When you think of cinema, one of the first things that come to mind is most likely not “religion”. While there are some films that are overtly and obviously based on religion, the general medium of “film” is usually not inherently thought of as a practice of religion. However, many stories we see portrayed in films are rooted in religion and come from Biblical stories. Whether it be inspiration or criticisms, film is a popular medium for making a statement of one’s personal beliefs. In this post, I want to explore how connections to religion may help familiarize audiences with new, more complex ideas in films, and how a filmmakers’ own thoughts and beliefs about religion can influence their work.
Making a Connection to Religion
Whether or not you consider yourself a religious person, most Biblical tales are familiar enough to where people are able to easily recognize them. If a person is able to connect with a story on a more familiar level, it will be easier for them to understand and resonate with that story.
Let’s first look at Star Wars. While it is hard to believe now, at the time of release the original film gave audiences a setting that was very different and unfamiliar to them. Space, lightsabers, the Dark Side, the Force – all of these things were hugely original and completely unknown concepts. But the film’s use of familiar themes such as sacrifice, humanity, and rebirth made the very new and original film at least somewhat familiar and easy to grasp. The idea of the ‘Chosen One’ and ‘the Force’ ring awfully close to that of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Another film that draws these very similar connections is The Matrix. Set in a future where machines have taken over and the world is in a dark and broken place, people live in a simulated world until the machines need to use their bodies for fuel. Again, we are given a very complicated new world with a lot of things going on. The story, however, is quite simple and derived from familiar Biblical tales – a resistance fighting against the machines is searching for ‘The One’ who is prophesied to bring an end to the war and peace to the world.
Building on this religious similarity further, the film also has characters who seriously doubt and do not believe the story or idea of ‘The One’, and see it as just a story to give people hope. Just as the stories in the Bible are often debated and doubted in their legitimacy, the film uses this very real issue within its own universe.
Understanding the Point
Now let’s look at Kingsman: The Secret Service, as it tackles religion in a unique way. In this film, the main antagonist is attempting to “fix” overpopulation and global warming with a new innovative technology that sparks violence in anyone exposed to it. A pretty original and new idea when you first hear it. But, the film itself has the antagonist draw the connection to another very familiar and well-known “fix” to the Earth from the Bible – the story of Noah and the ark. The film’s antagonist explains to his group of followers that, in the story, God is not considered the bad guy for cleansing the Earth, nor is Noah for building the ark and saving who he did. By drawing this connection so overtly, the film puts the audience in a strange and difficult position of understanding the antagonist’s point in his committing of this horrible mass genocide.
The use of religious themes and ideas can help simplify and streamline a complex film idea, and even give the audience a deeper understanding of its characters’ motives.
Effective Opinions of Religion
Film is an extremely popular medium and a great way for a filmmaker to share their personal opinions. One of the first things people tell you is a screenwriter is to “write what you know”. The only person who knows what you know and what you believe is you, so it should be no surprise that a lot of films out there are inspired, at least in part, by the filmmaker’s religious beliefs.
If a filmmaker has something they want to debate or criticize on religion, it is not out of the ordinary for them to make their stance apparent in a creative way through their films. Looking back at Kingsman again, the film uses its religious connection in the eyes of its antagonist. Not only that, the point he made is awfully hard to debate.
You can even make this connection with Footloose. The now-classic film molds its villain out of a Christian preacher who convinces the town to outlaw dance. The film creates and builds on many already negative stereotypes of religion.
Because the filmmakers obviously had something to say and knew the medium of film would be an effective way of saying it. Religion is such a tricky subject to discuss – and especially to criticize – in an overt manner, so expressing opinions creatively through films is a great way for people to make their opinions widely viewed and discussed.
Film is influenced by religion more often than you may realize. Not only can connections to religion familiarize an audience to a new concept or setting, but it can actually have an influence on how the audience perceives the film and its plot. A filmmaker’s views on religion can also have an impact on the stories they tell, and how they wish to tell them. A filmmaker’s personal beliefs and ideas are already so ingrained in the filmmaking process, it is almost foolish to think that their religious thoughts would not influence their work at least in some part.