Some time ago, I took a course on Theology, Film, and Culture at Biblical Theological Seminary. This spawned me thinking about one of my hobbies, movie watching, and prompted me to create a special blog dedicated to this. However, those blog posts were always few and far between and so the blog has floundered. Now that I have a bit more time, I’m hoping to get back to “reading film” and commenting on the theological themes and commentary that I find within this medium of story telling and so I’ve brought these film readings over to this blog. These readings are not attempting to apply just another review of movies. They are not meant to simply describe the synopsis of a movie. They are not meant to point out all that’s wrong with the film industry. Or all that is right with it.
They are all about stories. Specifically, these “film readings” about the stories being told by arguably the chief story telling medium of the 20th and 21st centuries in the USA. In the 1800’s, that was the novel and the short story. In the 1900’s and 2000’s, it is the visual media of TV and Film.
But more than those stories, these readings about world views that are expressed through story. Tolkien described in “On Fairy Stories” what it means to be a story-teller creating a new world. As the creator of that world, inevitably, part of the creator will show up in the creation. Tolkien’s Christianity came out deeply in his Lord of the Rings books. No, there was no specific Christ figure. In fact, there were several, each exhibiting a different part of the Christ. But Tolkien would be the first to point out that there is no analogy in his books but that his own personal beliefs, philosophy, and world view would come out simply because, as a creator, he has a deep impact on the nature of his creation.
Such is the same with Hollywood film. The filmmakers (which includes director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter, actors, sound technicians, lighting technicians, etc) put together a visual medium that, through their art and craft, tell a story. Inevitably, part of their own view will come out in the film. Consider the Lord of the Rings movies. Not only did the original author come out in the film, but the film makers applied their own interpretation to express some of their own ideas, views, and philosophies.
Meanwhile, we, who watch these films, have our own stories. These stories are those narratives that we lean on to give meaning to our lives and to describe our identities. For some of us, these narratives are more well-formed and well-known than others. For others, they are more vague and less well-defined. But beyond the more individualistic view, there are communal stories that give identity to groups of people. Christians have such stories within the context of that stream of faith. Some of these stories are documented in our holy texts. Some of them are passed along as inspirational stories of people of the past. From these stories, we define who we are, what we believe, and how we view the world.
One of the callings of Christians is to go into the world and bring our stories into the world in the hope that, through sharing our stories, others will find identity in them and, in doing so, enter into our stories with us. But before we can share our stories to the world, we need to first listen to the stories of others.
The Apostle Paul was very good at doing this. In fact, in the book of Acts (a collection of stories), we are told about how Paul one time engaged the story of the city of Athens. He didn’t throw it down and say “Your story has no meaning.” Instead, he brought out the good in that story and showed how his story, the story of Christ, interacted with the story of the Athenians and, by doing so, brought many into the story of Christ.
This is why I’m doing what I do. My hope and prayer is that, as I watch film and listen to those stories, I can engage those stories and speak about the truth in them. I can, like Paul, point out the “altar to the Unknown God” and praise the people for their spirituality. I can find where God has spoken to others in ways that they might not recognize as being God and tease those points out of the films. I can then engage the story of Christ to show that truth and expand upon it. Perhaps there will be corrections where the story of the film might need redemption. Perhaps there will be points where I can say “Yes! They got it right!” Each film, each story, is different and unique and can be treated uniquely.
What’s really fun to do, though, is watch the progression of Hollywood stories over the years and show how even those stories shift and change as culture shifts and changes. This “meta-narrative” of Hollywood film can be almost as fun to engage as the individual films. The contextual cross-referencing of films is so much fun.
So, welcome to a great experiment! Please feel free to engage the stories you see. If you’re a Christian, please share where you see Christ in these films (or where you see Christ needing to correct the films). If you’re not a Christian, please share how you read the films and what the message of the films are so that those of us who don’t share that world view can come into clearer understanding.
But, in all this, something that we should always remember: Sometimes a story is just a story meant to entertain. When we run across those, sometimes we just need to sit back and enjoy the show.
For an interesting text on how to read and dialogue with film, look up Robert Johnston’s book Reel Spirituality. I have read and reviewed this book and you can find the review here.
You can find all my film readings under the category Movie Commentary. I hope you enjoy them!