A look at how religion affects the main characters in The Lodge, Saint Maude, and Midsommar... Part 2 of 3
In the film Saint Maud (2019), Maud turns to religion as a method of coping with a traumatizing experience. Religion gave Maud a sense of meaning and purpose beyond the simple life of a caretaker. She finds solace in the mindset of a pious believer, seeing only the sins of others. She feels the power of God and follows her dogma through her own strict, bastardized variation. Her beliefs initially seem benign, an oddity around the more flamboyant house guests of her patient, Amanda.
Maud fails to notice exactly zero people look to her as a beacon of salvation. She is self-serving and ordains herself a personal savior, chosen by God, who judges based on her personal righteousness scale. Her determination to save Amanda highlights faults Maud is unaware she possesses. Maud is exceedingly critical, skipping over “judge not lest ye be judged,” and considers herself special to God, placing herself up high on a pedestal above everyone she views as damned. Most of her beliefs restrict typical human behavior, and anytime she strays, she severely punishes herself as penance. Her mantra “God doesn’t waste our suffering,” is peculiar for someone causing herself and others needless suffering. She uses her self-appointed authority to hinder Amanda’s entertainment choices. Amanda is atheist, choosing to fill her remaining days as she pleases. Maude takes it upon herself to save Amanda’s un-receptive soul.
Maud experiencing God is the only time when she seems peaceful. Fits of euphoria come over Maud, apropos of nothing that seem to have an engrossing, orgasmic effect on her. This is how she “knew” God wants her to save souls, revealing her vain sense of superiority. Since she does not hear or otherwise receive clear messages from God, she is at best guessing as to the significance of her euphoric experiences. Every choice she made was hers alone. Maude never receives any direct orders, coming up with her own ideas relying on her Catholic faith as a crutch to justify her actions. Neither Maud or Amanda budge on their beliefs, as they are too much ingrained into their personas. Amanda attempts to break through Maud’s devoutness, while Maud cannot see Amanda for the dying woman she is, only a mocking demon she kills. This moment shatters Maud’s faltering connection to reality.
Maud prepares for her sacrifice by draping herself in curtains, attempting a Jesus aesthetic, but landing closer to a Billy Pilgrim vibe. Isolated in her pilgrimage, the clouds speak only to her and people nearby are in another realm. She folds completely into herself and the Holy Mission she accepts from no one, peacefully walking to martyrdom, a modern Messiah to save the masses. Despite recently murdering, Maud is certain she is walking God’s path and is worthy not merely of salvation for herself but everyone. No one knows of Maud’s crime or forces her to walk to her public execution. In fact, no one seems to notice her at all, until she baptizes herself in fuel, poised and collected in her actions. She hears a voice from the clouds swirling above her, which signal it is time to light the flames sounding neither holy or hellish; a non-distinct voice speaking an archaic language, commanding her to end her life, and she obeys. The serenity displayed feels comforting yet surreal. Maud’s detachment from her surroundings is audible by the soft, distant snippets of the fellow frantic beach-goers, as they realize her plan. Maud only has eyes and ears for her greater purpose. As Maud lights her robes, emblazoned with divine light, resembling an angel glowing so pure and bright the beach-goers fall to their knees in reverence, instantly becoming true believers whose souls are saved by Saint Maud. Maud is peacefully in her mind, happy to complete her mission to become a beacon of salvation.
The sudden shift from holy example to the scorched screaming person last seen may not have broken through Maud’s delusions. That may be Maud viewed from an onlooker’s perspective, her body responding naturally to horrific, self-inflicted torture, screaming even if Maud is still perceiving herself as a divine beacon. Only, if Amanda was correct, Maud did not ascend to Heaven. If the length of her death was the only thing preventing the nothingness that waits the fallen, her brief moments of delusional bliss were consumed by the fires engulfing her. We see the quickest glance of Maud screaming in agony, engulfed by flames scorching her once pale skin. Her devotion condemned her to an excruciating suicide. The searing pain of her burning flesh, combined with her delusional devout faith, perhaps leads her to believe she was found unworthy and condemned to the eternal fires. The rest of her existence would be an eternity in hell from the perspective of a currently-burning Maud. Doubtful the flames could cause her as much agony as believing she was deemed unworthy in the eyes of God. Everything she did was to impress God and save souls; she gave herself this role and imposed on those around her the beliefs she took to be the true law of God, even though we clearly see the delusional, at best archaic, understanding she has of Catholicism.
Her God proves to work in sadistic ways, tricking her with the notion that she is special, and giving her a purpose no one seems to care about. Her God wants her to sadistically cleanse her soul, repeatedly has everyone turn her away, deludes her into killing “the demon,” and then commands her to commit suicide with an excruciating death. Her last moments create hell on earth, by traumatizing everyone around her. Was anyone in the crowd convinced to convert by her actions, or did she go out in a blaze that repulsed and horrified her witnesses to turn from religion as an awful thing that must be avoided? Her previous attempts to save souls failed with increasing severity, indicating her final act did not save anyone at all. At best, she provided fuel for nightmares or perhaps broke their minds as hers was broken. What did they turn to for answers after seeing such a senseless act? How did they cope with the horrific death she chose for herself? She saw herself as a sacrificial lamb, chosen by God, while forcing others to watch yet another one of Maud’s misguided approach of forcing her religious beliefs on others.
Her public display of her divine quest was traumatic to observe both because of the sudden helplessness felt by the crowd wanting to save her, and because she gave no clear motive for setting herself on fire. No one present knew anything about her mission; simply that she ruined a lovely day with a gruesome human bonfire. If her trauma caused her to venture down this path, what will the trauma she forced on the crowd lead them to do? Will religion seem meaningless to them, based on actions that made sense only to Maud? I have a difficult time picturing anyone turning to a religion that brought Maud to her tragic end as a source of comfort. Maud was so desperate to save anyone, she did not stop to consider how to effectively communicate her message to them. She could not see how she made for a poor example, dying without saving a single soul, not even her own. Her hubris was attempting to be the voice of God through fear and obedience, to draw people into her religion that denies everything humans adore. She was never doing good works to help others, only feeding her fragile ego to feel important, giving herself the authority to judge, yet still adamantly convinced hers was a path to follow. She saw everyone’s flaws magnified, yet could not fathom she was a sinner herself. In this horror film, there is no God; there is only Maud.
Check out the trailer for “Saint Maud” …. if you dare!