Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies

Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies

Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies

Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies


Films have come to not only entertain modern minds but also inform and shape them. Many of the best cinematic works have profound religious elements -- some obvious, some more subtle. In Catching Light Roy Anker examines nineteen popular films, showing how they convey a range of striking perspectives on the human encounter with God.

These selected films portray God showing up in different, surprising ways amid the messy circumstances of life. Anker looks closely at the plot of each film, especially at how characters, through their experiences, ultimately move "toward Light," toward recognition of a loving, redemptive deity.

The first section of Catching Light looks at classic 1970s films that inspect personal, social, and cultural evil: The Godfather trilogy, Chinatown, and The Deer Hunter. The second group of films depicts the ways and depths of specifically Christian notions of redemption: Tender Mercies, The Mission, Places in the Heart, and Babette's Feast. Some of the most successful films of our time have come as fairy-tale fantasies: the Star Wars saga, Superman, and three of Steven Spielberg's "lost boy" stories ( Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), each of which Anker interprets as a fable of search and redemption. The films in the last section of the book feature characters who, to their great surprise, are ambushed by a wholly unexpected God: Grand Canyon, American Beauty, and Three Colors: Blue.

In addition to focusing on the theological dimension of each film, Anker comments on its merits both as story and as cinema. Also included are sidebars that discuss each film's history and significance as well as the quality and special features of DVD editions. For anyone interested in the intersection of religion, art, and culture, Catching Light offers a unique view of contemporary faith.


“Catching light” is what film does, of course. In the physical chemistry of cinema, light passes through the lens, aperture, and shutter to expose rolling film stock. Light reflected from what lies in front of the lens enters the camera to expose the moving negative, twenty-four frames per second, from which comes the final print that snakes its way through motion picture projectors at the local cineplex. In the digital technology now emerging, photography begins not with film stock but with a photoelectric sensor that initiates the translation of the light into digital code that is eventually transposed to the film print (the 36-millimeter print is also now on its way out, about to be displaced by the digital video disk). No matter what the means are, though, the end result is the same: a prolonged array of visual images — many tens of thousands in a full-length motion picture — that “picture” what the world looks like and feels like as it moves along. Film stock catches light, and a filmic world takes shape and comes to life. If the movie is any good, viewers move as well, plopped in their seats though they be, and very often in more ways than they can comprehend or count.

Catching light is also very much what people wish for deep down. This is true in just about every area of living, whether in bothersome daily decisions of what clothes to buy or food to eat, or in the “really big” life reckonings about marriage and career, or, as this book discusses, in the even larger metaphysical explorations of the possibility of some sort of divine Light — usually called God — that is somehow engaged in human affairs. In any or all of these explorations, a little light helps, and the more the better. On this just about everyone, everywhere has agreed, though they do disagree, sometimes fiercely, about what comprises real or true light.

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