Samuel Brace with four reasons there are so few great films about God and the Bible…
There have been successes, as there are in all genres and sections of film. Films like The Passion of the Christ, while overtly violent and skewed in its biases, is a fantastically made product that is undoubtedly effective. Last Days in the Desert, is a movie beautifully melodic and meditative. Whether you believe Jesus was the son of god, or the messiah, of if you don’t believe in God at all, that does not change the fact that this is an excellent motion picture. The Ten Commandments is a classic, Exodus: Gods and Kings has its virtues, at least in conveying the key message of faith in the intangible. But the list of great biblical and godly movies is small.
It’s a shame, it’s a damn shame, as the bible contains within it some of the greatest stories ever told. The accounts inside can make for amazing movies. Not just the familiar tales of Noah, Moses and the New Testaments’ Jesus, but the journey of Abraham, of Jacob and Joseph, and of the Tower of Babel. The mind cannot help but imagine what cinematic wonders could be conjured from this text if done in the right way. Forget the hero worship of today’s superheroes, the inspiration at hand here isn’t even comparable. Men likes Moses were not perfect; they had flaws, flaws more significant than the alcoholism of a Tony Stark. But this is what makes these biblical accounts so impactful. This is why we need them. But then why are so few great films made about God and The Bible?
1) The people making movies, especially today, don’t believe in God.
The world is becoming a more secular place — at least in the public square. Faith in something other than man is seen more and more as something to ridicule, and Hollywood itself may be one of the most secular places of all. This is not great, particularly with regards to creating films about faith. Of course it can be done and has been done. You don’t need to be a woman to make a film about women, or a solider to make a film about war. But understanding what you are not is crucial in getting that thing right. And faith/religion is a way more complicated concept to grasp, therefore a non believer trying to portray Noah’s plight during the deluge can consequently become tricky. If one doesn’t understand the story — the message of balancing individualism and collectivism, and of Gods vision for the world — how can one craft a movie worthy of the tale, or even worthy of watching at all. It’s difficult. Not impossible but it is difficult. That much is demonstrable.
2) There has historically been huge backlash against being creative with The Bible.
The Bible, for many, is seen as up for interpretation. To some the accounts should be taken at their word. To others the stories contained within are more like metaphors, messages to help one better understand the world around them. When something is interpretable however, people will inevitably interpret it differently. This can lead to problems. People also, inevitably, bring their own personal baggage to bear when making a movie. Every creator puts large amounts of themselves into their work. This for some, especially for a work as sacred as the Bible, can be a problem. When Mel Gibson brought his own personal biases to the table with The Passion of the Christ, as pertaining to his view on Jews, this inevitably ticked people off. More recently, when Last Days in the Desert portrayed to some Jesus’ dialogue with God as more like whispers in the wind — as voices in his head — it didn’t go down so well. But whatever your personal beliefs or stances, film is a creative endeavour and one should be able to appreciate that and not stifle creativity because one does not like the interpretation. This has not historically been the case however. So therefore the creative minded have more often than not stayed away from bringing God to film.
3) Controversial films are hard to get made, and particularly in recent times, the bible is seen as controversial.
Film, like everything else, has changed over time. Audiences were perhaps more receptive to controversy in the 70’s and 80’s than they were in the 50’s and in today’s environment. Audiences of 2016 and the preceding decade don’t really go to the cinema to be challenged anymore. They know what they like and that’s what they want. This is true outside of movies as well. People like their bubbles and piercing that bubble with new ideas is a big no no. This provides quite the hindrance when it comes to religion, the bible and creating films based on such things. As our society moves further away from God and towards secularism, the teaching of religion has come to be perceived as more out there and controversial. People like to be agreed with and surround themselves with the likeminded. The Bible does not provide that comfort to many of today’s audiences. It challenges them and in many cases upsets them — rightly or wrongly. So to make a film comprised of such challenging and controversial material, based on values many see to be irrelevant, is therefore incredibly difficult. Film is all about making money. If you don’t make money, you won’t get to make any more films. Risk taking is not one of Hollywood’s finest traits, which is why we don’t get many movies about God and even less good ones.
4) The Bible’s words are meant for all ages but the stories are often adult in nature.
Obviously to the religious, the teachings of God are for all, little and tall, but The Bible contains many accounts and ideas that are difficult to understand — even for adults. It also depicts a violent world of struggle and sometimes of cruelty. Things were a little different in 1300 BCE than they are today. Therefore bringing some of these stories to the big screen can be difficult when wanting to attract all ages. To tell the story of the Exodus or Sodom and Gomorra in full, means making a film not suitable for kids, a film only for adults. This is the problem. There are excellent faith based films with a more family friendly spin on events, especially from decades past, but to go further than that requires a more grown up audience. That is something in 2016 that we do not have. Adult films don’t get made anymore; film today is for kids and for man-kids. We all love a good harmless yarn, to be transported away by a film that makes us feel young again, but this is almost the entirety of major motion pictures today. Adults are more likely to stay at home and watch TV now. Kids, when they do go to the cinema, go to watch Marvel movies. The audience for a visceral tale of God and freedom is just not there anymore. And if the audience isn’t perceived as being there, the film will in turn not get made, and the ones that do, turn out how they have.
So when the film makers don’t believe, and creators are afraid just like the risk fearing Hollywood — a Hollywood that has lost vast swaths of its adult minded audience — it’s no wonder these films are suffering in both quality and quantity. It is a shame, but times do change, so perhaps this can as well. Perhaps The Bible and God is better meant for television in today’s age. Perhaps the quality sought just needs a new home, along with someone ready to produce it.