The 4 Worst Portrayals of Christianity in Film

Christianity takes frequent blows in story-telling. Christians are often portrayed as weak, blind, or bigoted, and God is often seen as arbitrary, mean-spirited, or ineffective. Here are four of the worst portrayals of Christianity in film.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ, a Martin Scorsese film based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis was critically acclaimed, and now part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. It caused uproar in Christian communities upon its release because of its depiction of the romantic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

This version of the Passion depicts a very human Christ who wrestles with his destiny on the cross. The last temptation referenced in the title does not occur in the desert during his fast, nor in Gethsemane, where the Gospels show Jesus praying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). In the film, while Jesus is suffering on the cross, he is offered an alternate ending—a family, love, and a long life.

The latter half of the film tells the story of this alternate ending, where Jesus marries, has children, and eventually meets the apostle Paul (who still preaches the death and resurrection of Christ). The film concludes with Jesus begging to be allowed to bring salvation to the world. He cries out, “Will you listen to a selfish and unfaithful son?” The idea that the Son of God struggled to redeem the world is not inherently wrong, but while Scorsese succeeds in creating a very relatable Jesus, his divinity has been left out of the story altogether.

The Truman Show (1998)

An offering on the serious side of Jim Carrey’s bi-polar movie choices, this film follows Truman Burbank (Carrey) as the unwitting star of a reality TV show. He was born on television, went to school, fell in love, and now questions the meaning of existence in front of millions of viewers worldwide. Truman’s town is the largest enclosed set ever made; his family and friends are all cast members, hired to keep Truman in the dark. Christof (Ed Harris) is the God-like creator of “The Truman Show,” who sits in a studio room built into the false moon of Truman’s false sky.

As Truman starts to question the reality that has been so carefully constructed for him, Christof is forced to use scare-tactics and lies to keep Truman from breaking out of his cage. In the end, Christof must decide between destroying his creation, or allowing him to break free of his control.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Douglas Adams’ immense sci-fi/comedy classic was adapted for film in 2005. It featured then-rising star Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent, one of two humans saved from planet earth when it was destroyed to make way for a new super-highway.

Dent’s subsequent encounters with outrageous aliens make up the rest of the story. On his travels through the universe, he discovers that small white mice commissioned earth’s creation so that they could conduct experiments on humans, and that the answer to life can be summed up in one nonsensical number, “42.”

The light-hearted humor of this film makes it hard to add to a “worst-of” list of any kind. It’s on this one because the author of the source material, Douglas Adams, was a famously brilliant and witty atheist, and his worldview pervades his writing. He doesn’t simply ignore the concept of religion, he gleefully lampoons the church. Example—the sinister Humma Kavula, a space pirate-turned-religious-leader preaches about the coming of the Great White Handkerchief, praying, “send The Handkerchief so that it may wipe us clean.”

The Invention of Lying (2009)

Loser Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) lives in a world where everyone tells the literal truth. When Mark accidentally discovers lying, he uses it to get whatever he wants. Gervais’ version of Eden is our familiar post-millenial world—including all its hook-ups, breakups, and heartaches. The only difference is that people haven’t discovered deception, so everyone lives in a child-like, guilt-free state. The character of Mark is essentially this world’s Adam—discovering sin, and by proxy, some form of enlightenment.

Predictably, Mark’s lies quickly escalate beyond his control. In a very touching scene, he tries to comfort his dying mother, and makes up a story about an afterlife. His whopper, overheard by nearby medical staff, sparks the creation of a religion—the worship of “Man in the Sky.” Mark gives his new disciples a list of principles for his new religion on the back of two pizza boxes, including, “When you die, there will be free ice-cream for everyone … whatever flavors you can think of.” The naiveté of the sheep who seek Mark’s spiritual guidance is sometimes hilarious—when the free ice-cream rule is announced, the possibility of bad flavors being available is of immediate concern, and one man responds, “Oh no! I just thought of vanilla and skunks!”

But as the film progresses, it is clear that of all the fibs Mark tells, making up a loving God is the most ridiculous.

Which films would you add to this list?

Jessi lives and writes in Bellingham, WA. She is the editor of Raysd.

Behind the Screen offers a glimpse of Hollywood insiders who, through their jobs on movie sets, behind TV shows, and in radio broadcasts, work together to give glory to God. With contributions from the writers and producers of such productions as Joan of Arcadia, Mission Impossible, Batman Forever, That '70s Show, and others, believers everywhere are encouraged to join with the church in Hollywood and do their part in closing the gap between Christianity and culture.

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