It seems that almost every year, there are one or two themes that emerge on the big screen… themes so persistent and vigorously investigated that you wonder if somebody somewhere called a meeting and planned for the films to correspond.

Last week, I realized what I would argue to be this year’s most prominent theme: The elusive nature of evil. No matter what folks try to accomplish, the dark side is getting the better of things, and escaping every strategy we devise… if we even get around to fighting back at all. The big screen seems to be a giant sandwich board shouting THE END IS NEAR. 

In the first film I saw this year, The Death of Mr. Lazrescu, a dying man refuses to help himself, while the one woman determined to save him searches and searches and searches for help. But it’s as if the world has been designed to keep help out of reach.

In Spider-man 3, the Sandman proves uncatchable. He literally slips through our hero’s fingers.

In Zodiac, the Zodiac killer is as elusive as a ghost, uncatchable, no matter what powers of technology are brought to bear.

Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah follows a broken-hearted man and a military investigator as they track the clues in a man’s disappearance, only to find that what they’re chasing is much, much bigger than a criminal. They’re wading into a swamp of evil that so saturates a nation that there is little chance of making a difference. That’s Chinatown, man.

Jason Bourne’s been chasing the enemy for three whole films, only to find that the evil forces responsible for his tragic circumstance are deeply rooted… and he is, himself, part of the problem. The Bourne Ultimatum ends up accomplishing very little at all, except self-realization.

This one’s a stretch, but really… is there any hope of stopping the advance of the forces ruining the beautiful mind of Julie Christie’s Fiona in Away from Her?

In The Devil Came on Horseback, we travel with ex-Marine Brian Steidle as he photographs barbarians carrying out genocide, and he can’t do anything to intervene or stop them. When he comes home, where all of the resources for stopping such violence are stockpiled and ready, he can’t get any cooperation. And for the first time in human history, genocidal violence happens while the whole world watches and does very little at all to stop it. (The Devil Came on Horseback is now available for immediate download and viewing at Netflix! Don’t miss it!)

In The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, the murderous enigma makes escaping justice look easy. And when he finally falls, it looks more like a willful surrender than an failure.

Evil seems epidemic in Jindabyne, poisoning relationships between men and women, culture and culture.

Here comes No Country for Old Men, with its supervillain — a hit man named Anton Chigurh — who stays one step ahead of pursuing lawmen, and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.

It’s as if the world is realizing that humankind, no matter how much progress we make, cannot develop the tools to dam the rising tide of evil in the world. We’re in too deep. It’s as if our hope depends on whether or not we are willing to look beyond ourselves for help.

Meanwhile, a movie with a still, small voice — Into Great Silence — stands alone, its inhabitants whispering prayers for the redemption of the whole world. If those fellows are right, then we can take comfort in knowing that God will work all things, even the worst things, together for good for those who love him. If those humble, devoted brothers are wrong, well…

Have you noticed any other prominent themes this year? Make your case.

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