Freethought NOW!

Freethought at the Flicks

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A Love Divided (2001 Irish drama). Director: Sydney Macartney. About a mixed marriage in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s between a Protestant woman and a Catholic man. The film’s villain is the town priest, who demands that the couple’s daughter be educated in a Catholic school, who “turns the town’s Catholics against their Protestant neighbors in a violent manner. The film is based on an actual incident. In an interview with the New York Daily News, the actress Orla Brady, who plays the woman, openly stated that she is an atheist,” notes Dennis Middlebrooks. “The most civilized character in the film is the village atheist. ”

The Apostle (1997 drama), 134m. Directed by Robert Duvall, who also wrote, produced and starred. Recommended by freethinker Betty L. Pekowsky. “A womanizing Pentecostal minister is forced to leave his Texas home (and church) after committing a violent act,” according to Leonard Maltin’s review in his 2001 Movie & Video Guide. PG-13

Bedazzled (1967 British comedy), 107m. Director: Stanley Donen. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore star in this uneven but amusing Faustian update of a short-order cook tempted by Satan. “The film pokes unremitting fun at God’s pathological need to be constantly bowed down to, complimented, admired, adored and fawned over by his mortal subjects and his immortal angels,” comments freethinker Richard Kavich. At the film’s end, Cook shakes his fist at heaven and exclaims: “God–you’re just unbelievable.” (Recently remade; no one “nominated” the remake.)

Belle Epoque (1992 Spanish comedy), 108m. Director: Fernando Trueba. “Very funny, saucy, three-star film featuring the marvelous old actor Fernando Fernan Gomez playing the father of an atheist family of four gorgeous daughters, one of whom is the now-famous Penelope Cruz, who ‘adopt’ a naive agnostic young soldier. The first and last scenes are a bit gruesome,” writes Sheila Somner. Won Best Foreign Film Oscar.

The Big Kahuna (2000 comedy), 90m. Director: John Swanbeck. Starring Danny DeVito, Kevin Spacey and Peter Facinelli. When three salesmen hold a reception for potential customers, the youngest one (Facinelli), a born-again Christian, tries to sell a major potential customer (“the big kahuna”) on Jesus instead of the product. Spacey, a nonbeliever in the H.L. Mencken mode, objects. “This film is a must-see for freethinkers!” writes Dennis Middlebrooks. R

Blade Runner (1982 sci-fi), 118m. Director: Ridley Scott. Harrison Ford plays a former cop in 21st-century L.A. tracking down androids in this film with a cult following. Although not about religion or secularism, Richard Carrier believes it “has a mythical undercurrent that is relevant to secular and religious values.” The antagonist (Rutger Hauer) “converts to heroism at the last moment of his life not because of hopes of reward in heaven–he states overtly his certainty that he is about to cease to exist–but because he realizes his own ethical ideals in himself.” A director’s cut was issued in 1993. R

Blasphemy (2001 comedy). Director: John Medoza. Billed as: “It’s funny ’til we get to your God.” Plot: a man reveals to his devoutly religious Cuban-exile parents that he doesn’t believe in God. Mark Simons, who calls it “a great movie,” writes: “I have to recommend this movie because of its excellent accuracy about revealing your atheism to family members.”

Bob Roberts (1992 satire), 101m. Director: Tim Robbins. “Scary yet poignant mockumentary about how a religious conservative (Tim Robbins) exploits popular culture to gain political office, all the while funded by faceless and nameless international big money. Also starring Alan Rickman, with numerous cameos by names such as John Cusack, Gore Vidal, and James Spader,” writes freethinker Richard Carrier. R

Bounce (2000 drama), 106m. Director: Don Roos. Ben Affleck, who briefly identifies himself as an atheist, redeems himself despite refusing to abide by Alcoholics Anonymous 12-steps in this unmemorable romance featuring Gwyneth Paltrow. PG-13

Born Yesterday (1950 comedy), 103m. Director: George Cukor. Judy Holliday received a Best Actress Oscar for her role. Screenplay: Garson Kanin. Also stars William Holden and Broderick Crawford. “It’s the humorous and insightful story of a tutor (Holden) and daffy moll (Holliday) set in Washington, D.C.,” writes Joe Mercado Jr. “He educates her on the history of the nation and its principles. At one point they actually read Robert Green Ingersoll aloud (I was so proud!) and Thomas Paine, also. A fine movie!”

Bride of the Wind (2001 drama), 99m. Director: Bruce Beresford. About the life and loves of Alma Mahler, the wife of freethought composer Gustav Mahler. “Although no one is explicitly presented as an atheist, it is clear that these are very secular people. The film is most intelligent and refined, and stands in stark contrast to the garbage overrunning movie theatres nowadays,” recommends Dennis Middlebrooks.

Butterfly “La Lengua de las Mariposas” (1999 Spanish drama). Director: Jose Luis Cuerda. The fate of a kindly, conscientious, atheistic teacher (played by Fernando Fernan Gomez) is seen through the eyes of a boy growing up in Civil War-era Spain during the 1930s in this beautiful and compelling “coming of age” film. The priest is the villain. Final scene heart-breaking.

Chocolat (2001 comedy). Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Actress Juliette Binoche and many supporting actors shine in this charming fable of the enlightening powers of chocolate in a Catholic-drenched French village during Lent in 1959. Binoche plays the overt town infidel who changes everything for the better. A veritable freethought confection. Do not miss! PG-13

The Cider House Rules (1999 drama), 125m. Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Adaptation of John Irving’s novel. The story of Homer (Tobey Maguire), a boy raised by an eccentric doctor in an orphanage (and abortion clinic) in Maine during World War II. Oscar for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Michael Caine). Paul Heffron calls it “both intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving.” PG-13

The Circle (2000 Iran/Italy drama), 91m. Director: Jafar Panahi. A haunting, slow-building, documentary-like examination of one day in the life of powerless Iranian women outcasts. Although it contains no explicit commentary on religion, the entire film is an indictment of the suffocating power of patriarchal religion over women. Banned in Iran. PG.

Commandments (1997 black comedy), 86m. Director: Daniel Taplitz. Aidan Quinn tests religion by breaking each of the Ten Commandments. Tepid recommendation from Betty L. Pekowsky. R

The Contender (2000 drama), 126m. Director: Rod Lurie. Atheist vice presidential contender (Joan Allen) is pilloried in thinly-veiled examination of the ethics of the Ken Starr era. This cautionary tale lauds state/church separation, atheism, feminism and political ethics. Hip-hip hooray! R

Contact (1997 sci-fi), 150m. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. What freethinker doesn’t know that atheist Jodie Foster portrays an openly nonreligious scientist in this well-received movie based on Carl Sagan’s novel? One of the few movies with a nonreligious protagonist where atheism and rationalism play an overt role in the plot. PG

Dangerous Beauty (1998 drama), 114m. Director: Marshall Herskoviz. Freethinker Dennis Middlebrooks writes: “The anti-sex, anti-woman stance of the Catholic Church is really exposed in this lavishly filmed movie.” Catherine McCormack plays a young woman, “a bold freethinker who becomes the confidante of the high and mighty,” Dennis adds, who is scapegoated by a Grand Inquisitor when the plague descends on Venice. Based on a true story. Stars Jacqueline Bisset as her mother. R

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999 satire), 98m. Director: D. Michael Patrick Jann. The March 2001 Freethinker, a British publication, calls this “an unashamed and extremely funny poke at American small town religiosity and hypocrisy,” depicting a Lutheran beauty contestant and her mother who will stop at nothing to win: “After all, Jesus loves a winner.” PG-13

Dead Poets Society (1989 drama), 128m. Director: Peter Weir. “Freethinking teacher Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) attempts to free the minds of his boarding school students, much to the dissatisfaction of the conservative school administrators and parents,” according to Keiv Spare. Screenplay won Oscar. PG

Dogma (1999 comedy), 135m. Director: Kevin Smith. David G. Fitzgerald recommends the brief scene in which George Carlin appears as a Catholic bishop marketing a new “hip” Jesus. Atheist Janeane Garofalo is included in the cast, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as two outcast angels trying to get back into Heaven, “with some irreverent takes on the nature of God, religion and evil,” David adds. Tedd Parkhurt warns: “Dogma is a film that will offend all religious people and, maybe, a few freethinkers.” Warning: Overabundance of “F” words (and that doesn’t mean “freethought.”) R

Earth (1998 India/Canada drama). Director: Deepa Mehta. A love story (at last!) set in Lahore, 1947, before India and Pakistan became independent, depicting a coterie of working-class friends of different religions. Maddening religious violence sweeps Lahore as the partition of the two countries is decided and Lahore is given to Pakistan.

Elmer Gantry (1960 drama), 145m. Director: Richard Brooks. Burt Lancaster gives an Oscar-winning portrayal of Sinclair Lewis’ unforgettable evangelistic con-man character. Brooks also won best screenwriter.

Empire of the Sun (1987 drama), 152m. Director: Steven Spielberg. Young Christian Bale portrays a British boy separated from his family and sent to a concentration camp after Japan invades China at start of WWII. Criticized for historic inaccuracies. Only freethought claim to fame: the boy’s father mentions indulgently at film opening that his son is an atheist. PG

Fearless (1993 drama), 122m. Director: Peter Weir. Writes Richard Carrier: “The main character in this film, a plane crash victim played by Jeff Bridges, is, and remains, an atheist, yet goes through a spiritual awakening that is both secular and moving. He saves a devoted Catholic (Rosie Perez) whose son was killed in the crash not by seeking to restore her faith in God, but by restoring her faith in herself and teaching her to see and enjoy life as it is–and, incidentally, freeing her from religious guilt by a rather incredible use of empirical demonstration that has to be seen to be believed. This movie has the merit of being one of the few movies that actually make me cry, a man whom my wife likens to Mr. Spock, and it is in my opinion the best movie ever made. The cinematography, acting, music, and direction are superb. But you might not want to watch this before flying.” Received multiple recommendations. R

The Handmaid’s Tale (1990 drama), 109m, Director: Volker Schlondorff. So-so adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s story of a bible reconstructionist coup d’etat in the USA, in which young women become reproductive slaves following environmental disasters that render most of the population sterile. Stars Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall. R

Flatliners (1990 drama), 105m. Director: Joel Schumacher. Kevin Bacon’s character is an atheist whose rationalist views ultimately triumph when a group of med students play with “near-death” experiences. R

Heaven (1987 documentary), 80m. Director: Diane Keaton. Freethinker David G. Fitzgerald calls this “a very funny documentary that simply asks people what they think Heaven will be like. The responses are by turns hilarious, frightening, outrageous, bizarre, and touching. A good illustration of how people invent their own version of an afterlife to suit their needs.” PG-13

Inherit the Wind (1960 drama), 127m. Director: Stanley Kramer. Many of you submitted this classic movie based on the Scopes trial, which featured fictional characters based on Clarence Darrow (Spencer Tracy), H. L. Mencken (Gene Kelly) and William Jennings Bryan (Fredric March). Its spellbinding best scenes used actual courtroom transcripts showing “Darrow” pillorying “Bryan” over his biblical and creationist beliefs. The play’s final scene leaves a sour taste as it is suggested that “Darrow,” the firm agnostic, may actually believe. Ed Larson’s Pulitzer-prize winning book Summer for the Gods documents just how fictionalized much of this movie setting is–but even Larson agrees it’s fun! TV remakes in 1988 and 1999 also received recommendations.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973 musical), 103m. Director: Norman Jewison. Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Weber score. “No miracles? No resurrection? Judas a good guy? Only a humanist could have written this musical account of the last days of Jesus,” maintains Richard Carrier. “The chorus to the main score, ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you are who they say you are?’ is the skeptical but human theme. Judas (played by Carl Anderson) has all the best songs, full of humanist concerns, questioning the divinity of Jesus. Beware of the year 2000 remake, which is substantially inferior.” G

Leap of Faith (1992 drama), 108m. Director: Richard Pearce. Flawed but interesting look at a traveling evangelist’s tent show. Starring Steve Martin and strong supporting cast. PG-13

A Month in the Country (1987 British drama), 96 min. Director: Pat O’Connor. A young Colin Firth appears in this quiet film about a WWI vet recovering from shellshock. Also playing a recovering vet is Kenneth Branagh. Natasha Richardson has a small supporting role as the wife of a priggish village vicar who catches the protagonist’s eye. Birkin (Firth), who stutters and has flashbacks, finds summer work in the Yorkshire town of Oxgodby, restoring a (gruesome) medieval religious mural on the wall of the church. Living up in the belfry, one Sunday he wakes to find a sermon underway, peeks out his head and vents some nice freethought views (unheard by the congregation). A distressing encounter with a dying child has him shouting at the church that “there is no god.” In a rather charming scene, some village children insist on visiting while Birkin restores the painting and blasphemously play the gramophone for him in the church. Birkin, unexpectedly asked to be substitute preacher at another church one Sunday, instead of preaching simply tells the surprised congregation about his restoration project. The unsympathetic vicar complains to Birkin what a difficult profession he has, because the English simply aren’t truly religious. Uneventful, yet touching. Based on a book by J.L. Carr.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975 British comedy), 90m. Director: Terry Gilliam. Monty Python irreverently does a medieval crusade. Sequences spoofing biblical redundancies, and showing women accused of being witches, are especially funny. Filled with fake gore. PG

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979 British comedy), 93m. Director: Terry Jones. Monty Python’s spoof of what happens to a common man named Brian who gets mistaken for Jesus in the biblical holy land. “It has to be on the list,” writes Kellie Sisson Snider. The opening scene–in which peasants, listening from afar to Jesus, hilariously garble his Sermon on the Mount advice–is worth the rental price alone. The final sequence is irreverent slapstick at its silliest, as a fellow victim sings “Always Look on the Brighter Side of Life” to the crucified Brian. R

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983 British comedy), 103m. Director: Terry Jones. Religion is skewered in nearly every scene. Innocent children sweetly sing a song embodying the Catholic antiabortion theme: “Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great; If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.” R

The Name of the Rose (1986 mystery), 130m. Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud. Stars Sean Connery as “a kind of medieval Sherlock Holmes, a friar with investigative skills and a commitment to rational thought . . . standing in opposition to the Inquisition,” posits recommender Paul Heffron. Based on the bestselling novel by Umberto Eco. The film, Paul writes, “represents the great conflict of our civilization between Christianity and classical humanism, faith and reason,” and is fun, besides. R

Night of the Hunter (1955 drama), 93m. Director: Charles Laughton. Leonard Maltin describes it as an “atmospheric allegory of innocence, evil and hypocrisy, with psychotic religious fanatic [Robert] Mitchum chasing homeless children for money stolen by their father.” One helluva memorable portrayal of an evil religionist. Also starring Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish (who apparently is meant to balance the evil-Christian image with her pure Christian goodness). Not for the squeamish. Freethinker Willard Wheeler calls it “a good story of how a man can use religion as a shield to cover up evil and criminal activities. ”

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000 comedy). Director: Joel Coen. George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are a chain-gang on the run in what one reviewer calls a “delightfully loopy” Depression-era remake of ‘The Odyssey.’ Clooney’s comic but appealing character is a stalwart freethinker. John Goodman plays a positively sinister clergyman. Haunting scenes include a mass baptism in a river, and a KKK meeting. Don’t miss this one!

The Other Side of Sunday ‘Sondagsengel’ (1996 Norwegian, Best Foreign Film nominee), 103m. Director: Berit Nesheim. Billed as “a poignant story of a young woman realizing that her mind, heart and body cannot surrender to the restrictions of the inhumane religion that surrounds her.” Joe Mercado calls it “a beautiful, humorous, warm and sincere film about growing up when almost everything is forbidden.” According to the video jacket, Maria, the vicar’s daughter, figures out that by the time of her confirmation, she will have spent 640 hours sitting in church. And that’s long enough! “I’m sure every freethinker would enjoy this film immensely,” Joe adds.

Pleasantville (1998 comedy), 123m. Director: Gary Ross. Norm Allen considers this film a “story about the importance of embracing life in the here and now,” and a satire of ’50s sitcoms, traditional family values and the Garden of Eden. He notes: “It made the Christian Film and Television Commission’s top-20 list of the Worst Movies of 1998. In other words, it is a ‘must-see.’ ” PG-13

The Priest (1994 British drama) 97m. Director: Antonia Bird. Helen Weaver notes that this provocative and critically acclaimed movie, condemned by the Catholic Church, shows “the pastor of the church shacking up with his housekeeper, and the young priest struggling with his gay tendencies.” R

Quills (2000 drama). Director: Philip Kaufman (“The Right Stuff”). Billed as a “cautionary tale” on suppression of free expression and as the “imagined story of the final days of the Marquis De Sade,” depicting a “seductive, sinister world.” Recommends Dennis Middlebrooks: “The Catholic priests in charge (Donald Sutherland and Joachim Phoenix) are good foils to De Sade’s free spirit. Be warned: this is no-holds barred stuff.” Stars Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet. Many atheists may not be real jazzed with something linking freethought to De Sade, but Catholics will probably be unhappier with the overall message. R

A Raisin in the Sun (1961 drama), 128m. Director: Daniel Petrie. Spell-binding film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s powerful play about a young, liberated woman whose struggling family encounters racist neighborhood restrictions when trying to buy a home in a “white” neighborhood. Heroine is slapped on the face after telling her mother she is an atheist. Ensemble cast includes Sidney Poitier, Louis Gossett, and Ruby Dee.

The Rapture (1991 drama), 102m. Director: Michael Tolkin. Stars Mimi Rogers. David G. Fitzgerald calls this a “Christian horror film,” adding: ” ‘The Rapture’ is the film that the religious right should have been protesting instead of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ It asks: what if all those apocalyptic bible-thumpers were right?–then uses the inherent contradictions of the bible to devastate the image of a loving Christian god. This is a film that will scare unbelievers and believers alike.” R

Resurrection (1980 drama), 103m. Director: Daniel Petrie. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Sam Shepard. Although this film deals with a woman who has unexplainable healing powers, it was strongly recommended by two freethinkers, Brenda Donoho and Kathleen A. Yagelo, because she resolutely rejects attributions of her “gift” to a Christian god. PG

The Ruling Class (1972 British dark comedy), 154m. Director: Peter Medak. “Peter O’Toole plays the schizophrenic Earl of Gurney, who for the first half of the film believes he is Jesus and the second half believes he is the god of the Old Testament. A crazy, sprawling film with some of the most outrageous slams against Christianity and religion you will ever see. The humor is extremely dark,” notes Willard Brickey. PG

The Seventh Seal (1957 Swedish drama), 96m. Director: Ingmar Bergman. In this classic, Max von Sydow portrays a disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades, “who puts off Death by playing chess with him, in the meantime seeking the meaning of life. Good lines on whether a god exists,” report Cadell and Jonas Angelet.

Silence Like Glass. Freethinker Robert Higgens recommends this story of a ballerina with cancer who comes face-to-face with a nasty priest/chaplain and a kind but unbelieving dying patient, both of whom change her views on religion. Might be TV movie; editor could not find data on this.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979 drama) 132m. Director: Robert Wise. A protagonist states that “humans created god in their own image,” notes Kristine Danowski, who recommends the freethought themes in the films and TV show created by humanist Gene Roddenberry, who refused NBC’s suggestion to include a chaplain on the Enterprise. G

Time Bandits (1981 British comedy), 110m. Director: Terry Gilliam. Writes Richard Carrier: “This movie paints a decidedly negative picture of the Supreme Being (played in cameo by Sir Ralph Richardson), whose creation of Evil (marvelously played by David Warner), and just about everything else he does, makes no sense. He is too arrogant and unconcerned to explain it all, even to a child (Craig Warnock), who despite helping to save the world is abandoned by God in the end and left orphaned and alone. The large cast includes Sean Connery as the pagan Agamemnon, and as a decidedly secular savior: an anonymous fireman.” PG

Whistle Down the Wind (1961 British drama), 99m. Director: Bryan Forbes. This little-known black & white film, starring a young Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, is adapted from the novel by Hayley’s mother, Mary Hayley Bell. In this gentle rural fable, children mistake a fugitive murderer hiding in their barn for Jesus. The touching conclusion comes when a disillusioned little boy realizes: “You’re not Jesus–you’re just a feller!”

The Wicker Man (1973 British mystery), 103m. Director: Robin Hardy. David L. Kent calls this a “devastating portrayal of the impotence of Christianity,” in which a character says of the “true God”: “Why, he’s dead. He can’t complain. He had his chance, and in modern parlance . . . blew it.” David notes: “It was written by Anthony Shaffer, a master of black humor.” Christian sergeant investigates child disappearance on very peculiar (viewer beware) Druid-practicing Scottish island. A camp comparison of Christianity and pagan ritual. R

Zulu (1964 British drama) 138m. Director: Cy Enfield. John Kovash notes it is “about a small detachment of 19th century British soldiers besieged by a large force of Zulu warriors. The commander (Michael Caine) is portrayed as a freethinker. He unceremoniously removes a troublesome, bible-quoting, drunken preacher from his fortifications. When a sergeant says the successful battle is a miracle, the commander proclaims that if it is a miracle it is a Henry .45 caliber miracle.”

Additionally, William Creasy suggests that reviews of “movies of interest to secular humanists” appearing in the newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists, can be found online at Basic information on most of these movies comes from Leonard Maltin’s 2001 Movie & Video Guide.

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