Updated: Nov 12, 2019
In the Jodie Foster starrer, Contact (1997), the discovery of a radio signal from a star that is 25 lightyears away causes the whole ‘science versus religion’ debate to erupt. The possibility of intelligent life beyond our world is shown to present all sorts of challenges to religious groups who believe that God created mankind in his own image and as the virtual centre of the universe. In the movie, when a spacecraft is built to facilitate the first contact with the aliens, it is destroyed by a religious fanatic. Even the romantic relationship between the religious skeptic protagonist and a believer is used extensively in the movie to frame the tension between science and religion.
Happily, Hollywood has not focused only on the apparent incompatibility between science and religion.
Some alien-themed movies have borrowed heavily and unapologetically from religious iconography. Take, E.T. (1982) for example. The diminutive alien heals by laying his glowing finger on the sick (clearly a parallel with the healing ministry of Christ). If that was not clear enough, then all you need do is look at the poster for E.T. (with the alien finger touching the human finger; much like Michelangelo's Creation of Adam' fresco of the Sistine Chapel). And if that did not convince you, then there is the miraculous coming back from the dead that E.T. pulls off towards the end of the movie.
The Aliens movie franchise went so far as to include clearly religious underpinnings in its titles (Alien: Resurrection (1997) and Alien: Covenant (2010)). In the Mel Gibson starrer, Signs (2002), a former priest faces a crisis of faith that unfolds against the backdrop of an alien invasion of earth. Then there is the pantheism of the Na’vi tribe on Pandora in Avatar (2009) (in showing viewers that everything is connected) - yet again a clear underlining of a religious belief (in this case, closely aligned to the Hindu concept of 'Maya' where all reality is God and the rest is illusion).
The very concept of the ‘force’ in the entire ‘Star Wars’ series is a clear callout to the spiritual and the realm beyond the tangible, which believers understand intuitively, but which also resonates with all.
The very concept of the ‘force’ in the entire Star Wars series is a clear callout to the spiritual and the realm beyond the tangible, which believers understand intuitively, but which also resonates with all.
So, while the theological and philosophical debates go on unabated with each new alien-themed movie’s release, it is safe to say that in many instances, religion is viewed as a bottomless source of creative inspiration for many moviemakers. Goes to show that nothing, not even matters of faith or the lack of it, comes in the way of telling a good story on screen!