Journal of Religion and Film


Vol. 2, No. 1 April 1998


"Our hope is that the JOURNAL may introduce readers to movies
with which they might not otherwise be familiar."

[1] In a previous editorial we identified many possible intersections between religion and film. Our purpose was to encourage readers and potential authors to see The Journal of Religion and Film as including a wide range of ideas and perspectives.

[2] On this occasion we would like to say something about the kinds of movies to be discussed in the Journal. We are naturally interested in Agnes of God (starring Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft), Going My Way (starring Bing Crosby) and Leap of Faith (starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger). All of these are popular Hollywood movies which in different ways present traditional religions. We are also interested, however, in other movies that present "religions" less directly. Oliver Stone's Platoon, for example, is a movie about the war in Vietnam. Yet Avert Childress Beck interprets the film in terms of "the battle between good and evil, between the risen Christ and the Beast."1 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, starring Jack Nicholson, is about how we treat the mentally ill; yet one can see R.P. McMurphy as a Christ-figure who is betrayed in Judas-like fashion by Billy Bibbit, crucified by lobotomy, and resurrected in the Big Chief. A more recent film, Contact, starring Jodi Foster, seems to be about how we might "contact" aliens from outer space, but it might also be interpreted as a film regarding our fear of being alone and the role of religion in alleviating such fears. The editors of the Journal are interested in publishing articles about all such films as these.

[3] Our interest in these Hollywood films results from their "importance" and the "religious" topics they address. The importance of popular Hollywood movies stems from the fact that they have large audiences. A part of the popularity of these movies may result from the fact that they reflect the basic fears and aspirations of a given culture, whether past or present. By examining popular films, then, we may discover something about a culture, its values, and its understanding of religion(s). But it may be true that these popular films also contribute to the shape of a given culture. That is, many people may in part develop their understandings and actions within a culture through a kind of dialogue with popular films. Culture may influence the production of movies, but movies also may influence a "religious dimension" of cultures (what people value; how they value it; etc.) as well as the cultural understanding of traditional "religions" and of the role of "religions" in culture.

[4] In addition to popular Hollywood movies, however, we also are interested in what we think of as "second level" movies, ones that are not big box office hits, but which are more widely viewed than art films. These movies may be foreign films, either in English (such as Breaking the Waves) or subtitled (such as Babette's Feast). They may be Hollywood movies, such as The Rapture or The Last Temptation of Christ; or they may be independent films such as Jesus of Montreal or The Secret of Roan Innish. All these movies have had some public viewings and as time passes more and more people will see them.

[5] We are also interested, of course, in art films themselves, films that are shown primarily in art theaters. Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Cries and Whispers exemplify what we have in mind when we talk about art films. Beyond the more strictly art film, however, we also are interested in other movies that have more restricted distribution. Francine Zuckerman's Punch Me in the Stomach, for example, or Steven Lipsomb's The Battle for the Minds, or Mitre Rhodes Entertaining Angels, are movies we hope that people will write about and bring to the attention of our readers. We also would welcome articles about experimental films, such as Abraham Ravett's autobiographical trilogy: Half Sister, In Memory, and Everything's for You. Again, our hope is that the Journal may introduce readers to movies with which they might not otherwise be familiar.

In this issue...

[6] In this issue of the Journal we have another first - an interview with Robert Duvall about his movie, The Apostle. Duvall has a unique perspective on this film, since he wrote, directed, produced, and financed the movie, in addition to starring in it. We want to express our appreciation to Mr. Duvall for so generously making his time available to us.

[7] Also in this issue, we have permission to use film clips for the first time from a major motion picture, Breaking the Waves. The essay, by Irena Makarushka, includes film clips from the movie along with the text, as does another essay on the same film by Kyle Keefer and Tod Linafelt. We want to express our appreciation to our friends at October Films, especially Linda Duchin, for securing permission to use clips from this film.

[8] Clive Marsh sent us a response to the essay by John Lyden in the previous issue, "To Commend or to Critique?". Although it is a response to Lyden's essay, it also stands on its own so well that we decided to include it in the Journal as an essay and not as an addition to the Discussion Section.

[9] Conrad Ostwalt has been thinking and writing for some time now about the apocalypse as it is portrayed in recent Hollywood movies and we are delighted to include his ideas on Waterworld and Twelve Monkeys4 in this issue.

[10] As the title, "Transgressing Goodness"5 suggests, Irena Makarushka identifies two different notions of goodness in Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves. One notion of goodness is not so good for women, she argues, and therefore this common notion of goodness must be transgressed in order for women to achieve a different and more appropriate goodness for themselves.

[11] Keefer and Linafelt take the provocative film in another direction,6 comparing it to the common human yearning for erotic union which is exemplified in the biblical "Song of Songs." In paradoxical fashion, individuals want to overcome the discontinuity that characterizes life from the time of birth. Yet they experience that the longing involves great risk, in part because true intimacy is the destruction of individuality. Most amazing about the heroine in Breaking the Waves, however, is the amount of continuity she can embrace in a discontinuous world.

[12] Finally, we have another essay in the making of movies for the purpose of teaching religion7  in the classroom. Valerie Hoffman has made a film about Sufi "DHIKR" in Egypt. The seeing dhikr adds a dimension to our understanding of this important ritual that no mere words can provide. this essay includes film clips from the movie.


1 "The Christian Allegorical Structure of Platoon, by Avert Childress Beck in Screening the Sacred, edited by Martin and Ostwalt, 1995.

2. "The Apostle": An Interview with Robert Duval

3. Discussion Section

4Visions of the End. Secular Apocalypse in Recent Hollywood Film on Waterworld and Twelve Monkeys

5. "Transgressing Goodness in Breaking the Waves"

6. The End of Desire: Theologies of Eros in The Song of Songs and Breaking the Waves

7. Ritual, Music, Sociability and Censure: Making a Film on Sufi 'DHIKR' in Egypt

Vol. 2, No. 1

JR & F
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