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"Darkly" Explores How Christians Can Interpret Film

  • Matt Winslow Infuze Magazine
  • 2007 22 Feb
"Darkly" Explores How Christians Can Interpret Film

Author:  Jeffrey Overstreet
Title:  "Through a Screen Darkly"
Publisher:  Regal Books

Some days I feel like I was born in the wrong century ... actually, most days I feel that way, but some days more than others. I'm a book nut. I love books:  not just for what they contain, but also the feel, the smell, just being around books both excites me and comforts me.

But many of the social critics are pointing out that we are living in a post-literature age. Yes, we may communicate a lot via words because of Internet technologies and text messaging, but that's not really the point:  the point is that our great ideas are not communicated via literature much these days. Think on it:  when was the last time we had a great novel that captured the nation and made it think deeply? No, "The Da Vinci Code" doesn't count, because the discussion that it created was more about how poorly it was as literature than because of anything inherent in it.

No, literature is definitely waning and it is film and television that are becoming the new literature. Again, think on it:  think how many catch phrases do you know from "Monty Python" sketches or how much of "The Princess Bride" can you recite? Most people know who Jack Bauer is, but how many can name King Lear's three daughters?

Yes, this is a bit of a lament, a jeremiad, but only a bit, for you see, I like movies. I'm lamenting the literacy of our culture, not the advent of movies. But as movies become the literature of our age, they are also becoming the sermons of our age. It would be easy to pretend that "it's just entertainment" but only the truly naive would believe that. Behind everything there is a worldview and that worldview cannot help but come out in movies. There are two main ways to respond:  we can hide and pretend that by isolating ourselves we are somehow immune to another worldview, or we can recognize that all men have within their hearts some inkling of God and His nature and that that comes out – for positive or for negative – in the literature of our age, in movies.

Jeffrey Overstreet has been reviewing movies for Christianity Today for a decade now and he has had to struggle with some of these questions. His first book, "Through a Screen Darkly," brings us his insights into how a Christian can interact with the world without either succumbing to the worldliness that kills faith or withdrawing from the world and pretending it doesn't exist or that any contact would result in total corruption.

Overstreet achieves this first by taking the reader through some of his own experiences with movies and his awakening to the deeper reading of texts, both in literature and in film. His story is one that many of us can relate t  growing up in a loving home that was intensely part of the evangelicalism of the '80s. Then, as he approached college in the late '80s and early '90s, and as he discovered his love of movies, he had to wrestle with tough questions about what he would partake in and what would be sinful for him to enjoy. From that struggle, though, he came out with some incredibly good insights into how to interpret film in a truly Christian manner.

"Through a Screen Darkly" is not a how-to manual that explains in seven easy steps how to make any movie into a Christian tract, but rather it shows us how to interpret film by systematically looking at different themes in today's culture and how they are reflected and brought out in various films. By the end of the book, Overstreet has taken the reader through at least 32 films. Although this may sound like a bit of a whirlwind tour (and it is at points), it does not come across as shallow or callous, but rather as insightful and deep. Whereas many movie critics have a tendency to be high-browed about films and look down their noses at "cheap fare," such an attitude is not here. Overstreet is as comfortable discussing why a movie like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" resonates with so many viewers as he is discussing the deeper meaning of an "intellectual" movie like "Babette's Feast."

Quite often in books about movies, unless you've seen the movie, you feel lost. Overstreet, however, does an incredible job keeping the reader from feeling alienated for not having seen the movie. Of the 32 mentioned, I've seen about half, but not once did I ever feel as if I were being left out of the conversation. Quite the opposite:  I now want to go out and view the sixteen I've missed out on.

What makes "Through a Screen Darkly" an exciting book to read is that it speaks to so many different audiences. If you're a Christian wondering how you can watch film and not compromise your soul, this book's for you. If you're someone like me who enjoys movies and who also enjoys reading deeply, this book's for you. And if you're an experienced film critic wanting to dialogue with another experienced film critic, this book's also for you.

© 2007 Infuze Magazine
.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.