In The Monk (2011), an abandoned baby of unknown origin is taken in by a Spanish monastery, having been abandoned there. The only clue as to his identity, which the monks are not able to discover during his time growing up with them, is a large birthmark on his arm and shoulder. Though some of the religious community thought the birthmark was “the mark of the devil”, cooler heads prevailed, and the monks raised the baby as their own. They named him Ambrosio, because he was found outside their monastery on St. Ambrose’s feast day. When Ambrosio, having grown up in the monastery, reached adulthood, he himself took vows and became a monk within the community, though it is unknown how much of the outside world he got a chance to see, or whether his choice in this matter was truly free.

Ambrosio takes vows as a friar

Ambrosio takes vows as a Capuchin Friar upon turning 18.

Capuchin Ambrosio became an exceptional preacher, sought after by laypeople who came to his sermons, and looked to him for advice. The modern-day phenomenon of Mother Theresa being widely regarded as a saint by the Catholic population long before her death and the Church’s formal procedures to make her an official canonized saint of the Church, is perhaps a parallel to how he was regarded by the laypeople of his time and place. As testament to the religious zeal of the time and place, or perhaps just as an instinctual response to a charismatic speaker and a handsome young man who clearly qualified as a “Father What-A-Waste”, some of the female population (preaching is clearly a public ministry) clearly reacted to him in ways that would jeopardize his standing in his order, and in the larger religious community. Yes, priests can have “groupies”, or there can be some women who regard it as a “challenge” or an “ego boost” to attempt to seduce a priest or other vowed religious. However, only one such incident is portrayed in this movie, and it is one where such a groupie went to extraordinary lengths to infiltrate his monastery, rather than simply having an admittedly short and circumscribed opportunity to talk with him outside the monastery. The monastery is presented with an individual who calls himself Valerio, and claims the mask he wears as necessary due to terrible burns inflicted on him in a fire that killed his parents. Valerio expresses a desire to join the monastery, which is initially rejected by several of the monks, however Ambrosio convinces them to not fear his differences, and to accept him even though he cannot completely follow the Rule of the monastery (Valerio requests to sleep and eat separately from the other religious brothers, and with his appearance, cannot, in the eyes of the other monks, successfully engage in their active life of preaching and missionary work.)
It is later, when Ambrosio, who has a special privilege within the monastery himself, that of a private rose garden,for its de-stressing effect on his migraines, Valerio later reveals to Ambrosio that he is actually a woman by the name of Matilda, and Ambrosio orders her to leave. As a last request she asks for a rose from his rose garden, which would qualify as a parting souvenir, or second-class relic (something having been touched or used by the saint, or touched to a relic of a dead saint). Upon reaching in to pluck one for her, Ambrosio is bitten by a giant centipede. As he becomes delirious from the effects of the venom, he is seduced by Matilda and compromises his vows with her. (It is left to the viewers to decide whether Matilda is an instrument of Satan in female form, or merely a woman “left out” of closeness to the formal and visible church by virtue of its practice of sexual and hierarchical segregation.) In a strange development, all the women in this picture look very much alike. Is this deliberate, or is this a visual means of telling the audience that Ambrosio regards all women as the same? Yet, Ambrosio had, on previous occasions, had an ambiguous vision of an unidentified woman with a red mantle kneeling and praying, and with a bit of wishful thinking, initially identifies her as “The Virgin” (Mary), though his religious superiors caution him to refrain from jumping to conclusions.
However, Ambrosio is soon found desiring another woman, the innocent Antonia, who comes to him for advice on how to help her mother’s depression. She asks Ambrosio to visit her house to speak to her ailing mother, who reveals that the reason she is depressed, is that years ago before she had had Antonia, she had had another child. When fleeing from one place to another in the sort of inter-kingdom warfare not uncommon in Europe of that time, she left behind the baby son, and didn’t return to claim him. She believed he was dead when she heard no news of him afterwards. This was what led her to be depressed throughout her life afterwards. The son had a birthmark of a distinctive type on his upper arm.
Matilda uses magic spells to help Ambrosio in his pursuit of Antonia, at one point setting up a situation where he is able to get into her bedroom unobserved, and have sex with her. (Whether it is forcible rape, she is willing, or she is hypnotized, is also up for viewer interpretation.)
The procession in honor of St. Mary, as seen in The Monk

Candles are a common feature of Catholic religious processions, but this is the first time I’ve seen procession participants walk with candles fastened to their heads and dripping down the sides of their heads.

It is a scream-worthy occasions when the mother catches Ambrosio and her daughter having sex. It is when she sees that Ambrosio had that birthmark that it becomes clear to her that Ambrosio was the son she had thought was dead, and that a presumed man of God had not only failed to abide by the celibacy expected of him, but knowingly or unknowingly, had just committed incest with his sister.
The focus is also on Antonia’s previous relationship with Lorenzo, whose sister, who is a Sister, Sister Agn├Ęs, is tortured by hypocritical nuns for her own relationship, which had been revealed when she disclosed it while making confession with Ambrosio as her confessor. Instead of abiding by the Seal of Confession, keeping silent about the nun’s broken vows, Ambrosio had handed over to the Prioress of her order a letter she written to her lover and he got into his possession while they were in the confessional. This Mother Superior had other nuns imprison her in a private dungeon, without regard for the health and safety of the child within her.
Returning to Ambrosio, near the end of the movie, he is shown in a desert setting which parallels Christ’s famous period of fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, wherein he was tempted by the Devil. The Devil appears to Ambrosio as well, in a much more prosaic form, sometimes seen in folk tales of other times, that of a middle-aged white guy with a dark suit. The ending of the movie is left ambiguous. While Ambrosio seems willing to sell his soul, is selling one’s soul for a higher purpose still as wrong as doing so for personal gain?

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