5 Excellent Religious films (As Chosen by a Heathen)

By: Oberst Von Berauscht

Organized Religion fascinates me; throughout history it has been used for good and evil in equal proportions.  At its best religion presents a set of philosophical ideals to follow, establishing ways for society to cooperate without resorting to violence and anarchy.  At its worst it has been exploited as a means of subjugation and power.

Art has always been a major factor in religion, serving as a medium of communication to the masses, illustrating these ideals.

The Greeks for instance…

I’m not an Atheist.  The belief that there is no possibility of higher powers at work in the universe seems just as dogmatic an approach as believing in an invisible voyeur in the sky.  I also don’t think that religion, or spirituality should get in the way of appreciation of a great work of art…

(5.) A Man for All Seasons

Refusing to support King Henry VIII’s divorce so that he could remarry, Sir Thomas More was executed on trumped-up charges, becoming a martyr, (and eventually a saint) for the Catholic Church.

Fred Zinnemann’s 1966 film is a classic statement about righteousness.  Some may consider Thomas More a fool, or at least reckless for his steadfast refusal to compromise his beliefs.  Zinnemann allows this as a possible interpretation, while leaving it up to actor Paul Scofield to sell his earnestness.  The result is a tragic story of a complex and loving family man and devoted statesman condemned by fate.

And fabulousness…

(4.) The Night of the Hunter

$10,000 is hidden somewhere in the Harper home and the Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) knows it.  In an effort to discover the location, he woos and eventually marries the widow Willa Harper (Shelley Winters).  Following the wedding he becomes increasingly zealous, brainwashing his wife with a combination of religious fervor and brutality.  Upon his realization that her two children know the location of the money, he murders Willa and attempts to confront the children, who manage to escape, taking a row boat downriver.

If you haven’t seen The Night of the Hunter before, you’re probably wondering how this film made the list.  However, my synopsis describes only the first half of the film.  It is in the second half that the children meet Rachael Cooper (Lillian Gish), a deeply devout spinster who takes care of wayward children.  Ms. Cooper is the complete opposite of Powell, loving while he hates, brave while he is cowardly.

The story alone would solidify the film’s place in film history, but what takes it to the next level is art design, with surreal sets and unusual camera setups that heighten the tension of every scene, and serve to highlight Rev. Powell’s growing menace.  Moreover, Robert Mitchum’s performance ranks him as one of the all time greatest villains in film history.

“Pants-shittingly terrifying”, I think is a proper description…

(3.) A Serious Man

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a middle-aged Jewish family man living in a Jewish-dominated Minnesota town in 1967.  His wife asks him for divorce, his professional life is threatened by anonymous letters and a malicious bribery attempt, and health seems to be declining.  In amongst this, he seeks help from his Rabbis who offer little help.

*Spoilers* The Coen Brothers’s 2009 movie about a man besieged by bad luck is at first glance a strange choice.  However, in truth it is as religious a movie as anything else on my list.  Partly inspired by the Book of Job, the film’s protagonist deals with the age-old question of “why bad things happen to good people”.  In true Coen fashion, the movie makes no attempt to answer this question, instead choosing to film what might be the most ambiguous ending in movie history.  But then, that is sort of the point.  Uncertainty clouds all things, and Larry can’t deal with indeterminacy.

(2.) The Mission

Jeremy Irons is Father Gabriel, a compassionate Jesuit Priest who establishes a Mission among the Gaurani people in 1700’s South America.  Robert DeNiro is Rodrigo Mendoza, a reformed slave-hunter and mercenary seeking penitence.  When it is announced that the Mission is to be disbanded, and the Gaurani sold into slavery, Father Gabriel, Mendoza, and several other priests stay behind to defend their flock.

With a simple and universal story about standing up for one’s beliefs, The Mission could have easily been generic, and uninspired.  Roland Joffé’s film is buoyed by fantastic performances, beautiful cinematography and art direction, as well as one of the greatest film scores of all time from Ennio Morricone.

I suggest you listen to this whole piece, simply beautiful…

(1.) Gandhi

Filmmaker and Actor Sir Richard Attenborough spent nearly 20 years trying to get this film made, finally securing the financing in the early 80’s.  This Epic biopic focuses on the actions and activities of Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose crusade of nonviolent resistance was ultimately credited in the British government ceding home-rule to the people of India.

In recent years some critics have dismissed Gandhi as an incomplete picture of the leader’s history.  I’m wondering if these critics recall that the film begins with the following statement in quotations:

No man’s life can be encompassed in one telling. There is no way to give each year its allotted weight, to include each event, each person who helped to shape a lifetime. What can be done is to be faithful in spirit to the record and to try to find one’s way to the heart of the man…

Attenborough makes it clear that his focus was Gandhi’s heart, his soul.  He strays away from discussing details of Gandhi’s personal life, instead focusing on the activities that made him the spiritual leader of the nation.  Gandhi may have been a Hindu, but he believed strongly that all religions were valid that ultimately believed in peace.  This generous appraisal of religion, and his high opinion of what humanity could be capable of, made him accessible to people of all faiths.

The sequel was less successful

Is Oberst headed for eternal damnation?

What Religious movies do you enjoy?

Will Oberst be reincarnated as Amy Adam’s Lingerie, or Rush Limbaugh’s ‘baitin’ sock?

Leave a comment and let us know!

Also, check out these other fancy articles:

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5 Classic Conspiracy Thrillers they should Remake (And how Hollywood would ruin them)


About Oberst von Berauscht

Oberst Von Berauscht once retained the services of a Gypsy to imbue in him the ability to accurately describe the artistic qualities of a film up to seven decimal points. To maintain this unique skill, he must feast on the blood of a virgin every Harvest Moon, or failing that (and he usually does), he can also make a dog do that thing they do where they twist their heads slightly (you know, when they're confused about something) at least a few times a week. I've gotten way off track here... The point is, Oberst is one of the website's founders, so... yeah

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