Religion and Film: An Introduction

Melanie J. Wright’s Religion and Film would seem, on the surface, the perfect text for anyone with an interest in religion and the cinema, especially given that some critics, as she notes, link the rise of film to a decline in religious authority. Whatever the truth of that assertion, religion has learned to live with the new art form. Wright asserts, “Religion has not been displaced by a new medium: [religion] has colonised [film], and has found itself challenged and altered in the course of the encounter.” Indeed, while Christians are among some of the harshest critics of the cinema today, they also routinely use it as a vehicle for spirituality—consider our own faith’s recent productions, such as Legacy (1993) and The Testaments (2000). Even Hollywood uses (or misuses) religion, as evidenced in the recent production of The Da Vinci Code (2006) and the avalanche of commentary that followed in its wake, and the recently released film Evan Almighty (2007), which, though not technically a religious film, was marketed as family friendly to the religious community. In a way, religion and film have a similar goal: both endeavor to make manifest the otherwise unrepresentable.

Relatively few studies try to engage the topic of film and religion systematically, and Wright’s book is an attempt to correct that. Wright strives to offer “key concepts, questions and themes that can be applied more generally.” Film is often not taken seriously in religious or theological circles; it’s relegated to a “special issue” that is ultimately “marginal to mainstream scholarly discourse.” Yet Wright warns that film and religion studies cannot merely mimic film studies; there are already film critics who do that well. Her hope is that Religion and Film can be the first stone in an avalanche of books and articles that take religion in film seriously as religion, not as an offshoot of some other phenomenon.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 46:3
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