Just look back at the years films and youll see vying visions of spirituality. Mel Gibsons big, bloody, bullying Bible epic, The Passion of the Christ, grossed a collection-tray-busting $370 million -- but Mel wasnt the only preacher in the pulpit. The pseudo-documentary/New Age sermon What the #$*! Do We Know!? became a cult hit (no pun intended), pulling in crowds at Landmark for four months and running. Even a number of other films, sometimes unexpectedly, put the question of faith on the cinematic table: the existential screwball comedy I Heart Huckabees, the comic book slugfest Hellboy and the computer-animated Christmas card The Polar Express.
And while its never easy to compare apples to oranges, or in this case, crucifixes to crystals, heres our bible of sorts to 2004s films o faith.The Passion of the Christ
Denomination: Old-school Christian (duh)
Tempted hero: Jesus, the quintessential Christ figure (actor Jim Caviezel even has the right initials)
Forces of evil: Rosalinda Celentano's ambiguously gay Satan and throngs of dark, muttering Jews
Misguided masses: Hootin', hollerin' crowds calling for capital punishment
Stand-in for deity: Celestial raindrop that shows the Almighty's grieving, omniscient view of the action
Spiritual test: Will Jesus recant his teachings or face arrest and crucifixion?
Difficulty of achieving enlightenment: High. Roman torturers don't kid around, but there's potential deification with Dad at the end.
Message: You'd damn well better appreciate Jesus' sufferings.What the #$*! Do We Know!?
Denomination: New-agey quantum metaphysics
Tempted hero: Actor Marlee Matlin's divorced photographer, whose daily routine becomes a quest of self-discovery, with running remarks from starry-eyed, real-life professor-types
Forces of evil: Low self-esteem, biochemical addiction to bad habits
Stand-in for deity: Enigmatic street urchin who uses basketball to explain non-linear time
Misguided masses: The guests at a wedding Matlin photographs. They indulge their lust, gluttony and envy at the expense of their higher impulses.
Spiritual test: When Matlin looks in the mirror, will she see herself as ugly and hopeless, or attractive and worthy of a fulfilling life?
Difficulty of achieving enlightenment: Moderate to low. The film's talking-head experts spout such vague dogma ("Don't be in the know, be in the mystery!"), how the #$*! do you know if you're doing it right?
Message: Think happy thoughts and your life will get better. Maybe.
Denomination: With so much Gothic monster/angel imagery, emphatically Catholic
Tempted hero: Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a wisecracking demonspawn raised by government ghostbusters
Forces of evil: Reincarnated Rasputin, Nazi assassins, unsightly demigods -- the usual suspects
Stand-in for deity: The trusty rosary Hellboy clutches in his hand
Misguided masses: Average citizens oblivious to the imminent end of the world
Spiritual test: To avert an apocalyptic ritual, Hellboy must sacrifice his true love (Selma Blair)
Difficulty of achieving enlightenment: Moderate. Our hero rejects his hellish heritage and saves the day by snapping the long, devilish horns off his forehead. Ouch! But love ultimately conquers all in a Beauty and the Beast sort of way.
Message: With bona fide demons out there, you'd better get right with the Big Guy.
The Polar Express
Denomination: Santa Claus-centered monotheism, with gift-wrapped presents
Tempted hero: Computer-rendered suburban boy
Forces of evil: Yuletide skepticism induced by growing up
Stand-in for deity: Omniscient, white-bearded, patriarchal Kris Kringle, who is the spitting image of the Almighty
Misguided masses: Kids on the "naughty" list
Spiritual test: Accepting that Santa Claus exists, despite inner doubts
Difficulty of achieving enlightenment: Hilariously low. How hard can it be to believe in St. Nick when he's standing right in front of you?
Message: With an animated North Pole so full of creepily rendered elves and a vaguely despotic Santa, do you really even want to believe?I Heart Huckabees
Denomination: Existentialism with Buddhist tendencies
Tempted hero: Cranky environmentalist Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman)
Forces of evil: Rampaging corporatization, nihilistic French intellectuals
Stand-in for deity: Blanket used by Dustin Hoffman's gumshoe guru as a metaphor for the universal connectedness of all things
Misguided masses: Activists co-opted by celebrity handshakes and free T-shirts
Spiritual test: Can Albert's ideals withstand his petty jealousy of Jude Law's character, a hot-shot executive who has it all?
Difficulty of achieving enlightenment: High. Our lives find meaning in action, but the big companies always have the upper hand.
Message: Albert ultimately commits to a losing battle against Huckabees, but lost causes may be the only ones worth fighting for.
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