How Hollywood Portrays Christians

Chuck Colson

6/26/2003 12:00:00 AM - Chuck Colson
In the recent film Hannibal, a character named Mason Verger has just one goal in life: to catch up with the cannibal who chewed off his face, and feed him to flesh-eating pigs. It’s a sick and twisted goal—and it may not surprise you to learn that Verger is the film’s only Christian character.

Just one more illustration of how Hollywood tends to treat followers of Christ.

Sadly, there’s no shortage of other recent examples. In the historical film Quills, about the Marquis de Sade, the vilest sexual behavior is performed by a Catholic priest; de Sade is portrayed as the persecuted victim of a puritanical society.

Another film, The Pledge, portrays Christianity as a religion for killers. In a movie called The Cell, a Christian upbringing causes a character to become a serial killer.

Celluloid missionaries are almost as bad. In films like Black Robe and At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Christians bring, not salvation, but disease and death, slavery and hypocrisy.

As Christian screenwriter Brian Godawa notes in his book Hollywood Worldviews, in films like these, "Christianity does not merely lead to mental breakdown in [individuals]; it also leads to the breakdown of society." Christians are portrayed as sick, twisted people who got that way through repressing their natural desires; their moral codes lead to intolerance, wife beating, and murder. He points to recent films like The Crucible and Chocolat as well.

About the only good thing you can say about these films, spiritually speaking, is that they reveal the fact that humans—whether they admit it or not—are deeply religious. We can’t help thinking about God and trying to come to terms with Him. As Godawa points out, elements of Christianity are often "deconstructed or reinterpreted through countervailing worldviews," but significantly, they are not ignored. In fact, Godowa writes, films that attack or redefine God may be more honest than those that simply ignore Him. The filmmaker is "at least admitting [God] is an issue." Ignoring Him "leaves the impression that He is . . . irrelevant to our reality." Martin Luther made a very similar point.

The good news is that every now and then, Hollywood gets religion right. A recent remake of Les Misérables offers a poignant picture of Christian grace, forgiveness, and redemption. And the film The Addiction uses a vampire theme to explore the nature of evil and our need for repentance.

Parents ought to watch some of the better films with their kids, although they should check them out carefully before bringing them home. Not all films are suitable for all families. And when it comes to films that portray Christians as warped and wicked people—well, parents ought to learn about these films as well. That way they can help their kids—and their unbelieving friends—to see through them and to understand the worldviews are involved in films.

Brian Godawa’s book, Hollywood Worldviews, will help you do just that. You’ll learn how your church can offer guidance to teenagers who love movies. And kids will learn the worldview reasons so many movies treat Christianity as a violent, oppressive religion fit only for sick and twisted people.


For further reading and information:

Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews (InterVarsity, 2002). Visit Godawa’s website.

Visit the "Worldview for Parents" page weekly for more resources and information to help you cultivate biblical worldview understanding in your children.

Visit BreakPoint’s "At the Movies" page, the Wilberforce Forum Recommended Films 2003 list, and "Colson’s List of 50 Insightful Films."

Robert K. Johnston, Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker Book House, 2000).

Onalee McGraw, "Love and Life at the Movies: The Wisdom of Older, Classic Films," Family Policy 13, No. 4 (July/August 2000), Family Research Council.