In Space, No One Can Hear You Have a Mid-Faith Crisis

Few science fiction novels have wrestled with questions about faith, the existence of God, and the problem of evil as vigorously as Mary Doria Russell’s two-volume science fiction epic The Sparrow and Children of God.

If you’re not familiar with these popular novels, here’s the basic idea: In the history of the world, what group of people has most frequently sought out, made contact with, and built cultural bridges with foreign cultures? Answer: The Jesuits! So, Mary Doria Russell asks, wouldn’t it make sense for a space-traveling Jesuit to make “first contact” with an alien race? If that happened, what would that do to his faith? Would he be able to share the Gospel with aliens? Is that even possible, if the aliens have a truly “alien” intellect and “worldview”?

If that sounds heavy, that’s because it is. It’s also suspenseful, terrifying, and sometimes downright brutal. (You won’t find this book in Christian bookstores.) I was enthralled by the first book, but the second one felt like it wrapped things up a little too neatly. I prefer the open questions of the first, and the way that it provoked me to think about the challenges of translation when it comes to conveying our ideas about the meaning of life.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a best-selling novel will come up in discussions about future film projects…

… and The Sparrow has. Two studios have developed film projects around it, projects that eventually died. (One was to star Antonio Banderas, another was to star Brad Pitt. And I remember that, very early on, the name Jimmy Smits was mentioned in some articles.)

But The Sparrow, like Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, is an easy story to spoil. Everything depends on the treatment of the film’s central theological investigation.

So, with that in mind, here’s the news from Mary Doria Russell about a promising new development for The Sparrow and Children of Men, as well as for her popular novel about Doc Holliday, Doc

AMC has optioned The Sparrow and Children of God for a series. AMC is the cable channel responsible for Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels. They’re not afraid of the dark, so maybe this time The Sparrow will fly.

I suspect that what I write is better suited to long-form television than to feature-length films. There is now a real possibility that in a couple of years Doc will be on HBO and The Sparrow will be on AMC. Very cool. Very cool, indeed… But nothing is real in Hollywood until the cinematographer is on the set eating a breakfast burrito. For now, we just sit back and wait to see what happens.

And here she addresses some FAQs, which brings what may turn out to be “the bad news” …

I won’t be writing scripts. I won’t have input to scripts. I don’t expect to be consulted in any way on scripts, casting, or story arc.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://www.myfriendamysblog.com Amy

    This is one of my very favorite books and I remember when Avatar came out how bummed I was that much money hadn’t been spent on a film version of The Sparrow instead. I guess I could see it working as a TV series, though a lot depends on who is behind the show creatively. AMC outright owns The Walking Dead and seems to have a bumpy road with the showrunners, but for the most part I think that their shows have some merit. (though I’ve never checked out Hell on Wheels) In other words, better AMC than NBC, lol.


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