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God in the Movies

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Jesus, when asked a question frequently told stories of delinquent sons, corrupt officials, compassionate foreigners, generous hosts etc. by way of illustration. Rarely do these parables mention God but there’s the opportunity for hearers and readers to form a spiritual interpretation of them.

Films are one of the most powerful modes of storytelling available to us and repeatedly, if implicitly, reflect the deepest of human concerns and joys. They reach and affect millions of people. The course will consider the various ways in which films uniquely relate to the Christian narrative.

We’ll study the seven or so tales upon which all storytelling is based. For example, the Overcoming the Monster narrative is a template for many films, not least the James Bond movies. Among other themes, The Favourite is a study of anyone (not just Queen Anne but us) desperately trying to avoid falling from grace. Love Actually is a veritable feast of divine possibilities. The hope which surfaces in The King’s Speech could well be attributable to a God of surprises.

The course is also about what we can learn from how a story is told. Images, editing, soundtrack etc. all contribute to towards this. The opening of 2001 A Space Odyssey dramatically sets the scene without the aid of dialogue. The match-sunrise cut in Lawrence of Arabia wordlessly takes us from one “chapter” of the story to the next. In the recent film Cold War its use of Academy ratio framing affects the impact it has on us. Stories and the way we tell them describe a pathway to heaven.

Stephen Brown is an Anglican priest who has specialised in teaching, writing and broadcasting about films.

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