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Moving In Mysterious Ways

Just when you would write off Hollywood, there are movies in the works that treat religion seriously - and a serious religious conversion, too.

I was stunned to read on Life Site News that a new movie is being planned about Our Lady of Guadalupe, so-named for an appearance of the Virgin Mary near Mexico City in 1531 that's credited with converting nine million indigenous Mexicans to Christianity. The film, still untitled, will be produced by Mpower Pictures, the company that was launched with the pro-life movie "Bella" in 2006 and founded by "The Passion of the Christ" producer Steve McEveety.

That a movie would be made about Our Lady of Guadalupe is amazing, but that wasn't half the surprise. The movie is being written by Joe Eszterhas. Yes, the same Joe Eszterhas responsible for screenwriting filthy movies like "Basic Instinct" and most infamously, "Showgirls," a movie so pornographic even the late Jack Valenti condemned it.

What I didn't know until now is the story of the conversion of Joe Eszterhas in 2001, powerfully captured in his 2008 memoir entitled "Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith."

With serious habits of smoking (since age 12) and drinking (since age 14) plaguing him after a diagnosis of throat cancer in 2001, Eszterhas felt impending doom. Last year he recounted in the Washington Post's "On Faith" site about collapsing on the side of a street. "I cried and begged God to help me," he wrote, ". . . and He did. I hadn't prayed since I was a boy. I had made fun of God and those who loved God in my writings. And now, through my sobs, I heard myself asking God to help me . . . and from the moment I asked, He did."

He reported his throat doctor told him seven years after the surgery that I am "cured.....That my throat tissue has regenerated so remarkably that even a doctor examining my throat wouldn't be able to tell that there was ever cancer there." The doctor, who had removed about eighty percent of the writer's larynx, called this "a miracle."

Eszterhas asked: "Why did God save the life of a man who had trashed, lampooned, and marginalized Him most of his life? Why did He take the time and the trouble to save me?" It sure wasn't on account of his professional body of work. Quite the opposite. "His love is so strong that it was even able to open my rusty old closed heart."

What an amazing transformation this is. It could be a movie all its own. Eszterhas now attends Mass weekly near his home in the suburbs of Cleveland, where he had moved with his wife and four children to give them a life away from the snares and temptations of Hollywood.

Oh, he's retained some of his rebellious nature: he enjoys carrying the cross down the aisle at his church, but he does it wearing blue jeans and Rolling Stones T-shirts. Like most, he was thoroughly disgusted by the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church earlier in the decade, but it doesn't diminish his allegiance to his Catholic faith.

"The Eucharist and the presence of the body and blood of Christ is, in my mind, an overwhelming experience for me. I find that Communion for me is empowering. It's almost a feeling of a kind of high."

The same enthusiasm applies to his new Guadalupe project, which he calls a "labor of love," because he's been "hoping for some time to write a film that is both entertaining and inspiring."

Now that he's outside the Hollywood system, he can see how it looks from the churchgoer's perspective. He told the Toledo Blade "I find it mind boggling that with nearly 70 percent of Americans describing themselves as Christians, and witnessing the success of 'The Passion of The Christ' and 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' that Hollywood still doesn't do the kinds of faith-based and family-value entertainment that people are desperate to see." (I chuckle. That's what we've been saying for years, Joe.)

But his is not the only religious movie in the works. Director Roland Joffé, acclaimed years ago for "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission," is shooting a movie in Argentina focused on the founder of Opus Dei, the Catholic lay organization so thoroughly smeared by "The Da Vinci Code." The movie, "There Be Dragons," tells the story of St. Josemaria Escriva, the order's founder.

In an interview, Joffe called himself a "wobbly agnostic," but explained "I was very interested in the idea of embarking on a piece of work that took religion seriously on its own terms and didn't play a game where one approached religion denying its validity."

Joe Eszterhas' cure may have been miraculous. If so, it appears it isn't the only miracle taking place in Hollywood these days.