If you looked back on your life, how many perfect story arcs would you find?
How many beginnings, middles and ends?
Or is your life more of a muddle, where it’s hard to decipher the beginnings from the middles from the endings?
How many endings took so long to occur that you couldn’t even remember what the beginnings were?
“Catechism Cataclysm” messes with storytelling. It spits in the face of the story arc. It throws in elements for no apparent rhyme or reason.
For this, it has received its share of criticism. Even derision.
But for me, it totally worked.
Director Todd Rohal won me over several years ago with “The Guatemalan Handshake.” It created a wonderful world of weirdness, laughs and genuine emotion. It had elements of both “Napoleon Dynamite” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” For me, that’s seductive chemistry.
Just to give you an idea of where “Catechism Cataclysm” is coming from, the tagline for it is, “God will f*** you up.”
That will make a lot of people recoil, I’m sure. But for me the film had very little to do with religion. The tagline is provocative to be sure, but perhaps it is also a canard.
We follow the heavy metal-loving Father Billy (Steve Little of “Eastbound and Down”) as he shows incredible ineptitude at being a priest. Given his lack of passion, it’s hard to imagine why or how he ever became a priest in the first place.
Told by an elder priest to take some time off and do some soul-searching after offering parishioners some lackluster spiritual guidance, Father Billy decides to meet up with an old high school idol — his sister’s ex-boyfriend (Robert Longstreet of “Take Shelter,” “Pineapple Express” and many, many other films).
While Father Billy remembers everything about Robbie, Robbie does not remember a thing about Father Billy. However, with two children that live with their two different mothers and a lonely life as a roadie, Robbie doesn’t have anything better to do than meet up with the weird priest that has been pestering him with emails.
This is where the journey into the heart of premature endings and non sequiturs begins.
And this is where the viewer has to decide if he or she is up for the (canoe) ride. It’s going to be unlike any other canoe ride you’ll ever take.
An incident involving Father Billy’s bible in the bathroom is a bit of foreshadowing for just where things are going.
In the end, an eye-opening folksy spiritual hymn may sum up the ultimate message of the movie. Or maybe it’s just another joke.
Whatever did or didn’t happen on the trip, the coda of the movie suggests that Father Billy has found some piece of mind.
It’s a relief to know he has maybe found a happy place after years of unhappiness. I just hope he keeps some of the rock ‘n’ roll in his priestly presentation. It would be a shame to lose it.
I found the journey immensely funny and enjoyable. Scanning the reviews from other critics, I am in the minority.
I guess it’s safe to say that “Catechism Cataclysm” will be one of those films that constantly gets tagged as “not a movie for everybody.”
For my part, I hope the divisiveness of his films doesn’t ultimately convince Todd Rohal to adjust his vision for the sake of others. From what I’ve seen, he is spot on.
“Catechism Cataclysm” is currently available on DVD and streaming on Netflix Instant.
Spoilers ahead if you choose to watch the trailer:
And here is a scene from “The Guatemalan Handshake” featuring one of my favorite musicians, the wily Will Oldham.