This week, the film critic Robert Horton recommends a few films with religious themes.
In “Lord, Save Us from Your Followers," director Dan Merchant inserts himself into his documentary, which looks at 21st-century evangelicals who have loudly joined the political debate. Merchant, himself a believer, finds these political arguments somewhat un-Christian at times, and his case is that we'd all be better off if we stopped shouting across each other and finding ways of connecting. A civilized conclusion, of course, although one irreverently wonders whether there isn't another documentary to be made suggesting that if the world's great religions have had a couple of millennia to talk and still haven't worked it out, maybe a different idea is in order. In any case, here are a few movies on the subject of evangelicals, politics, and Americana.
“Elmer Gantry" (1960). The classic Sinclair Lewis novel comes to life with a brimstone-spitting, Oscar-winning performance by Burt Lancaster, as the preacher whose holy testifyin' doesn't always match his own behavior. Director Richard Brooks gets a lot of juice into this caustic tale, which has a strong cast (Jean Simmons, Arthur Kennedy, Shirley Jones) and a great feel for early-20th-century America.
“Saved! (2004). The students of American Eagle Christian school are shocked when a classmate (Jena Malone) becomes pregnant, as though by miraculous intervention. This amusing satire is really just another high-school movie, albeit one in which the "mean girls" do a lot of Bible quoting.
“Jesus Camp” (2006). A documentary focusing on an evangelical school in Devils Lake, North Dakota, where kids are taught that faith is a battleground and that they are warriors in "God's Army." The culture war is calmly viewed in this unnerving film, which practically begs for a "Where Are They Now?" update to see what becomes of these bright, alert kids. My review for the Herald is here.