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And so begins the story of Father Moore, a man of God apparently contending with the wisdom and rulers of this world, but already having lost to the powers of another. In some way it is the story of the Christian faith (with less than perfect theology, to be sure), as the film itself acknowledged with a close-up, near the end, of Emily's gravestone: "WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING." Amen.

Richard Harris as Abbe Faria in 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

Richard Harris as Abbe Faria in 'The Count of Monte Cristo'

Richard Harris as Abbe Faria
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Larisa Kline (@larisakline)

Edmond Dantes (Jim Cavizel) meets Abbe Faria when he is thrown in jail. Dantes is being framed and cannot figure out why. Abbe Faria sympathizes with Dantes and teaches him everything he knows. Their friendship enables them to begin to piece together who framed him and why.

Although it can be argued that Abbe Faria is the one who introduces Edmond Dantes to the concept of revenge, which he eventually imparts upon all who crossed him, Abbe Faria also helps Dantes return to his faith. When Dantes is complaining about how Abbe Faria cannot possibly understand the agony of sin, he gives him his ultimate line: "I'm a priest, not a saint."

Javier Bardem as Father Quintana in 'To the Wonder'

Javier Bardem as Father Quintana in 'To the Wonder'

Javier Bardem as Father Quintana
To the Wonder (2012)
Martyn Jones (@martynwendell)

Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) quietly suffers through a crisis of faith in Malick's To the Wonder, but by the movie's end, he remains frocked and at home within the Church. As other characters question their commitments to one another in order to pursue pleasures and fulfillment elsewhere, Quintana holds fast to his vocation, even when it seems as though God has disappeared from his life and absconded with his hope. Father Quintana is drawn to resemble other fathers faithful in their suffering; Father Latour from Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop comes to mind as a clear literary ancestor. May many more follow in their lineage.

Ron Glass as Shepherd Book in 'Firefly'

Ron Glass as Shepherd Book in 'Firefly'

Ron Glass as Shepherd Book
Firefly (2002-2003)
Martyn Jones (@martynwendell)

Gray-clad and gray-haired, Shepherd Book joins the crew of Serenity at the beginning of the series, and in the show's pilot episode he is already doing the Lord's work by upending pat assumptions about judgmental priestly mores held by other members of the crew. Warm, good-humored, and surprisingly reliable in high-stakes situations, Book has a mysterious past that gives him a subtle edge. Whedon has said of Book that part of his purpose for the character was to give "a voice for the other side." While none of the other characters would agree with Book's convictions, they respect Book and get along famously with him.

Alan Tudyk as Pastor Veal in 'Arrested Development'

Alan Tudyk as Pastor Veal in 'Arrested Development'

Alan Tudyk as Pastor Veal
Arrested Development (2003- 2013)
Cray Allred (@crayallred)

Ann Veal's dad on Arrested Development leads the cartoonish evangelical family that, in my view, is actually a clever nod to how clueless major film and TV are about ordinary Christians. The Veals call everything about the Bluths "secular" (with a spooky tone) and are laughably repressed. Meanwhile the Bluths are shocked that an evangelical could be attractive, and struggle to trade in the most basic Christian language (in reference to a necklace: "It's a cross." "Across from where?").

Ned Flanders is a fairly straightforward joke at do-gooder Christians' expense; I think pastor Veal is a parody of that common joke. My favorite moment is when Pastor Veal compromises his ministry to aid his daughter in getting married—he allows GOB to perform a televised resurrection illusion at the altar, which, of course, turns out to be a horrible idea.

Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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