Breaking God into Movies

The Deeper Meaning of Movies: Entertainment Culture and the Big Picture

As much as screenwriters have the reputation for being smut peddlers, virtually any writer yearns to craft the kind of meaningful, spiritual screenplays that our representatives keep telling us you're demanding. But you don't go to those movies. So screenwriters have had to resort to sneaking it in.

"I think the best of [my movies] work on many levels," says screenwriter William Broyles, who is also co-creator of the show China Beach and founding editor of Texas Monthly magazine. "If you look at Apollo 13 or Cast Away, they're rooted in these deeper themes of journeys." So if a writer sneaks a little spiritual quest into a star vehicle with Tom Hanks and spices the narrative with some action, you might actually buy a ticket.

Despite working in show business, Broyles is a religious man. When his former rector and current godfather to his younger son, Father Bill Miller, asked him to give a talk on the deeper meaning of movies, Broyles quickly agreed.

Spiritual screenwriter William Broyles
Spiritual screenwriter William Broyles


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"Religion is much more important to the lives of the people who watch movies and TV than it is in the movies and TV they watch," Broyles admits. Part of this is pragmatic. Movies try to be universal, and a story that appeals to a specific religion limits its audience. But just because a movie is violent doesn't mean it has no value.

"I've done stories about Vietnam, and you can't do war stuff without violence," says the former Vietnam vet. Great works like Henry V and The Iliad deal with dirty stuff, he says. What's important to Broyles is that the writer work the human questions in, and that any gratuitous images support the themes.

"A need for spirituality is almost as constant in our makeup as our predilection to language and math," Broyles says, and so it will always have a place in our stories. But so will sex and violence -- at least as long as you're buying those tickets.

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