Ever since the dawn of humanity, religion has played a monumental role in the cultural evolution of our species. We’ve still got the words “In God We Trust” on our currency, for chrissakes. And while I generally refrain from discussing religion in public forums, suffice it say that whether you’re Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or Asatruic, many of us need something to believe in during our inadvertently soul-crushing existence. Faith is important.
And ever since the dawn of drawing pictures on walls with sticks, we puny humans have been churning out some pretty gnarly stories about our respective beliefs. Stories about all-powerful Hide-and-Seek Specialists that could destroy the shit out of us on a whim, but would settle for occasional live sacrifices because god stuff. (Unless they’re just joshing around. Gods are a fickle folk.) These stories often took the form of life lessons attempting to explain natural phenomena, but somewhere along the line, entrepreneurial tale-tellers started augmenting their source material for the masses. Fast-forward to the age of modern cinema, where screenwriters are free to craft entire narratives around subjects that were absurdly taboo just a century ago.
The end result? Hundreds—maybe thousands—of movies that address religion from myriad angles, and many of them are pretty damn fascinating. I enjoy identifying with writers’ script-ual material, and as a man whose own beliefs are in constant flux, I like watching imaginary characters struggle with their inner demons—figurative or otherwise. (I just high-fived myself for that pun up there, by the way. Which ended up being a lonely clap.)
So let’s take a trip to some alternate universes for a while. Plenty of flicks out there contain various portrayals of various deities, and it sure would be interesting to live in a world where…
1) Gods are even more bloodthirsty than humans (Immortals)
OK, let’s start with the movie I’ve seen most recently. We’re all familiar with Greek mythology (Zeus, Athena, Hades, etc.), but in the world of Immortals, being a god doesn’t seem nearly as awesome as Disney would have you believe. At the beginning of the film, we’re told that long before humans were ever in the picture, immortal beings in the heavens “discovered they had the power to kill one other.” Instead of reacting to this presumably alarming information with sentiments like, “Whoa, maybe we should be more careful with pointy objects when we play Capture the Flag,” the general consensus went something like, “Oh, so we can kill each other? Let’s start doing that.” No other explanation is given in the movie for the gods’ abrupt bout of violence, either (though this particular war is loosely based on the Titanomachy); they just seem to enjoy the novelty of mercilessly slaughtering each other.
And boy oh boy, did the Titans get the short end of the stick when they lost the war. Instead of killing them outright, Zeus & Co. imprisoned them forever in a cage in the middle of a mountain. If you think time-outs were rough in grade school, try standing in place for eternity with the worst case of dry mouth this side of Mt. Olympus.
“Why kill these incredibly deadly warriors when we can just wait for them to exact bloody revenge a few thousand years from now?”
This form of imprisonment is more than a little cruel, but my question is this: why on earth did they deliberately create a scenario where the Titans could escape to begin with? (Which they totally do.) Particularly once mortal humans were in the mix? Furthermore, Zeus explicitly decrees to his fellow gods and goddesses that they cannot interfere with mortal affairs (at least not as deities) unless King Hyperion succeeds in releasing the Titans, which seems pretty dumb considering how inevitable it was that this precise thing was going to happen.
The film hardly has a happy ending, either. Once the Titans get loose, the gods sort of get their asses handed to them, and the battle inexplicably migrates to the sky. This vision of the future is the last thing we see before the closing credits:
The protagonist of the movie, Theseus, doesn’t really believe in the gods at first, but I wouldn’t be super pumped about religion either if the deities I prayed to were at war all the goddamn time.
2) The superheroes we revere today might be the same gods our ancestors used to worship (Hancock)
I haven’t seen this movie in years, but I remember walking away from it thinking, “Man, this thing just had so much potential. What happened?” Luckily, this article isn’t about kickass movie premises taking a nosedive, so I don’t have to dwell too long on what could have been my favorite Will Smith movie ever.
About three-quarters through, though, we discover some interesting (albeit confusing) information about Hancock’s origins: a) he’s immortal, b) his kind was created in pairs, and c) some cultures knew them as “gods and angels.”
Anyway, if you stop and think about that last part, it’s technically possible/probable that Christianity was based off Hancock’s kin, or even Hancock himself. Can you imagine how disillusioning it would be to discover this fact as a contemporary believer?
3) If there is a God, He’s not the one who created us (Prometheus)
To be honest, I might be more entertained by this movie’s premise than the actual movie itself. We’ve been trying to uncover our genetic origins for millennia, and in Prometheus, that dream is finally realized. In this (only slightly alternate) universe, humans were planted here on Earth by humanoid “Engineers.” If you’re familiar with the concept of Intelligent Design, the Engineers essentially operate as God-the-Divine-Watchmaker; that is, setting the gears of life in motion and stepping back to let them manifest on their own.
What’s so mind-blowing to me is how this information—once proven and publicly announced—would single-handedly dismantle every single deity-based religion on planet Earth since the beginning of time. There’s just no way around it. (For an interesting read that delves deeper into the movie’s religious undertones, try this on for size.)
4) God and the Devil are really into high-stakes gambling (Constantine)
Say what you will about Keanu Reeves, but I actually liked this movie overall. In it, God and Lucifer are smack dab in the middle of a proxy war; that is, a “standing bet for the souls of all mankind.” Why? Who knows, but for the layperson in John Constantine’s world, the basic facets of Catholicism remain intact. Believing in God and the Devil is one thing, but for Christians in this movie-verse, they’re headed right back down Disillusionment Blvd. once they discover their existence is roughly equivalent to an extremely large pile of poker chips.
5) It’s alarmingly easy to incapacitate God (Dogma)
OK, let’s wrap things up with the lighter stuff. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got Kevin Smith’s Dogma, which is a highly entertaining commentary on American Catholicism (and religion in general, I guess). In Smith’s alternate universe, Christianity is the real deal—it’s just warped in ways you wouldn’t initially expect. For example, God is female, and Her voice is literally too powerful to use in public. Oh, and She’s a skee ball junkie. That last part is crucial, since God takes human form to indulge herself in this little hobby every so often, at which point She’s apparently as vulnerable to pubescent hockey stick attacks as the rest of us.
Hell, I’d take the gods from Immortals over Dogma God any day. Their decisions almost always end in sexy, gratuitous violence, but at least that’s on purpose. Dogma God is just downright careless.