Subtitled How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings, film critic and committed Christian, Josh Larsen, writes Movies Are Prayers to explain his perspective that films are one of our ways of communicating with God. Films, or movies as they are oftentimes referred to in this book, can be many things from a form of escapism to historical information and artistic expression, but as Larsen maintains, they can also be prayers.
“Movies are our way of telling God what we think about this world and our place in it.” Apart from those based on Biblical characters or Christian messages, films are not usually a deliberate attempt at speaking to God. What Larsen is suggesting is that God can be found in places you would not expect – the cinema, for instance. Prayer is a human instinct, even for those who have no religious ties. We are forever asking “why am I here?” or “why me?” alongside feelings of gratitude and love for our positive experiences in life.
Josh Larsen explores several expressions of prayer, including the tenets of the Lord’s Prayer, to examine numerous films from popular classics to contemporary Disney. Beginning with wonder at the natural world (Avatar, Into The Wild), positive forms of prayer are identified in well-known cinematography, such as reconciliation (Where the Wild Things Are), meditation (Bambi), joy (Top Hat, and most musicals) and confession (Toy Story, Trainwreck). But Larsen does not stop there, he goes on to use examples of emotions that many may not consider forms of prayer: anger (Fight Club, The Piano) and lament (12 Years a Slave, Godzilla).
To back up his theory, Josh Larsen relates film sequences with Bible passages, for example, the prayers of David and Job. He likens the ending of Children of Men with the Christmas story and identifies the worshipping of false gods with Wizard of Oz. Larsen also suggests the obedience of the main character in It’s a Wonderful Life reflects the experiences of Jonah.
As well as Biblical theory, Larsen refers to citations from other respected Christian writers on the matter of prayer, challenging preconceived notions of both the religious and the atheist. Despite the fact Movies Are Prayers is heavily steeped in religious connotations, it may appeal to film buffs who wish to delve deeper into the hidden meanings of films.
Although the examples in this book are mostly well-known titles, it is unlikely that readers will have watched all the films. Helpfully, Josh Larsen provides details and descriptions of the scenes he has chosen to focus on so that even if you are not familiar with the story, it is possible to understand the author’s perspective. Having said that, Movies Are Prayers contains a lot of spoilers.
Everyone has their own personal view on Christian theory and prayer, so Movies Are Prayers can only be treated as an idea rather than gospel. However, Josh Larsen has developed an interesting theory that makes you think more about the ways we can communicate with God, even when we may not have deliberately chosen to. Being easy to read and not overly long (200 pages), Movies Are Prayers is the ideal book for film-loving Christians.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon