The Many Faces of God Throughout Popular Cinema
By Rebecca Muh
With the members of the clergy aside, those few who study ancient scrolls and the Bible, our modern society’s main source of religious reflection is through story, and more specifically visual media.
God is no longer a mysterious force written about in dead languages. God has swagger. God has a theme song. To counter Friedrich Nietzsche, God isn’t dead. He’s a star.
KoldCast TV’s epic series Mythos exposes the identity of God through an ensemble of characters that represent a combination of deities from ancient civilization. These gods, taking on human form, live in modern society, coping with their diminishing powers in a world that has long forgotten them. In Mythos, God is not only the literal father of a group of misled deities, but also a man with pride and self-glorification.
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The various lifestyles of Gods living among us.
Episode 2 of Mythos
We compiled a list of the different faces of God, literally and metaphorically, that have appeared throughout notable films, which we think represent God’s different roles in the lives of modern men, especially when his – or its, or her – temperament isn’t too far off from our own.
Signs and Omens: Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
The first film in Ingmar Bergman’s brilliant chamber trilogy, Through A Glass Darkly, represents the image of God as a large, black spider. Not terribly flattering, but significant. Karin, a woman suffering from mental illness, begins to hear God whispering to her through the wallpaper of her family’s vacation home. These prophetic voices both worry and entice her as tension rises with her estranged and self-interested father who is a successful author, her naïve but loving younger brother, and Karin’s increasingly hopeless father. A crescendo of divine light crashes through Karin as the dark spider finally reveals itself – or was it just a tragic mental breakdown? The audience is left to decide. Karin’s only comment after her divine revelation was that God is cold and calm.
The Old Man: Oh God! (1977)
Who, other than George Burns could have ever played the first major human incarnation of God? He arrives unannounced into the life of Jerry, a simple supermarket manager who lives in a world where faith in God is dwindling. This kind, wisecracking old man is in need of a son to be his messenger to the world and Jerry is his guy. The similarity in name to God’s other son shouldn’t be lost on anyone here. Knowing the public’s faith in him may be gone, God stands strong and still cares for his people, acting as Jerry’s shriveled old cheerleader and in line with the Old Testament. In the touching climatic speech given by old George to Jerry and a courtroom of cynics, he remarks, “If its hard to have faith in me, maybe it will help to know that I have faith in you.”
God Grows a Beard:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1979)
With the triumph of secularism following the social rebellion of the sixties, it was only a matter of time until God would be frequently anthropomorphized in the movies. His image was now more of a mirror than a blurred conception. We’ll have to put off the debate on whether or not this constituted idolatry, but no one would argue with how memorable the animated, orange-eyed, crown bejeweled, bearded head floating through the clouds in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was. The British Arthurian parody, far from portraying God as a symbol of fear, created an impatient and irritable old man, much like an annoyed father figure trying to help humanity despite their stupidity. In this case, King Arthur’s inability to honorably and successfully fulfill his mission and retrieve the Holy Grail was cause for the beard’s chagrin.
The Voice: Field of Dreams (1989)
Moving even further away from fear and glorification, but also pulling back from poking fun at the almighty, there was still a need for the loving, guiding hand of God. The message in Field of Dreams was that although people still have a desperate yearning for a higher power and purpose, especially when life turns dark. The movie famously reveals not the face, but the strong, reassuring voice of God, who whispers, “if you build it, they will come.” Ray, a nearly bankrupt farmer, first hears the voice in his cornfields, leading him to transform them into a baseball field against all practical economic wisdom. God acts as his guide and comforting friend, fulfilling not only Ray’s need for a miracle but also the needs of baseball history’s lost spirits.
He’s a She: Dogma (1999)
If Hatshepsut can get away with acting as Pharaoh by sporting a beard on her delicate face, surely Alanis Morissette can play God at the height of her success! In the Ben Affleck & Matt Damon starrer Dogma, Alanis swoops in to save the day with her outstretched arm way out of her pocket, when the two (playing fallen angels Bartleby and Loki) nearly destroy the world. She is a calm, bright, and noticeably mute beauty that holds the innocence of the world in her eyes. As curious as a newborn baby, but with the knowledge of immortality, Alanis’ God prances around like a playground friend, spending her screen time attempting handstands amidst the rubble of a church garden.
The Energy Force: Final Fantasy, The Spirits Within (2001)
Living in an interconnected culture now dependent on the Internet, it’s not surprising that the depiction of God has been folded into our macrocosm conceptions of the world. Fusing technology with mysticism, the animated 3D feature, Final Fantasy, The Spirits Within, gives us God via the Gaia principle. Aki, a scientist infected by an alien life form much like a virus that has ravaged Earth, desperately seeks out seven spirits to help restore the Gaia, or self-regulating life energy of the planet. Hardened by logic and science, the opposing council launches a nuclear missile (ironically named Zeus) to destroy Earth. God is portrayed not as the controlling hand of fate, but as an integral part of humanity that, in fact, can only be saved by man.
An Ordinary Guy: Bruce Almighty (2003)
Narrator of all movies Morgan Freeman plays God in this comedy. He’s an average black man sporting a snappy white suit who collects his prayers in a filing cabinet. Bruce, a disgruntled reporter, encounters God after “firing” him following a spell of bad luck. To teach him a lesson, Freeman grants Bruce his almighty powers. It’s only then that Bruce begins to appreciate the simplicity in just living life and seeing the value in what he already possesses – being happy with one’s lot, in Biblical terms.
As movie magic continues to explore new ways of interpreting our conceptions of God, humanity inches closer to understanding life’s complexities. KoldCast TV’s Mythos continues the journey by examining not just one but several godly incarnations living in our world, among us. And they’re closer to humanity than ever before, flaws included.
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War is coming… from the heavens.
Episode 4 of Mythos
Rebecca Muh was dragged back to Los Angeles by her heels after a glorious four year run at New York University. Making the most of the loneliest city on earth, she is always on the search for fairy rings and a secret portal to transport her to the end of the world. Be the first to follow Rebecca on her tumblr, Manifest.