Religion in Film

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  • Topic: Film, Religion, Cool Hand Luke
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  • Published : November 2, 2005
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Reel Spirituality, Theology and Film in Dialogue, Johnston, Robert K., 2001 Religion in Film, May and Bird, 1982
Screening the Sacred, Religion, Myth, and Ideology in Popular American Film, Martin, Joel W 1995 Widening experience: seeing through film, Wall, James M , Christianity Century, Oct. 20, 1993 v110 n 29 p1003 Reel Faith(Can Hollywood Teach And Inspire?), Dart, John, Christianity Century, March 22, 2003 v 120, i6 p9 Preachers Guide to the Movies, Younger Brett, Review and Expositer, 99 Winter 2002 p51

Canon of Selected Films

The Return – Andrey Zvyangintsev (2004)
Cast Away – Robert Zemekis (2000)
A Beautiful Mind – Ron Howard (2001)
Time of the Wolf – Michael Haneke (2004)
Cool Hand Luke – Stuart Rosenberg (1969)
Shashank Redemption – Frank Darabont (1994)
Shane – George Stevens (1953)
Sparticus – Stanley Kubrick (1960)

Other selections to be considered
Touching the Void (2004)
Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind – Michel Gondry (2004) Second Hand Lions -

Going to the movies is what we do when we have a free evening. A video is what we rent for our children when we are going out. A few people consider film a waste of time, or at best one leisure time option among many. It is hardly the staple of our lives. But for many, movie watching is a as natural to their daily routine as eating, sleeping or using a computer. Yet though we watch movies, we seldom try to relate what we have seen to theology. After all, theology is one thing film is another.

Film is an extraordinarily popular medium today, but films do much more than simply entertain. Films, as with other culture forms, have the potential to reinforce, to challenge, to overturn, or to crystallize religious perspectives, ideological assumptions, and fundamental values. Films provide more than "just entertainment" they provide a key means for millions of Americans to grapple with religious issues, and fundamental concerns. By looking critically at films, we can learn a good deal about theology.

The words of Farley, theology refers to "the cognitive enterprise using appropriate methods and issuing in a body of teaching" Theology, is to be seen as a critical task whose end was an integrated knowledge of God. For movies like no other art forms, help us not only to know about God but to actually experience God as well.

"Film, especially for those under 35, is a medium through which we get our primary stories, our myths, and our read on reality" says Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture at the Fuller Theological Seminary and author of the newly published Finding God in the Movies: 33 Films of Reel Faith. It was member of that generation, says Johnston, who "even if they loved God, was simply not going to church. Clergy are realizing that unless we reorient how we talk about our faith, we will lose the next generation." He sees movies as modern parables that connect the audience that seeks not reason but emotional relevance. As culture has moved from a modern to a postmodern era, we have moved from wanting to understand truth rationally to understanding truth as it's embedded in story," he says.

But Movies? From the beginning they were considered in the words of the Catholic doctrine, an occasion of sin. The Catholic Legion of Decency was more notable for proscribing movies than promoting them some of the sterner Christian sects forbade filmgoing. And that was when Hollywood still produced religious films, from uplifting tales of jolly priests and selfless sisters to outright miracles like The Song of Bernadette, with Jennifer Jones as a French girl who had a vision at Lourdes.

In the broadest sense, movies are getting more religious. According to Ted Baehr of, only one film in 1985 (Trip to Bountiful) has "positive Christian content," compared with 69 in 2003(including Finding Nemo, Spy Kids 3D and Master and Commander). Of course, it all depends on who's doing the counting....
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