FAMILYFANS Books & Comics
THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY
by Jeffrey Overstreet
Reader Appeal: Teens and Adults
Genre: Christian Life / Pop Culture
Christian responses to cinema often seem to fall into two categories. In the first camp, are those who view films as moral toxins. These believers who are wary of Hollywood generally avoid the multiplexes and justify this response by pointing to film critics who inventory the curse words, explosions, and references to illicit sexuality. While this approach guards Christian viewers from being exposed to potentially unsavory content, it presupposes that all film is propaganda and not art. The second camp veers to the other extreme, taking in movies with an uncritical eye, never stopping to evaluate how a film’s message or values might run contrary to the core values of the Kingdom of God.
Jeffery Overstreet, a film reviewer and columnist, reminds us of a third, more thoughtful way to approach film: appreciation and interpretation. A weekly columnist for ChristianityTodayMovies.com, Overstreet new book, Through a Screen Darkly, offers a memoir of sorts about his life as a Christian and a movie critic. Through this approach we’re offered a personal perspective as how to Overstreet evaluates a film’s merit, both artistically and through the lens of his faith in Christ. As a result, the author challenges Christian viewers suspend moral evaluations until they first grasp the film’s vision. As an example, Overstreet cites Unforgiven, an Academy Award-winning film by Clint Eastwood that was often renounced from the pulpit for being oversaturated with violence.
Overstreet gently walks the reader through the plot of Unforgiven, attempting to understand Clint Eastwood’s message—that there is a terrible price to pay when you take justice into your own hands. In spite of its body count, according to Overstreet, Unforgiven is a morality tale about the wages of revenge. The author then differentiates movies that explore the consequences of violence from those that celebrate it. (I’ll offer 300 as an example of a celebration of gore. 300 stitches together just enough story to make ever escalating scenes of video game violence intelligible. Sure, King Leonidas and company fight for freedom against all odds. But freedom to do what? The film opens with us watching Spartan males being groomed from childhood to be warriors. We can only assume that the freedom the Spartans won was the ability to fight again tomorrow.)
Overall, Through a Screen Darkly offers thoughtful exploration of the themes of alienation, parody, horror, and literary topics that film explores. “Suffering Fools Gladly” was among my favorite chapters as it explored the theme of the fool – a person who lacks enough social self-awareness that he or she is able to speak truth into a situation.
One of the strengths of Through a Screen Darkly is the breadth of films that it references. Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Muppet Show are cited as easily as Babette's Feast or Apocalypse Now. Overstreet finds value in both the blockbuster and the art house release. Along the way he provides an extensive list of movies suitable for discussion groups that I’ve immediately adopted as my “to rent” list.
Through a Screen Darkly is a worthy addition to the any film buff’s library. I’d also recommend this book to any pastor or Christian leader looking to become literate in film, a medium which has perhaps surpassed books in its power to influence our culture.
You can read an excerpt of Through a Screen Darkly in the feature articles section on FAMILYFANS.com.
FAMILYFANS RATING: A
Note: To connect with Jeffrey Overstreet, access his web site at www.lookingcloser.org