Religion in Film: Film Exhibit

The Experiment vs. The Wave
Can a higher power change your moral values?

Watch the above video to see a series of clips from these two movies to make some comparisons.

The Experiment is a 2010 film based on a real psychological experiment conducted in the United States. The experimental trial sought 26 volunteers to simulate the conditions of a penitentiary; some portraying guards and some prisoners. The subjects were told that the experiment was based solely on observing the habits of these two very different groups of people. In reality, the purpose was to see how these particular circumstances might change or affect the subjects. The psychologists in charge of the experiment give some basic guidelines and tell the subjects that if any violence occurs, a red light will flash, announcing an early end to the experiment and a result of no payment to the volunteer subjects. Throughout the movie , both groups test the limits over and over and push further and further, simultaneously watching the red light for indication of whether they have gone too far. When the light never goes off, ordinary men are pushed beyond reason and begin to change their moral values.
The Wave is a 2008 film that is also based on a true story, but this one occurs in Germany. It takes place in a high school that is having week long project classes, each class addressing a different issue. The main character in the film, the teacher, is assigned to teach about autocracy, even though he personally is an anarchist. His post WWII generation students have many questions and doubts about the Nazi dictatorship, and don’t believe that it could occur in modern day Germany. In response, the teacher begins to experiment by slowly creating a group, then a community, then a dictatorship in his classroom. Although his only purpose was to use this real life example to answer their questions about how the Germans allowed Adolf Hitler to rise to power, the experiment gets out of hand and the students also act in a way that is contradictory to their pre-existing moral values.
Although neither of these movies is directly religious, there are a lot of religious elements that can be extracted. I wish to explore the idea and question of whether or not a higher power can change what you believe in, in a way that challenges your moral values. Since neither of the movies reaches to God straightforwardly, one must think outside the box to see the higher power that is controlling each character in these two films. In The Experiment, the initial motivating theme is money. Each of the volunteers is there because there is a large check waiting for them if they succeed. However, once they are inside the experiment, the red light becomes their higher power: telling them what is acceptable and what is not. This molds and changes their pre existing moral structure, basically retraining them as they begin to take advantage of their roles based on how it makes them feel rather than what is truly right or wrong. There have been many cases in the religious world where higher powers, such as churches or popes, have tolerated or supported actions which achieved money, power or influence for their organization or members. Historically, as long as their higher power (or red light) didn’t stop them, they felt reinforced in continuing and even escalating their behavior. In The Wave, obedience to their teacher, who ultimately becomes their higher power/dictator, leads to the extreme outcomes of the situation. The students’ are subtlety retrained in the firm beliefs of strength through discipline, community, and action and this totally changes their pre-existing social organization, how they treat one another, and how they treat outsiders. This can be strongly related to how religions can become exclusive of others and religious differences can cause problems when believers identify too strongly as a group or are too fanatical in their devotion to their higher power.
• What pushes someone to change what they believe in?
• What role does a higher power have in changing one’s morals?
• What role does ultimate concern have in changing one’s morals?
• Does your social status make you more or less susceptible to having your morals changed?
• Once you have gone against something you believe in, do you think that you can go back?

The Experiment:
In order for an individual to change what one believes in, there usually has to be something in it for their personal best interest. In The Experiment, the power that the guards have been given makes them act in ways that go against their pre-existing moral values. In response, the prisoners are almost forced to do the same because being taken advantage of has pushed them to change what they previously believed about themselves, about the others, and about humankind in general. A higher power also plays a big role in these changes. With the higher power seeming to support their self motivated actions (no flashing red light) the guards let their baser instincts and lust for power take them over, resulting in actions that they would have never dreamed of before. This seeming abandonment of their group by the same higher power forces the prisoners to take action and rebel , once again resulting in actions they never expected
In this film, ultimate concern is apparent, but also switches a little bit. At first, everyone is in the same boat their ultimate concern: money. However, as the experiment goes on, the prisoners begin to change their ultimate concern to not only getting out of the experiment but getting out alive. In order to do so, they must change their morals and act in a way that will achieve this new ultimate concern.
This movie does a good job of showing that social status does not affect your susceptibility to being changed. All the volunteers come from different backgrounds and social levels, yet all of them are ultimately changed in some way or another.
Once you have gone against everything that you thought you believed in, you may still be able to return but not without consequences. Every volunteer in this experiment will have consequences of the things that they did, the people that they quickly became. When they gave into the pressure and changed their moral values, whatever the reason, they lost the respect of others and especially respect for themselves.
The Wave:
Power plays an enormous role in this film and it is this that pushes the students that are involved to change their morals. The main thing is the sense of community that “The Wave” creates and gives the student, which in the end results in a sense of power, which ultimately results in their change. The higher power in this case would be the teacher, as he acts as their leader and dictator. The rules of conducts and organizational structure that the higher power provides are accepted by the students, and they believe in it with all of their being. They devote all their time and energy to obeying these rules to please their leader, and they allow themselves to be changed by it. Although their ultimate goal is not as apparent, it could be inferred that all they really want is to be a part of something, to be accepted. This undeniable desire drives them to accept this dictatorship, which ultimately changes their personal morals. This movie possibly shows that not social status but age may make it easier to change your values. The kids are young and naïve and long to be a part of something, the cliché search in high school to “find yourself.” This film also shows that sometimes when you go against the things that you have always believed in, you may not have the chance to take it back. For example the kid who commits suicide will never have a change the mistakes he made throughout this experiment. The teacher who started it all may never have a chance to redeem himself because of the consequences he may suffer. The students who witnessed the horrific ending of this experiment may be scarred for life. In some ways, once you change your morals so drastically, it may be impossible to go back.

Emphasis of the Religious Theme:
The Experiment:
The leader of the guards believes in a God fearing power and uses it in order to get the prisoners to do whatever he pleases. The prisoners obey because they are subject of this higher power and they have their ultimate concern in mind: the money. In many religions people do things out of fear that they will not end up where their goal is, that they will not achieve their ultimate concern. On the other hand, the guards themselves use their higher power in itself which changes their morals. Even though it is just an experiment and the conditions aren’t real, they use their power to disrespect and abuse the prisoners, just because they can.
The Wave:
The Wave becomes such an exclusive group that it creates tension and problems with others in the school. Not only that, but some people that started off in The Wave recognize that it is taking a turn for the worse and try to get out. This can be related to the exclusivity that some religions have and how it creates problems throughout the world. Sometimes religions believe that they are the only right religion and they spend their time trying to convince others. There are often religious wars that can end in things like genocide. In the case of The Wave, the exclusivity ruins relationships and even ends in death.

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Scene Analysis: Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior deals with a young man sent out on a qwest to recover the sacred and ancient Buddha head that is very important to his village. In order to do so he finds himself facing a lot of violence and using his training to succeed. There is a fight scene in the end that has a bit of religious symbolism in it. In itself, the movie shows how important figures can be, such as this statue of Buddha, and how far they are willing to go in order to get it back. They are having a drought in the village and believe that with the return of the statue there will be a return of water. His qwest for the Buddha head shows his dedication to his beliefs and his village, and to the importance of the higher power in general in their religion. In this specific scene, Ting is fighting a man outside in the yard. The music is very upbeat and intense and all that can be heard besides the music is the slapping coming from the fighting. The most interesting part of the scene is when Ting jumps through fire to attack the other man and ends up lighting his pants on fire. As he stands above is opponent, lit on fire, he looks mysterious and it adds to a sense of power that he has. It is also intersting because some Tibetan buddhists have used self immolation to try and get their point across for several things. The editing in this scene emphasizes the fight because as one thing happens, the shot will repeat to show how dramatic the fight is.

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Scene Analysis: Little Buddha

Little Buddha is a story line that shows two stories at the same time: the story of Jesse, a little boy that some Buddhist monks think could be an old Dali reincarnated. At the same time, Jesse is reading a book about Little Buddha and it recreates that story. There is a specific scene when Buddha is just starting to go out into the wild to discover himself and in search of freedom. The lighting is extremely red looking, it looks fantastical and not very realistic. Goes along with the fact that it is recreating and telling the story of Buddha. The only noises come from the intense rain, and then as it clears up you can hear the cheers from Buddha’s newest followers as they are thouroughly impressed. As the storm clears, the lighting becomes more regular, but still more vibrant and not completely realistic like when the scene switches back to Jesse, the little boy. Off in the corner of the scene there is light shining through trees directly on to Buddha. This is a careful use of light to show importance and represent a higher power, which in this case will become Buddha. The scene is set up so that Buddha is sitting facing the camera and his new desciples have their backs towards the camera, sitting in a half circle facing Buddha, showing respect and his level of importance, and the different levels of social status. In this story we are shown the progression of Buddha’s life, his beliefs, his followers, and the basis of the Buddhist religion. This man will eventually be the face of a whole religion and gain many followers, and I think that this scene does a good job of setting up his importance and portraying him.

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Scene Analysis: Four Lions

Four Lions is an interesting take on portraying the Muslim culture. Several Muslim men are determined to be soldiers of God and if needed, complete their jihad. However, they are a little disfunctional. A perfect depiction of their determination and failure at the same time is a scene in a small warehouse. One of the men is showing two others how much bleach he has collected in order to make their bombs. One of the men questions where he got all the bleach and the response is from a store down the street. The scene continues with worry because this was an idiotic mistake because it could be easily traced and get them busted. The man who bought all the bleach continues by explaining that they shouldn’t worry because he used different voices as a disguise every time he went in. This, of course, is ridiculous because that means he looked the exact same every time and bought the exact same thing every time, not to mention his different voices are actually not all that different. The scene is very simple and a little awkward, kind of like the situation. The shot switches back and forth from how the rest of the film is recorded and then to shots that look like they are a home-movie, because one of the men is also video taping. This gives it a more personal feel and adds to the fact that this is their personal goal and it is important to them. This is all related to religion because they are doing all of these things because that is how they interpret the word of their God, they think that this is what they are supposed to be doing, even if they aren’t exactly sure how they should be doing it.

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Scene Analysis: Last Temptation of Christ

While Jesus deals with temptations of demons and voices in his head, fear and not knowing what to do, he also encourages the word of God sometimes without even knowing it. A group of people are about to stone a prostitute to death when Jesus steps in. A few people continue throwing rocks and they hit Jesus, trying to make him move. They yell for him to move and mock him when he says he doesn’t want them to do this. Then you see a close up of Jesus’s face as he bends down to pick up to rocks. All the people standing around him are holding their rocks, not moving and not speaking, but confused as to what Jesus is doing. The scene is silent besides Jesus’s words which makes it have more of an impact. The shot shows all the people in the circle around Jesus, with him in the center, representing the higher power of God. As Jesus asks for anyone to step forward that has not sinned, no one moves. Keeping the whole crowd in the shot emphasizes the fact that no one has sinned and therefore has no right to choose the fate of another sinner. It’s interesting because right before this was a scene where Jesus had said that he is a coward, afraid to defy anyone although he wants to. However this scene shows his courage and also shows his power, because people listen to him. The crowd could have easily decided to not listen to him and to keep stoning both Jesus and the prostitute. However Jesus beholds the power and courage of God, even if he doesn’t know it. The screen shot in this scene along with the silence is what makes it so powerful.

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Scene Analysis: The Passion of Christ

A well filmed scene in The Passion of Christ is when Jesus is brought before a crowd to be tried for his “crimes.” When the crowd decides that he should be punished by death for claiming to be the son of God, the begin to attack him, first one by one and then as a group. The shot passes back and forth between who is hurting Jesus, Jesus’s calm face, and then every once and a while it shows Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Judas is shown looking on from afar, with a face full of saddness, desperation, and regret. The faces of the court are laughing, looking onto Jesus with disgust, spitting in his face before slapping or punching him. Jesus’s face, all bloody and swollen, never falters from being calm and accepting. Although you can see the pain with a hint of saddness, he simply takes on what is happening. Jesus’s acceptance directly correlates to his faith in his religion and his father, God. The scene is well filmed because amidst the chaos of the fight that is occuring it still does a good job of showing all of these emotions. On top of this the sounds are impressive. There is very loud, very dramatic music that plays louder than the scene, although you can still hear the cheers and cries of the croud, the chaos and the fighting, the music drowns most of it out and is a good addition to describe all of the present emotions. This scene sets up the rest of the movie for how Jesus reacts and accepts his fate.

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Scene Analysis: The Matrix

A scene in the film The Matrix that could be related to religion is when Morpheus is explaining to Neo what a Matrix is. The scene is dark as the two characters sit in chairs. The room is dark and silent except for an ocasional rumble of thunder in the background and the discussion that is occuring. Morpheus is relaxed, sitting back in his chair while Neo is sitting forward, on edge, trying to take in and understand what is being said. The scene cuts back and forth between the two men’s faces and every once and a while shows them from a distance which emphasizes their different postures. Also when it shows them from a distance you can really see the darkness of the room, only a little light to show the two men, and it’s also interesting because there is more light focused on Morpheus. This scene could be a representation of a higher power: Morpheus being that higher power. Everything about the scene points to this, with the light and his posture and his control over Neo. Neo puts his faith in Morpheus and tries to understand what he is preaching. In this film there is an unseen, all knowing power which is like a God. Although the movie is not religious at all, the representations can be clearly related to a controlling, religious type figure that is in control of one’s destiny and that you must put your faith into, or try and defy it.

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Scene Analysis: What Dreams May Come

What Dreams May Come take some very serious matters, death and suicide and loss and desperation and denial, and tries to portray them in a way that can give hope. It follows the story of Chris and his family, as his children die, as he dies, and as his wife eventually commits suicide. The main settings of the movie are in Heaven or Hell-directly correlated to religion. A good representation of the depiction of heaven in this movie is when Chris first gets to Heaven. His heaven changes several times and he even sees a few other Heavens along his way. However, they are all beautiful and all depictions of peoples imagination and of things that they love. When Chris first gets to Heaven it is images straight out of his wife’s paintings. The colors that surround him appear to make up things like bushes and flowers and water and the sky, but they litearlly explode all over him like explosions of paint. The colors are astounding and vibrant, showing the positivity of where he has ended up. This directly points to the religious inspiration for this movie, a Christian influence. It’s showing that Heaven is the goal and the positive outcome of death. It shows the immortality of the human life because Chris continues to live in his afterlife, to make choices, to be happy, and to love his wife and kids. It also shows a hint of Buddhism because it could be related to reincarnation and idea of life after life.

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Scene Analysis: Point Break

Point Break takes an interesting twist on solving crime: Surfing. In order to catch a group of very successful, longtime, and very sneaky bank robbers, a cop must go undercover as a surfer to get closesr to solving the case. It’s a very interesting and lighthearted way of getting to the bottom of something that is such a big deal. Along the way the viewer gets to know the cop, Johnny Utah, and watch him fall in love not only with surfing but with a girl and the lifestyle in general. An incredibly powerful scene is simply when Johnny Utah is first watching all the surfers do what they do best: shred the waves. All though the waves are gigantic and are crashing everywhere, there is a sense of serenity and peace while Johnny watches them surf. The sounds are toned down and quiet except for an occasional cheer from someone enjoying every second of what they are doing. The shots and camera angles are incredible and make the viewer wonder how they were even achieved. It literally looks like the camera is right on the surface of the water, looking up at the surfers and following their every turn. Surfing is their religion: they put all their faith into it, they believe in it and its powers, and they do it religiously. When things go wrong, they turn to surfing. When things go right, they give credit to surfing. It is also interesting because like a religion, the surfers don’t want anyone to abuse it or treat it wrong, for example they are hesitant of his motives when Johnny Utah first starts.

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Scene Analysis: The Way

The Way is a film about a father who goes on the same pilgramage that his son died attempting to do. Originally the father was not supportive of his son’s trip and they didn’t stay in the best contact. His son wanted to be a cultural anthropologist and believed that the way to be a good onw was not by staying in school but by going out and experiencing the world. Tom (the father) decides to go on the trek, estimated to take over two months, in order to spread his son’s ashes and better understand his son’s goals. A very powerful scene is early on in the movie, the first time that Tom spread’s his son’s ashes. He comes across a small wooden cross in the middle of a hill, surrounded by beautiful nature. The scenery of the movie shows the immensity of his journey, of the world, and the beauty of nature. The cross symbolizes the religious aspect of not only Tom’s life but also that of other pilgrams who had put it there before. Tom gets down on the ground, grabs a handful of ashes, the does the Catholic sign of the cross on his body. This is interesting because before he left he had an encounted with his priest who asked if he’d like to pray and Tom had responded with, “What’s the point?” suggesting that he has lost some faith after his son’s tragic death. However the symbolism in his actions shows the importance of religion to Tom. Another powerful part of the scene is the silence provided by Tom and the nature, but the peaceful music that is playing in the background.

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