The controversial The Passion of the Christ not only drew millions of viewers this spring, but also sparked debate among many religious and secular groups.
Calvin professor of English Roy Anker thinks that’s a good thing. But he’s hopeful, too, that people, Christians included, will use the discussion about The Passion to consider broader issues of religion and film.
Anker has written a book about such issues, slated to be released this summer from Eerdmans.
It’s called Catching Light: Looking for God in Movies, a 400-page look at a wide variety of films (everything from The Godfather to Star Wars to American Beauty) that explore where and how God does (and sometimes does not) show up amid the usually messy circumstances of life on this earth.
It’s important, Anker said, to remember that God often shows up in the movies.
And not only in explicitly Christian films such as The Passion.
“Many films have clear religious elements,” he said, “but they’re not always seen as such. The Passion has generated a lot of discussion because it is so explicitly religious. And the Jewish dimensions have proved controversial. In addition, churches are seeing the film as a clear opportunity for evangelism. They are hopeful that a cinematic presentation of the Gospels can perhaps do what churches often fail to do: bring people to Christ.
“But what I find perhaps even more interesting are the movies that are not so explicit, movies that no church would see as evangelistic, but may, in many ways, be even more powerful to the unchurched than The Passion.”
Anker cites such movies in his new book — films like The Godfather, Chinatown and The Deer Hunter that, he says, take a close look at the nature of evil and thus help to show the nature of the light that comes to counter it. There are also films, he says, that depict Christian beliefs about redemption — films such as Tender Mercies and The Mission. Other films display characters who, to their great surprise, are ambushed by a wholly unexpected God: Grand Canyon, American Beauty and Three Colors: Blue.
“And,” he said, “some of the most popular films of our time have come as fairy-tale fantasies: the Star Wars saga, Superman and several of Spielberg’s films.”
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