As spiritual films bring in the bucks, Hollywood gets more religious
It's everywhere at the multiplex these days: religion. Or if that word makes you uncomfortable, you can go with the more general "spirituality."
In movies as varied as the dead serious "The Road," the uplifting family picture "The Blind Side," the biting comedy "The Invention of Lying" and even James Cameron's sci-fi opus "Avatar," issues of faith and morality and mankind's place in the universe are all the rage.
Not all of these movies embrace religion. Some question human gullibility. Some ask for evidence of a higher purpose in what often seems a random universe. But whether they encourage prayer or doubt, they're all part of the zeitgeist.
But why now?
"There are two schools of thought about that," said Greg Wright, an editor at HollywoodJesus.com, which examines popular culture from a religious perspective.
"The more paranoid elements of our culture tend to think Hollywood has a proactive agenda, that producers have a grand scheme to use movies to shape the thinking of audiences. I don't subscribe to that school.
"I believe that Hollywood gives audiences what audiences want to see. If people don't want to see movies with certain messages, they won't buy tickets.
"So if there's a trend out there, it's one reflecting what people are already thinking and feeling," Wright said.
And what are we thinking?
Sister Rose Pacatte, who reviews movies for the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles, said it isn't mere coincidence that a new animated version of Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" came along in 2009. The film was released in the wake of an economic crisis fueled by greedy self-interest on an unprecedented scale, she said.
"Being a good man of business will not save your soul. That's an essential message of 'A Christmas Carol' and one emphasized by this version," she said.
Dickens's tale may have little to say about God and Jesus, but it stresses charity and the dangers of poverty and ignorance, she said.