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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"God in the Movies" (Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston)

TITLE: God in the Movies: A Guide for Exploring Four Decades of Film
AUTHOR: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2017, (304 pages).

The movie industry continues to be a very vibrant one. It is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for people of all ages. In recent years, more movies have been released with the theme of faith. The quality of Christian movies have improved and due to a sizeable chunk of Christians who watch movies, several movie production companies have set up divisions to target these audiences. Truth is, there are already many movies that have the themes of faith and religion. Underlying the stories of many movies is a search for meaning, for significance, and for God. This book seeks to reveal the presence of such themes and how we can learn to watch movies intelligently and with discernment. In one of the most ambitious projects of this kind, authors Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston comb four decades of films ('80s, '90s, '00s, '10s) and highlight forty movies to show us that we do see God mentioned both explicitly and implicitly.

What makes this book readable is through popular movies that many people have already seen or heard. Some of the movies like "Chariots of Fire," "The Elephant Man," "American Beauty," "Life of Pi," "Dead Man Walking," "Wall-E," "12 Years a Slave," "Zero Dark Thirty" have either won oscar nominations or received critical appeal for its entertainment and artistic creativity. Reading the synopsis often brings back memories of the first time I watched it. At the same time, I marvel at how much I missed in terms of seeing the themes of faith and God in the movies. This book powerfully equips us with the lens of watching movie intelligently. It is interesting that the hit series STAR WARS are not given much coverage other than a one-line mention. I would have thought that the entire saga has deeply spiritual themes as well. I suppose the authors had two other hidden reasons. First, they want to highlight the relatively lesser known movies. Second, by the time we are halfway through the book, we would have gotten some skills in analyzing the movies ourselves!

Each chapter is titled after the movie to be analyzed. A key spiritual idea is mentioned followed by sub-themes, and where appropriate, other movie trivia such as original title, origin, year made, film duration, actors, directors, etc. Then there is a synopsis of the movie plot and theological reflection. The "dialogue texts" section allows Scripture to converse with the movie themes highlighted. Finally, there is a section on discussion questions and clip conversations, with additional resources from ReelSpirituality.com where readers can check out movie clips with timestamp ranges. Bonus material and additional resources are also listed. Some readers may find the chapters too brief but I find that a strength rather than a weakness. For the purpose of the book is not to tell us everything we need to know about analyzing the movie, but to provide a way forward and a framework for discussion. The best way to read this book is to cultivate interactive skills that we can engage with the material, the movie, and the corresponding messages that may arise. Moreover, the authors have indicated that this book is a "guide" and not an encyclopedia for film critique. There is a useful appendix at the end of the book, listing the movies by biblical text as well as theological themes. This makes this book a reference book that one can use for years to come.

Dr Catherine Barsotti is  Affiliate Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr Robert Johnston is Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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