With Midnight Mass, Mike Flanagan explores a range of poignant subjects but also points to a deeper lesson in religion and human nature.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for Midnight Mass.
by netflix Midnight Mass explores a whole range of poignant themes and even perfectly portrays a universal truth at the heart of religion. Sequel to other Netflix horror series The Haunting of Hill House and its follow-up, The Haunting of Bly’s Mansion, Midnight Mass comes from writer / director Mike Flanagan. Set on the fictional island of Crockett, the series explores a different kind of terror as its inhabitants fall prey to a vampire-like monster mistaken for an angel and renewed religious fervor. The two are unleashed on the island by Father Paul Hill / Monsignor Pruitt (Hamish Linklater) and contribute to a tense and bloody conclusion.
Along the way, Midnight Mass covers a host of important topics including addiction, grief, remorse, redemption, and even the meaning of life. Primarily, Mike Flanagan’s Passion Project addresses the nature of religion and faith. He does it from different angles, from reincarnated atheist Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford) and zealous Catholic Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) to Muslim father and son Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and Ali (Rahul Abburi). In the process, Mike Flanagan (who appeared as a priest) offers an often overlooked wisdom that captures the true essence of spiritual belief and how it manifests.
Wisdom comes as Riley reckons with his alcoholism and attends his first AA meeting with Father Paul. Meanwhile, the charismatic priest confides that alcohol in itself is neither good nor bad. Instead, it is only when in the hands of an individual that the needle moves in one way or another. Although the particular point is never directly indicated, Midnight Mass stresses, however, that this also remains true of religion. After all, whatever faith is practiced, it is also an abstract construct. Religion is never as good (or bad) as the individual who takes it to heart, whether in Midnight Mass titled episodes from books or in real life.
Religion hasn’t made Sheriff Hassan, Erin Greene (Kate Siegel), Midred Gunning (Alex Essoe) and others the good people and sacrificial heroes they ultimately are. Their faith only strengthens their already innate sense of compassion and kindness, rather than fueling it. They don’t need the lessons of the Bible or the Quran to teach them how to be, they just confirm that the way they lived their life was one of nobility and dignity. And their faith gives them the strength to stay this course in the face of hostility and much worse. As Ed Flynn (Henry Thomas) puts it when most Midnight MassThe characters are transformed into vampires, it doesn’t change who you are deep inside. Again, the same is true of religion.
This is most emphasized by the opposite example embodied by Bev Keane mentioned above. Whether it’s poisoning a harmless dog or her generally racist and closed-minded attitudes, it’s increasingly clear that she’s not a good person. Although she may be too delusional to see it, it is equally clear that for her religion is only a practical mask for these flaws. Worse yet, the words of the Bible exist simply to be twisted, to allow it to justify its increasingly heinous actions. The same goes for several other residents of Midnight Mass‘Crockett Island, whose blind following of Pruitt and then Bev belies their own weaknesses and moral flaws, rather than serving as an indictment against religion itself.
Another pivotal scene that captures an often-missed essence of religion is the PTA reunion. As much as Bev refuses to see the point, Sheriff Hassan respectfully points out the hypocrisy of the religious divide. Through this character – and the type of research most obscured by the Muslim representation – Mike Flanagan points out that often different religions are two sides of the same coin. While practices and some scriptures may differ, the fundamental meanings may not necessarily be. For the best or for the worst, Midnight Mass shows that faith and religion are just mirrors, and what manifests is based on the person, not on texts.
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