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Goin’ Way Back: “Touch”, True Love in All Its Forms

A picture of actor, Skeet Ulrich laying hands on a man to heal him.
Skeet Ulrich in "Touch"
I first saw the movie "Touch" when it came out in 1997.  I was living in Burbank, CA with my boyfriend, and working in the film production side of the business.  I had no idea who Skeet Ulrich was or for that matter who the author of the book the film is based on was.  Years later, both Ulrich and writer Elmore Leonard went on to do much more, but this is how I first met them. I have a particular affection for this movie for two reasons:  One, it was primarily filmed in Burbank, a town I lived in…
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I first saw the movie “Touch” when it came out in 1997.  I was living in Burbank, CA with my boyfriend, and working in the film production side of the business.  I had no idea who Skeet Ulrich was or for that matter who the author of the book the film is based on was.  Years later, both Ulrich and writer Elmore Leonard went on to do much more, but this is how I first met them.

I have a particular affection for this movie for two reasons:  One, it was primarily filmed in Burbank, a town I lived in for over twenty years (I’ve even been to the Blue Room bar from the film, twice.  The last time a rat named Harold scurried across the floor in front of me.  I didn’t go back, mostly because they named their rats.).  And second, I fell in love with Skeet Ulrich from the moment I saw him on screen.  That’s probably foolish to admit, but there you have it.  He reminded me of my first love in high school; I hadn’t seen him in a few years, and Skeet’s character was instantly familiar to me.  We love familiar.  It makes us feel like we know something that will stick – that’s true, and sometimes simple.

 

 

In “Touch”, Skeet Ulrich’s character is a former monk who worked for years in the Amazon converting and blessing, and most importantly, healing people.  He leaves that life behind when the church is threatened by his gift, and comes to work in Burbank at a clinic for alcohol recovery.  He is an honest, unassuming character, thrown into the limelight by forces beyond his control, namely, a former big tent minister played by Christopher Walken, and a fervent, obsessed leader of a sect of the Catholic church, played brilliantly by Tom Arnold.  These two men of the church struggle for control of Ulrich’s character, named Juvenal.  They see him as a modern savior who can both redeem their broken lives, and fulfill their own visions of the future.  The problem is Juvenal wants no part of it.

What “Touch” really examines is the truthfulness of our own actions and of our own hearts.  If God through Juvenal can work miracles with a simple touch, what worldly ambitions can complicate that?  You’ll see.  What Elmore Leonard does so well in this story is to bring characters together, all of them flawed, and make them archetypes of our own disillusioned, cynical society.  Juvenal becomes the axil of the wheel, and these three main characters, Walker, the fallen minister, Arnold, the obsessed leader, and Bridget Fonda, the love interest, spin their lives around him.  Walker wants to exploit his gifts, as music (chanting monks), a book deal, and television interviews.  Arnold wants to bring him back to the church so that his idea of Christianity can be validated.  In an odd way, Arnold’s organization “Outrage” is his own platform for personal agrandisement.  Fonda, disillusioned with working for a music promoter, living in LA, insincere people, traffic, you name it, wants something real and true.

Do they get what they want?  Well, as in most good stories our characters might not get what they want, but they do get what they need, and perhaps their hearts’ secret desires.  But the most important thing about this film is that each character is treated with the kindness and love demonstrated by Christ.  We see them for who they are, and we still like them.