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'Wildcat,' Flannery O'Connor and the Holy Spirit

May 24, 2024 | By

One definition of "inspiration" is  "a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation." If any writer was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it certainly was Flannery O'Connor.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925, Flannery grew up as a member of a Catholic minority in the Bible Belt and later wrote professionally as a lone voice of faith in the largely secular literary world.

What Is Wildcat About?

Now in wide release, Wildcat profiles Flannery (Maya Hawke) -- short for Mary Flannery -- at a particular moment in her life. In her early 20s, she's completed graduate studies at the University of Iowa's famed Writer's Workshop and is now pursuing her writing career in New York City.

But on a trip back home to visit her mother, Regina (Laura Linney) in small-town Georgia, Flannery falls ill. She later discovers that she has lupus, a serious autoimmune disorder that earlier took her father's life.

She then must decide how to spend the time she has left.

To tell the story, co-writer/director Ethan Hawke (father of Maya), intersperses biographical elements with dramatizations of some of O'Connor's short stories (interestingly enough, not the one that gives the movie its name).

Hawke and Linney play different characters in the dramatizations, so it may take a moment for viewers to adjust.

Wildcat and the Holy Spirit

It’s probably no coincidence that Wildcat, received its wide release over Pentecost weekend. The pervasive theme over the film considers how the Holy Spirit animates the creative life of the author.

The humble contention from the opening prescript is that the Holy Spirit works through humans as it wills. That said, let’s dive in.

What the Holy Spirit Is NOT

One of the Mass-reading options for the second New Testament letter on Pentecost has St. Paul exhorting the Galatians to show the fruits of the Spirit, living lives of “joy, peace, patience, kindness …”

Prior to that, he warns the Christians to avoid the obvious works of the flesh, which need no remuneration from me.

In one conversation with her editor, Flannery (played by co-writer/director Ethan Hawke’s daughter, Maya) admits she doesn’t know much about what the Holy Spirit is, only what it is not. As the story commences, we soon find out the author incorporated orthodox Christian morality into both her personal life and the stories she told.

She made clear to suitors she was waiting until marriage to make love, and the same could be said of some of her protagonists. By not living by the flesh, the Holy Spirit can take root.

What the Holy Spirt IS

With Jesus Christ ascending to Heaven, the Holy Spirit is sent to provide validity to the Sacraments. The third person of the Trinity could be interpreted, in a minimalist sense, as a logical necessity, to assure Catholics receive God’s graces in the Seven Sacraments of the Church.

We see Flannery and her mother attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When Flannery's illness becomes serious, a priest (Liam Neeson) pays her a visit, offering the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Dead by 39, we presume Flannery received a final anointing as well.

While she's attending a party at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, one of Flannery’s lapsed-in-the-faith classmates still admits she appreciates the Holy Ghost, because it’s the most portable one of the Trinity.

Building an Altar to Creativity

A final scene shows Flannery rearranging the furniture in her childhood bedroom, where she wrote prolifically for the last 14 years of her life.

The bookshelves, desk and clothing drawers cobble together as a pseudo pre-conciliar back altar, complete with a Marian statue and vibrant saint cards. The image makes clear (at least to a believing viewer) that the Holy Spirit imbued the writing of Flannery O’Connor, one of the only remaining short story writers from the 1950s and 60s worth reading.

We just don’t how that process specifically took place.

O’Connor’s success was only assured by following two simple disciplines, avoiding works of the flesh and frequenting the Sacraments; letting the Holy Spirit do the work, as it wills.

Click here to see if Wildcat is screening in your area.


Image: Wildcat/Oscilloscope Labs

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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