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I love watching films about religion and spirituality.
When I went to see The Young Messiah recently, the theatre only held 12 adults out of its 120 seats, including myself and my movie buddy Richie. It was a far cry from the packed houses for action thrillers with car chases and shoot-em-ups, or the sci-fi flicks with the word “Star” in their titles. That’s a pity, because films about religion and spirituality can really open your mind and heart to the reality of how humans initially treated the great founders of Faith. They can even deepen your own experience of the spiritual.
For example: The Young Messiah tells a bible-based but fictional account of the young Son of God, and the dangers Jesus and his family faced from the clergy, political leaders and Roman centurions. The trials and tribulations faced by all the prophets of God from time immemorial would have crushed mortal men:
God has sent all His messengers and Prophets to establish love amongst humanity. All the Heavenly Books are written for the sake of Love. All the prophets have borne trials and martyrdoms in order that Love may become established in the hearts of the children of God. The wise men and philosophers of every age have suffered and endured so that this Love might become reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 3, pp. 88-89.
Just so in this young Christ at the turn into the first millennium. Displays of his godly powers caused fear, fear that they were the devil's work. The film shows us an innocent young boy of six, hunted from birth by an order to kill from the maniacal King Herod, grappling with all the natural questions every child has about their being and purpose. Even though we know Christ's ultimate purpose—personal salvation, exhibited through his later example, teachings, death and resurrection—this young actor was mesmerizing in his genuineness and that of his holy parents, as well.
The dialogue and scenes are all appropriate and impactful, moving this gripping story along to Jesus’ discovery and imminent death at age seven in the courtyard of the Temple. Most importantly, the last scene where we hear the young prophet run and shout for life creates the perfect climax. If you think of yourself as spiritual in any way, you’ll want to see this movie. If it's not showing near you, and you can’t find it on Netflix or elsewhere, pick up a copy of Anne Rice's 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, the basis for the film.
All this brings me to the major spate of religious films during these past few years. Did you experience 2014's Exodus: Gods and Kings starring the incomparable Christian Bale as Moses and the dynamic Joel Edgerton as the unforgettable Rameses II? This epic film—which shows us the Seven Plagues, the flight from Egypt by the Jews, and the parting of the Red Sea—presents a Moses few have ever experienced before. I rooted for his humanity throughout, and I came away understanding a little more about how badly humanity has treated the prophets of God.
Exodus: Gods and Kings tells the story of a prophet looking for peace, security and well-being—what we all wish for in a war-free world someday. However, Exodus and many other films about God’s messengers make it clear—just like the Baha'i teachings do—that we won't get there without God in our lives and behaviors:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
My recommendations for spiritual films wouldn’t be complete without including the serious, historical look at Muhammad titled The Message, starring Anthony Quinn as his defender Hamzah. That movie—originally titled Muhammad: Messenger of God (not to be confused with the new 2015 film)—transformed my view of Islam.
Someday I'll publish my book of religious movie reviews. But until then, the point I'm trying to make is that movies about the prophets of God can be wonderful, emotionally moving and convincing stories of religion in real life.
All in all, these kinds of films do one thing for me: help me question my relationship to God, whatever be His name, and in whatever reality He shows Himself.