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Gratuitously religious villains

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So The Legend of Tarzan (which I generally enjoyed) features a villain played by Christoph Waltz, a fictionalized version of the real-life Belgian soldier Léon Rom, with a very strange M.O: He constantly carries an exotic, weaponized rosary — made, if I heard correctly, of "Madagascar spider silk" — which he slings around with the precision of Bruce Lee with a pair of nunchaku, and can easily immobilize or strangle an enemy. 

As I recall, Rom doesn't answer Jane's ironic question "Are you a religious man?" and the movie doesn't make a point of giving him any religious associations other than the rosary. Rom mentions the rosary being a gift purchased in Jerusalem by his priest and given to him as a boy. I didn't pick up on this, but Peter calls out Jane's line "You must have been close" as an implicit priestly pedophile joke, though this too, as I recall, isn't reinforced by Rom's noncommittal reply ("Why?"). 

Anyway, it occurred to me later that there's another The Legend of… movie, The Legend of Zorro, that also features a murderous, racist villain with a gratuitously religious leaning. Nick Chinlund plays a despicable killer named McGivens with a cross-shaped scar on his cheek who quotes scripture and calls murdering Mexican-Americans "doing the Lord's work." He also carries a pair of guns he calls "salvation and damnation." The film further posits a secret society called the Knights of Aragon that has been secretly ruling Europe and is scheming to take over America. 

Unhappily I can't think of a third The Legend of… movie with a racist villain with a religious leaning or M.O. But this got me thinking about the motif of villains with religious leanings generally, particularly where this seems gratuitous or tacked-on. 

Two interesting examples include remakes of older films circa 1960, the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma and the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. In 3:10 to Yuma, Russell Crowe's villain quotes scripture, particularly Proverbs, and — in a touch reminiscent of the "salvation and damnation" guns — he carries a revolver nicknamed "the Hand of God" with a crucifix on the handle. Likewise, Scorsese's 1990s Cape Fear remake notoriously gave De Niro's Max Cady an enormous cross tattoo and religious obsessions. 

Timur Bekmambetov's Wanted, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, features a villain called "the Butcher" who wears an Our Lady of Guadalupe T-shirt. 

In the 1990s, Seven and The Glimmer Man featured Catholic-themed killings by murderers preaching a kind of homily through their crimes. Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame also featured a religiously obsessed villain. These three cases might be less gratuitous than the others, since the religious dimension here is essential to the story being told. The same goes for Night of the Hunter, of course, where religious themes are of the essence. 

Any other examples of movie villains, particularly killers, with gratuitous religious leanings? 

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Are you wanting to limit these "religious leanings" to Christian characters or might we look at The Rabbi in Lucky Number Slevin? It's been about six or seven years since I watched it, so I don't actually remember much about the character at all.

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Jack Palance's villain in Corbucci's The Mercenary fits this mold.

 

Edited by Ryan H.

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Films that come to mind:

Kevin Spacey in Se7en (which Steven already mentioned above).

Paul Bettany's monk in The Da Vinci Code.

Both Bill Paxton and Matthew McConaughy in Frailty.

Marcia Gay Harden's disturbing fundamentalist character in The Mist.

The warden played by Bob Gunton in The Shawshank Redemption.

Would Michael Corleone in The Godfather be a candidate?

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NBooth, 

Jewish examples might be particularly worth exploring, considering the extent to which Hollywood has historically been, and more importantly has been perceived as being, disproportionately run by Jewish people. 

Joel, 

Good call on the Shawshank warden in particular.

Frailty is probably worth considering for contrast; my impression is that the religious themes there are integral rather than gratuitous, but still worth noting. Strangely, I'm more inclined to include Da Vinci Code's albino assassin monk even though religious themes are integral, I'm not sure why. 

The Godfather is a film thematically about the mafia code standing alongside and separate from the codes of civil society as well as religion; I don't think it's a good example. Road to Perdition, with Hanks' character's rosary and automatic side by side, might be closer. 

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Just thought of the scene from Jeff Nichols' Mud, where the men hunting Mud pray in a circle in a hotel room. Again, it's hard to parse whether this is "gratuitous," but it's the only indication of these men's religious leanings, and its an interesting scene in light of what they're about to do (i.e. attempt to murder a man).

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Possibly Gangs of New York, but IIRC it's the protagonists who are perversely religious in that film.

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Yeah, Gangs of New York, like The Godfather, is about complex characters in whom violent, lawless acts coexist with some kind of religious identity, but it doesn't really fit the "religious villain" trope. It's more like a larger world of violence and religion. 

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Apparently eight years after Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum costarred in 5-Card Stud as a killer preacher with a hollowed-out Bible in which he kept a hidden gun. 

Edited by SDG

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Brother Mouzone on The Wire. (He's Nation of Islam.)

Would the mother in Carrie fit? What about Dolph Lundgren in Johnny Mnemonic?

Edited by Tyler

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This topic got out of hand for one piece, and I wound up splitting it in two. 

Part 1: Let's face it, Hollywood's got a religion problem

Quote

The 2016 summer movie season has seen more than its share of critical and box-office disappointments, and more than its share of controversy. By far the bitterest commotion was over Paul Feig’s sex-swapped remake of Ghostbusters: Advance opposition was spiked with misogyny and racism, while advocates defended Feig’s attention to actresses and female viewers in a Hollywood landscape still heavily skewed toward men.

In comparison, controversy over Warner Bros’ The Legend of Tarzan was relatively muted, mostly limited to critical think pieces indicting the film and the larger Tarzan mythos for racist, sexist, and colonial entanglements.

Issues of representation and diversity in Hollywood films have gotten enough media attention to ensure that most people, whatever they think of their applicability in particular cases or of the politics behind the discussion, are at least somewhat aware of such concerns and questions.

Yet at least one area of representation is disproportionately ignored: how Hollywood deals with religious belief and identity.

The Ghostbusters remake comes back at the end of the second piece. (I wrote a bit about the topic of "Gratuitously queer villains" in this piece, but wasn't able to deal with it at the length I hoped. I also regret failing to mention the original 1984 Ghostbusters' best religion-themed line, "Nobody steps on a church in my town!")

Part 2: Where are Hollywood’s good Catholic characters? 

Quote

The biggest issue with how Hollywood portrays people of faith today is simply that it overwhelmingly doesn’t. Religion is basically ignored, even where it would be reasonable to expect it.

Take Steven Soderburgh’s Contagion (2011), a remarkably well-constructed pandemic thriller that explores almost every aspect of how such a crisis might unfold and how people would respond, except for the role that religious traditions and organizations play in any major crisis.

Or compare this summer’s Ghostbusters remake to the original.

While hardly a pious film, the original Ghostbusters repeatedly touches on religion. Ernie Hudson’s character asks Dan Aykroyd if he believes in God, and talks about loving “Jesus’ style.” Hudson goes on to reference the Bible, quoting the book of Revelation (accurately, though he gets the chapter number wrong), and wonders whether Judgment Day is upon them.

The archbishop of New York shows up at the mayor’s office (the mayor even kisses his ring) and says that while the Church has no official position on the ghostly phenomena affecting the city, his off-the-record opinion is that it’s a sign from God. At the denouement, priests are doling out blessings.

While the 2016 remake faithfully follows the original in many things, the religiosity has been jettisoned. No one mentions the Bible or talks about God or Jesus. The scene in the mayor’s office is still there, but the archbishop no longer appears, nor do the priests at the end.

The new Ghostbusters may go some way toward redressing Hollywood’s ongoing issues with gender representation, but when it comes to the portrayal and non-portrayal of religion, it’s a symptom of the problem — a problem no one is talking about.

 

Edited by SDG

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I thought TV Tropes might help, but it turns out they kinda break this concept up into several categories, and the entries for movies are rather sparsely supported.  But here are the links anyway: 

"The Churchgoing Villain" (whose religion may or may not be hypocritical) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChurchgoingVillain

"Hiding Behind Religion" (when characters use religion hypocritically) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HidingBehindReligion

"Sinister Minister" (evil religious leader) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SinisterMinister

"Corrupt Church" http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CorruptChurch

"Belief Makes You Stupid" (overly religious characters are out of touch with world/plot) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BeliefMakesYouStupid

Plus: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ActivistFundamentalistAnticshttp://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EgocentricallyReligious, or http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HolierThanThou

They tend to put the same movies into all these lists over and over, though.  I do feel like there are more out there we're missing.  I know I always feel irritated when a character in a movie or TV show is a jerk and then is shown to be religious just to take a dig at religious people.

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