Add to that trend the popularity of quest films with religious undertones. Hibbs cites everything from the Harry Potter series to "The Lord of the Rings" and Narnia to comic-book superhero films like the Spider-Man movies. He also adds the real epic surprise of the decade, Mel Gibson's spectacular "The Passion of the Christ."
Hibbs may veer off from noir on this point, but again he makes a very interesting set of points. One deals with the most grueling scene for the viewer, Jesus being scourged by Roman torturers with demonic smiles on their faces. Hibbs notes that the Romans saw their Jewish subjects as subhuman, an inferior race devoid of humanity.
"The film's dramatic opposition of the order of politics to the order of the creator renders inconceivable the deployment of this story as an instrument in a national cultural war," he writes, as much as it may have been missed by the Right and Left. "Indeed, the scenes of the Roman soldiers cackling with glee as they scourge Christ and rip hunks of skin from his body is most reminiscent of the depiction of the Nazi soldiers in 'Schindler's List.'"
Hibbs posits that it is in the divine response of Jesus to his persecutors, putting the bloodletting into a scriptural account of sacrifice for all men, that rebuts those critics of Mel Gibson who insisted his film indulged in a "pornography" of violence. Unlike so many blood-spurting films where the viewer is encouraged to laugh or be dazzled at the mechanics of death, "The Passion" compels the viewer to feel the need for repentance, that this bloody sacrifice was both his fault (through his sins) and yet his hope for eternal life.
Gibson's film may not have spurred another explicitly Christian blockbuster. But the idea that a massive audience turnout can turn the wheels of the Hollywood machine, the suggestion that moviegoers can use their own quest for redemption to drag some fraction of Hollywood out of the dark swamp of despair is enlightening -- and encouraging.
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