The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005-2010) are examples of films that might be deemed Catholic. CNS/Disney Enterprises

Year of Faith cinema

By  John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service
  • January 12, 2013

In Porta Fidei (The Door of Faith), an apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI urges us to study the history of Catholicism, which he describes as “marked by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin.”

This can apply to the medium of film. All too often in movies, however, sin dominates and holiness is difficult to recognize.

In the spirit of the new evangelization, the Year of Faith is an appropriate time to ask what constitutes a faithful and, more specifically, a Catholic movie.

Movies seeking to embody the tenets of a particular religious tradition, explain one of its sacred texts or profile a key prophet are the easiest to classify in this way.

Admiring portraits of clerics, laypeople or other believing protagonists are also strong candidates, as are films that use storytelling techniques, such as allegory, to impart an article of faith.

Turning to Catholic films, there are many reasons a picture might be deemed Catholic. But the dynamic between those who create a work, the work itself and the audience beholding it is a useful shortcut. A movie may qualify as Catholic if the filmmaker has a Catholic sensibility, if the subject matter involves Catholicism and/ or if a viewer offers a plausible Catholic interpretation.

The range of examples stretches from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterwork The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and popular entertainments from Hollywood’s Golden Age — Bible epics and certain Bing Crosby vehicles, for instance — to more recent fare. The latter includes the biopic Romero (1989) and The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005-2010).

What passes for religiosity in most mainstream movies is too shallow and generic to leave a deep impression. Humanism, non-specific ethical concerns and advocacy of a vaguely spiritual, less materialistic approach to life are not enough.

Several recently released films illustrate this point. As a boy, the title character in Life of Pi embarks on a personal quest to find God, picking and choosing from a number of different faiths, including Catholicism. Yet, as his atheist father remarks, “Believing in everything is like believing in nothing.”

A movie is authentically Catholic when its Catholic traits are fully integrated into its form and content. Such integrity is similar to that perceived in a person whose beliefs and behaviour always appear to be in concert, someone we can justly say “lives their faith.”

This critical process is analogous to the task Pope Benedict calls us to undertake regarding the history of the Church during the Year of Faith. The question is not whether holiness and sin are intertwined in our faith, in ourselves and in what we create. We are challenged to discern how they are woven together — and to begin unspooling the mystery of why.


Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.