Movies have a transformative power that’s perhaps unmatched by any other medium. But can movies actually be religious experiences? That’s what Josh Larsen eloquently makes the case for in his thought-provoking new book, “Movies Are Prayers.” Recently, Larsen answered a few questions about faith, film and his new book
How do you think movies challenge our typical ideas about prayer?
I like to think that the movies can work alongside our typical ideas of prayer. I know what it means to read a psalm of lament in church, and often that is a powerful experience of prayer. But sometimes a movie that is lamenting the brokenness of the world can function in the same way – and be equally as powerful.
Based on your research, what do you think our taste in movies can tell us about our spiritual lives?
Perhaps our taste in movies reveals the types of prayer that most resonate with us spiritually. If we’re partial to science-fiction films, which often work as prayers of yearning, that might be the sort of prayer we most often engage in. If we frequently offer prayers of confession, we might be fans of Hitchcock!
What do you think people can do to get the most out of movies and spiritual benefits they can offer?
When we go into a movie, we should treat it as if we’re eavesdropping on a conversation between that movie and God. What is the movie trying to express? How is it using the tools of cinema to express it? Asking these questions is a way to watch with grace.
On-demand entertainment in our own homes has certainly affected our social habits, but it’s hard to say without hard research whether there is a direct connection with church attendance.
What’s a favorite movie that you view as a prayer and why?
I love thinking about “Toy Story” as a prayer of confession – of Buzz Lightyear’s realization and acknowledgement that he isn’t the perfect hero he claims to be, but a damaged toy who belongs to someone who loves him anyway.