Monday, March 9, 2020

The Many Religious Roles of Max von Sydow

The world was informed this morning of the loss of one of the great actors of our time this past Sunday at the age of 90 - Max von Sydow. Despite being, according to reports, an agnostic or an atheist, he could probably be credited with playing the most religious roles of any other actor throughout his career in which he featured in more than 100 films and TV series.

Max von Sydow has actually been on my mind this past week. In the past few days alone I have purchased tickets to three films he is in that will be soon shown by a few local theaters on the big screen. The first is The Exorcist which I will see in a few weeks, the second The Greatest Story Ever Told which will be shown on Catholic Good Friday, and the third is Shutter Island which I will see at the location where it was filmed in a few months. These are the only shows I have purchased in advance because they are all sure to sell out, and the common denominator in all of them is that they feature Max von Sydow.

Max von Sydow is perhaps the only actor to have embodied four major Christian religious figures: from Jesus to Satan, from a man questioning the former to another fighting the latter. And so on and so forth.

Perhaps his most notable role for which he won Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globes was in the 1973 film The Exorcist in which he plays the exorcist himself, Father Lankester Merrin, where he probably gave the most notable line of his entire career: "The power of Christ compels you!" The Exorcist is one of my personal favorite films which I have seen dozens of times, and was probably the first horror film I ever saw at the age of around five. Interesting fact about The Exorcist: Even though he brilliantly plays the role of Father Merrin as an old and frail priest, the truth of the matter is that he was my current age right now - 44 years old. The wonders of make-up, you can hardly notice he was actually fairly young.

Max von Sydow without and after make up for The Exorcist

Here is a list of some of these religious roles:

- The Seventh Seal (1957) where he plays a medieval knight playing a game of chess with Death.

- The Magician (1958) where he plays a magician allegedly with supernatural abilities.

- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) where he plays Jesus Christ.

- Hour of the Wolf (1968) where he plays a painter haunted by demons.

- The Touch (1971) where he plays a character in a film revolving around a statue of the Virgin Mary.

- The Exorcist (1973) where he plays the frail priest and exorcist Father Lankester Merrin.

- Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) where he reprises his role as Father Lankester Merrin.

- The Soldier's Tale (1984) where he plays the voice of the Devil.

- Samson and Delilah (1984) where he plays Sidka.

- Quo Vadis? (1985) where he plays the Apostle Peter.

- Ghostbusters II (1989) where he plays the voice of Vigo the Carpathian - a Satan-like demon.

- A Violent Life (1990) where he plays Pope Clement VII.

- Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes (1990) where he plays Father Siemes.

- Needful Things (1993) where he plays Satan incarnate.

- A che punto รจ la notte (1993) where he plays the Archbishop of Turin.

- Jerusalem (1996) where he plays a Vicar in a movie about a Swedish religious cult.

- Samson and Delilah (1996) where he plays the role of the narrator.

- Hercules (1997) where he plays Zeus.

- Solomon (1997) where he plays King David in this television miniseries.

- What Dreams May Come (1998) where he plays an angel.

- The Inquiry (2006) where he plays Tiberius Caesar who sends a Roman tribune to investigate the possibility of the divinity of the recently crucified Jesus.

- Solomon Kane (2009) where he plays the father of Solomon Kane, who urges his son to become a priest, though he goes on to sell his soul to the devil.

- The Tudors (2009) where he plays Cardinal von Walburg in 4 episodes of this television series.

- The Letters (2015) where he plays Father Celeste van Exem, a Belgian Jesuit priest who lived in Calcutta from 1944 till his death in 1993.

His last role is in a film yet to be released called Echoes of the Past, in which he plays a Greek named Nikolaos Andreou. The film is inspired in part by a true event, the infamous massacre of Kalavryta by Nazi troops on December 13th, 1943. The story is being told through a series of flashbacks as Nikolaos Andreou, an acclaimed writer dying of cancer, poignantly narrates his personal experience as a young child to Caroline Martin, a top-notch lawyer representing Germany's Federal Republic government on the Greek WWII reparations claims.

R.I.P. Max.