Frankie Paige is an average city girl. Between clubs, relationships and hairdressing, she has no time to think of religion, let alone the prospect that there might be a God out there...
Released in early 2000, Stigmata is Rupert Wainwright's complex, but aesthetically stunning film. Starring Patricia Arquette (Lost Highway) as Frankie Paige and Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) as Father Kiernan, it combines the mystical with the corrupt, the bloody with the sublime. The soundtrack mixes between orchestral, electronica and rock, overseen and composed by Billy Corgan (from The Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan) and contains such artists as David Bowie, Björk and Natalie Imbruglia.
The visuals of this film are designed to manipulate what the audience sees. Wainwright purposely kept all background and scenery colours to earth tones, black and gold, in order to accentuate the vividity and presence of certain key images. This causes them to catch the viewer's eye. This cinematic device was specifically used in combination with the blood - even if you haven't seen the film, it is obvious that there will be plenty of it. The only other object in the film that is red is a jacket Frankie wears to a club. This method of isolating certain imagery is also used to a smaller degree with Frankie's wardrobe and the flowers in the market scene.
The plot is admittedly complicated and more than likely turned away many Byrne fans to his other film that was out at the time (End of Days) in which he played the polar opposite of his Stigmata character - Satan.
As the title suggests, Stigmata revolves around the occurrence of the stigmata1 in Frankie, after she receives a package from her travelling mother in south east Mexico. Kiernan is a priest sent by the Catholic Church to investigate the wounds, but is perplexed when he finds that Frankie is an atheist. Despite Church protocol, he finds that he cannot leave Frankie: she receives more wounds and begins to slip away from life.
As this happens it becomes clear why she is receiving the wounds. As is seen at the beginning of the film, the package that her mother sent her contains a crucifix that had been stolen from a dead priest's coffin. This priest - Father Alameida - was part of a trio of priests assigned to decipher a recently-discovered gospel said to contain the words of Jesus Christ himself. However, when the Catholic Church realised the words contradicted their entire ethos, they shut down the project. Father Alameida stole the script and went into hiding in order to finish the translation, but died before he could complete it. Because of this spiritual frustration, and the stolen crucifix, his spirit takes possession of Frankie's body - because he suffered the stigmata, so does she.
The film concludes with a mixture of violence, peace and discovery; the corrupt cardinal, played by Jonathan Price, that sent Kiernan, tries to strangle Frankie to save 'his' church from the message she symbolises. Kiernan saves the day, rescuing Frankie from certain death2, saving the truth that Alameida was keeping intact, and sending the dead priest on to rest in death. The final minute of the film shows Alameida's Mexican church; the chalk white Virgin Mary statue with the blood tear trails still running down its surface; Kiernan pulling out the script from beneath a loose paving slab, a lurid statue of the crucified Christ and the hot Mexican sunset.
The final credits are preceded by a bittersweet final message. It states:
In 1945, a scroll was discovered by Nag Hammadi which is described as the secret sayings of the living Jesus.
This scroll, the 'Gospel of St Thomas' has been claimed by scholars round the world to be the closest record we have of the historical Jesus.
The Vatican refuses to recognise this Gospel and has described it as a heresy.