Movies that carry a spiritual message find their way into theaters

Several recent and about-to-be-released films have themes with religious undertones. Among them:

'THE ROAD': The Earth is dying. In the wake of an undisclosed disaster, a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wander a barren land, searching for sustenance and avoiding roaming cannibal bands. Unrelentingly bleak, this cinematic version of Cormac McCarthy's novel is about one man's attempt to preserve what's left of humanity's goodness and innocence in his child. Though the film is never openly religious, many see it as a spiritual quest; McCarthy has spoken of his book as a sort of Christian allegory.

'THE LOVELY BONES': Life after death? It's a given in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel about a murdered teen (Saorise Ronan) who from the afterlife continues to watch over both her family and her killer (Stanley Tucci).

'THE INVENTION OF LYING': Ricky Gervais' comedy unfolds in an alternate universe where everybody compulsively tells the truth. But one man learns how to fib, and before long he's telling whoppers. In an effort to placate his unhappy fellow men, he declares that the world is run by a big man in the sky. He codifies rules of behavior and writes them down on the lid of a pizza box. (What ... no stone tablets?) And having no defense against prevarication, everyone believes him. This comic parable on the origins of religion is biting, but Gervais' beaming delivery softens the blow. (No longer in theaters; due on DVD in January.)

'THE BOOK OF ELI': Denzel Washington plays a lone man fighting his way across post-apocalyptic Americato protecting a sacred book that allegedly holds the secrets to saving humankind.

'LEGION': God has lost all hope in humankind and sends his legion of angels to Earth to bring on the Apocalypse in this supernatural action thriller. In a remote truck stop diner named Paradise Falls, the archangel Michael joins a group of strangers to defend the diner's waitress, who is pregnant with the messiah.

'THE LAST STATION': The eternal battle between spirituality and materialism is waged in the soul of acclaimed Russian author Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who is torn between his own need for transformation and the demands of his family (Helen Mirren) and disciples.

'A SERIOUS MAN': The Coen brothers retell the biblical story of Job, relocating it to the late '60s Minneapolis suburbs of their adolescence. A Jewish college professor finds everything in his life — from his marriage to his car — going down the tubes. In the original, God and Satan strike a deal to see how much grief one man can absorb before renouncing righteousness. This being a Coen brothers effort, God is nowhere in sight. Misery is just a universal fact of life; you'll survive only if you can laugh at it. (No longer in theaters; due on DVD in February.)

'A CHRISTMAS CAROL': Charles Dickens wasn't particularly religious, but he sure knew how to punch our spiritual buttons. This computer-animated retelling from director Robert Zemeckis (with Jim Carrey as a superlative Scrooge) doesn't diminish Dickens' message: Devote your life to the almighty dollar (or pound sterling) and you'll spend eternity in the chains of your own making.

'AVATAR': James Cameron's futuristic epic is about the efforts of humans to exploit the mineral wealth of a distant planet. Problem is, it's already occupied by blue-skinned primitives who believe that everything on their world — animals, plants, the very dirt they walk on — is imbued with spiritual power that must not be disturbed. Human greed vs. alien enlightenment ... a timely theme.

'THE BLIND SIDE': In the holiday season's most unexpected sleeper, a homeless boy (Quinton Aaron) is adopted by a wealthy Memphis family (Sandra Bullock is the force-of-nature mom), and with the family's love, dedication and disposable income the kid raises his grades and becomes a terror on the football field. It's the true story of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher, and writer/director John Lee Hancock lets us know that the family's charity is rooted in their Christianity. Hollywood movies rarely know how to handle persons of faith; this one does.

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