Tag Archives: cinema

CINEMA & RELIGION by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D. (in Press)

Classic movie stars on screen seeming to argue about religion.

Excerpt from CINEMA & RELIGION

Work in Progress © Philip J. Hohle

     . . . According to Barna and Gallup polls, most of the residents in the U.S. are religious—or at least, we claim Christianity or some other mainstream faith-based worldview. Is it not strange then, that filmmakers often avoid addressing anything serious about religion in their movies?  At times, religion does play some positive minor role in the plot, but religiosity is more often the cause of the antagonist’s opposition to the less-religious protagonist than the reverse. It has become self-evident; religion is too complicated or fragmented for a scriptwriter to use as background for her characters. In making a character too religious, the writer runs the risk of losing some of the consubstantiation a viewer needs in order to like a character.

     In spite of filmmaker’s reluctance to make the celluloid sacred, I will argue in this book that films are full of religion. Both unconsciously and consciously, filmmakers infuse religion into the story in subtle ways, which can be missed unless the viewer is able to interpret the film on a less conventional level. Furthermore, I propose that if the viewer is not aware of the filmmaker’s religious sense-making within their created world, they are more subject to influence or even conversion. Considering the power of film, one can argue that the filmmaker is today’s tent-revival evangelist. But of course, most of this influence is worked in the unconscious and not always recognized in a conventional read of the film.

   In reading on, there will be some terms I use often that help shape the argument. As a matter of fact, Cinema & Religion is the sequel to Lenses, my previous book revealing ten perspectives one can use to interpret and make sense of movie narratives. . . .

[section omitted]

. . . This brings us back to the fundamental premise of this book. Films are full of ideology, and that ideology is often an identifiable worldview that is promoted as passionately as any religion. In these pages, we will compare the values, assumptions, and beliefs represented in films that, not only entertain us, but they comfort or disrupt us; they instruct and motivate us; they help us make sense of our lives. I hope that sounds like religion to you.

This book will:

  • Identify the key religious themes commonly found in narratives.
  • Show how these themes can be found and examined in a film.
  • Illustrate how the religious perspective will reinterpret the role and function of characters, the meaning of signs, and even the plot found in a movie.
  • Help the reader compare and contrast the ideological messages some popular movies to the divine story in Christianity.
  • Advance your emerging fluency as a lay critic, becoming more confident in recognizing the ideology and theology of a film.
  • Help you find a voice in communicating a case for its value or lack of value to our world. Ultimately, you can help shape the conversation over the film’s contribution to our culture’s grand narrative.
  • Motivate you to respond to an exigence (an urgent issue) raised by the film viewing experience.
  • Affirm and strengthen your appreciation for the power of film and the ability of the filmmaker to bring the viewer to experience transcendence in the story.

LENSES: Ten Ways to Interpret the Movies You Love (and some you hated) by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

LENSES book cover man with film running in his head

Excerpt from the Introduction

© Philip J. Hohle

...This remarkable influence is why it is so vital that viewers learn to read film. It is not so we can all have the same interpretation. I think of the old school literature professor who refuses to recognize any alternative interpretation of a classic poem. Recall the first literature class John Keating has with his students in Dead Poet’s Society4. Keating has his students rip out pages in the textbook that proposed the goodness and truth of a poem could be measured scientifically—leading to a singular, objective interpretation.

Conversely, the lessons in this book serve more like a guide to make us more sensitive—more aware of both the effect proposed by the filmmaker (e.g., the film craft as a noun) as well as the affect film has on us (as in a verb). In becoming literate, we become aware of the power we give film. But do not worry that your nuanced sensitivity will spoil your enjoyment—not like how a backstage tour of Disneyland diminishes the magic. Instead, I argue our literacy makes film even more powerful. We become more aware of the subtleties most viewers miss. Knowing more about the craft makes one appreciate it so much more when the film is indeed well made.

     Becoming fluent means you can help others toward a higher appreciation of such well-made movies. Fluency for me means one can interpret film for the benefit of others—to heighten their own literacy. This increased competency can mean you will more fully love the good movies you love. Likewise, you will help open other’s eyes to seeing disruptive films for what they really are. To our friends, parents, children, and the stranger in line at the film festival— we are critics. And the more fluent we are, the more we provide useful lenses for others to use.

Lenses are what this book is finally all about—ten sets of glasses one can try on in order to make sense of a film. Metaphorically, this book is an exercise in showing the changes of hue and texture each lens affords. Thus, selecting an appropriate lens becomes critical to a fulfilling and helpful critique of a film. Not only will each lens reveal a different story in the same movie, each person also employs personal filters that may blur or sharpen what the filmmaker intended. Being aware of one’s filters can reveal something about us as they simultaneously serve to help illuminate the film...

4. Dead Poet’s Society, directed by Peter Weir (1989; Touchstone Home Entertainment, 2012), BluRay.

Find this book on AMAZON in both paperback and eReader editions.

2019 Cinema and Religion

2019 Cinema & Religion Series Expands to Second Moviehouse

Classic movie stars on screen seeming to argue about religion.

Cinema & Religion, a ten-session informal course for the community, will be offered at each of the two Moviehouse & Eatery movie theaters in west Austin beginning in February. The class will be offered on Sunday evenings at 5:30 PM at the chain’s new theater in the Lantana Place shopping center near William Cannon and Southwest Parkway. As an alternative, the same class is held on Monday evenings at 6:30 PM at the chain’s original theater in the Trails of 620 shopping center on RR620.

Now in its sixth season, this informal class is produced by film scholar Dr. Philip J. Hohle, a member of the prestigious Society for the Cognitive Study of the Moving Image, and Dr. Jake Youmans, professor of religious studies at Concordia University Texas. Both have published works on the religious implications found in popular films. Noted Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Robert Johnson has stated that the cinema’s storytellers have become the new priests of our culture. As such, the movie theater has become another great competitor for the church because great movies inspire people in profound ways.

Hohle has further argued that virtually all movies project a surprising degree of religiosity. “Most good films subtly express a certain worldview, a statement about the human condition—Who am I? Am I a good person? What is my redeeming purpose in life? Certainly, those are some of the fundamental questions of religion, and many movies invite an examination from that perspective. If we don’t, we miss some profound ideas and lessons.”

The ten-week class is sponsored by ACTS Church Lakeline in partnership with Parabolic Media and other local churches. This past fall, the partnership offered a companion class called Lenses at the Trails of 620 Moviehouse. The course concept used was similar in approach to an ESL class for non-native speakers of English, but in this case, it is entertainment as a second language. This series was designed to help viewers develop a higher sense of media literacy or even fluency in interpreting the films they see. Similarly, Cinema & Religion is designed for anyone who wants to develop a higher awareness or appreciation for the inspirational power of movies.

The $80 registration includes a copy of a book of the same title written especially for this course. The course will feature ten free screenings of selected films at either Moviehouse each week. Every screening is followed by an open discussion led by a variety of respondents in addition to Hohle or Youmans. “There is no better setting to truly consider the richness of the film narrative than in a comfortable movie theater with an audience,” Hohle said. “While our respondents primarily speak through the lens of Christianity, we really learn from each other as we take the time afterward to unpack and share the personal religious experience the film provides for each of us.”

The series begins on February 3/4 and runs through April 14/15. The class will not meet on March 17/18. Register HERE before all seats are taken. For more information, email philip@parabolicmedia.com or visit the frequently asked questions page.

About ACTS Church Lakeline (LCMS) ACTS Church Lakeline is one of four ACTS in a network that includes churches in Kyle, Leander, and Lakeway. It should be no surprise that ACTS Lakeline meets on Sunday mornings at Southwest Theater on Research Boulevard near RR620—formerly an Alamo Drafthouse. Pastor Barrett Grebing explained, “It is no accident that we worship in a movie theater, as the church and the movie theater have a lot in common. They both seek to express profound truth in darkened, sacred space.” He added, “The church is all about helping people make sense relationship they have with their God and with the people around them. We find that movies provide a rich common ground where those conversations can begin.”

Lenses: Entertainment as a Second Language

LENSES Informal Class for Community Learners


NOTE: THIS WAS THE POST ANNOUNCING THE FALL 2018 SERIES.


ACTS Church Lakeline is pleased to announce the return of Lenses, the popular Informal Classes for the Community starting Monday, September 10, 6:30 PM at The Moviehouse & Eatery. Offered at $65, the class includes a simple course curriculum on media literacy written with the average viewer in mind. Participants will   (Note that the series will pause on October 8 and November 19 for fall and Thanksgiving breaks respectively.)

Poster of information found on this page.

Participants will explore and practice ten valuable lenses that can make them fluent in their media consumption—better at making sense of the messages and meanings behind their favorite movies. Improve your media literacy—become fluent in reading popular film.

The Lenses series is parallel to the Cinema and Religion series offered at The Moviehouse each spring. Focusing on film, the two classes provide examinations of this compelling media form in the context of an actual movie theater with an audience—the most pure and powerful viewing environment.

Instructions for registration is found here. For more information, visit the FAQ page.

The course registration does not guarantee a seat at the screening. Participants must reserve their seat each week by using this form. A limited number of guest seats are available each week, but they must pay a single-night registration. Reserve a seat for each guest using this form before paying the fee.

Our license agreement prevents us from using the title of the films in our publicity. The list of actual film titles with screening dates will be included in the course material provided for those who register. In the meantime, read the kind of key question used for each screening and the kind of film that will lend itself to the examination.


September 10. From the lens of Accuracy, ask: “Is it true?”
The film this night is about a woman’s fight to get justice for her daughter, based on a true story. The participant will look closely at the facts surrounding the actual event and ask if any discrepancies take away from a full appreciation for the film. Also ask, what films require consideration through the lens of accuracy. Furthermore, consider what films should be exempt from the standard of accuracy.

September 17. From the Formal lens (aesthetics), ask: “Is it pretty?”
The film this night should be judged according to how beautifully the movie is made. For example, one can look at the cinematography, costumes, set design, music score, editing, acting, and direction and ask if these elements demonstrate mastery in film production. As such, one is less worried about the impact of the story. The film for this night uses the plot of one of Shakespeare’s plays. As such, one can also ask if the film’s script and direction equal or exceed a stage version.

September 24. From the lens of Narrative, ask: “What is the story all about?” The film on this night is a retelling of Homer’s Oddessy. According to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a hero is sent on a journey to recover a boon or treasure. Along the way, s/he meets antagonists that try to stop the quest. Often, the hero finds help from unexpected sources—thus enabled to return a boon to the community. The participant should see how closely this film follows the monomyth (hero’s journey), and look for variations in the story. For any film, the viewer must seek coherence in the hero’s journey before any deep identification can take place.

October 1. From a Socio-Cultural lens, ask: “Why do they treat each other this way?” First one must self-examine the social or cultural context that shapes one’s identity. Certainly, how you view a film is filtered by those experiences. Next, examine the film’s characters with the same understanding of how different cultural backgrounds and social orders motivate or explain the interactions characters have with each other. In this film, we have a mix of nationalities and ages along with another sort of culture. Watch for cultural and societal norms that satisfactorily explain the motivations of characters. Look beyond a simple mismatch of personalities. Ultimately, see how easily you identify with characters who come from a different context. Ask if the filmmaker’s norms and traditions are the same as yours.

October 15 (no screening on the 8th). From the lens of Psychology, ask: “What is the story really about?” It is in the unconscious where the influence of film’s story is often most potent. Can the film’s impact on you be explained by examing the experience through a Freudian understanding of the battle between the childish ID and the moral Superego—mediated by the realistic Ego? This film is about how painful events that are suppressed or repressed can affect conscious behavior. Note that even the filmmakers may be expressing ideas that even they may not be aware.

October 22. From the lens of Semiotics (symbolism) ask: “What metaphors can be found?” A good filmmaker will fill the experience with clues to deeper meanings, some of them triggered by psychological sensors. Few actions or objects in a film are unintentional—they are inserted to remind the viewer of something important. The participant will learn to spot what has things have particular relevancy and which do not. Such an understanding of these clues will help one make sense of a character’s actions and artifacts and what role they play in driving the story. This film is filled with such hints—one such involves the appearance of a white shirt that never becomes muddy.

October 29. From the lens of Value, ask: “What is important to them?” For this lens, the participant should not judge the character, but merely ask what value system is represented in the behaviors and artifacts prevalent in the film. Look for the conflict of values—the Socio-cultural lens may be helpful in differentiating one system from another. In this film, a character falls temptation to the appeal of money, and in the process, he devalues the ultimate wellbeing of his family. Another main character discovers what he has valued all along is no longer enough. Another character is relentless in pursuing what he values. Ask if the values espoused by the protagonist-hero reflects those of the filmmaker.

November 5. From a Rhetorical lens, ask: “Does it persuade?” Indeed, there is persuasion hidden in many films. The participant will learn to ask, what idea is being advanced? What action is called for? Ultimately, ask if the filmmaker was effective in causing one to change perspectives on an issue. If so, what means of persuasion were most powerful (logos, ethos, or pathos) in reshaping your perception? Consider what formal elements used by the filmmaker best supports their rhetoric. This film will depict a change sweeping across an entire city, starting with a single character. Did you feel the same?

November 12. From the lens of Ideology, ask “What worldview does this film promote?” Of course, a worldview is a belief system made evident by closely held values, which are manifest in behaviors and artifacts. Combine the Rhetorical, Semiotic, and Value lenses in asking what foundational belief is represented in the film. Once identified, ask if the film’s stance is different from your worldview, or if it was successful in persuading you to change or affirm your beliefs. This film sends a subtle message one may miss due to the spectacular distractions of the performances.

November 25 (no screening on November 19). From the lens of Genre, ask: “Is this true to form?” Typically, we might start with such a lens, as it is perhaps the most common lens used today in light of the popularity of the comic book genre. We compare films to other similar films in asking if they are representative of the best in that genre. Of course, genres only exist because views and critics alike need categories to help them make and defend their judgments. In this film, we will see if it can be considered to be among the best Christmas movies ever made. If so, what elements (using a Formal lens perhaps) makes it so?

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Short Tragedies

A Review of Independent Shorts (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

As a whole, those who selected the narrative short films for the 2018 SXSW festival are apparently obsessed with themes of gender identity. I have selected a number of these shorts to analyze for the deeper questions they raise—along with the obvious conflicts and concerns more conventionally found in the story. It is often the less noticeable films that make for the richest philosophical discussion.

Continue reading Short Tragedies

Where’s Coach?

Review of Write When You Get Work (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Viewers might consider this film as another in the genre of anti-hero comedy. When it is difficult to place the actions in some framework of reality, the plot becomes absurd, and absurdity can only be placed in the comic genre. Often, the absurdity comes from a juxtaposition of ideas that seem incompatible—in this case, the good-hearted criminal.

Continue reading Where’s Coach?

The Return of Religion

Review of Jinn (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

It is refreshing to see well-developed African-American characters in a narrative, and this story is one of the best in avoiding stereotypes. Not surprisingly, Jinn is written and produced by a group of emerging Black filmmakers in the U.S. What adds to the quality of this film is that the narrative provides a refreshing take on the troubled encounters the whole world seems to have with religion these days.

Continue reading The Return of Religion

Alien Incarnation

Review of First Light (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Cast members from film sitting on a porch.Another in the science fiction genre where an alien race brings a blessing to a troubled earth, First Light has some interesting company. The film Arrival is one good example. In many of these tales, only certain characters have the sensitivity to hear or understand the message brought by these alien angels of mercy.

First Light is set in a town situated somewhere out West. Two teenagers are brought together after a strange set of events one night at a party outside of town. Few people in the town seem to be aware of, much less concerned about, the patterns of strange lights that appeared in the sky,
Continue reading Alien Incarnation

Trailer Park Parent Trap

Review of Sadie

By Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

A predominant theme found in the narrative features (and many of the narrative shorts) at SXSW 2018 was that of broken families and abandoned, troubled kids. Sadie is a film that uses tragedy to analyze the consequences of a dysfunctional family experience imposed on kids.

Continue reading Trailer Park Parent Trap

Non-typical Bucks

A review of Legacy of the White Tail Deer Hunter (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Buck (Josh Brolin) is a legendary hunter staring in his own video series. His loyal cameraman Don (Danny McBride) accompanies Buck on a special hunting trip—the first for his son Jaden (Montana Jordan). The hunter’s situation in life is reflected in an old buck deer they site early on the trip—the animal has a huge rack and a sad, grey-looking face. Buck categorizes him as a non-typical specimen, and certainly, this describes Buck well. This film stays within the pattern of films at SXSW 2018 dealing with broken families and the difficult rites of passages for the kids in such a situation.

Continue reading Non-typical Bucks