. . . 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. . . .
. . . 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.
…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.
Parabolic Media is pleased to announce the return of Lenses, the popular Informal Classes for the Community starting Monday, September 9th. 6:30 PM at The Moviehouse & Eatery. For the Fall 2019 LENSES Series, there is no registration fee. Simply purchase your ticket at the box office or online on the Moviehouse & Eatery website. The series runs Sept. 9 through Nov. 18 (excluding Veterans Day on Nov. 11).
New for the Fall 2019 season, participants will be viewing CURRENT films being offered by The Moviehouse & Eatery. Due to fluctuations in distribution, the movie, start time, and theater number will be announced no earlier than one week prior to each class. Watch our web page for updates. Note that the opinions expressed in LENSES do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moviehouse’s owners, managers, or employees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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→
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.
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.
Set against the backdrop of a city known for its hurricanes, Galveston is the place of refuge for an unlikely couple on the run from the mob. Working as a hitman, Roy is set up by his corrupt boss in New Orleans. In escaping the sting, he also rescues a prostitute by the name of Rocky. Reluctantly bringing her along, Roy chooses Galveston as their destination—a place where they can lay low. Along the escape route, they rescue her little sister Tiffany from the girl’s abusive step-dad.