Exploring the Role of a Pastoral Care Minister through the film “The Barbarian Invasion”

Now in his early 50’s and divorced, Rémy is in the hospital.  His ex-wife Louise pleads with their son Sébastien, who has become a very successful businessman in London, England, to come home.  Sébastien hesitates because he and his father haven’t had much to say to each other for a very long time, but ends up agreeing to return, along with his French wife, to help his mother out.  As soon as he arrives, Sébastien does everything in his power to get a clear diagnosis of his father’s health and to reduce his suffering.  Using his creativity and his contacts, not to mention bribery, Sébastien turns the system upside down to obtain better conditions and a bit of happiness for his father.  In the meantime, relatives, friends and lovers flock to Rémy’s bedside to offer support, settle scores, and take a facetious look at their own existence.  Arcand’s latest film follows both the Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989), and there is a continuation of the lives of many of the most emblematic characters from both movies. By examining Arcand’s newest movie, The Barbarian Invasions, we will reflect upon some aspects of this movie in which we can find a strong connection to issues of pastoral care ministry in today’s society by examining a minor character, “the religious woman”, sister Constance (Johanne-Marie Tremblay).

Our character in this analysis played the role of the unemployed actress who was working in a restaurant and that Jesus of Montreal selected as a Station of the Cross.  We don’t know what happened to her after the death of Jesus of Montreal, but there is no doubt that she has gone though a deep transformation or a profound conversion of the heart when we see her again in this new movie.  Denys Arcand, in Jesus of Montréal, exposed the true conversion of the heart, juxtaposed with a deep criticism of the Institution of the Church.  For example, remember that after the accident and Jesus of Montreal was taken to a Catholic Hospital, they could not look after him and that he had to be taken instead to a Jewish Hospital.

The Barbarian Invasions starts with a woman’s hands taking consecrated hosts from a tabernacle.  We do not know who she is until the director shows us her face and then we recognize her from her previous role in Jesus of Montreal.  We still do not know where she is taking the communion.  Then Arcand takes her (and us) through the corridor of a hellish hospital overflowing with stretchers and patients, images which remind us of a Third world country.  She walks through the pariahs of humanity: Those left behind and the underprivileged.

She finally arrives at a small room with four beds and starts giving communion.

She meets the dying father, Remy, and his ex wife.  So big has been her conversion that she has changed her life from being an actress to being a religious woman working in pastoral care in a Hospital.  Arcand wants us to know that she left everything because of Jesus Christ and in now following His calling: To be a Good Samaritan in the Catholic Hospital.  She visits everybody and gets involved with each patient, as well as their families.  In her unconditional love for her patients, she does not judge them or their families.  She fully supports those that are suffering.  For example, she celebrates that the father has been changed to a better room with humuor, regardless of how it was done.

Getting completely involved in the situation, she understands both the needs of the father, Remy, and the son, Sébastien.  At one point in the movie, and in the same way as Mary did at the wedding at Cana, she instructs the son: “Hag him and tell him that you love him”.  Her presence introduces a spiritual dimension to the movie.  On the other hand, the presence of a priest, trying to sell the treasures of the church, reminds us of a dying institution.  In any event, when the father leaves the hospital and the religious woman says goodbye to him, it will be the last time that we will see her in the movie.

Later, the father, together with his family and close friends, prepares to say his final goodbyes in a friend’s cottage.  This will be his “Last Supper”.  As Jesus was offered sour wine while on the cross, so too is Remy offered wine.  He smells it, but does not drink it and makes a reflection similar to that of Jesus in His Last Supper: “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Mt 26:29).  After saying farewell to each of his friends and family, and giving each the possibility of saying goodbye to him, his son hugs him and tells him that he loves him.  It is then that the presence of the religious woman is felt, facilitating the miracle of the reconciliation between father and son.  She will probably never know that she was the catalyst for this miracle to happen.

The ministry for pastoral care is not oriented to facilitate miracles, but miracles can happen.  Denys Arcand, a contemporary film director, has showed us where the ministry of Jesus is to be found on earth:  It is in having the constant renewal of love to Him, Who has called us.  It is in having empathy with the person that is in front of us, and, as it is mentioned in the old books, in seeing the face of Jesus on him or her.  It is in holding the hand of somebody in need and in looking into his or her eyes, giving one of our most valued commodities, our time.  It is in renewing the presence of “Jesus of Toronto” in all of us.


Knipp, Chris. “Les Invasions Barbares.” (1 March 2004).

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338135/. Accessed March 15, 2004.

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