This week we didn’t watch a new film, but discussed ‘Garden of Eden’ and the others in more detail. One of the discussions we had during class was about the role of rituals in religious life. We touched upon everything from offerings, to the benediction, to sacramental. The role of these rituals in our past three films have been questionable. You could say that man needs ritual in their lives; or desires them to be there. I’ve always seen rituals as a way to keep mans life in some sort of order. It offers man some kind of control over their life, and maybe even gives man a sense that they’re controlling their fate.
As I learned in my Religion Analysis course, certain religion even take the extremes of believing rituals as a way of controlling Gods. We can even see this in modern day Kabbalism. From here we have an idea of how important (and powerful) this idea of ritual seems.
Now comes our various films. In all three (especially ‘Acts of Worship’), we get several images of objects that represent rituals. In ‘Acts of Worship’, we get ritualistic images that stretch from the statue of St. Jude to the prayer card. Yet the interesting thing is that throughout the film, these rituals seem not only powerless but useless. This theme of powerless and useless ritual is shown in Shawshank, Acts of Worship, and Garden of Eden.
This idea of ritual is shown in the Garden of Eden in two forms. The first form would be the various Latin Catholic images (the Mother Mary decal), and the second would be in the form of this local saint (John the Soldier).
This local saint plays a bigger role than we would initially believe. Our main characters visit the soldiers shrine, and pray for him to grant them safe passage. There’s nothing overtly interesting about the situation; it seems rather the norm for these Latin Catholics to seek the aid of a saint to grant them passage. The power behind the image is in how ineffective he is. This covers the previous theme of how religion, or a savior, cannot walk on over and save you. As we see in Garden, our Mexican male and American female take a statue of the saint with them over the border. When they successfully get across, you would think it was the efforts of their prayer at the shrine, and the help of the soldier saint.
However, upon their arrival to the Garden of Eden hotel, they find out it’s not what they expected. When everything starts to crumble, you begin questioning what role the soldier saint had in any of their adventures, and you begin to draw the idea that this physical Garden of Eden isn’t the paradise they’re supposed to be looking for. The role of the catholic imagery, and the failure of the saint to truly bring them to a state of paradise (not a place), gives you the idea that all that ritual and religion was rather powerless. You begin to look at the soldier saint as merely an again, who might have helped them physically get across the border (he forces you the question if he played a transcendental role)
The useless role of religion and images doesn’t end in The Garden of Eden. This same message is resounded in our other two films; Shawshank and Acts of Worship. In Shawshank, we have this environment of hypocritical Christianity through the vile rule of the warden. Here we have an individual trying to ‘rehabilitate’ it’s inhabitants upon the ethical code of the bible, yet he goes behind their backs and breaks this very ethical code. The Christianity of the Warden reflects that stale uselessness of Catholicism in The Garden of Eden. It’s interesting to note that Christianity plays no real role in Shawshank. It’s really just a way the Warden identifies himself, and it’s easy to make the suggestion that the Warden merely advocates it in an effort to seclude his illegal acts.
We also find that Christianity doesn’t ‘save’ anyone in the films. It’s something they appear to stay away from. Dufrain himself has some biblical knowledge, and uses verses to fool the warden, but this is the last we see of Christianity in use by our main characters. If anything, the individuals own acts ‘save’ themselves.
This same useless role is also seen in Acts of Worship. If anything, the end is questionable to the power of Christianity to alter someone, but we don’t get a direct answer to Alex’s change of heart. What caused her to seek goodness and change herself? Was it a conversion? I would guess so…
Either way, in Acts we find this same redundant imagery. We see Alex in an environment flooded with Catholic imagery. We find everything from statues of Saint Jude, to prayer cards littering a poverty stricken society. It’s as if religion is ineffective in helping all those drug addicts, prostitutes, and poor people. You almost get the feeling that religion is merely standing there, watching everything happening, and standing still. Religion is even shown to be more ineffective when we see Digna praying to God, only to find out later she dies of a drug overdose. It’s rather cruel to see her reaching out to God, only to find her die in a horrible way days later. It’s this death that really provokes Alex to step away from her drug-use, and seek help from her parents. As to whether she comes to God in the end, we don’t have an obvious answer.
In the end, we can conclude that Christianity would appear to play a lifeless and absent role in the three films, and does nothing more than add backdrop imagery.