FINDING GOD IN THE MOVIES: 33 Films of Reel Faith
Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston
Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston --- husband and wife --- give thoughtful Christians a book full of tools to help them view select movies (33 in all; the oldest released in 1982) through a theological or philosophical lens.
FINDING GOD IN THE MOVIES starts with an informative introduction that discusses the film genre and theological approaches to film. What makes a good film? "Head, gut, and heart. The best movies will engage the whole person." How does a viewer find God in the movies? "Unpack the story…. What is more primary in the way the story is shaped? (1) Is it the plot…? (2) Is it the characters…? (3) Is it the point of view, where a story is given value by the perspective of the narrator(s)…? Or (4) is it the atmosphere…?…Concentrate your critical attention on where the filmmakers have centered their attention. By doing this, you will prove a more receptive viewer of the story and perhaps the Story."
Each of the 33 movie-chapters starts with a two- or three-page "synopsis and theological reflection" --- a review. This is followed by "dialogue texts" (relevant biblical passages), "discussion questions," "clip conversations" (more discussion questions but about specific scenes), and several pages of "bonus material," which includes interesting behind-the-scenes information about the making and makers of the film. Movies also are clearly linked to two helpful appendices: one listing (Genesis to Revelation) relevant biblical references; one listing (A to Z) topics covered in or themes of the movies (for example, Abuse; Affirming the Human Spirit; Anger; Arguing with God; Balance in Life).
The movie-chapters are presented in 13 categories, the more blatantly religious ("Living Our Faith"; "Images of the Savior"; "Renewing the Church") placed toward the end of the book. You might want to start your exploration in these later categories or simply bounce around. The second of the 13 categories, "Beauty, Imagination, and Creativity," discusses two Pacific Rim movies, Spirited Away and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that celebrate imagination and creativity but may be hard for the neophyte to discuss theologically.
This is a book for Christians who have an understanding of common grace, "the wider work of God's Spirit throughout and within all creatures and creation," and for those who are open to dialogue with the secular world. What are some of the films discussed? Life Is Beautiful. Ulee's Gold. The Hurricane. Simon Birch. Chocolat. We Were Soldiers.
By using this guide you might get the hang of facilitating a movie-discussion group and then move on to films you wish the authors had included. We'd all have our own list. Mine? The Trip to Bountiful. Cinema Paradiso. Babette's Feast. The Quarrel. Smoke. Maybe I should check out Johnston's earlier book REEL SPIRITUALITY: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Baker, 2000).
--- Reviewed by Evelyn Bence
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