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.
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.
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!
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 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.
"Movies Are Prayers" is a welcome invitation to expand our horizons in both our movie-going and our prayer habits, to consider the forms which shape our character, and to celebrate what God is doing in our lives and our art. Generous and accessible, with a firm grasp of both film theory and theology, "Movies Are Prayers" is just the book I’d want to hand to students in a film-and-theology university course, a budding teenage cinephile, or those skeptical of religion yet open to the transcendent they’ve experienced in cinema.