Tag Archives: critic

THE FILMMAKER’S PRAYER: CINEMA & RELIGION by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Excerpt from THE FILMMAKER'S PRAYER

© 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. Participants will have a choice of nights and locations each week. 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 titled 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 $85 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. REGISTER NOW BEFORE THE CLASS IS FILLED.

(Links below will open a new tab in your broswer—the ACTS Lakeline PushPay site.)

Register for the full 10-week class HERE ($85).

Register a guest for any night by clicking HERE ($10).

 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.”