Beliefnet is celebrating Oscar season by sitting down with religious leaders and thinkers to talk about the movies nominated for Best Picture. This week, the Very Reverend Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, gives us his take on "Erin Brockovich."

"Erin Brockovich" is a true David-and-Goliath story of a woman who wins reparations from Pacific Gas and Electric for families harmed by pollution at a PG&E plant in Nevada. With little formal education, Erin talks her way into a job as a paralegal, and while working on a real estate case, stumbles upon records suggesting that a community's myriad illnesses have been caused by a spill near the plant. Erin's determination helps win the resulting lawsuit, and the 100 afflicted families are awarded $333 million in the largest direct-action suit in history.

What did you think of their portrayal of Erin Brockovich as a single, working mother?
Rev. Jones: Erin's a single mum, 2 husbands, but thrown into life at the end of the 20th century, feisty, and in love with life, and not afraid of being human, being sexual, being fully alive, and coping with life. On that level, it was a movie about a woman, but it could've been about a man. She was determined

Beliefnet at the Oscars

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to be alive. Sometimes we take for granted that to be alive and to be aware, sometimes takes a lot of courage. Just to get up in the morning, just to function in the world. It made me think a lot about there being a lot of unacknowledged quiet courage.

A lot of the focus when Julia Roberts was on screen seemed to be her clothes. What I noticed right away was her body and the way she was dressed in every scene.
I like to see people love their bodies and enjoy and value who they are. I thought Julia Roberts did that very well. When it comes to faith issues, one of the things that Christianity in particular has been peculiar about is the body. This [movie] is really about incarnation. A particular woman, a particular situation, struggling to be as real as she knew how, and she probably would be looked down upon by certain kinds of people, not least religious people. But nevertheless with courage and convictions, there was a feisty honesty about her. She shot her mouth off, she was a pain in the ass.

Also, watching it from the point of view of faith, is the issue of judgmentalism in the culture: How many people are working under very stressful circumstances, doing the best they can, and what society's doing to support them. The movie didn't idealize people. People mess up, make mistakes, people are dishonest. But there's something quite heroic about being alive and being aware and being present to life.

I also thought there was a very touching moment when Erin said to her partner, when they were getting close to one another, "I don't' want you to be another thing I have to survive."

Beliefnet at the Oscars