Toward a Mormon Cinematic Aesthetic: Film Styles in Legacy

Latter-day Saints aspire to movies that enhance, rather than undermine, their spiritual lives and that respect their religious convictions. However, discussion among the Mormons about film tends to focus primarily on content—the presence of inappropriate content or the desire for more family-friendly subjects. Mormons are not alone in looking to film as a way of powerfully presenting religious themes and ideas. Biblical films, for example, have been a staple from the beginning of motion pictures. However, a film’s content is not its only religious dimension. Many films that portray ostensibly religious subjects, argues film theorist Michael Bird, “have often erred precisely in their disregard for the medium’s stylistic virtues.” What is required in “a cinematic theology,” he contends, “is a consideration of how the style of film can enable an exploration of the sacred.” Bird echoes Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, who has been similarly critical of art having religious content but rendered in a nonreligious style. Like other arts, film is not simply a medium for a message; a movie’s form is essential to what it is and what it does.

Purchase this Issue