The independent film Ignacio de Loyola tells the story of Saint Ignatius of Loyola from his time as a young soldier to his conversion, delving into his personality and spiritual struggles. The film begins with a brash young Ignatius striving for fame on the battlefield and for recognition from the princess of the royal family. In a panel discussion on Boston College’s campus, director Paolo Dy explained that one goal of the film was to “bring Ignatius down from the altar,” to put “flesh on the myth” and understand his colorful early life.
This vain and foolish side of the scholarly saint is surprising to see, but illuminating: Although Ignatius undergoes an intense spiritual transformation and exchanges his life as a noble and a soldier for one as a wandering beggar, his desire for greatness remains the same, as does a fear that he is inadequate. When he is a soldier, he attempts to prove himself a noteworthy military leader with a risky strategy that leaves many of his men dead or wounded. He accomplishes little in Spain’s struggles to keep the French out of their countryside. His leg is crushed and he spends weeks recovering in humiliation, with only a book on the lives of the saints to read. His frustration at being bedridden leads him to the idea that he could attain greatness in another way, by being holy; a soldier for God instead of men. Andreas Munoz, who played Ignatius, said that he was interested in how a sinner becomes a saint. He does not play two different people, but the same person having undergone a transformation, who begins to use his passion and desire to make an impact on the world for a different purpose.
After understanding that his injured leg will never allow him to fight again, he rejects his old life and familial connections and embraces life as a wandering beggar. Ignatius is a man of extremes, of total commitment, who does not shy away from any challenge or opportunity to demonstrate his faith. In one scene, after having a heartfelt conversion towards God and basking in the feeling of freedom and happiness, a beggar interrupts, demanding money. In that moment Ignatius is forced to trade in his romanticized version holiness for the unglamorous truth. He rises to the occasion, giving the man his expensive clothing in exchange for a rough cloak. Later he endures extreme hunger, cold, and poverty, and cares for those with horrific diseases. However, behind his admirable actions is a deep-set fear that he is not good enough, that his past sins are so great that God will not accept him. He figuratively and literally beats himself over this, unable to forgive himself and accept his imperfections until his total conversion.
In addition to intense inner struggles, Ignatius also endures the Inquisition after several priests find fault with his informal preaching and spiritual advising. The film explores the origins of the Spiritual Exercises. It shows Ignatius counselling a prostitute compassionately, encouraging her to imagine Jesus sitting and talking with her, and giving her the courage to leave her position for a better life as a dressmaker. Far from being an academic removed from regular life, Ignatius shares his wisdom with ordinary people and transforms from an exceedingly proud man to a humble one. Andreas Munoz said the role taught him about “patience and silence.”
Director Paolo Dy said it was a miracle that they could make the movie on a budget of one million dollars, and credited all the people willing to go out of their way to help them with the film’s success. God seemed to have other plans for them while shooting; they lost access to their original location only to gain a better one. A local shepherd even offered his flock and his warehouse for a scene.
They were originally inspired to make the film by the “Francis effect,” having long desired to make another film about Saint Ignatius since the last one was made in 1945 and was in black and white. This film is not only a fantastic update in terms of the effects and costumes, but in the way that it explores Ignatius’ conversion and passion behind his call to “set the world aflame.”