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?