Three Movies Examine Our Struggle to Understand God
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 2:59 pm
Three new and very different movies have one thing in common — they all ask their characters and their audiences to think about the nature of God and faith. This week we have a perky romantic comedy with Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner called “The Invention of Lying.” As the title suggests, it is about a world in which everyone tells the literal, concrete truth all the time. And then one man figures out that he can lie, and that since no one else is aware that lies even exist, he can pretty much get away with everything. Since no one lies, everyone is completely gullible. So much is clear from the trailers. But Entertainment Weekly reports that there is a more controversial element to the film and that one of the “lies” the Gervais character comes up with is the idea of God.
Gervais, who also co-wrote and directed the film, has responded to concerns from bloggers.
1. No one has seen the film.
2. Even if the film suggests there is no God, it is a fictional world. One of my favourite films is ‘It’s a wonderful life’ and at no time am I offended by the suggestion in this wonderful work of fiction that there is a God.
3. If the film was not set in a fictional world and suggested there is no God then that’s fine too, as it is anyone’s right not to believe in God.
4. By suggesting there is no God you are not singling out Christianity.
5. Not believing in God cannot be blasphemous. Blasphemy is acknowledging a God to insult or offend etc.
6. Even if it was blasphemous, which it isn’t, then that’s OK too due to a little god I like called “freedom of speech.” That said, I am not trying to offend anyone. That would be a waste of such a privilege.
7. I am an atheist, but this is not atheist propaganda. When creating an imaginary world you have to make certain decisions. We decided also that there would be no surrealist art, no racism, no flattery, no fiction, no metaphor, and no supernatural. However, we decided that apart from that one “lying gene”, humans evolved with everything else as we have it today. Joy, hope, ambition, ruthlessness, greed, lust, anger, jealousy, sadness, and grief. It’s just a film. If any of the themes in it offend you or bore you, or just don’t make sense to you, you should put everything right when you make a film.
I really hope everyone enjoys the film and keeps an open mind. I believe in peace on Earth, and good will to all men. I do as I would be done by, and believe that forgiveness is one of the greatest virtues. I just don’t believe I will be rewarded for it in heaven. That’s all.
I have a different take, which I will discuss in my upcoming review.
Perhaps an even more unexpected place for a discussion of God and faith than a comedy is in Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore is well-known for his attacks on the Bush administration (“Farenheit 911”), insurance companies (“Sicko”), and our treatment of guns and violence (“Bowling for Columbine”). In this new film, he takes on the financial crisis. His argument turns out to be based not as much in economics as in his own Catholic faith. He even interviews the priest who performed his wedding ceremony to help make his point that the current system is not just bad policy; it is not WWJD. The media often creates the impression that faith-based politics are right-wing and it is provocative and refreshing to see a different point of view.
And then there is a movie that is going to be difficult to put in any category, because it is the new film from the Coen brothers, who are masters of genre — both evoking and transcending them. According to the New York Times, their new film “A Serious Man” “is both a Job-like parable of Jewish angst in a 1960s Midwestern suburb and a bleakly antic meditation on divine intent, the certainty of uncertainty and the mysteries of Jefferson Airplane lyrics.
The film’s central character is a scientist who seeks the advice of three rabbis to help him find meaning and purpose. That makes this film unusual in two respects — the portrayal of Jewish theology and the portrayal of clergy as a place to go for guidance.
And I am glad to see movies providing some guidance as well, by engaging us in very different ways about issues so profound and pervasive that it is only through a variety of approaches we can begin to understand what we believe.