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January 14th, 2013

Spiritual Cinema: An Overview


In any normal, and might I add boring, cinematic year, the results of the past week’s Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice awards would strongly indicate this year’s big Academy Award winner for Best Director and Best Picture will be Ben Affleck and his 1980s Iranian hostage crisis rescue-film, Argo. But Affleck was snubbed at last week’s Oscar nominations (along with Kathryn Bigelow, among others,) so despite Argo winning both Director and Best Picture prizes at these latest awards shows, the field remains (sort-of) wide open. Now critics, fans and those in the industry can all finally agree on one thing: that this is one of the most interesting, exciting and hard to predict Awards Seasons in years (excluding Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathway, of course, who are virtual locks in their acting categories.)

But enough about predictions. Here at Busted Halo®, we don’t pride ourselves on prognosticating so much as we specialize in spirituality, even where Hollywood is concerned, and strive, as the Jesuits do, to find God in all things. So we present to you A Spiritual Side of Cinema, a guide to the religious and faith aspects of this year’s nominated films.

Ever wonder where God is in cinema these days? Well perhaps you haven’t seen a handful of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables, and Life of Pi are inherently spiritual films dealing with themes of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, and sacrifice. We’ll be delving deeper into these, specifically Life of Pi, in the coming weeks because honestly you can’t have an Oscar nominated film about a Catholic Muslim Hindu and not write about it in a dedicated Oscar blog on a spiritual website.

It’s hard enough to sit through Zero Dark Thirty with all the controversy about whether it’s a pro-torture film or not running through the back of your mind without having another big morality question pop into your head: isn’t it a little wrong to sit through a two and a half hour film all about the journey to seek out and kill one’s enemy? I don’t see any politicians up-in-arms about that. We’ll not only be looking into these topical headline issues, we’ll also look a little closer at the faith behind this film, specifically the lead character’s conviction and resolution to follow what she believes to be her purpose, even though throughout the film she experiences many a dark night of the soul.

Support slavery much? It’s equally hard to sit through Lincoln or Django Unchained, two very different films dealing with Civil War era slavery, without a vile taste growing in your mouth for the characters on screen who not only support but profit from slavery and all its entailing suffering. As a spiritually-bent person, begin to think a little too much about it and you may even begin to realize that, like it or not, we all indirectly support some kind of slavery in the here and now. Sure, we may not be as abominable or small-minded as some of the characters seen in these films, but if we’ve closed our eyes to where some of our clothes, food, and other products come from, how different are we than those that reaped the benefits of slavery a century and a half ago?

Finally, when you’re dealing with spirituality in cinema you can never stray too far from sickness, death, and love, which is where two of the Best Picture nominated films come in. Amour, a rich and engrossing Austrian film about an aging couple nearing death, and Silver Linings Playbook, a film about family, mental health issues, and healing. Do either of these deserve the amount of attention they’ve received, and will they go on to get a little more and win some more awards in the process?

Six weeks to go until the little gold statues are presented. What spirituality have you found in the cinema this year? What moral questions have arisen for you while at the movies? And who do you think deserves to win?

The Author : Joe Williams
Joe is the Production Editor for Busted Halo, working as producer and editor for all things video. After graduating from T.C.U. with a degree in production and religion, Joe spent time teaching on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, exploring the film and music scene of Chicago, volunteering with the U.S. Peace Corps in South Africa, and surviving the world of corporate event production around the globe.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Carl Sobrado

    Why isn’t the Hobbit mentioned?

    Tolkien was a very devout Catholic, and his spirituality shines forth even in the film version of the Hobbit.

    Better to see Hobbit than any of those movies if you want to see spirituality in our cinema.

    Plus, you might be inspired to read all of Tolkien’s works. Nowhere is Tolkien’s Catholic spirituality more brightly seen than in his literature.

  • kerrant

    Irwin Panofsky (a pioneer of art-history in america) once compared cinema, as an art-form, to the gothic cathedrals of the middle ages– in that cinema is a total art-form, resulting from the combined efforts of many different categories of artists, expressing a society’s cumulative perceptions and ambitions towards the moral and sublime; and Panofsky also maintained that the defining characteristic of cinema, as a medium, was its emphasis on change/transformation; by which logic, we may presume that the morality/spirituality of america, as expressed in film, will chiefly concern the dynamics of change– for example, how “Lincoln” changes the minds of various legislators, in regards to slavery, or else how “Django” changes his own perception of the possible, in terms of both action and language, to subvert the narrative of slavery.

    If the central issue is change– both passive and active, both tragic and heroic, which is to say change as the experience of history and society– we might ask ourselves how our spiritual beliefs and values should inform our perspectives and positions on “change”? And how should we then respond to the portrayal/narrative of dramatic and historic change, in this year’s Oscar nominated films?

    Personally, I am led to believe that “change” is inevitable– that nothing in life is static– and that the experience of “change” will frequently be chaotic, mysterious and perhaps tragic to ourselves, but that we must direct ourselves towards steering change in an honest and positive direction, towards our highest sense of the good (as the “good” has been revealed to us, by the light of our own conscience and our intellectual and spiritual traditions).

    Along these lines, I am personally inclined to favor “Lincoln” as the most spiritual film of the year, in that it portrayed an individual’s experience in wrestling with and directing a profound ethical change– the abolition of slavery– in psychologically and historically honest terms. Similarly, I am extremely ambivalent toward “Zero Dark Thirty” in that it has apparently failed to portray its change– America’s development of the capacity to find and execute its enemies, anywhere in the world– in historically honest terms.

    It is extremely interesting that so many of this year’s nominated films deal with historic subjects, from one perspective or another– Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, and (to a lesser, more satirical level) Django. A recently published book, “The Future of History” by John Lukacs, makes the argument that we are entering a period in which history will no longer be very much read– as the author believes that reading is a skill which is going out of favor– but that historical subject will increasingly be presented through film– to a substantial disadvantage to our understanding of historical subjects, as the medium of film can only present the interior life of a historical figure at a partially fictionalized second-hand; and film presents us with additional dangers, of dramatic mischaracterizations, and opens-up the audience to various levels of direct or indirect propaganda.

    It would seem that the only defense against these dangers (of mischaracterization and propaganda) will be an intense personal awareness of the ethical and spiritual issues at stake, in any given film, with any given narrative and portrayal. Along these lines: kudos to Busted Halo for suggesting/introducing a spiritual dimension, in what might otherwise be taken as pure spectacle.

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