I've noticed a fascinating trend in recent films: a defiance of stated atheism. I'm not talking about explicitly religious films, or even films that have some kind of explicit theology. Two of the last year's biggest movies, Wonder Woman and Moana, are rooted in coming-of-age journeys where the child is following what they believe to be the will of a higher power, while their parents profess no belief or deny their own gut beliefs because of fear or pride. It's the children, the generation raised by those who are are possessed by what would have once been called healthy skepticism, that pursue the gods. And, more shockingly, they find them.
This kind of story isn't new. Buddha was the son of a wealthy, worldly ruler. Abraham left the land of his fathers. Moses was adopted into royalty that worshipped different gods. What is surprising is that this is the kind of story we seem to want to hear, and we seem to be enjoying the versions of this where it is the woman who finds out the god isn't dead; in that respect, Moana is practically a modern Magdalene. I don't know what the shift means. Is it perhaps an account of the shift away from doubt in the gods' existence and doubt in the gods' benevolence toward the concern that perhaps the gods aren't out to get us--they just may want more from us than we are willing to handle, or believe that we can. The Marvel Netflix shows all integrate religion, and not necessarily skeptically. Even characters who doubt the power of one deity or immortal aren't opposed to all of them. Blind faith isn't popular, but it seems blind doubt isn't in vogue either.
Stories that center on destiny or on greatness have never left the big screen. Heroes like James Bond (a modern Jason if there ever was one) have filled our imaginations. The difference in these new films is that destiny is a real, given thing, provided by explicitly “other,” supernatural beings, as opposed to heroes that are only larger than life because we can’t quite believe in them otherwise. Here, we find out that the larger than life hero is still smaller and in the service of the being that gave them life. I don’t really know why this is coming around in film, but as a person of faith who loves a good story, I’m really happy that it is.