New hits in politics and film all tell the same story: America is still a land of religion. The candidates, particularly Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, are displaying their beliefs. Each of three big new movies -- "I Am Legend," "There Will Be Blood," and "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" -- is showcasing its own kind of faith.
The action flick "I Am Legend" stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a scientist who is the only survivor of a virus that either kills humans or turns them into ghouls. He tries to find a cure, and early in the movie it looks like science will be the hero: Although Neville drives past a poster that reads "God still loves us," he reflects on the physical or spiritual demise of six billion people and declares, "There is no God."
The filmmakers apparently tried several endings and settled on one suggesting that there is a God. That's what a mysterious woman who shows up with her son tells Neville: "He has a plan. He sent me here for a reason." She even thinks the end of civilization has some benefits: "The world is quieter now. It's easier to hear God."
In a penultimate scene Neville shouts at the attacking ghouls, "You are sick and I can save you! Let me save you!" It turns out that he can't all by himself, yet he becomes Christ-like in one sense. Science makes the difference only when aided by faith. God acts in mysterious ways, but he exists.
"There Will Be Blood," which has a national rollout next week, displays the cinematic talent of director Paul Thomas Anderson and the acting ability of Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays an evil businessman. Sadly, the film is weighed down by the 3E clichd assumption that Entrepreneurs and Evangelists are all Evil.
The plot has a determined oil man a century ago getting rich by lying to farmers, and an evangelist gaining power through other malignant means. They're both hypocrites, mirror images of corruption who increasingly show their hatred for all. New York Magazine cynically but accurately described the "Oscar strategy" of the movie: "Be relevant. It's about the intersection of single-minded capitalism and fundamentalism -- sound familiar?"
Yes, familiar -- but many movie critics know so little of reality that they see the stock characters of fiction and media as historically typical. The New Yorker, for example, termed the film "an allegory of [American] development in which two overwhelming forces -- entrepreneurial capitalism and evangelism -- " both operate on the border of fraudulence."