A New Series: Religion in Film

Since Easter is right around the corner, I wanted to present a new feature on my blog for this month, and it’s a subject that has interested me for quite a while, so much so, I wanted to see if I could do a deep dive into it. I grew up in a somewhat religious household, by that I mean my Mom was a Christian and the rest of the family followed suit, at least for a time. Most Sundays in my youth were spent listening to some minister gab about the good book, while we all paused to sing hymns. I attended christian summer camps that more or less consisted of the same thing, and I saw many children like me indoctrinated into the teachings of Jesus.

For the most part we belonged to the Southern Baptist church, which was strange considering I grew up in Canada which is about as North as you can get without hitting Alaska. I met many people with twangy accents and that certain southern charm you encounter when you read a Tennessee Williams play. However despite the best efforts from my family, I wasn’t very much swayed by the teachings of the church. I heard the sermons, was taught the lessons, and sang the songs, but I never really had that religious experience one is supposed to have when encountering the word of God. What did affect me were the nightmare stories about hell and the incessant, disturbing images described to me about The Rapture, and the only way out of eternal damnation was to subscribe to Christianity, so of course I enlisted.

That was a long time ago, but religion has stayed with me throughout my life, I’ve always had a fascination towards it you might say. Despite being traumatized by apocalyptic bible stories, I found some validity in the things that were preached, and they have stayed with me throughout my whole life. My relationship with religion is a complicated one you might say, I often feel myself being pulled towards learning more, going so far as taking some university classes and reading philosophers who write about leading a religious life. This has led me to more questions, and more revelations within myself, and some questions I still struggle with.

One of the things that have fed my fascination with religion, comes from one my other fascinations: Film. Religion on film has been around since the early silent period, and I’ve always been curious about the way the subject has been depicted. Even ones that aren’t overtly religious, such as genre films, or more mainstream movies can drop in a spiritual message every now and then. An obvious example could be “The Exorcist”, a horror movie, but with very spiritual undertones, so much so it could be used as a recruitment tool for the Catholic church.

Then there are the more elusive films, the ones that try to ask the existential questions about mankind’s place in the universe, which has basically become the bread and butter for filmmakers like Terrence Malick. His films work like poems or philosophical meanderings about life, death, and everything in between, and they can drift off into introspective thoughts on mortality, morals, and questions about who or what God is.

But then there is the use of film itself and its relation to the audience which sort of makes it into a religious tool. There is a bit of a religious experience that can happen when we watch movies. How often have we found ourselves laugh, cry, or be genuinely moved by what we see on a screen?And sometimes we don’t know where this emotion comes from. It can be a very intimate thing when we are willing to give ourselves to a film, and sometimes we can discover things we never fully realized about ourselves. I can only speak for myself but films have always had that funny way of surprising me and sometimes feelings surface within myself that I didn’t know was there.

I suppose there is that need in me to try to understand those feelings I have as it relates to the films I love, and for me I suppose it stems from those questions of religion. So in a way, I guess I could call this somewhat of a cinematic pilgrimage as I explore some titles that to me I feel a very strong connection with in terms of religion or spirituality. I’m writing it on my blog because it’s a bit of a personal journey that I want to chronicle. I’m not sure how I’ll explore these films, perhaps through a critical analysis on some, and maybe more of a personal level on others. But for those of you who read this blog, I hope this series will be somewhat stimulating for you to read, and perhaps it may lead to discussions or questions, which I try to encourage in my own little way, but I hope you enjoy it so stay tuned.

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