It’s time for a fun Friday countdown post.
Today, I’m counting down my personal favorite instances of prayer on TV and movies. We don’t get a whole lot of the God talk from Hollywood. And I’m not counting things like Touched by and Angel, or any explicitly Christian shows, only because I don’t watch them. I’m talking about five great, flawed, funny, and outright wrong ways God has been invoked on the silver screen.
When the show started, The Simpsons was pretty questionable for most parents. They were confused by a cartoon that did not seem to be appropriate for children. Bart’s regular use of the phrase, “Eat my shorts,” was rude and inflammatory to middle class families of the late 80s. But if children weren’t supposed to watch the show, who was? Adults?
Then, early in the second season, the Simpsons are at the dinner table and Bart is asked to say grace. He responds with hands folded, saying:
“Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves. So thanks for nothing.”
Well that sealed the deal. Somehow, the fact that Homer and Marge also didn’t approve of the prayer was lost on my parents. The Simpsons was off limits to my brother and I forever, or at least until junior high school. By then, we were all desensitized and watching the show was a family activity.
Could it be that Bart was just saying the prayer that a lot of people are living? Worst. Prayer. Ever.
Frank Abignale Jr.
I love Catch Me if You Can. Frank Abignale can literally fake being anything – a doctor, a lawyer, a pilot. The only thing he has a hard time faking is being a Lutheran. His cover is almost blown while having dinner with his fiance’s parents, and they ask him to say grace. After a moment he bows his head and recites a parable his father always said about two mice struggling to stay afloat in a bucket of cream. Dad is bewildered, Mom is moved almost to tears. Well played.
My brother literally watched Forrest Gump 127 times while we were in high school. I don’t know why. It’s a good movie, I guess. It’s kind of irritating after watching it 99 times. But I do like Jenny’s childhood prayer that God would turn her into a bird so she can “fly far far away from here” and escape her alcoholic abusive Dad. What’s great is God actually pulls through, not by turning Jenny into a bird (thankfully) but moving Jenny to her Grandma’s.
Times sure change quickly. When Bart prayed the first time on television, all of evangelical America, plus the President, hated him and his whole family. By the time Bart is praying in season seven, there are literally theology books being written, centered on The Simpsons.
Season seven is home to the classic episode where Bart sells his soul to Milhouse for five bucks. Milhouse then trades Bart’s soul (in the form of a piece of paper that says “Bart’s soul”) to comic book guy for Alf pogs.
After a lot of pain and suffering trying to get his soul back, Bart gives a real, heartfelt prayer on his knees and everything. He admits that he doesn’t pay attention in church, but he could sure use God’s help now. And God actually answers Bart through his sister’s actions.
What’s amazing about The Simpsons is that religion is actually more prominent in Springfield than virtually any other TV universe. Everyone in town goes to church (the one church in town. How’s that for Christian unity?) God actually intervenes in their lives, answers prayers and generally reveals himself on a regular basis. Plus, Springfield is the home of America’s most famous evangelical, Ned Flanders. It turns out God apparently loves The Simpsons a whole lot more than The Waltons.
Ben Stiller’s table grace in Meet the Parents is by far the best awkward prayer ever acted. It begins with a simple, desperate invocation of “Oh…dear…God,” and then moves into a prayer that sounds a lot he’s praying to the indimidating Robert DeNiro, and ends…eventually, by quoting Godspell. Classically bad praying.
What’s your favorite TV / movie prayer? How long did it take for The Simpsons to be acceptable in your home, if ever?