In Pedro Almodóvar’s Words: Cinema as a Religion

The bad education I received at school was rectified when I went to the cinema. My religion became the cinema. Of course one could create one’s own belief system, and anything that helps or supports you in life can be seen as covering the function of religion. In that sense you could consider cinema my religion, because it is one of my major stimuli that I have for living. Cinema has that aspect of devotion to saints and idolatry as well. In that sense it is entirely religious.

Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar’s thoughts on cinema and religion are presented as an autobiographical account which can be vividly discerned in his 2004 film Bad Education. In this movie, two boys, who are homosexuals, as Almodóvar himself, go to the cinema and enjoy a place which is separated from the corrupt world of a religious school in Franco-era Spain. They see, as the director himself, cinema as a place of refuge, a sanctuary where they can experience emotions authentically, far beyond the grasp of a disciplinary institution, governed by priests. It is ironic that a place which is of secular nature is called a sanctuary of a kind, while the actual religious institution is associated with oppression and corruption. Churches, of course, can also be seen as sanctuaries, places of quiescent contemplation, separated from the corrupt world of modernity.

Film Screening

The other religious aspect of cinema which Almodóvar emphasizes is its power of healing, its therapeutic power. Cinema can be a support through the mechanism of identification with the protagonist, through acknowledgment of sufferings of the other: it can reduce our obsession with ourselves (and our own suffering), a phenomenon which the essayist Emile Cioran sees as particularly common in modern times. Jacques Lacan questioned the Aristotelian notion of catharsis, the purgation of emotions through drama, since the chorus in Greek tragedies does all the weeping and we watch the play rather disinterestedly.

An analogy can be drawn between watching a film at the theatre and hearing the collective weeping during a particularly emotional scene. Someone, in fact, the collective, does the weeping for us. Nevertheless, the notion of catharsis cannot be fully dismissed, since the pity we feel for the characters is indeed purfifying (watching Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark for example). Watching a film in the theatre can be seen akin to a religious experience since it is a congregation which appears in that very theatre and drama is collectively experienced. Instead of chanting and praying, there is laughter and tears.

To conclude, cinema does not only have its saints, the directors who belong to the pantheon of cinema, e.g. Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick and so on, but also has its angels; at the end of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire we can see his dedication to the angels of cinema, Andrei [Tarkovsky], François [Truffaut] and Yasujirō [Ozu].



3 responses to “In Pedro Almodóvar’s Words: Cinema as a Religion”

  1. That’s something I never thought about with the correlation of cinema being a religion. I could make a shallow argument about rabid fans hailing certain movies, directors, and studios as gods of sorts, but I won’t go there. I definitely agree with the element of catharsis when it comes to different emotions shown there. Maybe a film festival feels more like a sanctuary to me than a regular movie theater since they’re more likely to play movies I want to see. Hahaha! Maybe when upstart indie directors make their debut to the festivals, it’s like conformation of sorts to this religion or belief system if I were to use an analogy to Christianity in this case. Wow, this article gave me so much to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it’a more of a wordplay on my part, but yes, it does have some elements akin to the religious experience. Scorsese, a devoted Catholic, said that filming his movies is a spiritual experience for him. Maybe I wrote that somewhere, I’m not sure hah. But I’m glad it aroused your interest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sure thing, and I get it. I could see some of those elements even if I’m just watching a movie by myself on my computer or TV. I wasn’t aware of that quote from Scorsese, but I could picture him saying that. It’s got me thinking about how I see cinema or how I could perceive it as some kind of spiritual experience of sorts. This could be some kind of soul searching with my own thoughts and worldview on this matter. Maybe my own reviews and insights of watching various films could be like me interpreting a director’s “scriptures” of sorts in their cinematographic dogma.

        Liked by 1 person

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