Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet

A collection of essays on film by the movie critic for Christianity Today that decry the many of the knee-jerk reactions that some Christians have against popular culture and the arts.

I enjoy reading Overstreet’s blog, Looking Closer, so I was keen to pick up Through a Screen Darkly and learn more of what he’s all about. Reading may be my first and primary love, but my academic and professional background is in film, so I like to keep up with current writing on the movies. That said, the older I get, the less enchanted I am by the movies, something that has not happened with books. I just can’t get passionate about film the way I once did. Perhaps this is because I taught screenwriting for 4 years, or because I’ve worked as a film critic and script analyst, or because I’ve clocked some serious hours in the movie business. The magic isn’t there as much as it once was; the movies that transport me are fewer and farther between. Whereas the very act of reading sends me almost every time.

Overstreet’s stated mission (one I wholeheartedly support) is to liberate Christians from their preconceived notions about cinema, and teach them to appreciate all that the art form has to offer. The problem with most Christian film criticism, as Overstreet sees it, is that the critics and the readers only look at the surface. Counting the number of swear words and the like. In chapter after chapter he lays out a more-than-convincing case against this kind of film watching.

That’s not to say that Overstreet sees good in every movie that’s out there. He’s aware of the danger of cultivating a taste that is rarified and elitist, inured against discerning that which does not glorify God. And on the note of glorification–Overstreet’s just as likely, if not more so, to find God glorified in art that wasn’t created expressly for that purpose. Because all truth is God’s truth, one does not have to believe in God to bring him honor. I’ve always found that statement to be too glib for my tastes, but I think that Overstreet does a good job of unpacking what that really means.

And anything that gets my people to quit counting swear words is a good addition to the world.

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