A Creeping Religious Symbolism in Modern Film

A Creeping Religious Symbolism in Modern Film October 2, 2016

I first really noticed this when I was watching I am Legend  a number of years ago, when it came out. Towards the end of the film, the woman, escaping from the chaos in a car, hds a crucifix hanging from her rearview mirror. Nothing is placed by accident, set-wise, in films. Every piece of set-dressing has meaning and was placed for a reason. This spiritual guidance in the car was then ratified when she finally got to the safe place: a village with huge gates to defend it. When the gates opened, as I remember the film, what was waiting for her behind them? Well, the first building you saw was a gleaming white church.

The vast majority of viewers, certainly in the UK where religion is largely irrelevant or nominal, will not notice these things. I, as a philosopher of religion, am hyper-sensitive to religious symbolism and iconography. And it happens all over the shop these days. It appears to me that film-makers are coining in on the huge religious audiences that exist, particularly in the States, making connections (however subtle they may be) with sections of the audience. I watched A Walk Among The Tombstones recently (with Liam Neeson), where the hero of the action story overcomes alcoholism, and repeats the religious mantras of AA at the end of the movie, like some massive advert for AA and its religiously inspired salvation. And the other day it was 999 where Casey Affleck, the only straight cop in a story full of bent cops, happens to wear a crucifix and have massive crucifixes hanging up at home, on his walls.

casey affleck

There seems to be an infiltration of this simple idea that identifying with religion makes a character, a priori, good.

Some films just have subtle nods here and there. Others are blatantly in your face (Book of Eli, anyone?). And many sci-fi and superhero movies are claimed to have religious themes undergirding their construction, from Superman: Man of Steel to The Matrix.

However, for me, it’s not the thematic things that get me, it’s the huge proliferation of subtly placed religious iconography that is annoying, or at the very least gets me wondering “why!?”

So, hit me with examples, if you will. Let’s list, in the comments, films that tip their hats, in some way, to religion.


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