The main character of Joshua Lim‘s acclaimed film “The Seminarian” is Ryan Goodman (played by Mark Cirillo), a charming college student with big, vulnerable blue eyes and the trim body of a go-go dancer. In addition to being handsome, he’s also smart and sensitive… perhaps a bit too much so for his own good. Ryan is having a hard time with matters of the heart. He is seriously in love with an equally handsome guy named Bradley (Eric Parker Bingham), who lives quite a distance away; their relationship is mostly by phone and web cam. To complicate matters, Ryan is studying at a co-ed evangelical Christian seminary where being “out” is not looked upon favorably. His friends include fellow gay boys Anthony (Javier Montoya) and Gerald (Matthew Hannon). At one point when these guys gather for dinner, he (only partly) jokingly calls their get-together “a meeting of the closet seminarians”. In addition, Ryan has not yet come out to his supportive yet religious mother. When he is not waxing poetic about whether or not love can exist without a relationship and vice versa, our bona fide romantic of a main character is busy trying to write his grad school thesis. The thesis focuses mainly on how loving another human being should be the pathway to a greater relationship with God. It’s something of a paradox, then, that Ryan’s emotional struggles keep him from concentrating on his religious studies, and even put his faith to the test. At one point, he entitles his thesis “God Curses Us” and wonders: If love is a gift from God, why does it hurt so much? To the director’s credit, one of the characters asks another a question which many viewers will no doubt have: Why do the gay students in the seminary continue to stay there, even though the atmosphere is homophobic? The answer seems to be: a combination of (1) faith and (2) the desire to make changes. The film makes a point about how Ryan’s faith– even in an environment that can be challenging (at best tolerant, and at worst hostile)– allows him to survive, while several others in his peer group don’t quite fare as well. This doesn’t mean it’s easy for our protagonist. The emotional issues he faces (among them, loneliness and unreciprocated love) have likely been experienced by all of us from time to time.
How much the viewer will appreciate “The Seminarian“, Winner of the Directorial Discovery Award 2010 at The Rhode Island International Film Festival, will depend largely on how much affinity you have for Mark Cirillo’s portrayal of the main character Ryan. The actor is on screen virtually the entire running time; for some intense scenes, the camera gets VERY close. (There‘s also a fair amount of full-frontal male nudity. Just sayin‘!) “The Seminarian” doesn’t rely on any directorial gimmicks, heavy- handed messages, or elaborate plot twists; it‘s pretty straightforward, relying on the character‘s universally felt emotional issues and raising some very real questions about religion, love, and relationships. “The Seminarian” is also a very handsome and well-shot film; Every frame looks like it was hand-painted. Thankfully, the film doesn’t feature a tacked-on, overly contrived happy ending. By contrast, the movie has an open, somewhat abrupt ending, which may be a point of contention for some viewers and critics. Nevertheless, “The Seminarian” is a provocative character study about how faith and religious devotion can survive even where it is not always welcome– which is an issue faced by many gay men and lesbians worldwide.
“The Seminarian” will be available on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures on March 27th. Visit