FILM: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Molokai: the story of Father Damien
, July 13, 2002
This deeply moving, in some respects shocking, film, made in 1999 but just released in Australia, tells the story of the Belgian missionary, Father Damien, who, as a young priest in 1873, volunteered to establish a parish in the leper colony of Molokai, Hawaii, serving the people faithfully for 15 years before dying of leprosy.
The film is broadly faithful to what we know about the priest: how he single-handedly rescued these doomed people from a life of utter poverty and depravity; how he battled and overcame human temptation in the strange desolation of this island which could have been a tropical paradise, yet was hell on earth; and how he overcame the indifference of the government and the cowardice of his Catholic superiors, who seemed to put every obstacle in his path to having these unfortunate people treated as human beings.
Despite the fact that he was quarantined on an island at the end of the earth, his genius for publicity earned him an international reputation, so that eventually, an order of nuns in the United States sent a community to serve the lepers.
His heroism made him the equivalent of a Mother Teresa in his time: a man whose love of his fellow suffering human being was at its greatest in their moments of greatest misery.
In spite of its subject matter, the film never drags, partly due to its superb cast, with David Wenham playing the stubborn, intense yet strangely likeable Belgian priest, supported by Leo McKern as Bishop Maigret, Sam Neill as the Colonial Governor, Peter O'Toole as an English leper on Molokai, and Kate Ceberano as the Hawaiian Princess Liliuokalani, whose magnificent unaccompanied rendition of Aloha 'oe (Until we meet again), is deeply moving.
This film is a "must see". However, the repeated scenes of people suffering the effects of leprosy make it unsuitable for children.