How can we assess the religiosity of films?

Andrew has an interesting post about religion and its presence in film. I suppose my first question considering this topic is how might we assess the religiosity of films? Depending on our perspective we might be inclined to see a waxing or a waning of religion’s presence in films. I think Andrew is correct in assessing religion in film through the themes addressed – as opposed to something banal or trivial like whether characters swear (note to parents groups: everyone who I’ve asked learned to swear from listening to their dad anyway). What this sort of discussion reminds me of though is an address that Robertson Davies gave to a group of theologians (I think) as reprinted in his book The Merry Heart.

Davies addressed questions of how an author might be a moralist in this speech. Davies own understanding is that books of programmatic morality, with the two exceptions Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress are almost uniformly terrible. Anyone who, as a child, endured the Davey and Goliath cartoons while waiting for the “good” cartoons to come on will surely attest to the general truth of this statement. Seriously though, despite this, Davies still considers authors to be moralists in the sense that they deal in moral truths (I’m probably doing Davies a disservice here – read the original in his book, in fact buy his book). Even an author like Nabokov, who tries to be amoral is making a moral comment.

I haven’t seen either I Am Legend or The Bucket List so you’ll have to raise your objections with Andrew if you don’t agree with his assessment of those films, but I’ve heard Christians find any number of fascinating movies to have some kind of religious theme or comment, Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, and Donnie Darko all come to mind. For what it’s worth, you could see the first two Terminator films as a sort of redemption cycle (the third one and the TV show wreck that – but we all know that they were just the principles from the franchise cashing in). Good filmmaking, like all good art, often deals in the same themes as religion. That’s probably why so many religious people are suspicious of art. I suppose it’s somewhat banal to put it this way, but usually good quality filmmaking is something that ought to be intelligible to religion and religious people.