Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Weekly Worship

Thought-provoking films worth checking out


As anyone who knows me knows, I am a pastor who loves movies. As the recent Oscar ceremonies made clear, this has been a bountiful year for superior film craft. Allow me to share about a few of my favorite films from this past year, and why I recommend them for viewing.

“Oppenheimer” is the finest, most remarkable film I have seen in a long time. Director Christopher Nolan’s masterwork feels at once uniquely grand and rivetingly intimate. What a journey to be inside a scientist’s mind, to see a brilliant person’s humanity so well portrayed, and to dwell within the complexities of creating a tool of unthinkable destruction in an effort to actually end war.

There is a call to humility in this film, reminding me of Paul’s words to the early church when he warned them, “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12). Our God-given capacity to create powerfully ought to always call us back to the Divine.

Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” tells the tragic, sickening story of the Osage people of Oklahoma murdered by a local crime boss to gain rights to their land. But the script never feels like it is exploiting the tragic to gain melodramatic traction. This restraint, along with the film’s moments of dark humor, makes the film more powerful.

Leonardo DeCaprio brings an ambiguous humanity to his character’s conceit and Lily Gladstone (who spent time growing up in nearby Montlake Terrace) gives a performance that is unforgettable as a heartbroken pillar of resilience and resistance. In Exodus 3:7, the Lord declares, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Scorsese’s film enables us to hear and see the suffering God sees and hears, as well.

Third and finally, there is “The Zone of Interest.” In this film, the Nazi commander of Auschwitz lives next door to the concentration camp along with his whole family together in their dream house. Yes, you read that right. This film portrays an attempt to live a “normal” life in proximity to unspeakable evil, evil you never really see, but that the film allows you to hear.

The film’s haunting sound design – based on a massive amount of research of the actual Auschwitz – expresses the horrors next door, behind the wall, as gunshots, yelling, train and crematorium noises swell in and out of the film’s hearing range.

The result is a uniquely devastating portrayal of Holocaust evil and a thought-provoking expression of humanity’s capacity to compartmentalize and normalize the worst of itself. In 1 Peter 5:8, we are warned: ”Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” A film like “The Zone of Interest” is a cautionary tale that we can indeed, be lulled into seeing this lion as a housecat.

So, those are three recent films I highly recommend. Of course, by recommending these films I am not endorsing all the behaviors in them. Consult your movie content guides, such as Common Sense Media, for more about content before viewing.

These films portray real, gritty accounts of humanity, for sure. But the Bible does, too. And, as we view films through a biblical lens, we gain sight to see through the grit and find theological themes of creation, fall, and redemption that almost invariably show up in movies in some form.

In films like these, we can perceive one or more of these themes: Humans are precious creations made in God’s image, with a remarkable capacity for good. Humanity is also irrevocably fallen, broken and rebellious, with equally remarkable capacity for bad. But humankind is redeemable and ultimately beloved of the Divine, who rescues us by atoning for our bad and transforms us through God’s cosmic intervention in Jesus Christ.

Here’s to movie watching that is happy, real, and hopeful, and we discern these truths together!


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