I want to bring your attention to a new film, one that attempts to convey some genuine truths about religious faith and secular governance. My full review won’t appear until Chronicles’ August issue and, by that time, For Greater Glory may have left the theaters. As this is a film that should be seen—as they say—on the big screen, I thought it best to say something about it now.
Produced with Mexican and American financial backing, For Greater Glory recounts signal events in the Cristero War waged from 1926 to 1929 throughout Mexico, costing upwards of 90,000 lives. As this war remains largely unknown in America today, the film is a welcome history lesson. More than this, it serves as a reminder of what can happen under Marxist inspired governments such as the one that came to power after the Mexican Revolution of 1917. It’s the old story. The ideologues in charge had a wonderful plan. They were determined to lead their nation into an enlightened, antiseptic, and thoroughly streamlined future free of the encumbrances of oldthink and oldfeelings. To achieve this shiny utopia, President Plutarco Calles (1877-1945) knew he had to purge his country of what he considered to be the retrograde influence of the Roman Catholic Church. How else were his people to enjoy the benefits of learning about evolution, birth control, and their secular civic duties, chief of which was to yield unquestioning support to his glorious regime? There was a problem, however. Most Mexicans weren’t keen about the means Calles deemed necessary to reach his goal. But Calles was convinced that the future must be served whatever the price. Did this mean draping priests from their church’s crosses the better to bayonet them to death? Or hanging the corpses of civilian dissenters from telegraph poles as object lessons in Marxist necessity? So be it. What else can one do with history’s backsliders? Odd how the advocates of scientific materialism have so often come among us in the white-coated garb of butchers wielding meat cleavers. And how they’ve always assured us that their murderous policies would just be brief, unfortunate preludes to a harmonious future.
As directed by Dean Wright, For Greater Glory is a sincere if melodramatic evocation of the time. Wright is eager—a little too eager for my taste—to persuade us of the absolute goodness of all the Cristeros and the hideous evil of the Calles and his armed forces, the Federales. It’s not that his vision is entirely false, but in his fervor Wright glosses over history’s inevitable chiaroscuro. For one thing, he alludes to the Vatican’s diplomatic vacillation regarding the conflict but doesn’t really dramatize it. He also presents us with pistol-packing priests whose blazing participation in the battles seems more than a little unseemly. But I’ll discuss these matters further in my full review. Today it will suffice to recommend this film. Wright was in charge of special effects for the Lord of the Rings films and he invests this film with something like the visual grandeur he achieved for Peter Jackson’s production. Furthermore, the story is ably brought to life by its actors, especially Andy Garcia, Ruben Blades, and Mauricio Kuri. There’s little in theaters right now that’s of more interest than For Greater Glory.
George McCartney, a professor of English at St. John's College, is film editor for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of Evelyn Waugh and the Modernist Tradition (Transaction).