26 May 2006
  religion and film
so as anyone who has seen the e true hollywood story of growing pains knows, kirk cameron is a tremendous tool. he was on some fox news show the other night where they had a panel talking about the code and he came on to talk about how religion is becoming increasingly popular in hollywood movies. (whaaa?) i don't understand this whole dialogue that has been going on since mel gibson's you know what came out that religion has suddenly become film fodder. films have ALWAYS been made reflecting religious themes since pretty much forever. the ten commandments (1956), ben hur (1959), the agony and the ecstasy (1965) jesus christ superstar (1973), the life of brian (1979), last temptation of christ (1988), dogma (1999). . . anyways there is a bunch.

more importantly, it sort of seems to me that it is almost impossible to make any important movie that does not have some sort of spiritual or religious element, you know. just because a movie has Christ in its title or in its movie poster, doesn't mean that it has a monopoly on God. i was just looking through some of john and i's movies and i found dozens that i would characterize as having prominent religious themes. here are five good ones:

1. el crimen de padre amaro . . . you really can't go wrong with gael garcía bernal. this movie came out a few years ago and it probably isn't gael's best movie or anything but it is mexican melodrama at its best. in the movie gael, padre amaro, comes to a small town to be an apprentice priest, and he accidentally falls in love with a girl who works for the parish. he commences a sexual relationship with her and drama ensues. padre amaro pretty ruthlessly treats the issue of politics within the catholic church and the conflict that often arises between politics and faith. it definitely doesn't leave you feeling really good about religion, but, unless you are the mel, that really shouldn't be the point.

2. breaking the waves. . . it probably wasn't lars von trier's goal in making this movie, but it actually made me think a lot about conservative christians in the u.s. and how these communities tend to breed two groups of people: the 'in' group that the church champions and the 'out' group who end up scarred drug addicts and murderers because they have not been accepted. in waves, von trier presents a hyper-religious commune in scotland. the main character bess marries a man who works on oil rigs, and when he is injured at work, he urges her to have sex with men and come back to tell him about the experience. like most of von trier's work this is an absolutely gut wrenching story. and also as in most of von trier's work it leaves the viewer with an unquestionable moral in the end. in this case the moral happens to be: beware morality.

3. house of sand and fog. . . this movie just came out a couple years ago, and i think it is one of the best movies i have ever seen in regards to the issue of race. however, it also inevitably deals with religion as well. jennifer connelly is sort of an overwhelmed woman put in trust of her family's home. but she accidentally fails to pay the mortgage and it gets auctioned off. an iranian family purchases it, and connelly tries, through the aid of a police officer, to convince him to return the house to her. i think it is sort of sad that in this day and age there are not more (non-terrorist) islamic film roles and this movie sort of explains why. it is almost like the christian u.s. is physically and spiritually incapable of understanding islamic people at this point in time. and whenever the two groups try to communicate, it always results in intolerance.

4. camila. . . this argentinian movie sort of echoes padre amaro above, and i certainly think the latter was inspired in some ways by the former. however, camila provides an additional religious commentary regarding the role of women in the Catholic Church in the 19th century. in the 1840s argentina was in the grips of a dictator and women's roles were strictly mandated in society and in the Church itself. camila is sort of a free spirit who reads censured literature and too frequently steps out of her accepted female role. she falls in love with the local priest and the two run away together in the middle of the night. on one hand this movie kind of bothers me because i can't imagine a society unified in its assent to a single leader and a single moral paradigm. but on the other hand, the filmmaker very well supports this argument by her presentation of violence in 19th century buenos aires. i almost can't even believe camila would make the choices that she does.

5. Yo, la peor de todas. . . well i didn't mean for three of my five recommendations to be spanish language movies, but there are just so many good ones to choose from. this mexican movie is the biopic of famed 17th century protofeminist poet sor juana inés de la cruz. sor juana hoped to study in the university, but women were not permitted at that time. so she entered the convent because that is the only place where women were permitted to read and learn. she became an influential writer and scientist, due partially to her lesbian relationship with the wife of the viceroy. of course eventually the bishop gets pissed off at how respected sor juana is, finds her works blasphemous and punishes her. this is a true story of perhaps the most influential woman ever in the Catholic Church. it is inspiring and disheartening at the same time. it leaves me feeling that if sor juana could continue to be a spiritual person even as it was being beaten out of her, then others should follow in her footsteps and ignore the constant exclusions of the Church (capital C).
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