The Oscar for Best Image of God
A scene from The Hurt Locker, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, which tells of the selfless acts of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq.
S. Brent Plate, professor of religious studies at Hamilton College writes,
A long time ago, in a desert far, far away, Moses scaled a mountain called Sinai in order to bring God's law to God's people. God's message included proscriptions about not making or worshiping images of anything on heaven, earth, or sea. This had to do with God's exclusive ability to create life, but also with a particular "image of God" understood to be solely invested in the form of humans (see Genesis 1:26-27). Coincidentally, Moses' brother Aaron was in the valley below forging a golden calf for the people to worship.The full text of his essay is online here: And the Oscar for Best Image of God in a motion picture goes to . . .
What then should we make of the golden statuette called "Oscar"? An icon for the Academy Awards, the trophy is an image of a human body presented to the best filmmakers representing human life through cinema. Those aren't the award's requirements, but that's the way it is: A golden image, given to image makers. Humans are "God's Oscars," we might say. We are deep into theological territory here.
The films of 2009 explored the image of the human, and thus the image of God, in an unprecedented way.
Plate goes on to muse about Avatar, District Nine, The Hurt Locker, 9, The Princess and the Frog and others, without really reaching an answer. Perhaps because Hollywood deals with fantasy as much or more than reality, it is difficult to find the Image of God in film. I haven't seen the movie Precious and wonder how it speaks to the Image of God within a person overlooked by others.
I did see A Serious Man in which a Jewish man deals with divorce while his son prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The plotless movie was intriguing in how it dealt with questions, particularly a man trying to rely on his faith tradition to help him, but intentionally provides no answers. I saw the selfless acts in The Hurt Locker, but then the film showed how the main character became addicted to the selfless act of putting himself at risk. Similarly, the group that sets out to destroy the Evil that is Nazism in Germany in Inglourious Basterds is tainted by what they do in the process. The audience cheers for the good guys only to see them end up shooting indiscriminately into a crowd before the movie ends.
Yet where I see the Image of God most clearly in film is not always in the movie as a whole, but in acts of Agape love, that self-giving love that comes from God. The movies do provide glimpses at this way of being. As the movies noted above point out, even these acts of selflessness are not completely uncomplicated by sin, but they are god nonetheless. But then, the best way to see this sort of love is in action in your own life and the lives of those around you, rather than merely as a projection, whether 3-D or not.
What about you? Where have you glimpsed something of God in film in the past year?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Movie Critic
SPOILER ALERT: The scene in Inglourious Basterds where you realize the joke has been on you as you've been sucked in to wishing the Nazis destroyed at any cost.