Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Atheist's Top 10 Religious Movies List

I dig movies about God. Can't get enough of them, really. OK, I kid. But just because a movie is about God or Christianity doesn't mean that I'm not going to watch it. Some of the best subject matter for storytelling is the bible. It's certainly rich in history, intrigue, struggle, wars, murder, persecution, deception ... you name it. What got me thinking about this was catching the wife watching the The Preacher's Wife the other day. Not a great movie, but not a terrible one. It's got Denzel in it and some pretty good music. That's got to count for something.

A comment CK made on his blog about the film adaptation of a Phillip Pullman book ("I just hope the rumours of downplaying the religious elements are unfounded!") just added to my wanting to try and compile a list of Christianity-themed movies. It just goes to show you that two atheist/agnostic/humanist/what-have-you types are not shut off to the idea of religion being in movies. I guess we're just looking for the honesty of any film -- don't sanitize a movie to remove a religious theme that was present in the source material -- but , also, don't attach a religious significance or morality to something where it was probably not originally intended (Children of Men, 2001, Schindler's List, etc.).

So, here's my semi-ironic top 10 favorite movies with a religious theme (positive or negative) ... in no particular order:

Exorcist - a movie about the possession by the devil of a young girl and the priests who attempt to exorcise her. Quite simply the scariest movie I've ever seen and I believe the best horror movie ever. I can't quite explain why scary movies that deal with God and the devil seem to frighten me more. I don't know if that says more about me or the movies.

Se7en -- The seven deadly sins. This is one of David Fincher's two dark masterpieces (Fight Club being the other). Some of the best acting that Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman have ever done. A realistic and gritty placement of the seven classic deadly sins into a modern setting.


Last Temptation of Christ - I can't write a better appraisal than what I got from IMDb:

This is a beautiful film ... The performances, especially by Willem Dafoe as Jesus, are amazing; the sets and costumes are realistic and never feel forced, glossy, or stylized (and were based on extensive archaeological and philological research); Peter Gabriel's score is absolutely unbelievable...

It is really best to avoid religious and theological arguments about this film - it is simply a portrait of Christ coming to terms with who he is and what he must do. If it occasionally portrays Jesus in a manner that is somewhat at odds with that of scripture, try to keep in mind that it is merely another take on a story that has no absolute and authoritative telling. That Jesus has difficulty coming to terms with the role he must play is something that scripture does not rule out.

Consider it this way: this is the sort of film that has the power to convince the irreligious or non-Christians out there (of which I am one) of the importance, beauty, depth, and truth of Jesus' vision of a world filled with love and compassion. Give this movie a chance. You will not be disappointed.

Jesus Camp - I've reviewed this here before. It is a documentary that brings to the fore the dangers of fundamentalism and shoving religion down children's throats. But, also, it shows the powerful mixing of politics and religion.

Education of Shelby Knox - Another documentary that I've recently reviewed here. And, again, the harmful effects of fundamentalist religion on education.

Life of Brian - This is my favorite Monty Python film. I love the tagline, "A motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world. And severely annoy the other third." There are so many funny moments in this film. Probably my two faves are when they are arguing about what to name their group, ultimately the Judean People's front - and the scene where Brian tells the crowd that they are "all individuals" and they respond in unison that they are all individuals. That's a pretty telling scene about Christianity.

Originally banned in Ireland and Norway for blasphemy. The following hilarious scene gives you some idea why:

Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
Brian: Now, fuck off!
Arthur: How shall we fuck off, O Lord?

Omen - Arguably the 2nd best horror film dealing with Christianity. This is the story of a child who turns out to be the anti-Christ. It has a really good cast (Gregory Peck, Lee Remick) and a good script with a lot of quotes directly from scripture.

Dogma - A lot of people took this as being blasphemous but it was more a personal vision of one's man's belief in God (Kevin Smith), specifically Catholicism. It points out in a funny way the many inconsistencies with organized religion. Jay and Silent Bob as prophets are priceless.

Raiders of the Lost Ark / Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - OK, they're not so much about religion but the quests in both are very much about Christian symbols -- The Ark of the Covenant (the sacred container with the Ten Commandments) and the Holy Grail. These are obviously two of the best adventure movies of all time.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Another movie with a quest for the Grail and another Monty Python movie. Also, not specifically about religion but it's wickedly funny and besides the already mentioned symbolism of the Grail includes God as a character, a holy hand grenade, witch-burning and other Christian silliness.

Movies that I have seen that came close but didn't make the cut: Kingdom of Heaven, Chronicles of Narnia, Luther, Da Vinci Code, It's a Wonderful Life

Ones that people that I have seen and that people might suggest but I didn't like: Ten Commandments, Passion of the Christ

Ones that I've never seen: Boys' Town, Saved, Inherit the Wind, History of the World: Part I


CyberKitten said...

When I said: I just hope the rumours of downplaying the religious elements are unfounded - I did mean, of course, the anti-religious elements... but anyway [grin].

I'm not big on religious films (or supernatural ones for that mater - with the exception of vampire flics) in general. I saw some of the classics as a child: The Bible, The Ten Commandments, The Robe, Quo Vadis etc.. and thought that they were OK. Even I admit that Christianty has got some cracking stories to work their magic on the big screen...

As to the films you've mentiond:

Exorcist - didn't like it.

Se7en - Well made but deeply distubing (yucky) and I hated the ending.

Last Temptation, Jesus Camp & Shelby Knox - Haven't seen them.

Life of Brian - Hilariously funny movie.

Dogma - OK from what I can remember of it.

Raiders - Brilliant fun.

Holy Grail - Very good in parts.

Really enjoyed Kingdom of Heaven, Narnia was OK but nothing special, don't know Luther, Da Vinci Code was pretty poor after the book, Wonderful Life is far too sickly sweet but used to make me cry.

Never saw Boy's Town, never heard of Saved. Inherit the Wind is very good but History of the World is very patchy....

Thanks for the link back. I must really start up my Fave Movies list again.... [muses].

dbackdad said...

"I did mean, of course, the anti-religious elements ..." -Not having read Pullman, I couldn't be quite sure which way you meant. But for purposes of my list, it didn't really matter. Jesus Camp, Life of Brian, Holy Grail, and Dogma are hardly pro-religious. And I imagine there are a lot of Christians that consider every movie in this list anti-religious.

I just thought it'd be fun to try and figure out a list of "religious" movies that I actually liked. It would roughly be like me trying to build a list of top 10 Republican lawmakers that I liked. It'd be painful, but I could probably muster up a list. More of an intellectual exercise really.

Sadie Lou said...

We just watched one last night called "To End All Wars" with Kiefer Sutherland. Very, very heavy. It was about a POW camp in Thailand--the POWs were forced to build the Japanese a railroad. It was a hard movie to stomach but it was well acted and great, RIGHT ON Chirstian themes.
Lance, thanks for your oder of the Scary Clown bookmark! I look forward to sending you a little package!

dbackdad said...

Sadie - That movie actually sounds pretty interesting. Plus, it has Robert Carlyle, who I like. I'll have to check it out. Thanks (and thanks for the bookmark ... looking forward to it!)

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: Not having read Pullman, I couldn't be quite sure which way you meant.

Highly recommended when you get the time....

Hi Sadie... Hope all is well with you. Nice to 'see' you back in Blogland.

Laura said...

You have GOT to see Inherit the Wind, it's really quite good. The original one, not the remake. I didn't like Last Temptation, I'm not quite sure why. Another one that I liked, but found really fucking depressing was the Magdalene Sisters. Oh, and The Name of the Rose is pretty good too.

dbackdad said...

The Name of the Rose - I completely forgot about that one. Good call.

shrimplate said...

The Rapture, a 1991 film starring Mimi Rogers, is another good one, and probably her finest performance not involving poker.