More / Book of the Month / 10 movies that ... deal with Blasphemy - 2nd Commandment

10 movies that ... deal with Blasphemy - 2nd Commandment

10 movies that ... deal with Blasphemy - 2nd Commandment

Reformation Rush Hour

So you like movies? Here's a list of 10 movies that deal with the right and wrong use of God's Name. Listen to Pastors Ted Giese and Craig Donofrio talk about their picks on the Reformation Rush Hour program on KFUOam radio. Also these 2 lists of 5 movies are not necessarily always going to be recommendations, generally speaking this is a conversation about movies that delve into the topic of the 2nd Commandment as found in Luther's Small Catechism.  These two lists run the gambit from the ridiculous to the sublime ... or at least from the humorous to the dramatic. Historical Dramas, comedies even a kid's movie get into this list dealing with blasphemy! It's another full hour of two guys talking about and movies and the catechism.

Watch the film trailers and film clips for these 2 lists of 5 movies here and click here to listen to Donofrio and Giese's conversation about these films.

The 2nd Commandment

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks. Get the app! Get the book

Giese's List Of 5 Picks

5) The Matrix (1999) Rated R for sci-fi violence and brief language

First up for Giese is The Matrix. Keanu Reeves plays Neo a guy who chooses to go down "the rabbit hole" in this Sci-Fi film. When this movie came out many people looked at Neo as a sort of Jesus character, the trouble with this analysis is that Jesus' name shows up in The Matrix. Because people use Jesus' name as a cuss word in the movie it means that the world that the Wachowski Brothers have crafted for their film is one in which the characters know who Jesus is. Which then means that it's a world with Jesus in it, meaning that Neo can't be Jesus. Often the 2nd Commandment begins and ends with the idea that it's simply about cussing using Jesus' name, the name of God, which is a missus of Jesus' name. As Christians are called to use the name of the LORD in honourable and faithful ways.

When the cultural emphasis is focused on cussing in relation to this Commandment there is a temptation to jump to the conclusion that the 2nd Commandment is simply a prohibition on using bad language. There are a lot of Hollywood films that include bad language, cleaning that language up for some television broadcasts can produce unintended humour. For example, as a bonus scene look at this TV edit of a clip from Snakes on a Plane (2006), here Samuel L. Jackson expresses his exasperation at having snakes loose on the airplane. 

4) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Rated R for sexuality, nudity and violence

Giese's number two film is the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the 1960 book by Nikos Kazantzakis staring Willem Dafoe as Jesus. This film misuses Jesus, just as the book had, by presenting Jesus in a way that contradicts Scripture, it goes the step further and illustrates how ultimately misusing the name of the LORD puts the one who does so in danger of misrepresenting Jesus completely. Gone is the Jesus of the Bible and in His place is a charismatic yet confused carpenter with psychological problems. The list of ways that the film deviates from Scripture would fill a dozen blogs.

In the Reformation Rush Hour radio programme that goes with this blog post Giese reminds the listeners that "movie watching is voluntary" and people, "don't have to do [watch films they aren't remotely interested in]." Donofrio watched The Last Temptation of Christ on VHS when it first came out on video and he commented that, "it put him to sleep," mostly because it wasn't interesting, although Giese thinks it's because of the 'soothing' soundtrack written by Peter Gabriel.  

3) Nuns on The Run (1990) Rated PG/PG-13

In Giese's third pick, the film Nuns on The Run, is a rather low brow comedy about gangsters who go on the lamb hiding from their fellow criminals in a convent. Brian (Eric Idle) and Charles (Robbie Coltrane) disguise themselves as nuns and attempt to hide their criminal identities. Other movies like this one include films like We're no Angels (1955) and (1989), as well as the popular Sister Act (1992) and Sister Act 2: Back in The Habit (1993).

Nuns on The Run is on this list because the film mocks repentance for humour sake: Brian and Charles are only using Jesus as a covering for their evil works and sins to get out of temporal punishment (to hide from their fellow criminals). They don't fear and love God, they fear their fellow criminals and love themselves. In essence they are deceiving by the name of the LORD as they impersonate church workers with no fear of eternal punishment.

2) The Messenger - The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) Rated R for strong graphic battles, a rape and some language

Giese's fourth pick is the Luc Besson film The Messenger - The Story of Joan of Arc set during 15th Century. The historical thumb nail sketch of the story of Joan of Arc is that she was an unlikely hero, a peasant girl with a vision from God, who rises up from obscurity to lead the French in routing the English out of France and then tragically she is tried for witchcraft and burnt at the stake by the English. Besson likewise presents Joan of Arc (Milla Jovovich) as a simple peasant girl, however by the end of the film it becomes obvious that, for Besson, Joan had a serious mental illness and delusions of grandeur which lead her to misrepresenting her "vision from God" to the Dauphin (John Malkovich). The end result is someone who isn't so much a hero as much as she is someone doing all her works in Jesus' name falsely. For Besson Joan is a young woman who ended up dragging all of France into an ignorant delusional lie.

Is that what happened historically? Truly only God knows, but Luc Besson, thinks he personally knows and his final thoughts on the matter are that Joan truly was a fraud and that she used Jesus, however innocently, to perpetrate her fraud. For the Christian viewer the movie feels like a rug being pulled out from under the feet. The first two thirds of the movie present Joan as a hero of France and a hero of the faith. The last third of the film switches gears and Joan is treated as a hostile witness. Besson takes her from a character faithfully keeping the 2nd Commandment to one who is breaking it because she only, "saw what she wanted to see." The second clip above focus on her relationship with her "conscience" an accusatory character embodied by the actor Dustin Hoffman.     

1) Friends with Benefits (2011) R for some violent content and brief sexuality

Fifth for Giese is Friends with Benefits staring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. In this romantic comedy there was a scene that really stood out. In it Jamie (Mila Kunis) pulls out her iPad and brings up her Bible App so that she and her friend Dylan (Justin Timberlake) can swear on it. The above clip shows them swearing on the Bible in order to  enter into a, "friends with benefits," just sex relationship. Jamie and Dylan break the 2nd commandment by using God's Word to swear that they will only break the 6th Commandment with a each other (in a friendly way), keeping love out of their sexual premarital relationship. They effectively drag Jesus' good name into their exceptionally poor series of choices. In the end they discover that they can't just have sex and not end up having feelings for each other.

Donofrio's List Of 5 Picks

5) The Godfather (1972) Rated R for strong brutal violence, language, and brief nudity

First up for Donofrio's is Francis Ford Coppola's iconic film The Godfather. Donofrio zeros into the big baptism scene at the end of the film where the mobster Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is renouncing the devil to the Roman Catholic Priest, acting as sponsor and "godfather" to his new godson, while his men are wiping out the five other crime families in retaliation over his brother Sonny's (James Caan) death. Michael's vows at the baptism, a Sacrament done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then become a breaking of the 2nd Commandment as he lies between his teeth.

Does Christ Jesus' righteousness cover over sin like murder, false witness and taking His Holy name in vain? Yes it does, however the person who only uses it publicly as a covering in his earthly life with no faith in this gift of Christ will be in grave danger of not have this covering of Christ in the life to come. Every Christian needs to be careful not to hide their sin behind a public facade of "Christianity" but rather to be honest about the evil they commit, ask for forgiveness and then trust in Jesus' forgiveness of their sin. This is truly a brilliant scene because it brings the dangers of settled and secure hypocrisy into sharp relief.                   

4) The Crucible (1996) Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of the Salem witch trials

Second up for Donofrio is The Crucible a movie we talked about in our 8th Commandment list. For the 2nd Commandment the focus is looking at the film from the point of view of people using the Church to their temporal, earthly, base, advantage specifically when accusing each other. Craig points out that the film has people using the LORD'S name wrongly to remove adversaries, to get what they want out of others and to generally be a Pharisee. This becomes a real danger when the court of law and the church become intertwined, there are many times in history when such entanglements have produced unfortunate results. That being said it is good to remember that historically speaking it was the wider Church that did intervene and put an end the Salem Witch Trials.

3) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) Rated PG for some violence, scary images, heavy thematic/suggestive material and mild language used in religious context

Donofrio's number three film is Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This clip is from a rather odd scene in the film where the villain Frollo is half praying, half making magic and 100% breaking the 2nd Commandment. His odd prayer grows darker and darker and takes on the shape of a magic spell and not a prayer. Within the film as a whole the character of Frollo is using his connections with the Church (Minister of Justice) to leverage his lustful desires for Esmeralda the gypsy and if she won't have him then, as he sings it, "[She] will burn!" In the back ground the viewer can hear a choir singing Kyrie eleison. Interestingly this prayer of, "LORD Have Mercy!" is regularly answered as the central characters escape danger over and over again and are brought to the end of the film safe and in one piece.      

2) Bruce Almighty (2003) Rated PG-13 for language, sexual content and some crude humour

Fourth up for Donofrio is Bruce Almighty the Jim Carrey and Morgan Freeman comedy in which God (Freeman) temporarily gives Bruce Nolan (Carrey) His Almighty powers, hence Bruce Almighty. It's not hard to see how this could go wrong, and it does.  Donofrio points out that the film is blasphemous because in the end it teaches that a person doesn't need to call upon God's name in every trouble, or in prayer, or in praise and thanks giving rather all a person needs to do is look within. As God is about to leave Bruce He answers Bruce's question of "What if I need you! What if I've got questions?" by answering, "That's your problem Bruce, that's everybody's problem you keep looking up!" The film in effect shows God encouraging a person to break the 2nd Commandment this is big a problem.

1) Life of Brian (1979) Rated R

Donofrio's number five is Life of Brian. The scene Donofrio picked for this movie is specifically about blasphemy and stoning blasphemers. The film Donofrio says, "Is actually commentary ... on the misguided nature of the Israelites of old and also the church of today that we are willing to follow anyone." the premise of the film Life of Brian is that there was another baby born in Bethlehem who wasn't the Lord Jesus but was Brian. He spends his life getting mistook for a messiah and in the end he even faces crucifixion. This screwball satirical comedy throws everything at the viewer from Roman Soldiers correcting the grammar on Latin graffiti, to space aliens, to song and dance numbers.

About the film, Donofrio says, "It might just be that it's been like 25 years since I've seen the darn thing," to which Giese comments, "If you go over it with a fine tooth theological comb tomorrow you might think differently," Donofrio replies, "probably, probably." For some this might be a bit of a controversial pick. The Monty Python comedy troop has been much loved by many and while on the surface this film seems fairly congenial towards Jesus, as a person, it has an edge to it that points back to the strained relationship it's writers (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin) have had with the church and Christians in general. Outside of the film Idle has freely talked about his atheism, and in a twist on the idea of separation of church and state Idle has advocated for a, "separation of church and planet."

At the end of Life of Brian Idle sings the song, "Always Look on The Bright Side of Life," Donofrio points out that there is a clean version of this song available due to its use in the Broadway Musical Spamalot based mostly on Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). In Life of Brian it is sung with all its crassness by men being crucified, this is one of the clear spots amidst the humour of the film where Christianity is being mocked. Christians believe that the mocking and persecution of Christians is also a mocking and persecution of Jesus. In Luke 21:17 Jesus says "You will be hated by all for My name's sake," and in John 15:18 He says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you." Curiously there have been many request lately by people wanting this song sung at their funeral.

At the heart of the song is the advise to simply "look on the bright side of life," and to "whistle" in your troubles. Again in the 2nd Commandment Christians are to call upon God's Name in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks to Him. The song, which Christians will like for its advice to enjoy life, in the end fails to direct people toward Jesus in their troubles or in their sins. One line in the song says, "Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin. Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow," and while Christians are encouraged to forget their sin when it's been forgiven by Jesus the song is actually telling a person to enjoy their sin and don't worry about it. Which in the end is like saying, "you don't need Jesus or His forgiveness, go on just live your life, there is nothing at the end of it anyhow." In the song Idle sings, "life is quite absurd And death's the final word," Christians rather trust that Jesus has the final word not death. Here's the song as it appears in Life of Brian:


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For current movie reviews of films in the theatre right now by Pastor Ted Giese check out, Where Christianity Meets Culture IssuesEtc!