Now Featured in the Patheos Book Club
Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings
by Josh Larsen
"Going far beyond a simple assessment of Christlike martyr figures (the movies are lousy with 'em), Josh Larsen's passionate and movingly reflective new book makes an inspiring case for treating a provocative variety of films as prayers for all seasons. He writes on everything from Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life to Michael Haneke's Amour, teasing out the filmmakers' insatiable desire to wrestle with the unknowable. But his democratically theological approach to the medium he loves brings into play unexpected gems: Polanski's Chinatown, or Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (to which Larsen took his future wife on a date). 'Many films,' he writes, 'even the challenging ones, are capable of functioning as messy, mixed-up, miraculous prayer.' I've long been engaged by Larsen's film criticism on Filmspotting, but his book seeks and finds a higher power and a more mysterious set of concerns, somewhere out past the lobby."
—Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
"There's a lot of writing on film and theology, but a perspective like Larsen's—fresh, insightful, and interesting for anyone—is a rare gift to cinephiles and more casual movie viewers alike. In Movies Are Prayers, Larsen encourages us to rethink movies as not just vehicles for content, but as actual expressions of the heart's deepest longings, readjusting the way we think about both films and their creators—and, by extension, ourselves as viewers and critics."
—Alissa Wilkinson, film critic, Vox.com, associate professor of English and humanities, The King's College
"This is one of the best books on film and theology I've ever read. By conceiving of and engaging with movies as 'prayerful gestures received by God,' Larsen guides the reader in a study that is itself a reverent, prayerful gesture. Packed with insights into how both the content and the form of films can mirror prayer, Movies Are Prayers is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt the pangs of transcendence in a movie theater. Yet this is a book as much about prayer as it is about pop culture. Readers will gain not only new language with which to understand movies, but an enlivened paradigm for understanding prayer."
—Brett McCracken, film critic for Christianity Today, author of Gray Matters and Hipster Christianity
"Larsen pulls on the complexities of the prayerful posture—yearning, lament, confession, joy, and more—that bring us closer to the self as recipient of film than previous comparisons of the movie theater with church and sacred space. Joining the breath of a movie with the breath of prayer, he teaches us anew. This vision of presence and the movements of prayer at the movies are offered through profound films often ignored by the Christian public, making the book a needed addition to the library of the prayerful, reflective, movie-loving Christian."
—Rebecca Ver Straten-McSparran, director, L.A. Film Studies Center
"I'm about as far removed from religion and spirituality as one could possibly be, and yet Movies Are Prayers opened up for me an entirely new way of appreciating the movies I love and the art of filmmaking as a whole. As Larsen points out, it's so easy for even the most obsessive cinephiles among us to fall back on viewing cinema through the cynical lens of commercialization or a frothy lens of mere escapist entertainment. By reexamining an array of movies, including the ostensibly secular (Trainwreck, The Muppets), via the language of prayer, this engagement with the medium uncovers a different and fascinating approach to film theory."
—Aisha Harris, Slate culture writer, editor, and host of the podcast Represent
"With a rich understanding of film history and the Scriptures, Josh Larsen's Movies Are Prayers provides a revelatory look at how movies—their messages, their characters, and even the process of making them—can serve as acts of worship. Larsen's readings of films are welcoming, accessible, and insightful. Movies Are Prayers will help Christians everywhere look at film in a whole new light."
—David Chen, editor-at-large, Slashfilm.com