That summer, pop culture experienced a crisis of faith

With the summer blockbuster season over, it’s a good time to take a step back. From a distance, a viewer can discern subjects otherwise hidden in the heat of a particular film or television show. Occasionally, an observer may catch a glimpse of a fear that is not particularly prominent in an individual case, but recurs frequently enough to merit closer examination. This summer, for example, American pop culture seemed to be going through a crisis of faith.

This is most evident when looking at the movies of the summer. Together they are preoccupied by fear of an absent God and fear of what might arise to fill that void. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 offers a fairly direct example with his villain, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). Early on, the audience is told that “the corners of the universe take him for God”. He creates and destroys worlds and rages at the film’s climax: “There is no God, that’s why I intervened!”

The spiritual fear of the high evolutionary is not unique. A few weeks later, audiences were confronted with the monstrous Dante Reyes (Jason Momoa). Fast X. Dante is subsequently inserted into the climax of Fast five. It turns out that during the film’s final chase scene, Dante was thrown off a bridge into the water. “Did you know that I was officially dead for two minutes?” he explains based on his motivation. “Two minutes. And do you know what I saw? Nothing. Not a damn thing.”

Dante is supposedly motivated by the death of his father Hernan (Joaquim de Almeida). However, his behavior points to a more spiritual vendetta. He imagines Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) trying to blow up the Vatican. While the heroic characters of Fast X When one speaks of “family”, one also speaks of “faith”. Throughout the film, Dom’s trademark crucifix – which features prominently on the poster – is used as an expression of loyalty among Dom’s disciples.

Dante doesn’t want to kill Dom, he wants him to suffer. Dante refers to his opponent as “Saint Dominic” and scoffs: “You know, Dominic, to become a real saint one must perform miracles.” Or die a martyr.” Of course, the Fast & Furious Movies have always had a somewhat Catholic take on them, though Fast X really brings the topic to the fore. Named after the famous Renaissance poet who wrote The Divine ComedyDante’s nihilism stands in stark contrast to Dom’s faith.

There is a similar topic in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) battles a sinister artificial intelligence known as The Entity. Although the program is technical in nature, it is downright demonic. There is a “dark messiah” and a “chosen messenger” named Gabriel (Esai Morales). Hunt forms an alliance with a young thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell). Together they hope to recover a “cruciform” key, made up of two interlocking crucifixes.

Therein lies a religious metaphor of conversion dead reckoning, focusing on the Impossible Mission Force as an organization that acts with unwavering moral authority and redeems its followers. As Grace faces death on a train at the climax, Ethan falls from the sky to save her. Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) describes the entity as a “hellish machine,” while a JSOC representative (Rob Delaney) dismisses it as “godless.” Ethan describes it as Gabriel’s “god”.

This is a common motif. Stories about artificial intelligence are often about man’s relationship with the divine. Alex Garlands developer is a recent example. It was also a recurring theme in Mrs Davis, which streamed on Peacock this summer. Although the film has not yet been released, based on the title and the fact that the film’s first trailer began with a character asking “What is heaven?” it is likely that Gareth Edwards’ The creator I’ll take a look at these ideas too.

The theme even extends to Barbie And Oppenheimerboth are creation myths. Oppenheimer A scene in which Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) quotes the Bhagavad Gita while having sex with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) caused some controversy. While not literally about the absence of divine authority, it is a film about shifting from a rational and ordered understanding of the universe to something more chaotic and unpredictable.

Director Christopher Nolan is fascinated by the idea of ​​belief as a binding construct, and it makes sense Oppenheimer is full of religious images. Characters speak of “miracles,” “martyrs,” and “sin.” The test is called Trinity. A poisoned apple becomes a recurring visual motif. Niels Bohr (Kenneth Branagh) warns Oppenheimer, “You can’t lift the stone without being prepared for the serpent that is revealed.” Einstein (Tom Conti) is expelled from the Manhattan Project because he believes that “God doesn’t rolls”. It’s hardly subtle.


Barbie is equally biblical in its imagery and iconography. Director Greta Gerwig has spoken about her experience of going to a Catholic school and how that affects the way she structures her stories to have “a religious story behind them”. She has spoken about how the relationship between Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) is “the opposite of the Genesis creation myth.” In the film, Barbieland is depicted as the Garden of Eden, with the Patriarchate as a snake.

Over the period of Barbie, the title character discovers that life is more complicated than it seems. There’s more to the world than the isolated paradise she’s always known. She even confronts her creator, Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman). Ultimately, Barbie decides to leave Barbieland and embrace the real world in all its chaos and uncertainty. In all of this, a sense of innocence is lost, even as there is a sense of liberation at the same time.

This theme bubbles through other current movies and shows. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is the first film in the series not to feature an explicitly religious Macguffin. The film begins with Indy (Harrison Ford) chasing the Lance of Longinus, a classic Christian artifact, only to quickly discover that it is a fake. M. Night Shyamalans Knock at the hut is even more explicitly religious in its plot than most of the director’s filmographies, envisioning an angry and monstrous deity.

On a more abstract level, even the fourth season of successor has a spiritual component. The final season focuses on media baron Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) children after his death. Logan has always been an emotionally unavailable patriarch, now he’s physically absent. The show focuses on the limits of mortal flesh and what happens in a world where nobody believes anything. In this season premiere, Logan denies the existence of an afterlife. The penultimate episode is entitled Church and State, in which the characters fight for their worldview from the pulpit.


There has also been a recent resurgence of mainstream religious horrors. The Pope’s Exorcist was successful enough to spawn a sequel, although it appears to be just a foretaste of David Gordon Green’s work to come exorcist Trilogy. Follow in the footsteps of Green, who was extremely commercially successful Halloween trilogy, these three films are a great opportunity for Blumhouse and Universal. Ellen Burstyn is returning to her Oscar-nominated role, and so are the films very expensive.

Of course this is nothing new. Over the years, pop culture has grappled with these questions a lot. Faith is a rich literary subject. Still, it is noteworthy that this fear of ungodliness permeates much of this year’s film and television productions. Many of these stories deal with the notion of the absence or destruction of the divine. Monsters like the High Evolutionary try to fill that gap. In the face of this, villains like Dante Reyes profess malicious nihilism.

It is not too difficult to understand why these ideas could be implemented in the mass media. America itself is experiencing something of a spiritual crisis. Polls suggest fewer than half of Americans belong to any particular church. Surveys show a steady increase in the number of respondents who have no religious affiliation. Pew Research reckons that Christians could make up less than half the population of the United States in a few decades.

Timothy Keller wrote about a trip from Virginia to New York in the 1980s and saw churches being repurposed into “condos, gyms, art galleries, cafes, pubs and clubs.” This trend has accelerated. In Without a doubt: the secularization of societyIsabella Kasselstrand, Phil Zuckerman, and Ryan Cragun wrote that “somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 churches are closed each year, either to be converted for housing, laundries, laser tag arenas, or skate parks, or simply to be torn down.”


This summer’s trend appears to have been accelerated by the pandemic, with almost half of Gen Z having no religious affiliation. The number of “non-converts” has also increased sharply: a little over a third of Americans between the ages of 30 and 39 who grew up in Christian households no longer identify with this faith. In contrast, there has been an aggressive upsurge in “Christian nationalism.” Shadi Hamid suspects that this could lead to increased political polarization: “This is what religion looks like without religion.”

The history of the United States has always been shaped by religion. Founded by pilgrims, it claims to be “one nation under God.” The official translation of the Latin phrase “Annuit cœptis” that appears on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States is “He (God) has favored our enterprises.” The transition from that would always be a turbulent one. This turmoil seems to be reflected throughout the summer’s film and television schedule.

The Pop Culture of Summer, by successor To Mrs Davisout of Fast X To Oppenheimer, asked what happens without divine authority. In some cases, e.g Fast X or dead reckoning, the characters must follow their own beliefs. Some films reward this belief with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 He advises Rocket (Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn) that “there are the hands that made us, and then there are the hands that guide their hands.”

Other examples from this summer are less reassuring. In successorKendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) will never escape the shadow of his absent father. In Oppenheimer, the titular character never manages to fully come to terms with the monstrous insecurity it has unleashed. In BarbieOnly by accepting the contradictions of the real world can the eponymous character ever be truly free. Paradoxically, in a world where these long-accepted truths are no longer guaranteed, faith is all that is left.

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