by Ken Clark
Back in the golden age of Hollywood, major studios made religious movies that actually praised God and religion.
Charleton Heston alone seems to have played most of the Apostles and Prophets. Who can forget his roles as Moses in The Ten Commandments or John the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told, two excellent religious movies.
In fact, religious movies have won the Academy Award, Hollywood’s highest “pat on the back.”
- 1944: Going My Way, starring Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley won.
- 1945: the sequel, Bells of St. Mary’s was nominated but lost. (It is however, one of the top grossing films of all time.)
- 1953: The Robe, another great religious movie was nominated but lost. In 1956, The Ten Commandments, generally considered one of the greatest movies of all time, was nominated but lost to Around the World in 80 Days.
- 1959: the Best Picture was Ben-Hur, which, while not strictly a “religious” movie, portrayed Our Lord and religion in a very positive way.
- 1964: Becket was nominated but lost.
- 1966: A Man for All Seasons won the award, the last year that a religious movie was nominated for Best Picture.
Since the 1960’s religion has become a dirty word in Hollywood, which is something considering there are no dirty words in Hollywood. Still, small independent film makers continue to make movies that celebrate God and religion. Of course, the most well-known example of this is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), the USA’s twenty-fifth highest grossing movie of all time.
God is Not Dead
Recently, there have been a few movies released dealing with religion, God, or Biblical themes. God Is not Dead is the story of Josh, a college freshman and devout Christian, who finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by his professor.
The professor begins class by informing students that they have to disavow the existence of God immediately or fail the class. Josh refuses, provoking an irate reaction from the professor who assigns him a daunting task: prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments, and engage the professor in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course.
Heaven is For Real
Another religious movie to be released April 16th, is Heaven is for Real. Based on a best-selling book, the movie is the true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.
His son Colton claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. Colton recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth, things he could not possibly know. The family is challenged to examine the meaning of this remarkable event.
Finally, we come to Noah, which, like Heaven is for Real, claims to be based on a real life story. According to the movie’s producers’, Noah is about “a man is chosen by his world’s creator to undertake a momentous mission to rescue the innocent before an apocalyptic flood cleanses the wicked from the world.” This sentence accurately describes the story of Noah the Movie, but let us analyze it just a bit.
First, note there is no mention of “God,” just “Creator”. God never makes an appearance in the movie. I don’t recall the word “God” being used, although the word “Creator” is used numerous times. As a result, the movie could be any of a variety of science fiction movies that speak of a powerful being. (Use the Force, Luke!)
Noah does in fact “undertake a momentous mission.” He travels around looking for answers to the dream that the creator has sent him. Then he builds the ark, in lightning speed (about 10 years) with the help of some fallen angels. (Two points here: 1. the Bible does not give an exact time to build the ark but scholars think it took about 60 years; 2. Fallen angels… does that really need a comment?)
To most Christians the phrase “to rescue the innocent before an apocalyptic flood cleanses the wicked from the world,” means that Noah and his family were the only innocent people and that the flood cleansed the world of all the people living immoral lives. “The LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil.” (Genesis 6:3)
However, the Creator in Noah doesn’t see it that way. First, the animals are the innocent ones; the people are all wicked, including Noah and his family. And what is their great sin: they are lousy environmentalists! Once all the people are dead, the animals can get on with their happy lives, and the creator will be happy.
The makers of the movie have said that it is not strictly based on the Bible but is a fictionalized portrayal. Still, if you call your movie “George Washington,” shouldn’t it bear some resemblance to Washington’s life?
As one person who reviewed Noah noted, “Waterworld is a better movie about an ark.”
And I would add, closer to the Bible story than Noah the Movie!
Kenneth Clark is the assistant director of Seton Home Study School.
Header Image Copyright Paramount Pictures