Movies are Prayers is one of the best books that I’ve read this year, and I’m a graduate student with a side-job of writing books reviews. What Larsen has done in this brief book is tremendously impressive. Larsen has created a new way of discussing films, a “film theory” in which readers are invited to ask what a given film has to say to and about God. Movies are Prayers taught me much about movies and much about prayer, to my surprise. I’ll take them in order.
I’ve actually written for Larsen’s website Think Christian, so his uncanny ability to tease out the spiritual implications of a given film was of no surprise to me. Even regular readers of Think Christian, however, will be impressed with how thoughtful Larsen’s film analysis are. Larsen is equally profound when talking about lament in The Dark Knight (2008), confession in Trainwreck (2015), or reconciliation in Do the Right Thing (1989). Larsen analyses well over 100 films, placing them into nine different categories of prayer (one film encompasses all nine, but you’ll have to buy the book to find out what it is). The films represented are incredibly diverse: recent releases and silent films, multimillion-dollar blockbusters and indie films, family-friendly films and what Larsen calls “one-timers-” movies so difficult to watch you won’t want to rewatch them.
Larsen’s book would be great if it were simply a theological commentary on a wide variety of films. It is, however, more than just a Christian-themed anthology of film analyses. Movies are Prayers is as much a book about prayer as it is about movies. Each chapter is a type of prayer, and the order of the chapters reflects the story of the Christian Gospel. The book opens with movies that are prayers of praise, reflecting the goodness of God’s creation. But of course, the Christian story teaches that sin soon enters the world and corrupts it. The next few chapters deal with yearning, lament, and anger. The subsequent chapters reflect God’s gracious offer of reconciliation through confession and faith, covering films dealing with confession, reconciliation, obedience. Considering the Christian life subsequent to experiencing reconciliation to God and eschatological hope, Larsen ends his book with chapters on films about meditation and joy.
In addition to being a novel and creative way to structure the book, Larsen’s use of the Gospel story to delineate different forms of prayer provides its own unique mode of prayer. Movies are Prayers has shaped my own prayer life, as I’ve followed Larsen’s model of situating my prayer in the context of God’s larger salvific movement in the world. I’m a better viewer of films and a better Christian for having read Larsen’s book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Meticulously researched, masterfully crafted, and profound on multiple levels, Movies are Prayers is one of the best books relating to Christian theology and spirituality this year. Don’t miss it.
Special to Patheos from Jake Raabe.