Wednesday, May 14, 2003

God in the movies...

Alas, American filmgoers tend to prefer damp, vaguely reassuring ideas of God. As traditional religious faith deliquesces into sentimental mysticism, self-help spiritualism and "Star Wars" bliss-seeking, our movie Gods have entered a twilight. Instead of worshiping DeMille's Hairy Thunderer, we gum the Cosmic Muffin. Who are the boffo Gods of post-DeMille culture? George Burns in "Oh, God!" (1977), who pulls a few chintzy miracles, kvetches about pollution and craves TV publicity. (In this, he resembles the deity in the abandoned Python script "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.") And Jessica Lange in "All That Jazz" (1979), playing a bedroom-eyed God who flatters and indulges the revolting hero — as have all the other mistreated women in his life.

Audrey Hepburn (who was spurned by DeMille for "The Ten Commandments" because she was too skinny to look good in biblical fashion) is closer to an ideal God in "Always," because as she guides Richard Dreyfuss's bratty deceased pilot away from his selfish earthly self, there's some chastening lightning in her eyes as well as muffin love. Audiences rejected this complexity, however, and embraced the all-muffin afterlife evoked in hits like "Ghost" and its many uncanny offspring. "American religion is firmly committed to the notion of a gracious rather than a punitive God," Andrew Greeley wrote. "God in the movies is someone who supports and sustains American optimism."

You know, kids today miss out on a lot. They don't have what we children of the 70's had - required viewing of Oh, God! as part of religious ed.

For which they should be very, very thankful.