Book Report: “Movies Are Prayers”

by Phil Baker

Author Josh Larsen started his career as a journalist reviewing movies for various mainstream publications before landing at the website ThinkChristian.com. A guest shot on the movie discussion podcast Filmspotting eventually led to him becoming the full-time co-host. His well-thought and well-articulated insight gave credibility to his conservative Christian perspective despite it being a secular podcast.

“Movies Are Prayers” is his first book, but one that feels like it’s been simmering inside him for a while. Larsen explains that any time humanity creates, cries out to, or just wonders at the universe, he is praying, citing the popular adage “Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.” He broadens that statement to include nonbelievers saying “even the howl of an atheist is directed at the God they don’t acknowledge.”

Larsen proceeds to walk through nine different types of prayer:

  • Praise
  • Yearning
  • Lament
  • Anger
  • Confession
  • Reconciliation
  • Obedience
  • Meditation and Contemplation
  • and Joy

He gives a few movies for each that express those types of prayers. For example; he focuses on several Wes Anderson films that express Prayers of Yearning, dissecting the various melancholy denizens of Anderson’s stories. For Prayers of Mediation and Contemplation, Larsen highlights silent movie star Buster Keaton and his often expressionless face throughout his various silver screen adventures. And Prayers of Joy are portrayed through the classic musicals of Fred Astaire and the “holy nonsense” of the Muppets.

Each chapter is like a well-supported essay. But it isn’t until the final chapter that Larsen reveals that each of the prayer types retraces the journey of man and his relationship with God – from the Praise of His new creation, to man’s Anger at God, to the beauty of Reconciliation, and finally back to the Joy of a right relationship with Him. He expounds upon that using a single movie – another of Wes Anderson’s – Rushmore. Unlike the other movies cited, you really should watch Rushmore before reading this book, or at least before reading the last chapter, because Larson lets the spoilers fly as he delights in explaining how each prayer is played out through several characters’ story arcs. It’s obvious this is one of his favorite (if not absolute favorite) movies.

I enjoyed this book as a film buff and a Jesus buff. Many of the movies discussed were very obscure and unknown to me. Will I seek them out? Doubtful. I already meditate a lot on the movies I watch and what the filmmakers’ are expressing. My main takeaway from this book was the different forms prayers take. I am now more aware of what I’m expressing to God as I oscillate from Praise to Anger to Reconciliation to Joy and back to Praise. And I’m now more aware of the mediums through which I’m expressing these. Movies aren’t the only things that are prayers. My posture is. My resting face is. My thought life is. My social media presence is. What I put into my body, mind and heart is. This blog post is. The very movie of my life is a prayer. May its viewers see God’s direction in it.

Lord, may I exhale my spirit and inhale yours. So that my next exhalation will be more holy.

“Pray without ceasing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

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