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List of Spiritual/Religious Movies
The Genre of Spiritual Cinema
Below are listings of movies from two different books which list movies which reflect religion, faith and spirituality. The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives was written by movie producer Stephen Simon, an adherent of New Age religion. Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith was written by Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, a married couple who are Evangelical Protestant theology teachers involved in various church ministries.
There are 33 movies covered in detail in Finding God in the Movies. The Force Is With You discusses 66 movies at length. Between the two books there is only one movie on both lists: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the acclaimed Chinese martial arts film directed by Ang Lee.
Movies Listed in Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston's
Source: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004).
Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith
The authors of Finding God in the Movies are Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, both of whom are Evangelical Protestant Christians. Finding God in the Movies was published by Baker Books, an Evangelical publishing house. Below are capsule biographies of the authors from the last page (page 320) of the book:
Catherine M. Barsotti enjoys weaving the two threads of economics and theology throughout her life. A former real estate appraiser for twenty years, she has worked in diverse ministry contexts within the Anglo and Latino communities. She has been a short-term missionary in Mexico, a youth minister, a part-time assocaite pastor, and a chaplain at a center for abused women and children. From 1997 to 2002 she served as director of development for Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos (CHET)--a Latino ministry training center in southeast Los Angeles. Currently she consults with Christian nonprofit organizations and regularly teaches courses at CHET in theology, ethics, and spirituality. With Robert Johnston, her husband, Barsotti has been writing movie reviews for the last eight years.
Although the authors of Finding God in the Movies most often speak of Christianity generally, they identify their denominational affiliation, which has clearly influenced their choice of films and and the way they discuss each film. From Finding God in the Movies, page 269:
Robert K. Johnston is a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Former president of the American Theological Society and former provost at both North Park University and Fuller, Johnston's latest books include Reel Spirituality (Baker, 2000) and Life Is Not Work/Work Is Not Life: Simple Reminders for Finding Balance in a 24/7 World (Wildcat Canyon, 2001). His new book, Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film (Baker), will be released in the fall of 2004. With Catherine Barsotti, Johnston teaches a course each year to all new Young Life staff on how to think theologically about life and faith. They also teach together in the area of film and theology.
Our church is in a denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Church, and we're blessed in this denomination to have many saints... Stories are told of Dr. Teddy in Zaire or Dr. Mildred Nordlund in China...Today, doctors such as Richard Trinity, a small-town general surgeon who serves on the World Mission Committee of our denomination, or pediatrician Jamie Knauss, who also teaches in the children's Sunday school program at our church, care for patients with humor and compassion.
The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is an Evangelical denomination with a Lutheran historical-theological background. The denomination was founded by Swedish Lutheran immigrants as the "Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant of America" on 20 February 1885 in Chicago, Illinois. The name was changed to the "Evangelical Covenant Church of America" in 1954 and the "of America" was later abandoned because the denomination includes a Canadian conference. As of 2004, membership was 114,510 in 685 congregations in the United States, with a worldwide membership of almost 325,000. (Source: Wikipedia.org).
Finding God in the Movies author Robert K. Johnston also discusses growing up in the Covenant Church, which he says was definitely predominantly Swedish while he was growing up, on page 188.
Description of the book, from the back cover:
You love movies. Who doesn't?
Cover blurb on back cover, written by Todd Komarnicki, filmmaker and the producer of Elf (2003):
In Finding God in the Movies Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston show you how to combine your love of movies with your desire for God. Introducing thirty-three films of faith--ranging from Tender Mercies to X-Men--the authors identify and explore key biblical themes like forgiveness, faith, and repentance. An enthusiastic guide for the individual movie lover or small grouip, this resource contains production notes and film synopses, relevant Scripture texts, theological reflection, recommended video clips, discussion questions, and more. It will deepen your fervor for film and for God.
"Written with humility, grace, and sensitivity, Finding God in the Movies is a tremendous resource for those seeking light inside the cinema. More than just a guide to great films, this book is a window into how to engage them and find on the other side a deeper understanding of the Lord."
Below are the 33 movies discussed in detail in Finding God in the Movies, along with the categorization from the book. Notes about the religious affiliation of the directors were added by this website, and were not part of the book:
|Affirming Our Humanity|
|Life is Beautiful (1997)
|No Man's Land (2001)
|We Were Soldiers (2002)
|Beauty, Imagination, and Creativity|
|Spirited Away (2002)
||Japanese Buddhist/Shinto culture
|Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
|Big Night (1996)
||Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci
|Embracing Our Vocation|
|The Rookie (2002)
||John Lee Hancock
|Billy Elliot (2000)
|The Apostle (1997)
|Reconciliation within Families|
|The Straight Story (1999)
|Ulee's Gold (1997)
|Fly Away Home (1996)
|Save the Last Dance (2001)
|Remember the Titans (2000)
|The Hurricane (1999)
|Smoke Signals (1998)
|Antwone Fisher (2002)
||Church of God in Christ (Pentecostal)
|Community and Frienship|
|About a Boy (2002)
||Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
|Italian for Beginners (2001)
|Simon Birch (1998)
||Mark Steven Johnson
|Tender Mercies (1983)
|Faith and Doubt|
|The Third Miracle (1999)
||M. Night Shyamalan
|Living Our Faith|
|The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
|Patch Adams (1998)
|Images of the Savior|
|The Spitfire Grill (1996)
||Lee David Zlotoff
|The Iron Giant (1999)
|Renewing the Church|
|Sister Act (1992)
||Lasse Hallstrom [Lasse Hallström]
Below are some examples of the observations made about Christianity and movies, in the book. From: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan (2004), pages 51-53:
Steven Spielberg is known for such blockbuster movies as E.T. and Jurassic Park. He has been most honored, however, for Schindler's List, his retelling of the story of one man's resistance to the Holocaust. The movie should be seen by all adults and has proven an important contribution to our continuing fight against anti-Semitism.
From Finding God in the Movies, page 19:
Now with Amistad, Spielberg has again dramatized a historical event of resistance to corporate evil. The film has such symbolic importance for another minority group--African-Americans--that some have questioned Spielberg's right to tell their story. After all, isn't he Jewish? But tell it he does, and the film has moral importance for us all.
The movie dramatizes the story of a group of Africans who rise up against their slave-trading captors on the ship Amistad and as a result are brought to trial in a New England court. But that is only one of the stories that this film tells so well. There is the story of slavery, the story of an African who is called Cinque by the Spaniards, the story of Christian abolitionists [led by Congregationalists, long before the became the United Church of Christ], the story of two presidents and their own struggles with a nation divided, and even the gospel story.
[page 53] Yet a third story is present in the movie--the gospel story. Some reviewers have questioned this insertion, but the Christian presence in opposing slavery is historically accurate. We see the Christian abolitionists being portrayed at times humorously, at other times cynically, but at still other times kindly. Never has a more beautiful telling of the gospel story been in film as when the Africans tell the Story to Cinque using only the illustrations from a Bible a Christian abolitionist had given him. He cannot read the English words, but the pictures tell it all and bring hope. From the slaves of Egypt crying out to the God of Salvation, to the baby Jesus' birth, to his teaching and healing, to the cross and then the resurrection, we hear the Good News in all its simplicity and power. Although the African storyteller isfearful that they will be killed, he can point to Christ rising into the heavens and believe that "where we'll go if we die doesn't look so bad." The power of the Story brings hope and freedom.
Movies like Fearless and The Apostle do more than simply entertain; they provide a place for us to pause and meditate on our purpose and place in life. They draw us into common human struggles we all face but too rarely voice. As we watch, if we also experience a moment of transcendence--of awe in the presence of the Eternal--we feel blessed, even as tears roll down our cheeks.
From Finding God in the Movies, pages 238-240:
To give two examples, we assigned the movie Life as a House to students in one of our classes. [Life as a House was written by Irwin Winkler, and written by Mark Andrus, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] to students.] The movie tells the story of Sam, an angry teenager who feels abandoned by his divorced, upper-middle-class parents, and George, his father, who has isolated himself from his friends and family. When George is fired from his architectural firm and is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he realizes he wants nothing more than to reach out to his son and reconnect. Having Sam help him rebuild his eyesore of a house becomes a metaphor for the rebuilding of lives that happens concurrently. When students were asked for their reaction to the movie, one man in his late twenties volunteered that he had had an estranged relationship with his father for years. He shared, "I saw Sam and his father, and I wept hard in the arms of my wife." Another woman in her midthirties responded, "I've reached out to my dad."
Later in the course, we had the chance to interview Phil Alden Robinson, the writer and director of the movie Field of Dreams. The movie tells the story of Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who hears a voice tellling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. Against all common sense, he proceeds to do just that and as a result is able to connect with his estranged father. The last images of the film are of a game of catch with his father. Robinson discussed the effect the film has had on both sons and fathers. Although he is not a Christian and did not have any explicit theological intention for the movie, he recognized that the movie had spiritually affected scores of people in much the way our students who watched Life as a House had responded.
Something interesting happened in Hollywood as the millennium approached. A number of adult dramas were released, all of which took the Christian faith with new seriousness. The Green Mile, The End of the Affair, Dogma, The Big Kahuna, The Third Miracle--these R-rated films invited moviegoers to consider God and the effect of his presence in their lives. True, the church and its hierarchy were still lampooned--but then we often deserve what we get. [The book's authors seem to be using the phrase "the church" to apply to all Christianity, although many of the movies they are referring to deal only with the Catholic Church, whose "hierarchy" is never actually recognized as legitimate authority by the Evangelical churches the authors affiliate with.] However, the reality of God, the centrality of faith, and the importance of obedience were embraced. These movie stories at times had salty language, graphic violence, and/or explicity sexuality. They are not for everyone--certainly not the young. But the passion with which these movies portray issues of faith and doubt suggests a new openness in moviemakers to consider Christian belief.
The "Racial Reconciliation" subject may strike some readers as a peculiar subject to include in a book about God and spirituality. (One of the movies in this category is X-Men -- which is clearly a "popcorn movie", and may seem like an odd film to include in this book. Yet the authors are quite serious about the subject of racial reconciliation, and they express considerable guilt about how their faith group stands with regards to racial issues. They note that older generation viewers they know "might find the movie [Save the Last Dance] uncomfortable because it portrays a white girl dating an African-American" (page 161). Readers who come from racially-integrated denominations with geographically-based congregations (i.e., Jehovah's Witnesses, Latter-day Saints, Baha'is, etc.) may be surprised at the degree of racial segregation found in the self-selected Evangelical churches that this book's authors come from.
Of these five movies, readers will be most familiar with The Green Mile. Its use of Christ imagery to tell the story of a black prisoner wrongly imprisoned for the death of two young girls will bring tears to your eyes. (We have heard from numerous pastors who have preached sermons based on the movie, for they see it as one of the best "Jesus movies" recently made.) Graham Greene's The End of the Affair tells the story of a prayer that is answered and the subsequent price this extracts. Belief in the efficacy of prayer is taken seriously, as is the importance of fulfilling your vows to God.
Kevin Smith's Dogma made headlines across the country for its "sacrilegious" portrayal of the Catholic Church. But what was almost lost in the scuffle over this Gen X movie was its radical commitment to the Christian God as the source of all life and goodness. Smith says he made the movie to challenge his friends who are "cultured despisers of religion" to consider the Christian faith. The Big Kahuna, starring Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito, portrays three salesmen of industrial lubricants at a convention who struggle over life's ambiguities and argue whether God has anything to say about their lives.
This leaves us with the last movie of the group--The Third Miracle... Set in Chicago in 1979, the movie tells the story of a Catholic priest, Frank Shore, who has left his church assignment and is living in a hotel for transients and eating at a soup kitchen with a cross-section of society's rejected. Father Frank was a postulator, a priest assigned by the church hierarchy to investigate claims of miracles and sainthood. In the process of having to disprove a man's supposed heroic virtue, Frnak also destroyed the faith of a whole parish that had come to believe in the miracles of this man. Frank's church superiors were pleased he had exposed such superstition for what it was, but the weight of destroying the since faith of ordinary people causes Frank to question his own.
When the church comes calling again, Frank is compelled not only to investigate the fiath and good works of another possible saint but his own as well. The movie thus becomes both a spiritual pilgrimage and a detective story, with a romance thrown in to boot.
Barsotti and Johnston, the authors of Finding God in the Movies, further discuss the racial segregation found in their Evangelical Protestant Christian background (pages 164-166):
Both Remember the Titans and Save the Last Dance recognize that for those under twenty, intolerance is perhaps the number one sin... Such a life philosophy can have its limitations, but there is a lesson here for us all. We in the church too often organize our lives around models of exclusivity. We want our church to become multiracial, multicultural, and gender inclusive, yet our [Evangelical] churches continue to be the most segregated institutions in our land. Rather than help all people to dance again, we make the steps too complicated, limiting ourselves to only the "right" dancers. In the process the church's celebration of the Good News becomes anything but a joyous reunion of the whole family of God...
One disturbing aspect of the book Finding God in the Movies, which attempts to portray itself as representative of Christianity generally, is the inclusion of Chocolat (2000) on its select list of 33 movies. Chocolat is widely regarded by Catholics and film experts as one of the most blatantly anti-Catholic mainstream movies released in recent years. Robert Lockwood, author of Anti-Catholicism in American Culture observed that "Chocolat portrays the image of the [Catholic] Church as the great repressor." The authors of Finding God in the Movies write (page 306):
[page 166] U.S. society, from small town to large city, continues to struggle with racism. Many wonder, "Where are the Christians? Where is the church?" Our track record isn't great, and critics like to point out that currently Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. The filmmakers seem to be making a point along this line also. Think about Sara's friend at her old school praying for her first audition for Julliard (opening scenes) and then her phone call with Sara after she's moved to Chicago and is attending her new school [42:36-47:05]... How is this young Christian portrayed? Is she a sympathetic character? ...What can we "Christ ones" learn from [Sara's friend in Save the Last Dance] about how Christians are perceived by others regarding racism? How is Sara a better model for understanding those contexts and peole who are different from us?
Some Christian viewers [of Chocolat] have been put off by its portayal of the church. But we feel that the film is a great place to begin a conversation about the renewal of the church and the joy and freedom that come throug new life in Christ.
The movie Chocolat, as one-sided as it is, is less virulent in its anti-Catholicism than the book on which it was based. From Finding God in the Movies, page 300-301:
Some might ask, "Why is it that in fables like this [Chocolat] the church so often is portrayed as rigidly harsh?" Roger Ebert asked such a question in his otherwise favorable review of this movie. And viewers can criticize this movie for once again fallling prey to caricature. (It should be noted, however, that in the novel on which the film is based, the chief opponent to Vianne [the film's protagonist] is the pastor [the town's Catholic priest], not the mayor. Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs and Lasse Hallstrom, the director, have toned down the story's anticlerical [anti-Catholic] or antichurch bias.) But such a critique also shields us, disciples of Jesus and churchgoers, from what has been all too often the truth. Many of us can tell our own stories of rigid practices that have continued to be enforced in Christian communities long after they have lost their meaning. The disciplines of Lent can be wonderfully redemptive, but wooden practice kills the abundant life Christ can bring us.
From Finding God in the Movies, page 305:
The original novel was more simplistic in its attack of tradition, the church... etc. The novel was a great hit in England, but we felt it was very heavy-handed and shallow in its portrayal of villain and heroine. It felt as though the author had an ax to grind. This is one of those cases in which the screenplay and movie are better than the novel.
The book also expresses possibly anti-Catholic sentiments in its description of Native American author Sherman Alexie, the author of the 1998 film Smoke Signals (Finding God in the Movies, page 195):
Sherman Alexie didn't play in a church basketball league, but he did pay basketball regularly and even once went to a Christian basketball camp in the Northwest. He describes himself as growing up Catholic and being a recovering Catholic who's had to learn a lot about grace and forgiveness.
The word "Christian" in the paragraph above was apparently intended by the authors to mean "Evangelical." "Recovering Catholic" is a phrase usually used only by people who have rejected Catholicism and consider their Catholic upbringing something that was harmful or damaging to them, akin to alcoholism. The reference to having to "learn about a lot about grace" may be intended to suggest that Catholics don't believe sufficiently in grace, or believe insufficiently in Protestant creedal statements regarding grace. Finding God in the Movies notes that Sherman Alexie's wife has worked with Young Life, the decidedly non-Catholic interdenominational Protestant youth ministry which authors Barsotti and Johnston regularly teach courses for.
It may be difficult for some readers to look past the inclusion of Chocolat in this book, along with the Evangelical-run Fuller Theological Seminary's (now decreasing) reputation for anti-Catholicism. (Fuller is co-author Johnston's employer.) Yet overall, Finding God in the Movies seems to be inclusive, applicable to Christians generality (not just Evangelicals), and not at all overtly anti-Catholic.
The authors of Finding God in the Movies suggest that Gordon Matties' website at Canadian Mennonite University as their favorite movie theology website: www.cmu.ca/library/faithfilm.html
Movies Listed in Stephen Simon's
Source: Stephen Simon, The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives, Hampton Roads Publishing Company: Charlottesville, Virginia (2002).
The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives
Stephen Simon, the author of The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages that Inspire Our Lives, is a devoted adherent of New Age religion. An important spiritual mentor for Stephen Simon is Neale Donald Walsch, the author of the Conversations with God series of books.
From the back cover:
Movies are the most electrifying communications medium ever devised and the natural conduit of inspiring ourselves to look into the eternal issues of who we are and why we are here.
Extensive excerpts from this book, including most of Stephen Simon's introduction to the book, can be found here.
So says film executive Stephen Simon, producer of more than thirty films, including Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come. Simon illuminates for the first time, with humor, energy, and passion, the emerging category of Spiritual Cinema; a genre finally being recognized for what it is: a metaphoric pathway to explore such things as the nature of love, the meaning of life and death, the concept of time and space, the visions of our future.
Movies have become our windows to the universe. The sheer imaginative power of the screen has shaped the way humanity views itself, the world, and the cosmos. The increasing sophistication of the technology of cinema allows us to see images that reflect all that imagination can conjure up--from our greatest fears to our deepest desires. Spiritual Cinema asks the quesions plaguing us since humans first contemplated the heavens, and poses some answers as well.
Through his exploration of more than 70 movies that best represent the genre in all its aspects, Simon gives us his personal interpretation of these films and the extraordinary messages they embody.
Here is a wealth of inspiration, including the inside story behind the making of many films and the familiar names who participated in their making. This is a book that will break ground for the many visionary storytellers and filmmakers to come, and, most of all, their audiences.
|Reality and Time|
|The Matrix (1999)|
|The Thirteenth Floor [The 13th Floor] (1999)|
|A Beautiful Mind (2001)|
|Vanilla Sky (2001)|
|Mulholland Drive (2001)|
|Waking Life (2001)|
|Sliding Doors (1998)|
|Somethere in Time (1980)|
|Back to the Future (1985)|
|The Kid (2000)|
|2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)|
|Star Wars (1977)|
|The Neverending Story (1984)|
|Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)|
|Lost Horizon (1937)|
|Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)|
|Floods, Fires, Earthquakes, and Riots|
|The China Syndrome (1979)|
|The Terminator (1984)|
|Terminator 2: A Judgment Day (1991)|
|The Planet of the Apes (1968)|
|Deep Impact (1998)|
|THX 1138 (1970)|
|Soylent Green (1972)|
|A Clockwork Orange (1971)|
|The Postman (1997)|
|Life after Life|
|The Sixth Sense (1999)|
|What Dreams May Come (1998)|
|Heaven Can Wait (1978)|
|After Life (1999)|
|Field of Dreams (1989)|
|Jacob's Ladder (1990)|
(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) (1964)
|Oh, God! (1977)|
|Defending Your Life (1991)|
|Groundhog Day (1993)|
|Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)|
|Independence Day (1996)|
|E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)|
|Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)|
|Forbidden Planet (1956)|
|Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)|
|Enhanced Powers and Sensibilities|
|The Shadow (1994)|
|Altered States (1980)|
|Being There (1979)|
|The Truman Show (1998)|
|The Power of Love|
|Cast Away (2000)|
|Sleepless in Seattle (1993)|
|Forrest Gump (1994)|
|Family Man (2000)|
|It's a Wonderful Life (1946)|
Webpage created 1 September 2005. Last modified 2 November 2005.