Thursday, November 03, 2005

Top Five Theological Movies

I like movies too much to have a top five movies list, so over the next few weeks my blog will be a series of top 5 lists on different movie topics. Leave me a suggestion if you would like to hear my top 5 ______ movies.

#5 Dogma

I'll probably catch some flak for this one. Dogma is Kevin Smith’s satire on the church. More specifically the Catholic church, but I think he wants to hit any church that believes a man speaks in absolution, hence the clever title. The film is about a couple of angles that God cast out of heaven long ago, and a cardinal who speaks an absolution that creates a loophole for the angels to get back into heaven. And if they do a decree of God (played by Alanis Morissette) will be overturened and therefore reality will cease to exist. This film is not profoundly theological, but it is a comment on the dogma of the church. Which is a topic I have much interest in, so Dogma rounds out the bottom of my list of 5.

#4 Bruce Almighty

Bruce Almighty stars Jim Carrey as Bruce Nolan, a "human interest" television reporter in Buffalo, New York who is discontented with almost everything in life, despite his popularity and the love of his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston). At the end of the worst day in his life, Bruce angrily ridicules and rages against God, and God responds. He appears in human form (Morgan Freeman) and, endowing Bruce with all of His divine powers, challenges Bruce to take on the big job and see if he can do it any better. Of course he can’t. He does what all of us would do. In the end I think he and everyone watching learn a valuable theological lesson about judging God in human standards.

#3 The Passion of the Christ

This film makes my list based on the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is sweating blood and pleading with God, and here is Satan, “Do you really believe that one man can bear the full burden of sin?” Jesus, as if the devil isn’t even there, “Shelter Me, O, Lord. I trust in you. In you I take refuge.” The devil continues his barrage, “No one man can carry this burden, I tell you. It is far too heavy. Saving their souls is too costly. No-one. Ever. No. Never.” Jesus continues praying, “Father, Y-you can do all things. If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me - But let your will be done, not mine.” And Satan ends with this, “Who is your father? Who are you?”

One of my favorite Jesus narratives comes just after his forty day fast in the wilderness. Satan comes to tempt him and he has this amazing presence of mind to quote scripture. We don’t have a gospel representation of Satan in the garden, but if Satan was going to tempt Jesus again…. I thought Gibson’s portrayal of Satan in general was impressive. Impressive enough to earn The Passion of the Christ this spot in my top 5.

#2 The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This film is based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman who suffered the same fate as the fictional Emily Rose in the 1970s. The whole film plays out like a courtroom drama, with accompanying flashbacks to the real situation. The theology of the movie, for me, comes in the verdict of the trial. The priest who performs the exorcism is on trial for criminal negligence that leads to the death of Emily. The verdict comes in and the judge reads it. Guilty. Then a small voice from the jury box says that they have a sentencing suggestion. The judge hears it over the protest of the prosecutor and the jury says to sentence him to time served. So the judge reads the verdict again and this is the kicker, “Father Moore, you are guilty, and you are free to go.”

We think of salvation primarily as penal substitutionary atonement. I can envision, if at the end of my time I stand trial and God sits as judge, the voice of Jesus from the jury box saying, “Time Served, Debt Paid.” And God may say to me, “Reno Wilson, you are guilty, and you are free to go.”

#1 The Devils Advocate

Now this movie has little to say about God and who He is, but it gives us an outright profound look at Satan’s manipulation. The first time I heard the speech that follows I almost found myself in agreement. This is what John Milton (Al Pacino), who is Satan, says to the protagonist late in the film. Please excuse the profanity; it is not my intent to offend.

“I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him, in spite of all his imperfections. I'm a fan of man. I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist.”

“Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. Ahaha. And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He's laughin' His sick, fuckin' ass off. He's a tight-ass. He's a sadist. He's an absentee landlord. Worship that? Never.”

I almost want to join in the chorus. Yeah. “Look but don’t touch.” What’s that all about? At the very end of the movie Satan tells us what his favorite sin is, “Vanity, definitely my favorite sin.” Those of you who know me know that I think pride is the root of all sin, so this little comment rings true for me. So here atop my list is a film about the manipulation of evil.


Robert said...

I love Signs! Great stuff about the will of God. Snub?

Anonymous said...

I agree with the "Signs" movie being a great theological movie. It shows how even ministers and priests can become angry with God but then see all the ways God protects him. "Keeping the Faith" is a fun theological movie (mostly in the Jacob Schram character) and his interaction with his congregation and Anna Riley. However, I don't like your list because your #1 movie is not really theological, but more satanic. Though there is some correlation, it is not profound. I also think the original Matrix should be considered in the top five.