In no particular order, here is a list of eight great religious films of various faiths. Some of these movies you might have seen, but most of them you probably have not. Each are unique in the representation of their faiths and offer viewers a spiritual glimpse you otherwise might never have taken.
Passion of the Christ
Though this one is an obvious choice, it’s well worth the mention. There’s a lot controversy held over this movie. Just a few of the things that I’ve heard about why this movie was a bad depiction of Jesus Christ and the Jews include– the movie was shallow, it was an attack against Jews, and it was a gross exaggeration of brutality.
These words probably ring most true to people insecure with the reality of the history of the New Testament. But, among the criticism, a great point was made. Sent to the “culturebox” of Slate Magazine in February 2004, a critic by the name of the Robert wrote, “A bare indication in the Gospel text, “Pilate now took Jesus and had him flogged,” is turned into 15 minutes onscreen of nonstop beating with hideous barbed whips and worse.” This couldn’t be said any better– any time we flip through Matthew 27 or any of the other Gospels, looking to understand what Jesus went through, all we can really see are a few words; “But he had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.” Or, “They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.” There really is no grace involved when we sit comfortably on our couch in a climate controlled room, reading about the torture that Jesus went through. Even after Christ, the disciples and every immediate follower thereafter read the word of God hidden in caves next to the bodies of their dead (as they had no place to bury them). Although we will never know what it is like to face such extreme martyrdom in today’s world, through this movie, we are finally able to even begin to appreciate what Christ and furthermore what anyone who suffered in his name, went through.
It is so brutal that I never want to see that movie again, but I am glad that I watched it and can understand how real all the sacrifice that went into the scriptures really was.
The Thin Red Line
Yes, another movie starring Jim Caviezel. This one is a bit more out of the box as far as being qualified as a “religious” movie. If you look scene by scene this is indeed a gritty war movie but look a little deeper and you can see the Christ-like parallel that this movie offers. Caviezel’s character, Private Witt, a philosopher in the heat of war, contemplates man’s fallen spiritual condition and yearns for a chance at achieving righteousness and peace. “Why can’t we stay on the heights, the heights we’re capable of? We know the glory for a while and then fall back into separateness, strife, division,” Witt says. Like Christ, who witnesses the imperfection of God’s nation and an opportunity to save others, Witt also sees his chance through saving the lives of his troop, who were otherwise as good as dead. Allowing his comrades to escape, Witt leads the Japanese troops away, until he is surrounded, becoming the sacrifice for the lives of the other American soldiers.
Compassion and Wisdom: A guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
This is probably the most comprehensive documentary about Buddhism that you’ll ever find. Featuring the likes of Sakya Trizin, Tai Sity Rinpoche, Robert Aitken Roshi, John Daido Loori Roshi, Robert Thurman, Lewis Lancaster, Khenpo Palden, and the Dalai Lama himself, this movie packs a wallop of Buddhist academia. The men interviewed in this film provide outlooks that mesh together, building upon each other while setting their philosophy within the practical context of modern life.
What is probably the most stand out aspect of the 1997 film Kundun is the fact that Walt Disney Pictures decided to roll the dice and distribute it, even in light of the repercussions liable to be faced from China, which included threats of Disney’s future access to China as a market. While the film did poorly in box office and many critics labeled the film as emotionally remote, it is a fairly accurate portrayal of Buddhist tradition. Spanning from 1937 to 1959, the movie shows how the lamas find Dalai incarnate candidates and how their tests are administered, with the selection of objects owned by the previous Dalai Lama. The film also sheds light on the persecution that the Tibetans continue to face from China, and its origin with Chairman Mao.
Prince of Egypt
The 1998 epic musical biblical film, The Prince of Egypt, is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus, following the life of moses from the time he was a baby to his ultimate destiny of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt.
While the movie is best known for its music and animation, one overlooked aspect of the film is how it took a biblical story and gave viewers the opportunity of witnessing the human experience within it. Moses was a man who loved his family and the Egyptian Kingdom. He was torn by the work he was chosen to complete, and the ties he had to sever in order to glorify God. The opening song to the film, Deliver Us, might have seemed catchy, but viewers can also see the pain and struggle that the people of God had to endure for 400 years.
Raajneeti Based on Mahabharat
This movie isn’t directly focused on Hindu gods, but it is an Indian political thriller that parallels the Indian epic Mahabharat, depicting the story of the rivalry between two sets of cousins quite similar to the ancient gods Krishna, Bheema, Duryodhana and Karna.
Not only is this Bollywood thriller very catchy and vibrant, but the film presents an interesting reimagination of the Indian epic Ramayan. The story showcases the abduction of Ragini, wife of a policeman, by Beera Munda, from which a jungle battle between the two men ensues, blurring the line between good and evil.
A Little Princess
The movie does not have any focus on epic tales, but rather on the life of a little girl from India, relegated to a live of servitude in a New York City boarding school, during the time of World War II. The girl has the belief that all little girls are princesses and has a vivid imagination that often involves daydreams of the Hindu god Rama, who sets to save a girl in very similar circumstances as her own from imprisonment. The visual representation of Rama and his battles are very vivid and were many young Americans introduction to Hinduism.