In this week of Easter, there are plenty of movies available that tell the story of Jesus, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But stories of faith show up in some of the most surprising films from Hollywood. Despite the town’s reputation for being cynical towards religion, there have been a number of films, some from the world of horror even, that wore their faith explicitly on their sleeves. Here are seven:
“The Exorcist” (1973)
This film is generally regarded as the scariest horror movie of all time, and perhaps surprisingly, it’s also incredibly earnest in its reverence for the Christian faith and the Catholic Church. Author William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin never sneered at the Christian faith of lead character Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Instead, he is the hero who saves the little girl Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession. And while the secondary story shows him questioning his faith, he dies fully invested in God and it gives incredible power to this film.
“The Last Exorcism” (2010)
Another horror movie that refuses to snicker at its lead man of God is this indie from filmmaker Daniel Stamm. Preacher Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian) questions religion and the number of charlatans he goes around the country exposing as fake exorcists, but when he happens upon a genuine case, he rises to the occasion and goes all out to prevent an innocent victim falling under the spell of the devil. Most frighteners merely want to scare the bejesus out of us, but this one had more on its mind and succeeded at both being scary and religious.
Some may think that filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson tends towards the cynical side as evidenced by films like “There Will Be Blood” or “Boogie Nights”, but there has always been a strong moralistic sense throughout his work. And in 1999’s “Magnolia”, Anderson weaves a number of tales of LA citizenry struggling with their lives and faiths. John C. Reilly plays an earnest cop who talks to God and attempts to walk the walk and talk the talk. And at the end of the movie, when frogs fall from the sky, the film never answers whether it’s a plague of Biblical proportions or not, but the happening helps shake a number of characters out of their doldrums and affirms to the police officer that his faith is not being practiced in vain.
“The Elephant Man” (1980)
John Merrick (in real life, the ‘Elephant Man’ was named Joseph, not John) is an English man in Victorian England born with terrible deformities and saved from a freak show by a kindly physician name Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins). Merrick (John Hurt) becomes the toast of the elite due to his personality, which belies his unsightliness. He’s witty, kind, genteel and quite religious. Despite the awful hand life dealt him, Merrick remains a Christian, quoting the Bible and truly understanding the meaning of faith. His problems make those privileged genuflect on their lives, and the same goes with those watching this straight and reverential film by David Lynch.
“X-Men 2: X-Men United” (2003)
Can a comic book movie be about faith and Christianity? Indeed, it’s there in a number of them both implicitly (“Superman The Movie” in 1978) and explicitly, as in this Marvel megahit from director Bryan Singer. The character of Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) has a lot in common with Merrick. He’s an oddity who’s spent most of his existence in circus life and has been sneered at and belittled there. The X-Men are all about welcoming those that society laughs at however, so the Nightcrawler becomes one of their heroic troupe. And all the time he’s saving the world, he quotes scripture and remains a disciple of God. It may be a Hollywood rebuttal against the far right zealots who have a certain type of perfect WASP-ish Christian they idealize, but it remains an endorsement of faith nonetheless.
“The Book of Eli” (2010)
Denzel Washington roams the wasteland of America in this post-apocalyptic tale where precious books are in demand for those running what remains of society. Half “The Road Warrior” and half “The Matrix”, this dark thriller from the Hughes Brothers is utterly sincere in its treatment of both the blind hero that Washington plays as well as the precious cargo he has in his possession – the last remaining Bible on the planet. The film makes the case for words as powerful weapons, greater than fists and guns. And it is a ringing endorsement of faith and Christianity, even while it gives Mad Max’s body count a run for its money.
“The Rapture” (1991)
Mimi Rogers stars as a woman living an empty, amoral life who decides to chuck the swingers’ parties and yearn for something greater. When she overhears a conversation about ‘the Rapture’ which refers to the belief in the End of Times where only the true believers will be saved, she converts to Christianity. But life isn’t always in line with love and faith, and hers gets shaken by the death of her husband and other tragedies. Still, this film by Michael Tolkin never ridicules her or those who believe. Instead, at the end, when God chooses to call all those on Earth back to heaven, the film treats the drama earnestly, without an ounce of snideness. It’s a beautiful character study about the difficulty of keeping the faith in a world that often has so little good. And during this Easter weekend, what theme could be more relevant?