When the wartime epic “There Be Dragons” opens in theaters today, it will cap a remarkable evolution in the popular representation of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic society whose founder, JosemarÃa EscrivÃ¡ de Balaguer, is the hero of the new film.
Set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, when EscrivÃ¡ was a young man (he died in 1975 and was canonized Saint JosemarÃa in 2002), “There Be Dragons” was conceived by Roland JoffÃ©, the Oscar-nominated English director and self-described “wobbly agnostic,” who is hardly one to carry water for a group like Opus Dei. But Mr. JoffÃ© offers a human and sympathetic portrait of EscrivÃ¡ and, by extension, of Opus Dei.
That is quite a change from the sinister portrayal of Opus Dei in the 2006 film adaptation of Dan Brown’s thriller, “The Da Vinci Code,” which included a murderous albino monk in its cast of caricatures. Yet the cinematic shift is more than an artistic choice. At a deeper level it symbolizes a genuine evolution for Opus Dei, an often insular movement that many in the church once considered the bogeyman of the right.