THREE STARS - Entertaining
The struggle inherent in the formation of an identity is the underlying theme of the hi-tech, action romance “The Saint.”
Director Phillip Noyce begins his tale in the orphanage of a Roman Catholic parish. There the illegitimate children are given the names of saints in an attempt to give them a model by which they can live their lives. The paradox of this is that the adults who care for the children are mercilessly abusive. They neither model saintly behavior for the children nor do they exhibit care, let alone love for them. The result of such incongruity is not only the rejection of sainthood and its morality, but also the inability to form a consistent identity at all.
The central character is a young man who rejects the name of a saint and instead takes on the name of Simon, not after Saint Simon Peter, but after the infamous Biblical persona of Simon the Magician. Choosing Templar as his last name, Simon Templar (Val Kilmer) begins a life of magic, deception and thievery.
His first major feat is to break himself out of the orphanage. But in so doing he inadvertently causes the death of a girl he loves. Her death haunts his soul and drives his feelings even deeper within. A lonely and isolated young man, he becomes an international thief with neither ethics or commitments.
To perform his acts of daring crime, Simon creates disguises named after the very saints the orphanage had imposed on the children. Played with troubled authenticity, Simon takes on the identity, nationality and mannerisms of his saints. However, instead of imitating the saints by doing good deeds, “The Saint” does deeds which are evil.
Having set a goal of banking $50 million dollars and then retiring, Templar is near his goal when he takes as a client an evil and ambitious leader of the new Russia (Rade Serbedzija). His assignment is to steal the formulae for the creation of a cold fusion reactor. It is this final caper which becomes a defining moment for Simon. He meets a woman in whose presence he finds his long-buried feelings.
Dr. Emma Russell (Elisabeth Shue) is a disarmingly naive and beautiful genius. With much the same charm and daring as his childhood lover, Emma unknowingly reaches beneath Simon’s protective disguise to his heart. This is exactly the key which is needed to unlock Simon’s soul.
Those of us who have been so damaged in childhood that we have lost our very selves can only be found in the pure and unconditional love of another. For Simon to recover his ability to be himself and love once more is made possible as he reveals his true self to a woman similar to the one whose death has haunted him.
Though we won’t spoil the intrigue and the development of the romance, the central message of the film comes to a head when Emma decides to clarify the true motivation of Simon and establish clearly her own identity. Having developed a formula worth trillions of dollars, she decides to give it away. This action both affirms Emma’s own identity as a woman of compassion for the poor of the world, as her discovery will provide unlimited energy needs for the future, but it also removes any reason for Simon to have a relationship with her other than that of love.
Although not presented in a traditional manner, Emma’s faith in the “power all around us, but you can’t see it” belief in fusion is a metaphor for her faith in the larger power of love which is also all around us but often cannot be seen. The risk which Emma takes is a step of faith. To love even when that love might not be returned, to care even when that caring may cost you your fortune, to act with courage even when that act could cost you your life, are acts of a saint.
Saints are not persons uniquely faithful and capable of great miracles. Saints are persons of faith who reach out in love and unlock the imprisoned hearts of others. Though the film does not reveal the eventual path of Simon’s life or whether he made restitution to those from whom he stole, the seed is planted for him to find his true self, not as a magician but as a saint.