A Philosophical Examination of Religion in Film
From the classic films of Ingmar Bergman to contemporary Hollywood, cinema has a tendency to portray religion and religious practitioners unfavourably. Weak-minded piety, perverse inflexibility and blind fanaticism are some of the characteristics that have been attributed to religion and religious believers by filmmakers. Indeed, it is rare to come across a religious character in a film who is not in some way socially inadequate or deluded. For the perceptive, if conservative, Michael Medved, ‘Whenever someone turns up in a contemporary film with the title “Reverend,” “Father,” or “Rabbi” in front of his name you can count on the fact that he will turn out to be corrupt or crazy-or probably both’. In this paper I use Medved’s controversial examination of religion in film and the far removed but equally contentious ‘Wittgensteinian’ critical approach to religious discourse to examine the nature of filmmakers’ portrayals of spiritual traditions and the lives of those who practise them. I show the importance such approaches can have in the way we think about what is said within artistic contexts, and how this relates to the notions of ‘seriousness’ and ‘depth’ when contemplating the place of religion in film.