Movies that move your spirit

gopnik-roofjpg-c8c41bc18dfb8343If your holiday plans include seeing a recent movie, you’ve got a wide range of spiritually themed films to choose from, according to Robert W. Butler of the Kansas City Star.

Call it religion. Or if that makes you uncomfortable, go with the more general “spirituality.”

Whatever you call it, it’s everywhere at the multiplex these days.

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.

Butler asks Greg Wright, an editor at, to explain why there are so many spiritual movies.

“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.”

Butler also quotes Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. See sees the new animated version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as a timely reminder that riches offer no salvation. And she believes “Up in the Air” is a modern “Christmas Carol.”

And Mark Moring of Christianity Today is quoted on “The Blind Side,” the most evangelical of the new films (and the one that shows the continuing box office power of evangelical believers, especially a large African-American audience that appreciates respect for faith).

Butler doesn’t offer interpretations of the films’ theology. There’s no room in a story that also mentions “The Road,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Invention Of Lying,” “The Book Of Eli,” “Legion,” “The Last Station” and my top film of the year, “A Serious Man.”

Meanwhile, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times offered this reading of “Avatar,” going so far as to say that this is the film that perfectly expresses the vague, default religious faith of Hollywood in recent decades:

“Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

Apparently multiple gospels are available at the multiplex. Happy generic holidays, indeed!

PHOTO: From “A Serious Man.”

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  • Greg Wright

    The more proper name for what Butler is talking about in movies is the “metaphysical” — and that’s not always connected with religion, or spirituality for that matter. It’s just that which transcends the merely physical, the very abstract sense that there’s more to life than what we see.

    Typically, public interest in the metaphysical rises in proportion to public dissatisfaction with their material lives. Naturally, then, aside from genre holdouts like horror, the late 80s and virtually all of the 90s was dominated by materially-oriented films. With post-9/11 fears and a virulent recession, interest in the metaphysical is up. As prosperity returns, I would expect that interest to decline.

  • Gregory Sams

    Funny to pitch something that pre-dates Christianity as the current vogue in Hollywood. The term may not have been coined, but Pantheism and its close cousin Animism go way back.
    Pantheism begins to make rational sense once you fit a big missing piece back into the cosmic jigsaw puzzle. This is the conscious Sun, something intuitively recognized by every culture until the Church, not science, forcibly erased it. What brings life to our bodies is energy. Stars make their own energy fields as they release the light of life to the likes of us. Everything from an atom upwards has an energy field. Dive deeper at