Let there be Lights, Camera, Action!

W.H. Auden once said “Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.” I feel the same way about movies. For every Snowpiercer that I enjoy watching, there are about four John Hughes or Wes Anderson films that I love with a capital L. Seeing as this is not a blog for movie lovers, I wanted to share five films about religion that make me laugh. Some had been banned in certain countries, some had been protested, and some bombed at the box office. But all of them made me laugh at loud. Please feel free to reply to this post your favorite movies about religion- especially ones not mentioned- in the comments section. These are not in any particular order because it is impolite to rank them- like my children.

  1. The Life of Brian

Two words should make you watch this movie: Monty Python. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian tells the story of a man who is born in the stable next door to the manger that Jesus was born in, confusing the Wise Men. It then follows Brian’s life as he joins a movement to stop the Roman occupation of his homeland. Confusion ensues when everything Brian does is hailed as a miracle but Brian has trouble convincing his loyal following that he is not the messiah they should follow.

Line from the movie: “What Jesus fails to appreciate is that it’s the meek who are the problem.”

  1. Defending Your Life

Okay, technically not a movie about religion but it is about the afterlife and I am pretty sure it’s only religious people who believe in that. Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep play recently deceased people who have gone on to “Judgment City” in which they are put in a pseudo-trial situation and the outcome is based on the amount of bravery one displayed in life. If deemed worthy, the person moves on (to where, we never truly find out). If not, they are sent back to earth to try again. Watch this movie  for the scene when they visit the “Past Life Pavilion,” a place that shows them who they were in former lives.

Line from the movie: “Actually, there is no Hell. Although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close.”

  1. Dogma

The cast in this movie is amazing. A cardinal (played by George Carlin) while devising new marketing schemes for the Catholic Church such as “Buddy Jesus” has blessed a doorway in his church so that anyone who passes through it is absolved of sins and can therefore enter heaven. When two fallen angels (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) who have been banished to earth hear about this, Affleck’s character decides he wants to pass through the door, thus freeing him and his fellow angel from a life in Wisconsin. But if they do so, it negates God’s omnipotence and therefore would negate mankind and bring about Armageddon. Bethany (Linda Fiorentino), an abortion clinic worker with a special lineage, must stop this with the help of certain entities close to God (among her help: Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, and Selma Hayek). And where was God in all this- why wasn’t he stopping these angels from getting to the church? You have to watch to find God.

Line form the movie: “You people. If there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing, is it?”

Bonus feature: Kevin Smith, who wrote and directed Dogma, once joined people protesting the movie and was even interviewed by a television station. See the footage here.

  1. The Invention of Lying

I am not sure how Ricky Gervais- who co-wrote and co-directed this movie- would feel being on this list, being an atheist and all. But this movie touches on an important religious aspect: when it comes to religion, should you follow someone blindly? In the movie, the world is made up of people who have never learned to lie, until Gervais’ character Mark does. He is overheard telling his mom a lie to make her feel better at a particularly tough time and because no one has ever lied, people think it is true and start submitting to his philosophies without questioning where any of his wisdom is coming from.

Line from the movie: “Just because he’s talking to the man in the sky doesn’t mean he’s good enough to be your friend.”

  1. Bruce Almighty

Bruce, played by the always understated Jim Carrey, curses God because of his lot in life. God, played by Morgan Freeman (who already possesses the voice of God) gives Bruce access to his powers, warning him that he could control everything but people’s free will. Bruce learns that with great power comes great responsibility and then he starts to shoot webs from his wrist…wait, wrong movie. Bruce Almighty tackles the issue of choices and decisions that we humans make and how it is not for God to come in to solve our problems.

Line from the movie: “’The gloves are off, God.’, ‘God has taken my bird and my bush.’, ‘God is a mean kid with a magnifying glass.’, ‘Smite me, O Mighty Smiter.’ Now, I’m not big on blasphemy, but that last one made me laugh.”

I am not offended by movies that portray God in new and unique ways. If I think the movie goes too far, I simply turn it off and walk away. But if the movie is insightful and funny I think of Plato’s quote, “Even the gods love jokes.”

Or as Mel Brooks put it:

Bonus: I have a television show that is not about religion but reminds me of the Book of Job. Have you ever seen An Idiot Abroad? Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have a friend named Karl who seems at his happiest (if he has a happiest) sitting in a pub with mates, enjoying a beer. But Ricky and Stephen make Karl travel around the world and see amazing things all in the name of our entertainment. Stephen is sort of an optimist, someone who truly wants Karl to relish these amazing experiences. So, I guess he is the god-like figure before things go south. Ricky is like the little devil in the story, wondering if Karl should get another boil added to his skin. A great show for anyone who loves travels and is okay with seeing someone in some very uncomfortable situations. I realize this is a bit of a stretch for a post about religious movies but the image of Stephen and Ricky as an angel and devil on Karl’s shoulder is too hard to resist.

Line from the show: “Nothing is funnier than Karl in a corner being poked by a stick. I am that stick.”

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