It’s everywhere at the multiplex these days: religion. Or if that word makes you uncomfortable, you can go with the more general “spirituality.”
In movies as varied as the dead serious “The Road,” the uplifting family picture “The Blind Side,” the biting comedy “The Invention of Lying” and even James Cameron’s sci-fi opus “Avatar,” issues of faith and morality and mankind’s place in the universe are all the rage.
Not all of these movies embrace religion. Some question human gullibility. Some ask for evidence of a higher purpose in what often seems a random universe. But whether they encourage prayer or doubt, they’re all part of the zeitgeist.
Butler asked some thoughtful observers of the influence that religion and pop culture have on each other to comment on this trend, but, as usual, everyone forgets that it takes many years for a movie to be made — twelve years in the case of “Avatar” — and so it does not make sense to try to tie them to current economic conditions. It may, however, affect the audience response to those themes. “Up in the Air” is mentioned in the article as not specifically religious in its themes but compared to “A Christmas Carol” as a story of a man who finds that there is more meaning in personal connections than in money. It benefitted from the timeliness of its character’s job, flying from company to company to tell workers they were being laid off. But it was based on a book that was published nine years ago.
The portrayal of religious themes I have found the most meaningful this year was in “The Blind Side,” with its unabashed and explicit acknowledgement that Christian faith was a guiding inspiration and base of support in the real-life story of a wealthy family who adopted a homeless teenager. This — and the box office success of “Fireproof” and other modestly-budgeted films with Christian themes targeted to a Christian audience — should address some of Hollywood’s traditional skittishness about portraying people of faith in a positive way.
Upcoming films with themes of religion and spirituality include “The Lovely Bones” (told by a murdered girl from a sort of heavenly waiting room), “Legion” (a battle between angels for the future of humanity), and “The Last Station” (about writer Leo Tolstoy’s religious conversion and its effect on his wife).