The New Testament warns about trying to serve two masters. But Hollywood moviemakers would prefer to have it both ways. And so multiplexes have been crowded with films that wrestle with spiritual questions even while battling for box-office attention.
These aren’t tiny indies, like the evangelical films that sprang up after “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004. Nor are these holy terrors like “The Last Exorcism” and “Paranormal Activity 2,” a subgenre that has replaced Freddy and Jason with demons from hell.
These are the mainstream pictures – Woody Allen character studies like “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” audience-friendly dramas like “Secretariat,” and big star-driven pictures like “Stone” and “Hereafter” that explore such subjects as spiritual awakenings and the possibility of an afterlife.
Faith-based film fans used to be seen as a niche audience. Not any more.
“I think audiences are often smarter than they’re given credit for,” said “Stone” co-star Edward Norton. “And I think they’re often drawn to films that raise genuine questions about our lives that demand a real ponder.”
That hunger continues to inspire independent films, made by and for believers who, said Steven Greydanus of decentfilms.com, “often feel that Hollywood is against their values.” But, the New Jersey-based writer added, “too often, Christian filmmakers pay more attention to the message than the moviemaking. They haven’t learned to put stories and characters first.” And that’s where the new Hollywood movies have come in, with slicker, more sophisticated entertainment.
Steven Whitty is the Movie/TV Editor of the Newark Star Ledger