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Celluloid Religion: Two Aspects of Christendom within

Popular Hollywood Films


Author: Anton Karl Kozlovic



Popular films are the lingua franca and cultural touchstone of Western civilisation, especially amongst the video generation during this second century of the age of Hollywood . Although many aspects of Christendom have been embodied therein since the very genesis of the medium, they are frequently ignored, dismissed or under-utilised; despite being a cheap, readily available and entertaining extra-ecclesiastical resource. This is a scholarly shame and a pedagogic oversight in need of urgent correction and renewal. Consequently, utilising textually-based, humanist film criticism as the guiding analytical lens, the critical film and religion literature was selectively reviewed and the Hollywood cinema briefly scanned to reveal two manifestations of celluloid religion, namely: (1) religious symbolism, and (2) biblical behaviour. Each category was explicated herein using inter-genre exemplars to demonstrate its richness. It was concluded that celluloid religion has significant cultural relevancy for spirituality, theology and religion studies today. Further research into the emerging interdisciplinary field of religion-and-film is warranted and warmly recommended.

Introduction: Film Studies Meets Religion Studies

This is the second century of the “Age of Hollywood” (Paglia, 1994, p. 12) and the undeniable ascendancy of moving image culture that has subtly and not-so-subtly transformed the world. Film is an enormously popular medium that “shapes and reflects a range of cultural, economic, religious and social practices and positions in modern society” (Wright, 2007, p. 1). Indeed, the proverbial children-of-the-media throughout Western civilisation consider popular films [1] to be a cultural touchstone, part of their home turf, and a modern-day lingua franca that can assist them to learn about religion much more easily than through traditional book culture. As Carleen Mandolfo (2005, p. 323) observed: “students throw themselves into theological and exegetical reflection more eagerly with film than with any other medium.” Jeffrey L. Staley (2005, p. 273) similarly observed whilst teaching difficult points in his Scripture study classes that his students were “usually much more adept at picking up on these abstract issues in film than they are in seeing them in the New Testament itself.” Even 9-12 year old children raised on “a diet of visual culture…understand genre and expect to be entertained at the least and challenged at most” (Brooks, 2008, p. 165).

Therefore, it is both theologically and pedagogically wasteful to ignore a film studies approach to religion studies [2] when it makes studying easier and more enjoyable than traditional exegetical methods. This popular piety approach can also help remedy the irrelevance impasse that many religion scholars experience working in their specialised fields. As William E. Arnal (2005, p. 7) lamented regarding the multitudes who saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: “We scholars, in our conversations about Jesus, tend to ignore or dismiss the vast majority of the public, who return the favour and show little or no interest in or even cognizance of our discourses.” Yet, thousands who may never have been to church for years, let alone want to discuss Christology, paid good money to see this controversial Jesus movie and enthusiastically argued about it in their homes, churches and classrooms. This in turn prompted a small cottage industry amongst religion scholars themselves to disentangle its many theological issues and sociocultural effects (Beal & Linafelt, 2006; Corley & Webb, 2004; Fredriksen, 2006; Miller, 2005; Plate, 2004).

Popular films can be used effectively as complementary tools of intellectual inquiry that allows one to explore the sacred text by transcending the inherent limitations of the written word. After all, a film has to make explicit what may only be implicit within the Bible, thereby opening up new vistas of scholarly understanding and aesthetic appreciation in the very act of pointing out the films' religious symbolism inspired by Holy Writ. Not only is this methodological approach tailor-made for the video generation, but it can also radically alter one's understanding of life, reality and experience as filtered through video frames. Furthermore, as John C. Lyden (2003) argued:

…the dialogue between “religion” and “film” is really just another form of interreligious dialogue…Rather than assume that religion and culture are entirely different entities, or that religion can assume a hegemonic position in relation to culture, perhaps traditional religions might benefit from learning to listen to the religions of popular culture just as they are learning to listen to one another (p. 126).

The writer wholeheartedly agrees with him. Nor is this celluloid religion approach to religion studies a sell-out, for as Melanie J. Wright (2007, p. 2) argued: “Religion has not been displaced by a new medium: it has colonised it, and has found itself challenged and altered in the course of the encounter.” In fact, the “history of the religion-film relation is one of reluctance, dis-ease, and controversy, but also delight, expectancy, and euphoria” (Mitchell & Plate, 2007, p. 9). Therefore, it is up to religion scholars and classroom practitioners to ensure that this audiovisual medium is proactively deployed to enhance one's discipline and faith and defend it against error. Cursing films, ignoring them or hoping they go away by themselves is unrealistic and merely allows the popular cinema to affect viewers uncontrollably and potentially detrimentally. This is itself professionally irresponsible; especially in today's media-saturated world wherein “Christians cannot afford to be out of touch with popular films if they are to remain in touch with the swirling currents of contemporary society” (Maher, 2002, p. 5).

On the other hand, the emerging interdisciplinary field of religion-and-film (aka sacred cinema, spiritual cinema, holy film, cinematic theology, cinematheology, theo-film, celluloid religion, film-and-faith, film-faith dialogue) is an exciting extra-ecclesiastical resource that is vitally important for religion studies for at least three reasons. Firstly, the religion-film relationship is a relatively long, complex and honourable one, but not always well-known or appreciated by mainstream religion scholars and the laity (Lindvall, 2001). Secondly, film is the dominant art form of the 20th (and now 21st) century, and so Hollywood's insatiable demand for box office profits has stimulated (and still stimulates) their production, dissemination and popular acceptance. Even non-film fans have heard of Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epics such as The Ten Commandments (silent), The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments (Birchard, 2004), or Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (Ankerberg & Weldon, 1988) or Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Thirdly, the renewal of religion and theology requires research methodologies that provide proverbial breadths of fresh air into areas already overly analysed by well-worn approaches that may not take into account the cultural developments of the modern age. Yet, popular films have frequently been ignored, dismissed or under-utilised by both religious and educational institutions; despite being a cheap, readily available and highly entertaining extra-ecclesiastical resource. This is a scholarly shame and a pedagogic oversight in need of urgent correction and renewal.

Consequently, the critical film and religion literature was selectively reviewed and integrated into the text to enhance narrative coherence (albeit, with a strong reportage flavour). Using humanist film criticism as the guiding analytical lens (i.e., examining the textual world inside the frame, but not the world outside the frame—Bywater & Sobchack, 1989), a preliminary scan of the popular Hollywood cinema [3] revealed two manifestations of the religion-and-film field that are worthy of investigation herein, namely: (1) religious symbolism, and (2) biblical behaviour. The following is an introductory explication of each of these categories utilising inter-genre exemplars to demonstrate its richness.

1. Religious Symbolism

Richard A. Blake (1996, p. 33) labelled the seekers of religious symbolism as “Christian symbol hunters,” that is, critics with a text-as-reader-construct mindset who eagerly pursue biblical parallels in their filmic fare; whether subtle iconographies, subliminal allusions or vague Christomorphic resonances bordering upon Christ-figurehood. Regrettably, many of these commentators are tempted to see Christ in secular films where there are none, much to the chagrin of Martin and Ostwalt Jr. (1995) who complained:

Unfortunately, this is sometimes taken to ridiculous extremes when critics, focusing on the didactic function of film, look for “Christ figures” around every corner in order to impart Christian teaching. “Rewriting” virtually every film in terms of the Christ story or as a battle between good and evil, they dilute and undermine the power of this interpretative standard…[We should] resist the idea that every Hollywood hero is Christlike and that every villain is the beast of the apocalypse (p. 15).

Linda Mercadante (2001, p. 1) similarly advised her students and readers to “resist the tendency to baptize films that did not ask to be converted,” especially considering that Christ-figures are “very difficult to define. Like ghosts in the night or faces in the clouds, you can often imagine that you are seeing them, when they are in fact not really there” (Telford, 2000, p. 35). This is one reason why Anton Karl Kozlovic (2004) provided a guide to their major structural characteristics so as to identify them more clearly and help the reader discern between a seemingly deliberate Christological narrative (i.e., the Christ cycle film) and one that may only refer to the Christ story tangentially and coincidentally.

Not only do believers and religion scholars alike succumb to the temptation of Christian symbol hunting, but they can sometimes be lured into making unwise interpretative leaps that just muddies the waters. As John C. Lyden (2003) argued regarding Seven Spielberg's science fiction (SF) classic, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial:

There is a clear use of Christian imagery by Spielberg in this film, as it includes a savior with healing powers who comes from the heavens, dies, and is resurrected to ascend to heaven once more. He also leaves behind his spirit with his faithful disciples. But we should be wary of “baptizing” the film as if it simply repeated the Christian message, for Spielberg is not Christian, but Jewish. His use of Christian imagery reflects his ability to utilize images that are familiar to our culture and appropriate them for his own purposes. In this case, he has used the images of Christian salvation and applied them to the situation of a family suffering from an absent father (p. 199).

Even if there are superficial parallels between Hollywood films and biblical stories, will these movies have the same divine effect as the original holy text? This was the gist of Michael Paul Gallagher's (1997, p. 152) criticism of a Christ-figure interpretation of E.T. (voice of Pat Welsh). He asked: “is the finale…a genuine moment of vision and self-transcendence, liberating of the spiritual imagination, and even Christian in its echoes, or is it merely a soft manipulation of seemingly spiritual emotions, short-lived and lacking in depth?” This reflective question prompted him to call for a cinematically focused act of spiritual discernment because “a film may induce a certain satisfaction, even a felt enlargement of heart, but this yardstick of feeling is not in itself a valid criterion of authenticity” (Gallagher, 1997, p. 153).

However, Gallagher need not have feared the film simply because flickering-lights-and-shadows are not meant to be replacements for the Holy Bible, nothing can do that; rather, the popular cinema can offer alternative spiritual imaginations that are exciting cultural pointers to the real thing. As Kieran Scott (2007, p. 15) put it: “when the lights go down in the cinema, we can see other imagined worlds, other ways of being human.” The cinema can thus function as a secular road map in pursuit of the divine, and yet, it can also hide Jesus in a media garb, what Robert Ellis (2001, p. 304) referred to as religion in a secular wrapper. This is theologically valid if one adheres to the doctrine of the Incarnation wherein the universe is drenched with divinity, and so God can speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime including “communion in the dark in the movie theatre” (Scott, 2007, p. 14).

Not only do believers and religion scholars succumb to the temptation of Christian symbol hunting, but they may sometimes be lured into making unwise interpretative leaps. A good example of the various misappropriations of subtextual religious phenomena is the romantic SF fantasy, Phenomenon starring John Travolta as George Malley. In real-life, Travolta is a dedicated practising Scientologist, a quasi-religious cult with the tax status of a church founded by the science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard (Melton, 2000). The film story was basically about a kind, ordinary, garage mechanic who “after being struck by lightening or, perhaps, hit by an alien force” (Clarkson, 1996, pp. 233-234) experienced something very extraordinary. For the very first time in his life, George easily beat the local physician, Doc Brunner (Robert Duvall) playing chess, he quickly solved an annoying rabbit nuisance problem, and he effortlessly learnt the Spanish language to converse with his boss. As he grew in power and ability, George was also depicted mentally attracting a wrench into his hand unaided, reading and understanding two-to-three books a day, turning pages by merely waving his hand over them and other telekinesis powers, predicting future earthquakes, designing new equipment and methods, and quickly learning the Portuguese language to help a sick man.

Whilst visiting his friend, Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker), a short wave radio ham, George easily translated an almost imperceptible Morse code message and asked Nate to reply to it. It subsequently turned out to be an encrypted military message that alerted the FBI to his presence. They quickly paid him a visit and confiscated his experimental equipment, but since he could not explain his powers, they took him to their headquarters for questioning wherein he demonstrated even more of his incredible abilities. He was eventually released, but spiralled into depression as the local people began fearing and then mocking him. One day, he unexpectedly fainted and ended up in hospital wherein it was discovered that he had a rare, debilitating brain tumour that was eventually going to kill him. However, George refused to have brain surgery, and to avoid it being imposed upon him against his will, he escaped from the hospital, met with his romantic interest, Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick) and died peacefully in their bed together as a very loving but prematurely passing intellectual-cum-mystical genius.

Given Travolta's strong Scientologist convictions, his biographer Nigel Andrews (1998, pp. 267-268) was searching for the admission of a Scientology subtext within the film, but being thwarted, he asked in frustration: “So what exactly is this film? A Christ story? A Zen parable? Or, pressing the point again, a Scientology fable wrapped up in a feelgood Frank Capra fantasy—‘It's A Wonderful Death'. Writer [Gerald] DiPego says the film is about nature and the interconnectedness of things.” However, Andrews (1998) was not satisfied with DiPego's cryptic but non-controversial explanation, and so in a subsequent attempt to tag Phenomenon as a Christ-figure vehicle, he invoked director Jon Turteltaub's Jewish background and overt Christic filmmaking intention:

Says Jon Turtletaub, ‘The irony is, when I read the movie I thought, “Here I am, a Jewish director about to tell a Christ story.” Later, all anybody saw was Scientology. They couldn't have been more off-base. How could anyone not see it as a Christ story? It's about a lone man who does nothing but give and love and ultimately dies so that other people can experience a better life. Didn't I read that in Sunday School? (p. 268).

A Christ-figure resonance certainly reverberates throughout Phenomenon even with its New Age facade, which even Jewish filmmakers can appreciate and aesthetically render on-screen. As New Testament scholar, Mark G. Boyer (2002) argued:

In many ways, the film is Mark's Gospel retold in an American setting with adaptations made to an American culture. Like Jesus, whom we meet for the first time in Mark's Gospel at his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River when he was about thirty years old, we meet George Malley for the first time in the Elkhorn Bar at his thirty-seventh birthday party. Like Jesus, who comes from the small town of Nazareth , Malley is a simple man, living in a small town, working in an auto-repair shop. Again, like Jesus, who lived his life doing good for others, Malley is known for his goodness in Harmon, California (pp. 40-41).

There are many other Christic parallels and correspondences to contemplate if desired (e.g., see Boyer, 2002, pp. 40-43; Stone, 2000, pp. 116-117). However, DiPego's reluctance to admit to a religious intent behind the production of Phenomenon (whether New Age, Scientology or Christology) appears to be rooted in Hollywood script pitching pragmatics:

Gerald DiPego…says studios are more likely to accept scripts that aren't overtly religious. “If somebody said to a studio executive I have a script I want you to read and it's quite religious, they'd probably say, ‘No, take it off my desk.” What's happening nowadays is if you use the word ‘spiritual' you can maybe get over this fear…“I think religion translates into dogma…When you say spiritual, it's this whole wide-ranging kind of philosophical ideal that doesn't feel the same way” (Elber, 1997, p. 2).

Therefore, it appears that Phenomenon was a Christ-figure film, just as director Jon Turtletaub claimed; but it was deliberately pitched as being “about nature and the interconnectedness of things” and thus marketed as New Age spirituality to avoid the knee-jerk rejection of “dogmatic religion” by worried studio executives. Of course, this public relations tactic also helped diffuse potential persecution of Scientologists, which can sometimes be quite formidable. For example, German politicians tried to blacklist Hollywood blockbusters starring church members:

In August 1996, the CDU [Christian Democratic Union] Young Union launched a national boycott campaign against the film Mission: Impossible simply because the star of the film, Tom Cruise, is a Scientologist. Likewise, in August and September 1996, CDU and SPD [Social Democratic Party (in English)] officials called for a ban on the film Phenomenon because the star of the film, John Travolta, is a Scientologist. The SPD spokesperson on these matters, Renate Rennebach, urges the government to declare that the Church was “anticonstitutional” so that the film could also be banned (Church of Scientology International, 1997, p. 1).

Although such religious hysteria is sociologically and politically intriguing and worthy of further investigation, it is beyond the scope of this research. However, the really interesting religion-and-film question concerns the legitimate Scientology subtexts that were built into the film, but not appreciated to date. For example, Scientologists “teach that humans are, at the core of their being, immortal “thetans” (having travelled here from other parts of the universe) who, if properly trained, can harness the powers of their mind and rid themselves of pain, disease and suffering” (Stone, 2000, p. 115). As George said to Doc Brunner (representing science and rationality) after experiencing his powers: “I've been seeing things so clearly” and then later as he tried to explain his telekinetic powers to the locals, it is a “collaboration, a partnership.” “We're all made of the same stuff. You know, energy. You know, the little pieces.” To the brain surgeon, Dr. Wellin (Richard Kiley), George said: “I think I'm what everyone can be. I'm the possibility. The human spirit, that's the challenge, the voyage, the expedition.”

Overall, the scanning for religious symbolism within the popular cinema can significantly aid one in defining one's own faith via comparative analysis in what is essentially an exciting audiovisual act of interreligious dialogue. In addition to hunting religious symbolism, viewers can also critically examine the behaviour of screen characters modelled upon the Bible and Judeo-Christian theology, that is, using the cinema to explore biblical modes of conduct reflecting the religious mindset.

2. Biblical Behaviour

Ironically, some of the most poignant examples of this phenomenon were not performed by church-going Christians, but rather, the lapsed faithful and even non-Christian characters, as delightfully depicted in the foreign food film, Chocolat. This movie was used by Keith Kennific, a Roman Catholic presbyter in Canada to explore the themes of fasting, conversion and community because it was “a very accessible source of reflection and discussion to foster the adult Christian's deepening appreciation and appropriation of the relevance of the liturgical season of Lent” (Kennific, 2002, p. 163). This film story is set during the Lent of 1959 when an unmarried woman, Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her young, out-of-wedlock daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) arrive at a small, provincial French village to live and work. What they encountered there was challenging on many levels for all concerned.

The local villagers were under the dominance of the emotionally repressed mayor, Monsieur le Compte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), stoically committed to their dogmatic Catholic asceticism (religious, dietary and sexual), and in parochial fashion they were very prideful of their social tranquillity (i.e., the status quo). This staid community with wooden religious practices was initially scandalised by Vianne's arrival, then enflamed by her subsequent association-cum-sexual liaison with disreputable Irish tinkers, but then piqued by the opening of her chocolaterie business—a sweet, sensual temptation to the villagers otherwise mundane existence. Vianne was a free-spirit but also a humble stranger who was treated as a threatening other and an “atheistic interloper” (McNulty, 2003, p. 51) by the suspicious and inhospitable villagers, who promptly attempted to hasten her departure. Their desperate efforts included duping the newly ordained village priest, the socially inadequate Pere Henri (Hugh O'Conor), and using his pulpit as a weapon against Vianne and the earthly temptations that she came to so powerfully provide (materially) and represent (symbolically).

However, Vianne's interpersonal gentleness and tasty chocolates had an awakening, revivifying and transformative effect upon the villagers who become more open, honest and alive as a result of the material, social and spiritual ingestion of her wares. Indeed, for David Justin Hodge (2002, p. 3), “the ingestion of a piece of chocolate takes on the significance of the Eucharist. And during the season of Lent, such ingestion becomes a veritable revolutionary and profane act,” but also a grossly humanising act that eventually lead to Christian acts of forgiveness, acceptance and spiritual growth. This archetypal woman-as-stranger became the catalyst for profound personal change and social metamorphosis. The practical results of all this influence was dramatically embodied in the empowering of the formerly husband-fearing Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), who was subsequently reborn as a stronger, more confident woman of considerably enhanced social and interpersonal self-worth.

Furthermore, the formerly manipulative mayor, Reynaud became less manipulative and more accepting of change, whilst the theological attitude of duped village priest, Pere Henri became significantly reoriented by Vianne's presence. On Easter Sunday, he ascended the pulpit to deliver his regular homily and changed the subject from Jesus' death, transformation and resurrection to Jesus' humanity, kindness and tolerance:

He urges them [the villagers] to listen, stating, for perhaps the first time in this pulpit, what he himself thinks: “We can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we resist, and who we exclude.” The camera roves through the crowded sanctuary, showing us close-ups of the people who need to hear the priest's message. “I think we have to measure goodness by what we embrace, by what we create, and whom we include,” he tells them (McNulty, 2003, pp. 52-53).

Vianne is the social catalyst responsible for the profound religious transformation of the entire village community, and she did not need to be a Bible-thumping Christian, a bra-burning feminist, or a female Christ-figure to do it! However, there was a potential sop to magical realism within the film when Anouk's imaginary friend, an Australian kangaroo bounced away at films end. Alternatively, this scene was a sop to psychological realism; a potent sign that Anouk no longer needed childish fantasy to fill the companionship void in her wandering lifestyle. She had grown significantly during Lent, which allowed her to calmly watch her hopping friend depart, thus symbolically indicating her newly acquired emotional maturity, just like the rest of the villagers that she and her mother had influenced by their presence.

Whereas Chocolat was a contemporary European film, Three Godfathers was an old American western that had demonstrated profound Christian principles using three bank robbers as their unlikely antihero protagonists. Namely, the annoying illiterate with a heart of gold, Sam “Gus” Barton (Walter Brennan), the intellectual with a conscience, James “Doc” Underwood (Lewis Stone), and the cold, cynical murder, Robert “Bob” Sangster (Chester Morris). Whilst in New Jerusalem, a frontier town full of good-natured, courteous and pious people, these three thieves robbed its local bank, shot its president and quickly escaped town. Whilst on-the-run , they come across a dying woman (Helen Brown) and her helpless orphaned son, baby Marshall (Jean Kirchner) and were forced to decide the infant's future. Following their encounter with a poisoned water hole and the misfortunate death of their own horses, they decided to return to New Jerusalem to save the baby. Their momentous decision involved many trials and tribulations along the way back, including their own profound personal transformations.

In due course, they all became so attached to the baby during their rescue mission and surrogate parenting role that each willingly gave up their own life to ensure the baby's safe return to New Jerusalem on Christmas day. Their acts of selfless sacrifice and unswerving dedication had demonstrated the very best of human qualities, even if performed by former scoundrels. As William Indick (2004) argued:

The story of three men who come out of the wilderness to deliver an infant son is clearly symbolic of the Jesus story, though it is the martyrdom of the men themselves that signifies redemption. In the final scene, the last outlaw [Bob] stumbles into “New Jerusalem” with the infant boy in his arms. Before he dies, he leans against a post and a heavenly light shines on his face. A wreath of laurel hangs over his head, and you almost expect him to raise his arms in a crucifixion pose. The message is clear: Even a murderer and a thief can be redeemed through love and self-sacrifice (p. 57).

Regrettably, the remake of the film staring John Wayne entitled 3 Godfathers, which was directed by the Catholic film director John Ford contained less subtextual religion than Richard Boleslawski's version, and was subsequently tagged “Christianity-lite” (Silver, 2003, p. 59). Yet, it still contained significant religious touches for an American western, such as “the wagon's canopy, which forms an arch like the entrance to a church. The child is “anointed” with axle grease. A simple wooden cross is left to mark the mother's grave, and the men are guided by a Bible found in a trunk” (Silver, 2003, p. 61). For Andrew Sinclair (1979, p. 152) however, the film was “a blatant replaying of the biblical story of the Three Magi coming to the Christ Child in the manger at Bethlehem ” but with John Wayne's role being “drowned in sacred molasses.” This observation suggests that the film has many more sacred dimensions that have not yet been adequately addressed, and thus worthy of further religious re-analysis of both it and its Catholic director (de las Carreras-Kuntz, 2002; Giles, 1991).


Critically examining celluloid religion has ever-increasing pedagogic value and cultural relevancy during this post-Millennial, postmodern and increasingly post-print period, in addition to aiding interreligious understanding and critical film skill formation. It is certainly a legitimate pop culture phenomenon worthy of recognition and deployment within the classroom, home and pulpit. What better way to advance the cause of renewing religion and theological studies than by nourishing faith through fiction via the creative fusion of film, faith and fun?

Further research into the emerging and exciting interdisciplinary field of religion-and-film is warranted and warmly recommended; particularly into its effective teaching (Mercadante, 2007) and the application of contemplative spiritual practises of old (e.g., Lectio Divina ) to the movies of today (Pungente & Williams, 2004). One could also profit from analysing feature films using contemporary theological models by Helmut Richard Niebuhr (Deacy & Ortiz, 2007), Edward Schillebeeckx (Sison, 2006) and their peers, and also by delving even deeper into theological themes like redemption and apocalypticism in recent releases, such as No Country for Old Men, but which is beyond the scope of this paper. After all, as Jesus once said, albeit in a different context, but which is perfectly applicable today in our cinema dominated world: “What I tell you in the darkness, that speak ye in light” (Matt. 10:27 KJV).


1. There are real ontological differences between “cinema,” “film,” “movie,” “video,” “TV movie,” “CD,” “VCD,” “DVD,” “Mpeg-4,” “Internet movie” etc., but since they all deal with audiovisual images they will be treated herein as essentially interchangeable terms.

2. The term “religion studies” will be used herein as an umbrella term to cover the disciplines of “religion,” “theology,” “faith,” “new religious movements” etc., thus avoiding needless repetition and boredom for both reader and writer.

3. The term “Hollywood cinema” is used herein as a shorthand code for Western, primarily English-speaking cinema that conforms to the classical Hollywood narrative tradition, whether actually made in America or not (see Bordwell & Thompson, 2001, pp. 76-78).


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3 Godfathers (aka Three Godfathers ) (1948, dir. John Ford)

Chocolat (2000, dir. Lasse Hallstrom)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, dir. Steven Spielberg)

The King of Kings (1927, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Mission: Impossible (1996, dir. Brian De Palma)

No Country for Old Men (2007, dir. Ethan & Joel Coen)

The Passion of the Christ (2004, dir. Mel Gibson)

Phenomenon (1996, dir. Jon Turteltaub)

Samson and Delilah (1949, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)

The Ten Commandments (1923, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)

The Ten Commandments (1956, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)

Three Godfathers (1936, dir. Richard Boleslawski)