Seeking God in the Movies

It is February and true to form, the Oscar nominations were just announced. To film lovers like me, this is always a momentous occasion. Every year my curiosity is piqued by the list of films the “Academy” nominates, especially for the “Best Picture” category. Predictably, some nominees do not surprise me, but each year I am challenged by other choices and stymied by films I have never heard of prior to the announcement.  I set out then and there to see as many of the films on the list as possible. Even with streaming, now that the number of nominees has been expanded to ten, this is no easy (or cheap) task.

Isn’t this a superficial endeavor? Why do I bother with the films that seem to go against my spiritual aesthetics? Crazy as it may seem, I have a passion for seeking God in the most unlikely places. Hollywood fits the bill.

This year’s list is really challenging because I have only seen five of the ten nominees so far (West Side Story, The Power of the Dog, Coda, Dune, and Don’t Look Up). Although I only have about a month to find and watch the others, I am determined.  Maybe you would like to join me?

If you have never analyzed movies for spiritual content before, here’s my shortlist of what to look for, tied into the Christian Paschal Mystery. Remember, these themes can be found in both drama and comedy although they can be very submerged or disguised.

  1. Incarnation – Are there Christ characters? Look carefully. Sometimes the Christ is very hidden! In what way is a character Christ-like?  Who opposes the Christ figure(s) and how is this opposition portrayed?
  2. Suffering – What is the main struggle in the film? Who takes on suffering courageously and who becomes bitter or callous? What characters or circumstances inflict, prolong or alleviate suffering?
  3. Death – What kinds of death are portrayed (physically, psychologically, spiritually)? Who or what dies and how? Why do these deaths occur? What feelings are evoked in you from the death scenes?
  4. Resurrection – What characters and circumstances promote a sense of redemption from conflict, suffering or death? Warming: redemption themes might be very subtle.
  5. Ascension – Is there a sense of letting go in the film? Of ascending to a new reality after the conflict is resolved?  Perhaps the absence of ascension makes this point better than resolution of it.
  6. Pentecost – Does a new way of being, thinking, living occur in the film? Or the prospect of one? Or is hope thwarted by the actions (or inactions) of others?

Uncovering these themes in film has informed, enriched, and enlightened my wisdom journey. Besides all that, I take great delight in the stories and the way modern filmmakers choose to portray them in such creative ways. An antidote to negative criticism of modern culture, this is a way to connect with the Christ who continues to speak to us here and now, through every possible medium.

I welcome your commments. . .

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