So I thought I might provoke a little conversation by listing seven films that are centered around theological distress. Some of the picks are a bit light-hearted, others a little more controversial, but all are worth talking about. Spoilers abound, so if you really don't know how Dogma or The Last Temptation of Christ ends, skip this post for something safer.
1. The Last Temptation of Christ
Both Nikos Kazantzakis' novel and Martin Scorsese's film continue to attract controversy for daring to portay a Jesus who was uncertain, troubled, and struggling with his destiny. I can't really say it any better than Roger Ebert did, so let's just quote him: "Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, 'It is accomplished.'"
2. Agnes of God
Immaculate conception or someone taking advantage of a troubled young nun? Are her actions tinged with madness or inspired by a higher power? Neither the movie nor the play its based on ever really answers the question, and neither explanation offers much comfort.
3. The Sound of Music
This is the lighthearted pick I alluded to in the introduction -- but for a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, it throws our heroine into quite the religious dilemma. Does she admit she was wrong, and that the religious life is not for her? Is loving Captain von Trapp a betrayal of God? The Mother Superior assures her otherwise, but you have to feel for Maria as she tries to fling herself back into the habit when confronted with romance for the first time.
4. The Nun's Story
I've always thought of this one as the anti-Sound of Music, the one to watch if you hoped joining a convent would be great architecture and beautiful music. It's a powerful, terrifying story of the religious and physical trials of Sister Luke, whose disillusionment with the church reaches its peak at the height of World War II.
5. The Exorcist
Poor Father Damien. Already suffering from a personal crisis of faith, a demonic possession lands at his door. He spends the entire film doubting and denying before finally admitting to the evil before him. He regains his faith in time to save Regan, and understand what it truly means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Yes, this is a film about the Marquis de Sade, but the effect he has on Joaquin Phoenix's Abbé du Coulmier may haunt you far more than anything the Marquis ever put to paper. An enlightened and kindly man of religion, the Abbé is tempted and tormented into madness by de Sade, Michael Caine's Dr. Royer-Collard, and his love for the beautiful laundress, Madeleine.
To balance out the horror, a silly pick with a happy ending. Trying to sell a lapsed Linda Fiorentino on a God who loves skeeball, rebel angels, Jay and Silent Bob, and the thirteenth apostle seems like a holy quest all by itself. Luckily, she overcomes her skepticism (and when faced with Alan Rickman, who couldn't?) and saves all of creation.