less controlled aggressive and violent behaviour.” Or to put it in more layman terms, as Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. does in Psychology Today, “When criticized, narcissists show themselves woefully incapable of retaining any emotional poise, or receptivity. And it really doesn't much matter whether the nature of that criticism is constructive or destructive. They just don't seem to be able to take criticism, period… Although narcissists don't (or won't) show it, all perceived criticism feels gravely threatening to them (the reason that their inflamed, over-the-top reactions to it can leave us so surprised and confused). Deep down, clinging desperately not simply to a positive but grandiose sense of self, they're compelled at all costs to block out any negative feedback about themselves. Their dilemma is that the rigidity of their defenses, their inability ever to let their guard down (even with those closest to them), guarantees that they'll never get what they most need, which they themselves are sadly--no, tragically--oblivious of.”

Now, given the recent issues involving religious freedom in the United States, some of you out there are probably expecting me to make the suggestion that much like Kia in the movie, more than a few of the enemies of the Church, especially those who seem to have a vitriolic reaction to her very existence, might just be suffering from a tad bit of narcissism. And you know, I could easily go there, because, well… it would be true. But Deacon Doug McManaman, teacher of Philosophy at the Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy, finds that narcissism is a very real and present danger inside the Church as well. According to the Deacon, narcissists often “ascribe to a religion in an effort to understand their special status, which they believe they enjoy.” The narcissist may believe “he is a disciple -- chosen -- by virtue of a special quality in him, and not really by virtue of the mercy and gratuitous love of God.” In effect, the religious narcissist sees the Church as something which compliments his pre-existing view of himself and the world he lives in, not as something which shapes and molds that view. It’s a subtle difference, but one we should all be aware of, especially in an election year when our personal politics can so easily trump our religion.

So, how do we avoid distorting our religious experience through an over-elevated sense of self worth? Well, Deacon McManaman suggests one simple thing. Orthodoxy. “To keep oneself from being fooled by the narcissist whose facade includes Catholicism, we only have to remain faithful to Peter.” he writes. “The narcissist cannot help but defy authority… [so] by remaining faithful to Peter, one takes a path that ultimately the narcissist cannot follow." So yeah, basically, if you want to avoid the snares of narcissism, then simply follow the teachings of the Church. And if you just can’t bring yourself to do so, well… then don’t worry about it, there must be something wrong with them. As special as you are, it couldn’t possibly be you, could it?

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