Religion at the Academy Awards


As we bow to the golden statue called Oscar, devoting ourselves to the saintly thespians, joining in rituals of exaltation, and reading our sacred gossip columns, we might stop to ponder the continuing place of religious themes, topics, and tropes in the year's top movies, writes S Brent Plate in The Huffington Post.

We see it from bullet-riddled, bible-thumping slavers to chaos monsters at the depths of the bayou, from young boys mixing and merging South Asian rituals to moral compunctions about torture. This year's Oscar line-up is once again rife with religious references, and the entertainment industry may be overtaking religious institutions as the prime mythmakers and ritual producers in a society where the "nones" are on the rise.

The desire for some kind of redemption pulses through human life, while belief in the vehicles of that redemption -- grace, karma, or hard work -- is heavily exploited in Hollywood. The really bad guys deserve their place in the pit, but most wretches can still be saved. Commenting on his novel, "Les Miserables,"

Victor Hugo noted how the plot moves from "evil to good . . . from nothingness to God." But apparently the simplicity of that narrative arc is not enough to get contemporary audiences through the journey, so via Broadway, Hollywood adds music. Some show tunes and a few pretty faces help make the widows, orphans, and thieves bearable, paving our redemptive route.

But if the bad guys are ugly, in face and spirit, we might delight in a harsher justice. "Django Unchained" was, according to one prominent reviewer, a "narcotic and delirious pleasure." Quentin Tarantino's Blaxploitation-meets-spaghetti-western raises questions about the role of violence, and the place of religion in the creation of this nation. (For that matter, so did Lincoln.)

Two scenes bring this into the religious realm. One occurs early on when a slaver carries around a Bible and a whip, misquoting some choice passages about God's justice. Several pages of a Bible are stuck to his body when Django (Jamie Foxx) shoots him. The page over his heart, a "breastplate of righteousness" (see Isaiah 59.17), becomes a target for a bullet.

The corollary scene comes toward the end, when Django begins some serious retribution. Cued up is John Legend's neo-soul song, "Who did that to you?" As Django prepares to unload bullets into slavers' bodies, Legend's lyrics remind us that vengeance is the Lord's but "I'ma do it first," since "my judgment's divine."

The implications are clear: Django embodies God's vengeance. And as the Brittle brothers topple, Django proclaims, "I like the way you die, boy," a statement that becomes the narcotic, delirious cry of the audience as well.

FULL STORY Religion at the Academy Awards (Huffington Post)

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