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There are actually atheist movies?

Enough for a film festival? I guess so: San Francisco will be having the Atheist Film Festival next week. They’ve got four movies lined up, which isn’t bad; I can think of a few others, but not many.

I can’t make it to San Francisco, so tell me what some other good godless movies might be — movies with no gods, no miracles, no afterlife, no ghosts, no kindly priests being beneficent rather than rapey.

Comments

  1. says

    Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman films are usually atheistic (even if some of them have supernatural elements). Not to mention all the other films that just don’t bring gods into the picture when they very easily could.

  2. bryonyvaughn says

    Actually that standard for what makes a movie atheist, seems to apply to every episode of Sesame Street ever made.

    OMG! We should defund PBS as they’re indoctrinating our children into Atheism.

  3. Species8472 says

    What makes an atheistic film anyway? A film that have an atheistic message? If so I think “Agora” from 2009 is a good one.

  4. lordshipmayhem says

    2001:A Space Odyssey would be an atheistic film: no god, just aliens and evolution.

    And then there’s Religilous

    Under Comedy/Satire, you could put Expelled.

  5. alex says

    The invention of Lying is funny as hell and slams both faith and things like the 3 strike law, great movie.

  6. Cryptohominid says

    Again, wrapped in (sometimes confusing) allegory, I would submit LVT’s “Antichrist”. The natural world is one of the main ‘villains’, the way people deal with it in pathological situations the other. It’s definitely disturbing and hard to watch in places, and some have accused the film of misogyny (which I don’t agree with). It’s also undeniably gorgeous and moving, and can stick with the viewer for some time afterward. Definitely not a film for everyone. Watch with caution.

    (BTW, I’m assuming you are asking for films where atheism could be considered a strong subtext, not outright polemics on the subject.)

  7. Species8472 says

    One of my favourites is an odd film called “The Man From Earth”. The whole film is about a bunch of people sitting in a room talking. The main idea is a bit absurd. About a man that lack the genetic coding for growing old, so he’s been around for 14000 years. Fair enough, but it is the story he tells and the reactions of the listeners that makes the film so special. It touches quite heavily on religion at one point. This is a film you probably will find very fascinating or incredibly dull. I loved it. One reason I like it is that Christians seem to hate it :)

  8. joed says

    Nabokov’s Lolita, One of the greatest books ever written, is also a film by Adrian Lynn. If you know the book you will find the film absolutely godless.

  9. Tarsis says

    I really enjoyed the way christians were depicted in 2004′s King Arthur… raving, frothing-at-the-mouth zealots who imprison and torture heathens just for not being christian. They also had no sense of humor when Arthur’s friend made fun of their prayers. Bonus: Keira Knightley kicking ass in her pagan undies.

  10. ctlfsh says

    //Equilibrium// is about the most blatantly atheistic (or perhaps just anti-Catholic Church) movie I’ve ever seen.

  11. AusieMike says

    Pulp Fiction

    I also got a message to stop posting so quickly. Once I was on IMDB it was easy….sorry.

  12. chaos_engineer says

    “The Ten Commandments” is a pretty scathing indictment of golden-calf-worship. It doesn’t have the courage of its convictions, though…it leaves the door open for the possibility of the existence of non-material gods.

  13. Birger Johansson says

    Ordshipmayhem has mentioned 2001 -A Space Odyssey.
    By the same criteria, Solaris (1972 version) would make a good choice.
    In fact I often quote that film as an example that you do not have to revert to surrealism to get a very abstract point across.

    And David Lynch films show you can have serious weirdness without religious mysticism :)

    For comedy: choose Life of Brian!

    Groundhog Day and the TV series Day Break are examples of how small changes can have big consequences -hence no fate ordained by gods.
    The British film Sliding Doors and the German film Lola Rennt have similar themes, but are a bit less in your face.

    And then we have (wossname), a film about a rural poulation who fear leaving their village because of the creatures living in the surrounding forest…which turn out to be fictional, as a blind girl sets out to get medicine to a stabbed boy.

    Padre Amaro is about a Mexican catholic priest, and the conflict between the church rules and his love for a local woman.

    Intacto -the film has actually a semi-miraculous theme (can luck be used as a commodity?), but is non-religious and quite pragmatic about it.

    Bergmann: Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring)

  14. ShavenYak says

    bryonyvaughn, Sesame Street’s liberal/atheist agenda is already well known to the Right, and they’re trying to defund it as we speak.

    AusieMike, I don’t recall any Trek film dealing with God. Huh? Number 5? The Final somethingorother? Never heard of that one. *sticks fingers in ears* la la la I can’t hear you….

  15. MikeLatiolais says

    I agree 100% on the Wizard of Oz.

    Dorothy: [Dorothy and friends, all together] We want to see the Wizard!
    Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: [gasps] The Wizard? But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody’s ever seen the Great Oz! Even I’ve never seen him!
    Dorothy: Well, then how do you know there is one?
    Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Oh, you’re wasting my time!

  16. Shinobi says

    “Saved” I don’t know if it is really Atheist so much as Anti crazy christians, but it is a great movie.

  17. theophontes says

    @ AusieMike

    I see your Gattaca and raise you Things to Come.

    (Warning: includes zombies, an all-powerful technocracy and a desperate bid to go into space.)

  18. says

    Hey everyone, I’m one of the Atheist Film Fest organizers. Thanks for giving our festival a mention, PZ!

    I hope everyone checks out our lineup, even if you can’t make it–in addition to our four feature films (The Ledge, The Nature of Existence, JOIN US, and Agora) we’ve got some shorts programs and wholes second theater with 11 of hours of additional programming, screening films we’ve shown in past years (including items like Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God and God’s Cartoonist, a documentary about Jack T. Chick).

    You’ve all got really great suggestions for films that belong at such a festival. Unfortunately, we’re still a pretty small festival and can’t yet afford the rights for a huge lineup of big films–but we’re getting bigger every year!

    Thanks for your support!

  19. Charlie Foxtrot says

    How about “The Mist”?
    I seem to recall that it didn’t present the religious mentality in a pressure situation too favourably.

  20. says

    @ Birger Johansson

    That’s an M. Night Shamaylan film. The Village, I believe. The whole thing could be taken as a metaphor for religion; they go through ridiculous rituals in their daily lives, the fear is used to control them, and it kept them isolated and behind the times.

  21. says

    Iron Giant – yes, it’s a kids’ film, but it never fails to make everyone in the room tear up at the end (adults included) and has a great message about the definition of humanity and compassion. No gods or afterlife needed. And it’s got a giant robot.

    Another Earth – this one’s still in the theaters, but it was a refreshing change to see a sci-fi premise film that was free of explosions and special effects and relied completely on story and characterization. Excellent rumination on redemption and loneliness.

    Nausicaa – One of Miyazaki’s earlier films, a bit of a precursor theme-wise to Princess Mononoke, including environmental themes and vengeance.

  22. Nick says

    I heartily recommend The Fountain with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weiss. It’s a beautifully-shot film about coming to terms with mortality. I suppose it’s not an explicitly atheist movie, but it’s certainly godless, and in the end has a distinctly naturalistic message.

  23. horrabin says

    “Ten Commandments” is by no means an atheist movie, but it does have some great “God is a dick” stuff in it. Before his conversion to boring bearded mouthpiece for Yahweh, Moses asks several times, very reasonably, why god doesn’t do something about the whole centuries in bondage thing. Then, when he’s in exile among the bedouins, his wife tells him that god lives on mount sinai. Moses says that god living on a mountain doesn’t really make a lot of sense and his wife replies, “I don’t know of such things”, but god lives on that mountain.

    Of course, he drops his sensible questions and objections once IYAMWHATIAM does some impressive magic, but then we get to see god murder egyptian children.

  24. shakln06 says

    Watch Faith,Fraud & Minimum wage, it’s about an atheist girl who lives in a town of catholic crazies.

    It’s probably my favorite movie with an atheist protagonist; and the dialogue is actually believable unlike some atheist movies *coughTHELEDGEcough*

  25. Nemo says

    The Invention of Lying, Religulous, Letting Go of God, and of course THE LIFE OF FUCKING BRIAN.

  26. lytefoot says

    Nausicaa, while awesome, doesn’t really qualify; it goes pretty messianic at the end.

  27. teawithbertrand says

    I saw Star Trek mentioned earlier and was reminded of this clip. It isn’t from a movie, but it illustrates the atheism and anti-theism of the franchise pretty well.

  28. Freerefill says

    “What Dreams May Come”

    Sure, it involves a guy going through heaven and hell to be with his soul mate, but it’s a smack in the face for fundamentalists:

    It’s possible to be reincarnated

    It’s possible to defy Gods will and save someone from Hell

    It’s possible to go behind Gods back and study books, and find loopholes in the system of Heaven

    Sinners can be redeemed without Gods help

    It spits in the face of most of the important Christian dogmas whilst being completely believable and coherent, and at the same time featuring a beautiful love story and Robin Williams, with just the slightest hint of surrealism.

    And if that doesn’t work, I second (third? nth?) The Life of Brian.

  29. David Utidjian says

    A Clockwork Orange
    Marjoe (Academy Award winning expose of televangelism)
    THX-1138
    A Boy and His Dog
    Firefly
    One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest

  30. naturalcynic says

    2001:A Space Odyssey would be an atheistic film: no god, just aliens and evolution.

    Although the role of the monolith at the beginning of the story, If it took some active role in changing the character of the homonids at the beginning of the story, it would be a film about Intelligent Design :-\

  31. says

    Nausicaa, while awesome, doesn’t really qualify; it goes pretty messianic at the end.

    Fair point, but then it wouldn’t be a bad choice if they were looking for films with messianic imagery for discussion. Wish there entire graphic novel series had been adapted – the messianic imagery/storyline disappears since it’s not the ending of story, and it delves into how things have been manipulated detrimentally by a “god like” force (that was actually a creation of humans pre-atomic fallout).

  32. naturalcynic says

    Contact
    Ellie Arroway is definitely an atheist who runs afoul with religion professionally – in terms of the government overlooking her as the best candidate for the first trip, which is then destroyed by a religious fanatic. And romantically with Christian philosopher /evangelist Palmer Joss, but she never gives up her lack of faith in religion and maintains her faith in her experience and empiricism.
    And also, it was written by St. Carl.

  33. says

    re: Contact – Arroway definitely is an atheist protagonist, but the end of the movie ends up equating atheism with belief in a deity by setting Arroway up to say that despite having brought back no proof of her encounter at the end of the wormhole or that the machine even worked, she’s reduced to arguing in terms of “having faith” and “knowing she had an experience she can’t explain.” It basically ends up saying “hey, look, atheism requires faith, too!” which was highly disappointing.

  34. Rieux says

    No, no, no, no, not Contact. That movie (which is not Carl Sagan’s book!) was specifically intended to be accommodationist and (though they didn’t have a word for it then) Gnubashing. Jodie Foster’s character is an outspoken atheist for the specific purpose of demonstrating how awful it is to be an outspoken atheist.

    I’m continually galled at the number of Gnu-ish atheists who have seen that movie and think it has good things to say about the way we see the world. It’s a hatchet job, guys. (Listen to the DVD audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steve Stuckey sometime. They explicitly declare that the film argues for “the mutual compatibility of science and religion”—”That they can go hand-in-hand.” Which is why Foster’s character had to be destroyed.)

  35. Rieux says

    Given my avatar, I’ll submit The Truman Show. The following (climactic) exchange—SPOILER ALERT!—is hard to beat:

    (Truman Burbank stands atop a staircase, just outside the door that leads out of the dome that, he’s just learned, he’s been unwittingly trapped inside his entire life. A disembodied voice booms out of the sky, from somewhere beyond the sun and clouds:)

    Truman.

    You can speak. I can hear you.

    Who are you?

    I am the creator … of a television show that gives hope and joy and inspiration to millions.

    And who am I?

    You’re the star.

    Was nothing real?

    You were real. That’s what made you so good to watch. Listen to me, Truman. There’s no more truth out there than there is in the world I created for you. The same lies. The same deceit.

    But in my world, you have nothing to fear.

    I know you better than you know yourself.

    (Bitterly) You never had a camera in my head.

    You’re afraid. That’s why you can’t leave.

    It’s okay, Truman. I understand. I have been watching you your whole life. I was watching when you were born. I was watching when you took your first step. I watched you on your first day of school. The episode when you lost your first tooth. You can’t leave, Truman. You belong here …. With me.

    … Talk to me. Say something.

    … Hell, say something, God damn it! You’re on television! You’re live to the whole world!

    (Truman looks skyward, grins; resolutely:)

    In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night.

    (He leaves.)

  36. Pop Goes The World says

    Fair point, but then it wouldn’t be a bad choice if they were looking for films with messianic imagery for discussion.

    Miyazaki himself was quite dissatisfied with Nausicaa‘s overtly messianic overtones. (Though the film certainly does play up the romantic side of scientific curiosity.)

  37. says

    Although the role of the monolith at the beginning of the story, If it took some active role in changing the character of the homonids at the beginning of the story, it would be a film about Intelligent Design :-\

    A work of fiction can be about ID and still be atheistic. It’s only the Disco ‘Tute and similar ilk that have stained the concepts of ID with religious association. Which is ironic, given that they desperately try to pretend that when they prattle on about ID, they’re not talking about Christianity or other religions.

    There was nothing about the 2001 monolith that was blatantly deistic, at least not to me. At most it reminds me of the old saying that any technology, sufficiently advanced,seems like magic to the sufficiently primitive. 2001 raises some questions that religion pretends it can answer – Where did we come from? Why are we the way we are? What is our destiny? but it approaches the subject matter in a decidedly non-theistic way.

  38. Tethys says

    I see many good suggestions except for Lolita.

    I fail to see how a story about a murdering child rapist can be described as atheistic.

  39. Phledge says

    Tethys #64: I wholeheartedly agree. There’s an excellent post on IBTP and subsequent discussion regarding that book/film right at this moment!

  40. Slotos says

    Paul

    Some parts really reminded me of my debates with religious folks. The whole reviving before eating thing was kind of shady though.

  41. CompulsoryAccount7746 says

    Re Contact:

    no proof of her encounter at the end of the wormhole or that the machine even worked, she’s reduced to arguing in terms of “having faith” and “knowing she had an experience she can’t explain.”

    http://www.viddler.com/explore/FactVsReligion/videos/52/

    Listen to the DVD audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis and producer Steve Stuckey sometime. They explicitly declare that the film argues for “the mutual compatibility of science and religion”

    years ago, I’d taken the hearing to mean: Religions don’t have a monopoly on sublime feelings.
    Then the post-hearing scene (5:02 above), with the unexpectedly-long recording of static, to mean: We had to contrive really really hard to make Ellie sound like the devout, but real things leave evidence, *razz*. If all you’ve got is a personal experience, delusion is a definite possibility.
    .
    I guess they were going for, “Hey theists, there’s probably suppressed Jesus proof somewhere. Go ahead and believe anyway, ’cause believing things feels good, and hey it might even be true.” *sigh*

  42. skpoly says

    The original Planet of the Apes?

    Also, breaking my lurker status (lurker since 2007).

  43. Rieux says

    Compulsory:

    years ago, I’d taken the hearing to mean: Religions don’t have a monopoly on sublime feelings.

    That’s one background notion in the movie, sure—though a more accurate wording of the way the movie portrays it would be “all sublime feelings are equivalent to religion.” But much more foreground in Contact is the idea that atheists who dare to denigrate the “sublime feelings” and conclusions based on them that religious believers harbor are cruel hypocrites.

    The point of that hearing scene is to hoist tragic hero Ellie Arroway on her own Occam’s Razor petard. Just as she (haughtily! horribly! disgustingly!) dismisses her boyfriend’s experience of God by pointing out that it’s an unparsimonious conclusion to draw from the evidence he has, the hearing gives Zemeckis and company an opportunity to have Arroway’s experience dismissed by an even more callous jerk who specifically cites Occam’s Razor. And then, in the climactic line of the entire movie, our proud heroine is reduced to begging for acceptance of her ideas in terms that are anathema to her previous position:

    I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real.

    As everyone in the room but Arroway recognizes (and one committee member points out), that’s faith she’s citing—and a character who’s a rationalist atheist scientist being reduced to that is about the clearest argument a director and screenwriter can make that rationalist atheism is false and inhuman.

    Then the post-hearing scene (5:02 above), with the unexpectedly-long recording of static, to mean: We had to contrive really really hard to make Ellie sound like the devout, but real things leave evidence, *razz*.

    But the inconvenient fact about that recording is never provided to anyone in the movie but Constantine (Angela Bassett) and Kitz (James Woods). Sure, “*razz*”, that shows that Zemeckis is a hypocrite—he makes a movie declaring how fabulous faith is and awful it is to denigrate faith… and then decides he needs to give the audience evidence rather than allowing us to take Arroway’s experience on faith the way Joss (Matthew McConaughey) does—but that point does nothing for Arroway herself. Arroway loses the confrontation in the hearing scene, and the “*razz*” does not actually take place in the movie.

    Which is to say, “We had to contrive really really hard to make Ellie sound like the devout, but real things leave evidence” is a perfectly sound criticism of the movie and its two-faced attitude toward faith, but nothing in the work itself ever comes close to conveying that idea. (Think of how differently the hearing scene would have progressed if the screenwriters had provided Arroway with all of the facts regarding her recording. She is denied that information for a reason—to wit, to prevent her from making precisely that “real things leave evidence” argument.)

    If all you’ve got is a personal experience, delusion is a definite possibility.

    That is not the upshot of Arroway’s testimony at the Congressional hearing. She believes that her experience was veridical, and she wants everyone else to think so as well, notwithstanding (1) her previous cheeky rationalism and (2) the fact that “delusion is a definite possibility.” Robert Zemeckis shows her the error of her ways, and her rationalism collapses.

    We also haven’t mentioned the mid-movie events in which Arroway is initially denied the chance to be on the spacecraft because she’s an atheist—an episode of outrageous religious discrimination that no one in the movie (besides Arroway herself) ever says a discouraging word about. Indeed, Joss gets the last word about the policy, and he says bouncing Arroway for atheism was “a good reason.”

    Plus, the policy is justified by a member of the selection committee who declares that “ninety-five percent of the world’s population believes in a Supreme Being in one form or another,” which is total bullshit—and no one in the movie ever says so. (Obviously the moviemakers think it’s true.)

    The unfortunate reality of Contact, as Zemeckis and Stuckey make clear in their commentary, is that it’s a movie made by people who bear serious ill will toward overt and unashamed atheism. I don’t really understand why some atheist viewers work so hard (though perhaps you’re not, Compulsory) to find a pro-atheist message in a movie that was intentionally created to bash us.

  44. CompulsoryAccount7746 says

    @Rieux #70:
    After your first post, I did a 180 on my assessment to agree with you. I was pointing out how misunderstood it before.

    Think of how differently the hearing scene would have progressed if the screenwriters had provided Arroway with all of the facts regarding her recording.

    At the time, I lumped that suppression of evidence in with the over-the-top hostility of the hearing’s lead questioner and the politiking the masses as: believers/masses/politicans are dishonest, prone to flip out if they’re not accomodated (heh), and eager to pounce on weakness in people they don’t like. IIRC when Joss told her “I believe her”, I thought something like, “Is there no story that guy won’t buy? This is why you have no credibility”.

    It’s not that I was trying, so much as wearing glasses. I think I was watching other “ignorant mobs with pitchforks” themed shows at the time and it rubbed off on Contact.

  45. CompulsoryAccount7746 says

    Another film for the list: Chocolat

    A godless heathen moves in and opens a chocolaterie during Lent, charming locals, and gradually breaking the resolve of the devout village mayor.

  46. CompulsoryAccount7746 says

    @Rieux #70:
    Memory’s jogged now.
    Most of all. I used to think the devout were just a media trope, not widely exhibited in reality anymore. And I couldn’t conceive of actual directors who’d do a hatchet job to support them. So I saw a refreshingly novel-to-me tragic hero ending from hollywood with a side of irony, instead of the “snide atheist put in her place” propaganda it was intended to be.

    Okay enough about Contact. That horse is beaten to powder now. :P

  47. Toiletman says

    STARTREK! and also the more-military-PR-than scifi show Stargate.
    In one not that good startrek movie, the wacko religious brother of scot hijacks enterprise and makes them force to the “center of the universe” (which would be too far away even for warp) to chross a barrier to “god”. They even find “god” who demands that they will use the enterprise to bring his “glory” everywhere. All others seem to be highly impressed and in awe. But the actual rational skeptic asks “Why does god needs a spaceship?”. The others seem to be angered and intimidated on the angry response from “god” but Spock and later also Kirk continue to ask. The false god runs amok but they can flee with some involountary klingon help.

    Or in Startrek III+ IV (the one in “our times”(80s)), they say “according to the myth, Earth was created in 6 days – I will do that in 6 hours!.

    Hurray Startrek godlessness. Roddenberry was an atheist himself.

    And in Stargate, all deities are exposed as mascerade for just more powerful other beings.

  48. Rieux says

    Okay, Compulsory. No sweat.

    Another film for the list: Chocolat

    Definitely better, largely because Alfred Molina’s character really is staunchly Christian, and that’s what leads him to be the heavy. There is an escape hatch for Christian viewers, though, in the person of the town priest (who isn’t so sure that Jesus would agree with Molina—apparently the Father skipped the majority of the Gospels, in which Jesus is a lot like Molina).

    Juliette Binoche’s protagonist seems more pagan than atheist to me, though. She defies stupid religious edicts (much as the heroes of the director’s previous movie, The Cider House Rules, did), but she doesn’t really question the supernaturalism at their foundation.

  49. Rieux says

    Toiletman:

    In one not that good startrek movie….

    That’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. It does indeed make some worthwhile atheistic points, but the downside is that it’s a sucky movie. (I feel the same way about The Ledge, the recent indie flick that actually is being shown in the film festival mentioned in the OP.)

  50. P Smith says

    If Hollyweird had had any balls or decency, it would have made a film of “I, Robot” from Harlan Ellison’s script, a script which actually had Isaac Asimov’s approval.

    Instead, a bullshit “religious allegory” was made and had nothing in common with Asimov’s book except for the title and names of characters.

    .

  51. Max M. Fuhlendorf says

    Agora is extraordinary, as it subtly (and then not so subtly) conveys the idea of religion as a smothering agent, something that sucks away all true knowledge and curiosity until all that is left is fear and doctrine…

    Rachel Weisz is stunning, she perfectly captures the feeling all scientifically minded people have when they see religion dogma encroaching on free thinking people. The director Alexandro Amenabar (The Others) is at the top of his game, the movie is of epic proportions, perfectly bringing the historical period to life in grand style, while also treating its subject matter with the utmost delicacy.

    I’m a undergraduate film student, and as such I watch maney more films than the average spectator… And evens so, I have to say Agora is one of the best movies I’ve seen in my life.

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