Restless Heart: Confessions of Augustine is a movie about St. Augustine and his spiritual journey to becoming a Christian. The movie is Catholic and has a heavily Catholic tone predictably. Usually, I would not have chosen to watch a film that I knew was going to be
highly religious in nature versus historical, but I got intrigued by seeing a preview and
researching more into who Augustine was. Augustine of Hippo lived in the 5th century right around the fall of the Roman Empire. He is known as a Christian scholar as well as religious saint in Catholicism. He wrote works such as City of God and Confessions, detailing many theological and philosophical views. In his youth, he went to study law in Carthage and became a lawyer. He was not born a Christian, but later converted. His mother, Monica was a Christian, but his father was a pagan until he converted on his deathbed. The part of Augustine that intrigued me was not all of his religious feats, but how he revealed his more human side in his writings. My favorite story was in his youth, he and his teenage friends stole pears out of their neighbor’s garden, not for food, but for pure mischief! Augustine wrote about this teenage antic and how he regretted it, and gave the timeless insight that it was due to peer pressure, as he would have not done it alone. This little anecdote really made him stick out to me, as it showed his more human side than just this wise almost all-knowing old man. When I found out there was a movie detailing his life from his youth onward, it greatly intrigued me!
I will have to say upfront, the movie was a bit disappointing, but not for the reason one would think. The movie itself is very very long, indeed, it spans two full length movies to cover every event. One can research the biographical aspects and precise plot details as the movie plays out chronologically with a few flashbacks and scenes in his older years. In essence though, the majority of the movie was taken up by Augustine as a teenager and a young man constantly bickering with his mother over religion and morals. She believes that he should be Christian and is sinning, while he thinks she’s too moralistic, ignorant and uptight. This constant fighting wears on one’s nerves after so much of it, even when Augustine has a son, she does not accept that enthusiastically. Augustine seems blind to his mother trying to advise him on what she thinks is best on motherly advice. The real Augustine comments about this in his works on how he wished he listened to more of his mother’s advice! The one part I did like was when his mother fought to get him a better education because she saw potential in him. I thought that resonates with people today, as Augustine came from a poorer family, but she sacrificed all she could to give him a better future. In her heart, she loved Augustine unconditionally.
Much of the movie was also centered around Augustine’s faith and his conversion. This isn’t out of place in a more religiously polarized film, but I think it lacked or glossed over more biographical elements. When I wanted to see the film, I was expecting it to be a biography of his life and a way to learn more about Augustine as a whole person and his background in how he achieved his successes. I thought the film covered too much of just the faith aspect, and not enough details about his life in general. Augustine was portrayed in more black and white terms as a character. It was mostly the foil of the “wayward soul” who needed saving and redeeming contrasted with the “pious Christian”. One did not get to see any gradation in between those two sides and the film did not elaborate more on how he shifted his moral priorities. I wish they could have fleshed Augustine out a little
more and shown some of his more positive traits during his “wayward” phase. In Augustine’s real works, he fleshes out more of his development as a person and his personality. The movie Augustine feels less “human” and more of a stock character to make a point.
Historically, I liked the costumes and the setting. The film was not done cheaply, and people did some research into clothing in late antiquity. The Roman soldiers did not have that “Spartacus” like costume! Some of the details were based off Augustine’s real writings for the plot like the pear scene, but there was little else in terms of capturing the culture and customs of the Romans in late antiquity. I thought when I wanted to see the movie that it would give one a good sense of what life was like back then, but it was downplayed for the more religious aspect of the film. However I liked that the movie did not revolve around sex or relationships, like many movies do! Also, not much gratuitous violence or shock value. The movie was mostly “PG”, except for its heavy tone and intensity.
One of the biggest critiques I have to offer about the movie is about the message it sends to modern viewers. In the movie, Augustine hates his father because he cheats on Monica, Augustine’s mother. The father is the classic jerk husband, who stays out late and cheats on his wife. Augustine resents that deeply and feels it’s unfair to his mother, but she passively accepts this without one complaint, much to Augustine’s frustration. Monica is the devout and pious one, a perfect example of who one should aspire to be as a Chrisitan. In late antiquity, obviously she did not have the choices a modern woman has today to get away from a lousy husband, but she doesn’t even resent the fact her husband treated her that way. Also, Augustine is the only one that criticizes the father’s behavior, yet he isn’t the model person, but the “wayward soul” that needs converting. It sends the message to modern people wanting to be like Monica, to tolerate and accept a lousy husband’s behavior rather than leaving. Even though Monica is in a different time period and culture, the movie’s clear intent was to endorse values that modern viewers should subscribe to. In essence, the movie, and by extension the Church, seems to endorse the view that a wife should submit to a lousy husband and not complain, as opposed to just making it a fact of historical circumstance and cultural difference. From a historical perspective, I can live with Monica making the choice she did because she had little option in late antiquity, and I don’t judge her choices by our modern standards, but I do judge the message the movie endorses by making her the model Christian and portraying her choices regarding her husband as one of her virtues to emulate.
Overall, the movie was disappointing in that it did not flesh out more of Augustine as a character and his life story beyond just his faith, and the lack of historical insight into Augustine’s world at the time. I watched expecting a biography of Augustine’s life, as the historical man was very interesting, and a view into the world in late antiquity. I only got minimal insights into both of those from this movie, and the implied endorsement of Monica’s choices in tolerating her lousy husband irked me. The pros were it was not done cheaply, and did not go into sex and violence, but other than that, it was tedious to watch, and was way too long, taking up two full length movies. Other movies I have seen that were made by religious sources were more well done and less black and white in total. I’d give the film a 4 or 5, but no more. This may have religious value for believers, but has little historical or biographical value at all.