CATEGORIES Cinematical


Everyone knows that there are three reasons why teens are such a hot and dependable box office commodity: sex, sex, and their penchant for hot and raging religious fanaticism. Wait... one of those things seems wrong (I think it's the second "sex.") But seriously folks, religious fervor is simply too prickly a subject - and one not sufficiently prom-oriented - to find its way into most Hollywood films about and intended for teenagers. I'm sure 'Degrassi' has it covered on the TV side of things, but my generation is still anxiously awaiting our own 'The Passion of Joan of Arc,' and just because Carl Theodor Dryer has been a lazy bastard dead in recent years doesn't mean that contemporary filmmakers should let the studios confine such an increasingly topical subject to the fringe and foreign likes of 'Martyrs' and 'Silent Light' (if this reads like I'm suggesting that 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' was the 'Avatar' of its time, just go with it). But this week's highly touted 'Easy A' is here to buck the trend, as the villain of this broad teen comedy is a God-fearing, pre-marital sex-hating Amanda Bynes. And while Bynes isn't exactly Dryer muse Maria Falconetti (or is it the other way around? I mean, Falconetti never won a Kid's Choice Award), this is at least a step in a refreshing direction.

So in honor of 'Easy A,' here are seven other recent-ish films that feature teens behaving godly (or otherwise acting in accordance with a higher power of some kind). I should warn that most of these films don't depict religion in a particularly positive fashion, but if you'd like to bring any less heretical titles that to light (that don't star Kirk Cameron), I encourage you to go for it in the comments.

1. Children of the Corn

Released the same year I was (I was a C-section of the Corn), Fritz Kiersch's 'Children of the Corn' is notable not only for being a significant financial success, but also for sparking an inexplicable rash of movies that had the word "corn" in the title (see: 'Children of the Corn II - VII." Better yet, don't). We all know the story by now: a boy-preacher named Isaac convinces the youths of Gatlin, Nebraska to worship a demon known as "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" and sacrifice all of the adults in town. One of the rare films to satisfy my quota for hardcore scythe-action (an area in which 'The Kids Are All Right' really let me down), 'Children of the Corn' is all about the perils of religious ardor gone horribly awry, although the film does away with faith by producing a very real and very possessive demon.

2. Saved!



Brian Dannelley's 'Saved!' (or as it's known in Austria: 'Die Highschool Missionarinnen') is about as dangerous as an episode of '7th Heaven,' but unfortunately I don't think there's a recent American film that more aggressively melds teens and religion. A satire of religious hypocrisy so meek and gentle that it stars Mandy Moore, 'Saved!' tells the sordid tale of Mary Cummings (the inexplicably adorable Jena Malone), a fundamentalist Christian teen who abandons her virginity in an attempt to "cure" her boyfriend of his recently announced homosexuality. And because condoms are the devil's latex, Mary gets pregnant. As John Travolta said in 'Face/Off', "Whee! What a predicament!" Filled with as many earnest and eye-rolling morals ("Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?") as it is amusingly snarky jabs at faith-based initiatives, 'Saved!' is hardly the second coming of religious satire, but it definitely has its moments. Mandy Moore has a lot of fun playing against her 'Princess Diaries' Type (she sat in front of me during the screening I attended way back when, and silently mouthed all of her dialogue with an electric smile on her face), Macaulay Culkin does his most respectable work this side of 'Home Alone 2: Pig in the City,' and Eva Amurri steals the show as the community's rogue Jew.

3. Varsity Blues



This movie means more to me than most people. By which I mean to say not that 'Varsity Blues' means more to me than it does to most people, but that it means more to me than most people do to me. "I don't want your life" has become an ironic rallying cry of sorts for my generation, and Brian Robbins' film about a high school football-obsessed town not only became a huge inspiration for the seminal 'Not Another Teen Movie,' it also brought us little Joe Pichler as James Van Der Beek's religion-obsessed younger brother. Intended as comic relief, Pichler first shows up as a pint-sized Christ on a crucifix and later starts the cutest of cults, and is especially memorable not because of the material but instead because the character has fantastically little to do with anything that's actually happening in the movie (the Wikipedia page is able to provide a detailed synopsis without even mentioning him). It's like the filmmakers acknowledged that religion was an unavoidable subject in a teen sports movie set in deep Texas, and thought that a little kid running around with a cross on his back would be a great way of establishing God's place in the community without distracting from the stripping teachers and whipped-cream bikinis. It wasn't. At all. But I tip my hat to the attempt. On a less pleasant note, the years of research I dedicated to this piece brought to my attention that Pichler disappeared on January 5, 2006, and has yet to be found. So I wish his family all the best with resolving that.

4. Love Exposure



I tried to keep this list to relatively recent and popular American films, but 'Love Exposure' is too good to be ignored, and I'll jump at any contrived excuse to bring it up. Sion Sono's deliriously sprawling 4-hour epic eventually touches upon just about every subject in the world, but it starts with a teenage boy named Yu, whose father - a recently anointed Catholic priest - demands that he confess for his sins. The thing is that Yu is as blank and innocent as they come, and to his knowledge doesn't have any sins for which he can confess. He tries inventing some to please his father, but the priest can easily see through his son's fictions, so Yu goes hits the streets of Tokyo to do things that require some serious atoning (and by "some things" I mean that he joins a clandestine society of upskirt photographer-ninjas). Of course, Yu is also being stalked by a member of the mysterious Zero Church, a cultish faction that wants to recruit Yu's entire family. An ecstatic treatise on the power of perversity, Sono's masterpiece is truly a film in which love is the only thing sacred.

5. A Walk to Remember



Mandy Moore, again! Except this time it's in an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, so religion is depicted only as a positive force and all the really nice people have terminal cancer (I guess that's a spoiler, but a tragic death in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation is like a Quidditch match in a Harry Potter film - always just around the corner to move things along without making a lick of sense*). 'A Walk to Remember' finds Mandy Moore as Jamie Sullivan, the quiet, self-actualized outcast who would be stunningly gorgeous if only she exorcised those infernal bangs. Landon Carter (Shane West) is the dreamy local badass in need of a serious spiritual makeover. They inevitably fall for each other once Jamie sees Landon's inherent goodness and Landon sees Jamie's inherent sex appeal, and they begin to knock off the items on Jamie's list of things she has to do in the 45 minutes before she dies. The script is careful to keep Jamie's faith as much on the periphery as possible (she wears overalls, so you know she's free of sin), but the number one thing on her list is to get married in the same church in which her parents tied the knot. It's a sweet and facile story, and though Jamie literally runs away from Landon after confessing her illness to him ("I do not need a reason to be angry with God!"), her Christian faith is depicted in a way respectful to viewers of all creeds.

*But seriously, has there ever been a Quidditch match that wasn't decided by a spell from the crowd? You'd think they'd look into that at some point. Like, eventually, Dumbledore would be all, "Hey, have any of you guys noticed that every match the Granger girl attends is decided by one of the players being quite obviously possessed in some way? Anyone?"

6. There Will Be Blood



Paul Dano's Eli Sunday - a wunderkind pastor - loves God about as much as he loves power, it's just that he only believes in the latter. Timing is both Eli's great asset and his ruin - he's come along at the dawn of 20th century California (the perfect time for a cagey entrepreneur or huckster to amass a great fortune through will and charisma alone), unfortunately for him he's also come along at the same time as oil man Daniel Plainview (I guess I'll agree that he's an oil man). Eli may have been the only man to ever rattle the tempestuous Plainview, but it's when Plainview rattles him back that things really cook. As beloved and widely seen as this movie is I still hesitate to say any more, but if you're taking the time to read this article and haven't ever set aside 158 minutes to watch 'There Will Be Blood,' you're doing it wrong.

7. The Craft



It counts. I think it counts. Whatever, as the expression goes, "You don't look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when that horse is Fairuza Balk." Before Ms. Balk was terrifying your pants off in 'American History X,' she was terrifying your pants off in 'The Craft,' a film about some high school Wiccans that - in the age of 'Twilight' - really appears to be more of a supernatural thriller than an occult religious thing, but I guess the distinction is that vampirism is considered less a religion and more a way of life. Robin Tunney joins a coven that includes Fairuza Balk and Neve Campbell, and they tap into a book about spirit invocation to recklessly change traffic lights and make Ben Stiller's wife lose all of her hair - evil stuff like that. It's truly more about magic than anything else, but the witches' shared faith in a text and spirit (Manon) renders it religious enough for me. Sure, there are a few more pertinent films I could discuss ('Latter Days' with Joseph Gordon-Levitt comes to mind) but that the list is so thin that 'The Craft' was even shortlisted suggests how committed Hollywood is to circumventing religious content.