From apocalyptic zombie movies reminiscent of the devastating destruction of biblical plagues, to copious superhero movies involving a virtuous, honourable male central figure who saves humanity, the scope of religious themes and messages portrayed and explored in science fiction is endless.
Though the institutions of science and religion have been notoriously and often brutally pitted against each other throughout history, the realm of film provides the freedom for these seemingly opposing areas to be intertwined and examined, while bringing to life the major questions of the universe that both views seek to find explanations for.
The 2014 epic Noah, loosely based on the story of the eponymous biblical character, was the centre of much controversy after director Darren Aronofsky claimed his work was the “least biblical biblical film ever made”.
Though artistic licence when adapting any text is to be expected, this does beg the question of how far inspiration can be taken from religious texts without endangering or insulting their spiritual significance.
The story itself may be universally known and its themes inter-culturally resonant, but it’s possible that divorcing the plot from its wholly religious origin reduces it to something that may be more palatable for non-religious film-goers but disrespectful to the text’s roots.
On the other side of the coin, we live in a world where the Jedi religion is a thing, and while the genuineness of its members’ faith may be questionable, its mere existence highlights the influence of depictions of spirituality within film.
Common sci-fi tropes of space exploration and advanced technological developments tell of humanity’s struggle to reach for something greater than itself, an idea at the core of any religion.
In films featuring imagined worlds, invented faiths can provide insight into the actual religions we may observe in our every day life. Futuristic societies can also show us the dangers of dystopian-like governments, and within such portrayals religion is often either the target of criticism or wholly abandoned to convey the amorality and corruption of such disturbing possible realities.
While in real life, the divide between the ideals of science and religion is often the subject of much conflict, the representation of common ground between the two in science fiction powerfully enhances the underlying similarities between them.
Despite whether the setting is the world we know or a galaxy far, far away, within sci-fi infinite possibilities and mysteries are opened up around us. Whether we choose to use science or religion to answer our own questions about the universe, in this genre the two are inextricable, and are all the more interesting for it.