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As with movies, there are many genres of prayer, and Larsen dwells on nine of them: praise, yearning, lament, anger, confession, reconciliation, obedience, meditation, and joy. Each of these chapters could be books in themselves, given how many movies are out there and how rich and layered the concept of prayer is. But Larsen, taking a specifically Christian tack, focuses on how those types of prayer and their analogous movies speak to the creation-fall-redemption-restoration trajectory of the Bible and the Christian faith it inspires. Through this prism, the central miracle in Children of Men provokes an awe-inducing response to incarnation. The violent anger of Fight Club is a primal scream against a fallen world. And the “holy nonsense” of The Muppets shows that sometimes joy manifests itself in silly and inexplicable ways.
Too often when “Christian” and “movies” come together, a didactic censoriousness and disordered view of art follow. Larsen takes the opposite approach. You’ll see no mention of Left Behind or God’s Not Dead, but you will see George Bailey struggling to be obedient in It’s a Wonderful Life and Alvin’s motorized meditations in The Straight Story and hushed yearning in In the Mood for Love. As his true in his reviews, he brings a generous, exploratory spirit to cinema, seeing the form’s good and beautiful and attempting to understand the bad and ugly.
I was excited about reading Movies Are Prayers by Josh Larsen because of my familiarity with him from one of my favorite podcasts, Filmspotting . Even so, I was very hesitant because of a poor expectation I was carrying into it.
Anyone who has grown up in any sort of religious circle has seen the objects of art and culture poked and prodded time and time again. Whether it was the classic, revival preacher calling for the destruction of the newest top 40 album or, what I was worried I might find here, that one guy who skews artist intent or stretches every theme to declare a relation to their own religious narrative. Rest assured, you will find none of that here. Instead, there is something much more wonderful at play.
Larsen wasted no time in reawakening my view of prayer. He helps remind the readers that it is so much bigger than speaking to something or someone. There is an interaction taking place that is so deep and so full yet too often we stop after a few simple lines of one-way-dialog. If we are to pray without ceasing, what happens when we run out of words? What happens when we don’t know the words in the first place?
Anyone who has sat and watched a sunset should have some understanding of inspirational or experiential prayer. Even if words weren’t said, to be filled with the inspirations of aw, wonder and thankfulness and then to raise those emotions and thoughts upwards is a prayerful experience. Is it too much to think that the same creator who can use a sunset to fill us with prayer or help us realize the words or emotions we did not know how to express could not then use something like a film (which could be completely secular and created by someone holding completely different beliefs) to give us the words, thoughts or emotions to lift our prayers up? This is how prayer without ceasing happens; that when we run out of things to say, we then come upon our prayers, as if they were left there for us to find.
After convincing that films do not have to be inherently religious to help viewers find words or emotions to lift up, Larsen then spends the rest of the book laying out his observations of many films and where they have provided for him or can provide for others the same type of experiential prayer. His observations are so refreshing and so different from what I have experienced in the past that I have been inspired to revisit many movies that I had previously felt I had gotten everything out of.
For the fan of film, this book will provide a deeper movie watching experience.
For the reader who likes to consider spiritual thought and living, Movies Are Prayers could be a formative read that enriches not only the way you view movies, but, all art, culture and beyond.
Movies Are Prayers is a creative exploration of how movies may be the kind of unspoken prayer God’s always listening for. A movie may function as a prayer of yearning, of praise, of lament, of anger, or of the many more types of prayer Larsen explores. For each type of prayer, Larsen describes how specific movies may function as that type of prayer. I love the creativity and courage of this book; however, I cannot say I fully agree with it. God knows all we do, good and bad. Not everything can be prayer if prayer is to remain distinct and transformational. There is, however, something about recognizing a feeling as a prayer that directs it towards God. I believe that movies are not inherently prayerful but can become prayers when we engage with them as such. Larsen challenges us to see prayer in a new and valuable way. Prayer can, perhaps, be found anywhere, but it is the act of seeking to project the feeling, act, or art beyond ourselves--even when not directed at the traditional Christian God--that makes it transformational...that makes it prayer. This book is an important step forward for creatively engaging with God and with culture, but it’s not where we should land.
Great book - giving an interesting perspective on a different view of what prayer is, it can often be more "guttural... wonderings and wanderings... sublime and sorrowful... instinctive recognitions of good (of things worthy of praise) and evil (of things inexplicably bent and broken)." And giving great examples of how different movies can be viewed as different kinds of prayers, prayers of Praise, yearning, lament, anger, confession... joy. Loved it!
The quote that stood out to me the most was "Prayer is the best place for our anger, especially if the alternative are to take it out on others or bottle it up inside." This is something that I've only recently learned to do in my own journey. Josh does a very good job of talking about turning to God in times of not only praise but also lament and anger. I enjoyed reading this very much and will be looking forward to reading it a few more times.
I've been a big fan of Filmspotting for the last two years or so, and I never knew Josh Larsen was a Christian until I heard him talking about his book. This isn't that surprising to me now, especially after reading Movies are Prayers, as it seems like Josh makes an intentional effort to talk about his faith without ostracizing of shoving his beliefs upon anyone. His book does the same by taking a deep dive on the connection between spirituality and film, but it does so in a way that people from all walks of life, whether religious or not, will take something away. This connection is something I've felt personally as I've come to love film, but I've never been able to articulate it until reading Movies are Prayers. It's very exciting to see a niche work of Christian literature like this, and I hope to see more like it from Josh.
Josh Larsen’s book “Movies Are Prayers” offers readers a broader perspective of what prayer can be. Often times movies evoke feelings and emotions that express our deepest yearnings and longings. This is exactly what we do when we pray. This book does a good job of not only describing different ways to pray, but how movies can guide and direct us in our prayers. This book breaks down how movies can be prayers of praise, yearning, lament, anger, confession, reconciliation, obedience, meditation, joy, and journey, and gives examples of movie scenes that relate to each. The intention of this book is not to replace our traditional sense of prayer with movies, but to enhance our prayer life by experiencing prayer through the everyday.
Josh Larsen does a fantastic job at weaving the beauty and mystery of faith into film. The book views film as a lens through which to more deeply appreciate God, in addition to simply taking theology as a lens to find moral lesson in cinema. Larsen’s writing stretches, encourages, and challenges the reader to widen their view of faith and God, while enriching the world of movies. I highly recommend.
Hooray for this book! I find Josh Larsen's words honest, thoughtful, and accessible. This is a wonderful book for thinking about our inner lives - and movies - in a rich, personal way. Anyone who suggests - as Larsen does - that a prayer of praise be "an expression of gratefulness that recaptures our created purpose" has won me over. When Larsen recognizes that kind of praise in the way the French New Wave reveals a "playfulness" and "artful appreciation" of cinema, I'm completely on board.
I’m thankful that this book exists in the world: it’s the rare book on film that engages the heart of a movie alongside its more formal (form-related) accomplishments. More than that, for a book rooted in orthodox Christianity, it engages its wide array of film texts without a hint of condescension or moral trumpeting. It’s a humble, necessary approach to film criticism that has a simple, brilliant thesis: movies are prayers, every one of them heard by God.