IT SHOULD NOT BE TOO SURPRISING that some films are loaded with religious subtext. In some cases, they’re practically hitting you over the head with their character’s halos.
As pictured here.
However, some filmmakers are so cunning that they hide numerous moral lessons straight out of Sunday school into their movies that you otherwise might not have noticed. These are films that function perfectly well on their own until you start pulling back at their layers, at which point a whole sermon of hidden meanings leap out at you like religious ninjas.
Or, if you prefer, ninja nuns.
Here are some of the most impressive examples of this timeless art of religious persuasion.
6. The Ladykillers
It may be surprising to see The Ladykillers on this list, or any list since it is so overwhelmingly viewed as the Coen brothers’ worst film.
Seriously, Slate at a poll on this.
However, while there may not be a lot of love for the movie, it nevertheless remains one of the most heavily religious films in the Coen brothers library. Consider its main characters, one of which is an adorable old lady who spends most of her time knitting and going to church…
And the other is a silver-tongued Southern gentleman who spends virtually the entire film trying to look and sound as much as the devil…
Which he does expertly.
To the point that he spends most of the film underground and strumming a fiddle.
As such, the film is less about a bank robbery and more about how incorruptibility will ultimately be blessed with salvation, why is why nobody in Tom Hanks’ gang is ever able to kill the old lady. She’s protected by God right down to the moment when Jesus intervenes and saves her life from assassination by “the General.” Go ahead and watch for yourself.
That’s Jesus popping out of her cuckoo clock.
And naturally, that’s without getting into the extra slather of Edgar Allen Poe literature featured throughout the film, the ancient Egyptian symbolism in the old lady’s cat, or…
Come to think of it, maybe the Coen brothers did kind of go overboard on this one.
While this is supposed to symbolize the afterlife, it doubles just as well for the film’s eventual fate.
5. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
The case has been made my numerous critics that E.T. is a Christian parable. You have a mysterious visitor from the heavens, his “crucifixion” at the hands of the military, and his eventual resurrection followed by his ascent back into heaven.
Jesus had a spaceship, right?
There’s only one problem with this theory: Steven Spielberg, who has gone on record several times saying that it would have been odd for him to make his most successful film a religious parable. Especially considering that he’s Jewish.
In all honesty, we at the Smoking Jacket believe Spielberg on this. However, that doesn’t stop us from suspecting that Universal Pictures deliberately used the film to appeal to Christian filmgoers, as has been proposed by Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride. Is it possible that they used existing Christian imagery to help sell their film to the public?
Apparently, hell yes!
4. Pulp Fiction
By Jules Winnfield’s own admission, he quotes the Bible in Pulp Fiction for no other reason than because “it was just a coldblooded thing to say to a motherfucker ‘fore you popped a cap in his ass.”
Naturally, looking like this when he said it helped.
However, the truth is that every single story in Pulp Fiction is a tale of redemption, and Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega stand at polar opposites of this journey. Jules recognizes the errors of his ways following his bout with divine intervention, and for that reason he is spared the unfortunate fate of his partner who, let’s face it, spent the whole movie doubting miracles just as much as he fucked up every situation he was in.
The only thing he did correctly was die.
Butch Coolidge, meanwhile, is given a chance for redemption as well. He could have easily left Marsellus Wallace to a terrible death at the racist pawn shop, but instead he chose to save his former aggressor. Not only is Butch severely conflicted by this decision which could have very well gotten him killed, but Tarantino could not have illustrated the civil war going on inside the crooked prizefighter more plainly.
Picture this, only without Tarantino ruining the scene by explaining it.
We could have written an entire article just about religious symbolism in Disney’s Pinocchio, so we’ll try to keep it short.
You’ve a father figure who is both an old man and a carpenter…
And, we should mention, one hell of a clockmaker.
A son made in thine own image…
And a holy spirit which takes the form of a woman in a blue dress…
And lastly, a star that looks like it could moonlight as the Star of Bethlehem.
In short, yeah, Pinocchio is Jesus. Or more specifically, Jonah, the Old Testament prophet who was both a precursor to Jesus and a man most famous for, you guessed it…
Getting swallowed by a whale.
2. A Serious Man
It’s tough to say whether A Serious Man was meant to be a modern-day retelling of the Book of Job or just a subtle reference to it. Either way, the Coen brothers sure did a good job at making it clear how much it sucked to be the movie’s main character.
More or less, the whole film.
Like Job, Lawrence “Larry” Gopnik has just about everything taking from him by an unkind, uncaring God who doesn’t really owe humanity anything. His marriage is a mess, his career is on the verge of collapse, and his relationship with his children is falling apart. In short, there are no pretty pictures in this film, but that’s what it’s supposed to be about. In fact, they even included a pretty picture in order to illustrate this.
This one, to be exact.
That painting is The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio, and Gopnik’s son Danny walks past it on his way to meet with Rabbi Marshak at one of the film’s most crucial moments. Pay close attention to the sound effects at the 0:40-mark of this video.
Sounds a bit like rustling wind, doesn’t it? Well, it should. At the end of the film, that boy SPOILERS gets killed by a tornado.
So, what is this all supposed to mean? We imagine this differs heavily through the eyes of the viewer, but from our perspective it sure looks like the Coen brothers created the most convincing argument that God, or at the very least God in the Old Testament, sucks.
Particularly for this sorry bastard.
1. Blade Runner
Blade Runner is one of those few films so multilayered that it could be classified as several movies without changing a single line of dialogue. It’s sci-fi, it’s film noir, it’s a detective story, it’s a romance, it’s a thriller, it’s a mystery, and it’s a whole universe of shit as crazy as Roy Batty’s “Tears in Rain” speech.
However, one of the film’s many deeper layers includes its religious motifs, which are used so frequently that Blade Runner could easily suffice as a visual gospel in some future version of the Bible. Eyes, for example, have been described for centuries as “the windows of the soul,” and not only are they featured throughout the movie, but they are used as the primary means for identifying ‘soulless’ replicants.
Then there are the replicants themselves, who are described as “more human than human” by their godlike maker. They have come crashing down into Earth from their off world colonies in their search for immortality. Not only does this mesh perfectly with John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, but Roy Batty is a perfect candidate for the role of Satan in this universe.
Pictured: Rutger Hauer.
Add to that a healthy amount of biblical snakes, stigmata, and a post-apocalypse Los Angeles—the “City of Angels”—and you have nothing short of a religious tour de force worthy of comparison to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Don’t believe us? Take a look for the video below and realize that you could replace every character in Blade Runner with these figures and it would still be the same movie.