Christian Living


The Vessel: Rediscovering Faith through Tragedy

Movie Info


Rated PG-13 for some partial nudity/sensuality and thematic elements




September 16, 2016


Julio Quintana


New Territory Pictures

More on this movie at IMDb.com

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

The storyline is tragic yet simple.  Ten years after a tidal wave destroys an elementary school and the 46 innocent children trapped inside, a young man builds a mysterious shack from the remnants of the original building.  Doing so sends the small seaside community into frenzy, re-igniting emotional anguish the townspeople had worked so hard to compartmentalize or forget.

What the townspeople don’t realize is that somehow, some way, this ramshackle structure will provide healing from their grief and subsequently set them on a journey toward hope.

Rife with symbolic visual imagery, The Vessel, a new movie starring Martin Sheen, possesses a lyrical quality reminiscent of a bygone era a filmmaking, one that was golden and sublime.

I recently sat down with the movie’s screenwriter and director, Julio Quintana, to discuss what drove him to make a movie about dealing with tragedy in our lives, how God fits into that process, and why this movie can provide comfort to anyone who has experienced disappointment in their life.

The Vessel was such an interesting film on a lot of levels.  But from your perspective as the writer and director of it, how would you explain what this movie is about to someone?

I think going into it one of the central questions of the movie was about mystery and how we in the modern world deal with that concept.  I feel like in modern times we tend to see mystery as sort of an antagonistic force, something where everything needs to be explained, reasoned, and figured out.  I wanted to tackle that issue in a way that was more concrete so I created this situation of a town where they were faced with a negative mystery which is basically the question of why would God allow our children to be killed by a tidal wave? And then over time they develop an antagonistic relationship with the mystery.  But by introducing something positive in the town I thought it would be interesting over time to show people that there are things that we don’t understand that can still be positive and bring beauty and joy to our life even if we don’t have an explanation for them. 

Now that we have a general feel for The Vessel’s message, let’s peel the curtain back a bit.  What inspired you to write and make this movie?

Whenever you are writing things I guess you don’t really realize they are personal until you step back and look at them.  On a personal level, I went to the University of Texas as an extremely devout Catholic and very eager to understand my faith in a more concrete and historical way.  I started out in mechanical engineering but then found myself staying up all night reading religious books.  So, I switched my major to religious studies. I didn’t have the capability to figure it all out at 18 or 19 years old.  I think I came away from that experience trying to figure out what everything means.  If I can’t understand, if I can’t prove something, if I don’t have the facts to prove my faith, where does that leave me?  How do I grapple with that?  So, when I started writing the movie I inevitably created characters who when faced with things they can’t quite prove or understand, where does that leave them and how do they make sense of that?  That was kind of the evolution for me coming to grips with that.

I had written another script about a Mexican priest but this one took me longer because I was trying to grapple with themes that are inherently internal, spiritual, psychological, and then trying to figure out how to externalize those in a way that you can see and hear in a movie. 

Speaking of themes, this film is highly symbolic in the imagery that is shown onscreen.  What were you trying to convey through your descriptive dialogue and cinematography?

It might be partially to my Catholic upbringing but I think symbolic images are kind of inherently loaded with meaning.  I gravitated toward putting symbolic imagery in the film because it gives the sense to the viewer that there is something beneath the surface, there’s something more going on than exactly what we are seeing.  A lot of those images whether it’s crosses, the Eucharist, or less literally the water and oceans.  All of those things add to the sense that we are seeing something on the surface but really what we are talking about is deeper than the literal images on the screen.

What I really liked about this movie is that it had a very lyrical quality.  It was almost a throwback to the golden age of filmmaking.  Was this intentional on your part?

I come from a musical family so I think I am attracted to that sort of feel.  The reality is I was mentored by Terrance Malick with his film The Tree of Life, and a million other things.  It was just sort of inevitable that I would be influenced by some of the things I learned from him.  Because of the nature of the subject matter it was helpful to keep people feeling like they were in a dreamlike state with some of the imagery.  The idea was to make it a little bit surreal.  When you are trying to engage people too intellectually then it kind of defeats the purpose of the feeling we are trying to evoke.  Sometimes I purposefully included images that can’t be logically explained.  That gives it a stronger sense to the mystery of the whole thing.

Changing gears, Martin Sheen provides a strong performance as the town’s priest. His role to me is sort of the glue that holds everything together.  Could you comment a bit on Martin and his portrayal of Father Douglas?

The movie is really shared by Martin and Lucas Quintana as Leo.  I always envisioned it as a dual protagonist role but the thing is … because the Leo character starts doing things that even he doesn’t understand it becomes difficult for the audience to follow him.   What Martin does is that he anchors the movie.  He provides the audience point of view into the story.  What I like about Father Douglas is that he is the leader of the community.  He is sort of going through what I felt like I went through in college.  That is you are trying to take something that is mysterious and potentially miraculous but then you are trying to make it useful.  He has good intentions but the audience can relate to what he is trying to do even though he is borderline manipulating the information in a way to try to help people move on. It speaks to that internal struggle that we all have which is how do we take our faith and implement it in a modern world in a way that makes sense.  I think Father Douglas represents that struggle for everybody. 

Final question, after people have seen The Vessel, what is the one thing that you would like to see viewers take away from the experience?

I would like people to feel like the world, the universe, and God is much more complex and really much more beautiful than they ever could have imagined.  It is very easy to get caught up in the minutiae of our daily lives and think everything is a tragedy or a hurdle to get through.  Keeping our lives in perspective even when tragedy happens, there is always room for beauty, growth, and rebirth.  If the movie provides some sort of comfort for anybody who has experienced any kind of loss or disappointment in his or her life, I hope this film shows that there is always hope.  There is always hope for beauty and growth in the future.


The Vessel opens this weekend in select theaters nationwide.  Click here to find a theater near you.

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