Collin Boots | March Madness-Christian Movie Edition

The Devil’s Advocate | Spoiler Alert: Christian movies still sell, no matter how bad they are

· April 16, 2014, 9:21 pm   ·  Updated April 17, 2014, 7:56 pm

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Just in March, three Christianity inspired big screen movies saw their theatrical debut: Noah, Son of God, and God is Not Dead.  These films span the spectrum of quality and audience, so I thought it might be interesting to cross-examine them as examples of modern religion inspired films.

Noah comes in first place at the box office, topping $44 million in domestic ticket sales. Boasting a star studded cast featuring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins, Noah comes off as a well polished epic disaster film and has received generally favorable review from audiences.

Despite its namesake’s religious roots, Noah hardly deserves classification as religious film. The film’s director Darren Aronofsky rightly described Noah as “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” While Noah takes its inspiration from Genesis, the film is much closer to an environmental disaster film like The Day After Tomorrow.

I personally don’t care for natural disaster films, but to me Noah represents a desirable future direction for Hollywood. I eagerly await the day when the fables of the Bible become rich soil for idea starved filmmakers searching for blockbuster epics. Why not put Samson and David in the same category as Thor, Hercules and other characters of old mythologies?

Not everyone is of the same opinion, however. Indonesia, Qatar and other predominantly Muslim countries banned the film outright merely for depicting a prophet.

Noah has been almost universally decried in the United States by the religious right (mostly for the common movie critique that it didn’t follow the book), even after Paramount added a disclaimer to all promotional material stating that “artistic license has been taken” and “the biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis called it an “unbiblical, pagan film” that makes the story of Noah seem unrealistic and implausible. Glenn Beck said “it was strongly anti-human” (as opposed to the original story where God decided mankind was so wicked they warranted global genocide).

In contrast, Son of God, a film adaptation of the History Channel’s miniseries The Bible, was well-received by evangelical audiences. Son of God merits mention only because it proves the Christian audiences are still willing to pay to see yet another telling of the Jesus story which never deviates from the 2nd grade Sunday school harmonization. While it didn’t reach Passion of the Christ’s $41.5 million opening weekend take, Son of God did make over half that despite having nothing novel to offer its target audience of dedicated believers.

But when it comes to pandering to an evangelical Christian audience, Son of God must stand in awe of the last film on my list.

God is Not Dead is essentially the film adaptation of every evangelical email forward ever written crammed into a single movie overflowing with subplots, stereotypes, and clichés. The main plot follows Christian college freshman Josh Wheaton as he braves the infamous Professor Radissons’ Philosophy 150, which a fellow student compares to Christians being eaten by lions in the Colosseum. The comparison is not made lightly; the filmmakers genuinely want to equate the faith of students being challenged in academia to martyrdom. The movie is a paradigmatic example of evangelicals fetishizing persecution.

The film presents a bizzaro world where atheists are spiteful, unfeeling monsters who really believe in God but just hate him too much to acknowledge the fact.  The most unsettling scene is the climax. The two Christian pastor role models of this world see Radisson get hit by a truck, but instead of calling an ambulance they set about saving his soul with all the earnestness of a spiritual EMT. His deathroad acceptance of Jesus is supposed to the happy ending.

God is Not Dead is an affront to logic, philosophy professors, atheists, Muslims and the intelligence of Christians. It should be terrifying to all thinking people that the film grossed $9.2 million on opening weekend despite only opening in 780 theaters nationwide.

The overwhelming success of Noah gives me hope that our culture is moving in the right direction, but I fear this month has only proved how far we have to travel.

Collin Boots is a master's student studying robots from Redwood Falls, Minn. Email him at cboots@seas.upenn.edu. or follow him @LotofTinyRobots. 

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