I was watching Fox News one night and they had the television adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus on, which I highly recommend to anyone of any faith, although I was not sure what accent the actor playing Jesus was going for. If I didn’t know any better, I would say that the Biblical Jesus suddenly became Irish. Or Gaelic, or something like that. There are perhaps two other good Easter movies.
The first is King of Kings– the original one with Jeffrey Hunter, not the more modern version. Like the accent in Killing Jesus, I later realized that there was no way Jesus had the piercing blue eyes that Jeffrey Hunter projected. The other movie is more modern and more controversial- Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
Today, Hollywood treats Bible stories with a certain amount of disdain. Take, for example, the more recent movie Noah. Hollywood people and critics were perplexed by its popularity and ticket sales. Why, they thought, would anyone want to see such a fantasy as Noah’s ark? The only thing that could conceivably redeem this movie would be if there was some hidden lesson about the dangers of climate change and what could happen if the weather got so messed up because of fossil fuels that it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.
Not that Passion of the Christ did not receive similar indignation from the Hollywood press. Gibson’s accurate portrayal was dismissed as some kind of stealth anti-Semitic message. What is Biblical fact was described by the press as the musings of the demented mind of Mel Gibson, something he created because… well, the Jewish people of Jerusalem never yelled, “Crucify him!”
And there are other ways in which Hollywood demeans religion, mainly Christianity. For example, one doubts that children with burgeoning telekinetic powers who experience their first menstrual period are tossed into locked closets because their mothers believe that only sinners menstruate. That was an actual scene from the movie Carrie. Chances are that crazy mothers may do that, but Christianity does not qualify one as “crazy.” Or, does it in the minds of Hollywood producers?
At least with Christianity, Hollywood can actually depict Jesus Christ, or Moses or even God in some cases, although he invariably shows up as some minority actor, most likely Morgan Freeman. Try making a movie about the life of the Prophet Mohammed. It would be two hours of blank film. When films are made about anything remotely related to Islam, like Kingdom of Heaven, it centers on Crusader (Christian) atrocities with nary a word about the atrocities perpetrated on the inhabitants of Palestine by Islamic armies as they spread their “religion of peace” by the sword across the Middle East.
With modern depictions, it is usually the Christian who is seen as repressed and prone to bad behaviors. These run the gamut from throwing your daughter in the closet because she had her period, to Jesus having sexual fantasies (The Last Temptation of Christ), to secret societies inhabiting church hierarchies, to priests raping kids in orphanages. The movie Saved is a perfect example. In the movie, a girl attending a Christian high school contemplates abortion after finding herself pregnant. Along the way, she befriends a cast of misfits in the school including a chain-smoking Jewish student and a wheelchair bound MacCauley Culkin who defy the dogmas of Christianity. Mandy Moore plays the caricature of what Hollywood believes is your average Christian- a hypocritical zealot.
The movie Dogma raised the ire of organized religion. In this one, some distant offspring of Jesus and an abortion clinic worker team up to save the world from two fallen angels trying to gain access to a particular church in Newark, New Jersey. Along the way, we meet the 13th apostle played by Chris Rock, who appears nowhere in the New Testament, he complains, because he’s black. The bishop at the church is played by George Carlin. The two fallen angels are Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Jason Lee plays a demonic character who summons forth a monster in a bar which is made of poop. If you did not know it was a comedy by now, you should realize it when we finally meet God played by Alannis Morissette. What truly makes it a fantastical comedy is the fact that everyone knows that any angel- good or bad- would never try to get into a church in Newark, New Jersey of all places.
While Dogma was getting attacked by Christian groups and the Catholic Church, three very important facts are overlooked. First, the publicity garnered for the movie by the Christian groups and Catholic Church likely added a few million to the movie’s low-budget bottom line.
The second point is that the movie was written with the intention of being a comedy. The producer, Kevin Smith (a New Jersey native which explains why the angels tried to get into a church in Newark) was not trying to make it a commentary on religion in general, or the Catholic Church in particular. My guess is that writing process was akin to a James Franco-Seth Rogen affair fueled by copious amounts of marijuana where the plot just gets weirder and weirder with the passing of each joint or hit from the bong. It was the Hollywood press and the critics who read so much more into the “meaning” of the movie than was warranted.
The third point is that Christianity survived this apparent attack from Hollywood despite what organized religion said at the time. They protested and they suggested boycotts which largely went unheeded. It was the third highest grossing movie in the week it was released. To illustrate how bad that it is, Pokemon- The First Movie (was there ever a second?) beat it at the box office. Regardless, imagine if Kevin Smith, or any Hollywood producer for that matter, treated Islam in a like manner. There would be all kinds of condemnations, fatwas, and jihads. Obama would address a national television audience and lecture us on Islamophobia and how terrible this movie is for relations with the Muslim community.
The fact is that Christianity can take the hits from Hollywood and in popular culture. Hollywood will shout back with righteous indignation that they are not anti-religious. They’ll pen articles listing God-centered releases like Noah, Selma, and The Immigrant. No one is accusing them of being anti-religious, just anti-Christian. At the very least, a little equal time is required here.
My guess is you will not be seeing The Last Temptation of the Prophet Mohammed any time soon in your local movie theater. And any analog to Saved would involve being saved from the executioner’s sword, or genital mutilation.