Ever since I can remember I have always been into movies. Bollywood movies never really caught my fancy, but I would watch Hollywood movies day and night. And I do mean day and night. It was not uncommon for me to watch 5 or 6 movies in a weekend. Then in my teenage years another obsession was added to the list, stand-up comedy, with Bill Hicks being my favourite (he still is). Later in my mid-twenties, shortly after 9/11, I found Allah, so my list of heartfelt obsessions now numbered three.
I have blogged many, many times about all three subjects, including various overlaps between them. However, from an Islamic perspective one must be careful when watching movies dealing overtly with religion. In Islamic theology we are encouraged not to tolerate any real, physical depictions of our prophets for various reasons, so watching movies like The Passion Of The Christ (2004), Noah (2014), and Exodus: Gods And Kings (2014) is a strict theological no-no. A better way of explaining this concept is done by Imam Nouman Ali Khan:
You don’t have to look very hard on YouTube to find Imam Nouman and other scholars talking disparagingly about Hollywood and Bollywood. So where does all this leave a religious movie nut like myself? If I want to get my movie-religion-overlap fix I have to do it in other ways. I have to get it through more conventional non-religious movies such as On The Waterfront (1954), Cool Hand Luke (1967), and Good Will Hunting (1997).
Below are 4 clips from these movies, clips that I think have good, positive religious messages. Where possible I have tried to add my own analysis and understanding of what these clips mean to a practising Muslim like myself. Not to make too obvious a point, these clips are better understood in the context of the full movie, so if you’ve not seen these movies I urge you to do so as they truly deserve the merit of ‘classic’. As always, enjoy!
LOVE OF A LOUSY BUCK
On The Waterfront (1954) is a multi-Oscar winning movie that redefined the genre of acting. Brando was a tour de force in his portrayal of simpleton Terry Malloy, with his performance still being talked about with the utmost respect among fellow actors, especially the scene with his brother Charlie in the back of the taxi.
He won his first Oscar for Best Actor thanks to this movie (his second would come some 16 years later in 1972 for The Godfather). At the time of release the movie had more political undertones due to the McCarthy witch hunts that were taking place, especially in media circles, but over time the religious aspects of the movie have come through in spades.
The scene below is of Karl Madden as Father Barry, giving an off-the-cuff sermon in the waterfront docks to anyone who will listen, after the murder of an innocent dock worker who dared to stand up to the corrupt officials. Here’s an analysis from the blog Reel Christianity:
Speaking up for wrongdoing, especially in a corrupt place, is the kind of thing Jesus did constantly in his ministry. He never shunned sinners, but he called out those in the church that did not minister to those in need. And even before Jesus was doing his ministry on Earth, the Bible talks about caring for those who need it most. Proverbs 31:8-9 reads, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is what, in a sense, Joey Doyle, Kayo Dugan, and Terry Malloy all attempted to do—and what Terry was able to do in the end. He helped put an end to corruption on the waterfront, and believers can also fight for injustice in our own way. Whatever that way is, I pray that you and I would find guidance from God and serve Him in what we do. – Sean O’Connor
POP: He don’t need a doctor…he needs a priest.
FATHER BARRY: I came down here to keep a promise. I gave Kayo my word that if he stood up to the mob I’d stand up with him. All the way. And now Kayo Dugan is dead. He was one of those fellas who had the gift of standing up but this time they fixed him oh they fixed him for good this time. Unless it was an accident like Big Mac says. Some people think the crucifixion only took place on Calvary. Well they’d better wise up. Taking Joey Doyle’s life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow…that’s a crucifixion. And every time the mob puts the crusher on a good man, tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen? It’s a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows has happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of our lord to see if he was dead.
[Somebody throws something in Father Barry’s direction. He ignores them]
TRUCK: Go back to your church father.
FATHER BARRY: Boys, this is my church! And if you don’t think Christ is down here on the waterfront you’ve got another guess coming.
[Tillio throws a banana at Father Barry. The banana splatters him, but he ignores it.]
SONNY: Get off the dock, Father.
TERRY: Tillio, don’t do that.
TILLIO: Whose side are you on, boy?
TERRY: Let him finish.
FAHTER BARRY: Every morning when the hiring boss blows his whistle Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up. He sees why some of you get picked and some of you get passed over. He sees the family men worrying about getting the rent and getting food in the house for the wife and the kids. He sees you selling your souls to the mob for a day’s pay.
[Somebody else throws something at Father Barry.]
POP: The next bum that throws something deals with me! I don’t care if he’s twice my size!
FATHER BARRY: Now what does Christ think of the easy money boys who do none of the work and take all of the gravy? And how does he feel about the fellas who wear a hundred-and-fifty dollar suits and diamond rings on your union dues and your kickback money? And how does he, who spoke up without fear against every evil, feel about your silence?
TILLIO: Shut up about that. Just watch this.
[Tillio is about to throw something else. Terry punches him.]
TRUCK: [Speaking to Terry’s brother Charlie] You see that?
FATHER BARRY: You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making love of a buck, the cushy job more important than the love of man! It’s forgetting that every fella down here is your brother in Christ. But remember Christ is always with you. Christ is in the shape-up, he’s in the hatch, he’s in the union hall, he’s kneeling right here beside Dugan. And he’s saying with all of you: “If you do it to the least of mine you do it to me.” And what they did to Joey and what they did to Dugan they’re doing to you. And you, you, all of you! And only you, only you with God’s help have the power to knock ‘em out for good. [Turns to the corpse of Kayo] Okay, Kayo. [Turns back to everybody else and says harshly] Amen. [Makes the sign of the cross and walks away.] – from the movie On The Waterfront (1954)
IT’S ABOUT TIME WE HAD A LITTLE TALK
Whilst Father Barry is certain of his faith, the prisoner Luke Jackson is riddled with doubt. Luke is the quintessential lone individual challenging authority and conformity, unsuccessfully in this case (similar to Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).
Luke, without perhaps realising it, ends being a Christ like figure in prison, mainly depicted through his devoted disciples who believe in him and will do anything for him. He even seems to resemble the Christian artistic version of Christ after the famous egg eating scene, splayed out in a simple white rag.
Here is some further analysis from the blog Visual Parables:
Luke, as an unusual Christ Figure, brings a sense of liberation to his fellow prisoners and strikes fear in the hearts of those who use fear and force to prop up their harsh authority. Tyrants, whether they rule a nation or a small prison camp, fear the loss of authority or power, these being the only things which distinguish them from those they regard as scum. Luke is a Christ Figure, not in any moral sense, but in that his life and death serve to liberate his fellow prisoners from this fear of the guards and the unquestioning acceptance of their captor’s authority. – Ed McNulty
[Discussing God whilst walking in the rain. Looks to the skies at the torrential rain.]
Luke: Let Him go. Bam, bam.
Dragline: Knock it off, Luke. You can’t talk about Him that way.
Luke: Are you still believin’ in that big bearded Boss up there? You think He’s watchin’ us?
Dragline: [Gesturing to the prison van] Get in here. Ain’t ya scared? Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?
Luke: Dyin’? Boy, He can have this little life any time He wants to. Do Ya hear that? Are Ya hearin’ it? Come on. You’re welcome to it, Ol’ Timer. Let me know You’re up there. Come on. Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it. [He looks around] I’m just standin’ in the rain talkin’ to myself. – from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Luke: Anybody here? Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can You spare a minute? It’s about time we had a little talk. I know I’m a pretty evil fellow…killed people in the war and got drunk…and chewed up municipal property and the like. I know I got no call to ask for much…but even so, You’ve got to admit You ain’t dealt me no cards in a long time. It’s beginning to look like You got things fixed so I can’t never win out. Inside, outside, all of them…rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am. Now just where am I supposed to fit in? Old Man, I gotta tell You. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it’s beginning to get to me. When does it end? What do You got in mind for me? What do I do now? Right. All right. [Gets on knees, closes eyes and begins to pray] On my knees, asking. [Peeks up with one eye, waits. Then opens eyes and crosses arms] Yeah, that’s what I thought. I guess I’m pretty tough to deal with, huh? A hard case. [Clicks tongue] Yeah. I guess I gotta find my own way. [Headlights shine through windows, backs up]
Luke: [Shakes head and smiles] Is that Your answer, Old Man? I guess You’re a hard case, too. – from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967)
YOUR MOVE, CHIEF
The Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1998 was presented to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for their movie Good Will Hunting. This movie was something the two best friends were working on for several years before finally taking the plunge and making a classic of American cinema, and arguably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
The scene below is basically about theory versus practice, a young Matt Damon who reads books and only knows theory, versus the older Robin Williams, who has been there and done that. In Islam there is a concept of someone who has knowledge, someone who owns books, being compared to a donkey carrying great works of literature. In other words, you talk the talk but you are yet to walk the walk. This dichotomy is highlighted by the elder to the younger in the following scene:
[Sean and Will sit on a bench at the mostly empty park. They look out over a small pond with swans, in which a group of schoolchildren on a field trip ride the famous Swan Boats. Will doesn’t look at Sean throughout the speech; he looks away. The scene ends with Sean walking away, leaving Will still sitting there, bewildered, contemplating Sean’s words.]
Will: So what’s this? A Taster’s Choice moment between guys? This is really nice. You got a thing for swans? Is this like a fetish? It’s something, like, maybe we need to devote some time to?
Sean: I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep, and haven’t thought about you since. You know what occurred to me?
Sean: You’re just a kid. You don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.
Will: Why, thank you.
Sean: It’s all right. You’ve never been out of Boston.
Sean: So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, and seen that. If I asked you about women you’d probably give me a syllabus of your personal favourites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. I ask you about war, and you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? “Once more into the breach, dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap and watched him gasp his last breath, looking to you for help. And if I asked you about love you probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable, known someone that could level you with her eyes. Feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel and to have that love for her to be there forever. Through anything. Through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see in your eyes that the term visiting hours don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. I look at you, I don’t see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius, Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and you ripped my fucking life apart. You’re an orphan right? Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a shit about all that, because you know what? I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some fucking book, unless you want to talk about you, who you are. And I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want to do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief. – from the movie Good Will Hunting (1997)