Remember when the Sabbath Prayer is sung in Fiddler on the Roof? Or when Nightcrawler whispers the Lord’s Prayer in X2: X-Men United? Or maybe when it’s prayed over the phone in United 93. Prayer is a powerful part of the human experience and will often show up in big screen storytelling. Some for laughs, some for inspiration, and others for provoking thought.
One of my favourites is Ricky Bobby’s prayer in Talladega Nights, and for me it’s not sacrilegious—I say God has a much better sense of humour than that. Here are some of the greater moments in movie prayer history:
Aunt Bethany’s Christmas dinner grace in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Amen. Play ball!”
George Bailey’s prayer of desperation in It’s a Wonderful Life — “Dear Father in heaven. I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you hear me, show me the way, God. I’m at the end of my rope and I… show me the way, God.”
Eli’s prayer in The Book of Eli — “Dear Lord, thank you for giving me the strength and the conviction to complete the task you entrusted to me. Thank you for guiding me straight and true through the many obstacles in my path. And for keeping me resolute when all around seemed lost. Thank you for your protection and your many signs along the way.”
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou — “Please Lord, I just want to see my daughters again. I’ve been separated from my family for so long. I know I’ve been guilty of pride and sharp dealing. I’m sorry I turned my back on you, forgive me. We’re helpless, Lord. For the sake of my family, for Tommy’s sake. For Delmar’s and Pete’s. Let me see my daughters again, Lord. Help us, please.” (I’m assuming the reference to “For Pete’s sake” is intentional here.)
Greg’s dinner blessing in Meet the Parents — “Oh dear God, thank you. You are such a good guy to us. A kind and gentle and accommodating God. And we thank you oh sweet lord of hosts for the smorgasbord you have so aptly lain at our table this day, and each day by day. Day by day, by day, oh dear Lord three things we pray. To love thee more dearly, to see thee more clearly, to follow thee more nearly. Day by day by day.”
Esmeralda’s prayer in The Hunchback of Notre Dame — “Yes, I know I’m just an outcast and I shouldn’t speak to you. Still I see your face and wonder, were you once an outcast too? God help the outcast, hungry from birth. Show them the mercy they don’t find on earth.”
Sonny’s yelling prayer in The Apostle (abridged…it’s quite the rant) — “I’m gonna yell at you ‘cause I’m mad at you. I can’t… take it! Give me a sign or somethin’. Blow this pain outta me…. I don’t know who’s been foolin’ with me. You or the devil…. I love you but I’m mad at you. I am mad at you!… I know I’m a sinner, and once in a while a womanizer, but I’m your servant!…. What should I do? I’ve always called you ‘Jesus,” you always called me Sonny. What should I do Jesus. This is Sonny talkin’ now.”
Ricky Bobby’s prayer in Talladega Nights — “Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers to the south call you, Jesús, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Domino’s, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. I just want to take time to say thank you for my family, my two beautiful, beautiful, handsome, striking sons, Walker and Texas Ranger, or T.R. as we call him, and of course, my red-hot smoking wife, Carley who is a stone-cold fox. Who if you were to rate her ass on a hundred, it would easily be a 94. Also wanna thank you for my best friend and teammate, Cal Naughton Jr. who’s got my back no matter what.”
Young Jenny’s prayer in the cornfield in Forrest Gump — “Dear God make me a bird so I can fly far far away from here.” This one is, I think, the greatest of them all. It is vulnerable, adorable, and heartbreaking all at the same time. And I love how Forrest lets us know that the prayer was answered. “Mama always said that God is mysterious. He didn’t turn Jenny into a bird that day. Instead, he had the police say Jenny didn’t have to stay in that house no more.”
Congratulations Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This is your week.
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman in Days of Thunder.
Best Actor: Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda in Rush.
Best Quote: “The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel. It’s a wonderful way to live. It’s the only way to drive.” — Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt in Rush.
After doing some poking around to find prayers in the movies I found a trailer for a movie that Lifetime had made, a true story biopic called Payers for Bobby. It looks pretty amazing. And heart wrenching. Gonna have to check it out. (Trailer for Prayers for Bobby)