In modern culture, nothing matters more than the movies, says popular film critic and Jesuit Richard Leonard. Movies shape our global civilization. We watch them incessantly, relax with them, argue about them. But movies are much more than casual entertainment and subjects for small talk. They have become the preferred medium for ideas and values and morally serious expression. We need to take movies seriously, Leonard says. To do so, we need to learn how to read a film.
In Movies That Matter, Leonard views 50 important movies through a lens of faith, an informed Christian point of view that immeasurably deepens the astute moviegoers viewing experience. He shows how the great directors, screenwriters, and actors employ the language of film to celebrate the human spirit and put us in touch with the divine. This knowledgeable, vividly written, provocative guide is an excellent resource for every reader seeking deeper understanding of what the movies are saying.
Richard Leonard, SJ, is a writer and film critic who has written and spoken about cinema, culture, and faith on four continents. An Australian Jesuit with advanced degrees in theology and film, Leonard is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.
Richard Leonard SJ is director of the Australian Catholic Film Office and a regular film critic who also holds a PhD in cinema and theology. ln a time when publications on the relationship between religion and cinema appear at an almost nauseating rate, the sight of Movies That Matter on the bookshelves might lead one to share that nauseous feeling. However, it must be said that this publication has arrived at an important time in the ongoing dialogue between the two areas. Not because it offers any new insights into the area, rather because it offers the average film viewer a way to view film through, as the sub-heading states, the lens of faith.
The fact that religious sub-themes exist throughout all art forms is nothing new. What Leonard wishes to communicate is not the existence of these sub-themes but how we might view film through these themes. lt is with this idea in mind that Leonard takes us through fifty films which have at their core themes of faith. What is most interesting is that he discusses only one film with an explicitly religious subject, The Passion of the Christ, to explore these themes. His choice of films is certainly eclectic, taking us from Ghandi to Groundhog Day, but never without focus.
Leonard takes an educational approach with his subject matter, leading his reader through each film in a concise and conversational manner with class-room style questions at the end of each chapter. ln dealing with the ethical and religious themes of each film, he is both simple and to the point without trivialising the complexities of the issues involved. For instance, in dealing with The Passion of the Christ Leonard is unflinching in his criticism of Mel Gibsons use of brutal and pornographic violence as a tool for conversion and rightly points out the hypocrisy of the religious-minded cinema goer praising the portrayal of violence in the service of Christ while criticising it in any other context. Movies That Matter functions as a guide for both teacher and parent alike. Leonard seeks to introduce his reader to themes of faith in cinema and how to interpret them seriously. This work will change neither theology nor film- studies but it will prove a useful introduction for those seeking to explore an area which is constantly expanding.
- Paul Clogher, Intercom
Are movies just mind candy or can they be vehicles for theological inquiry? Jesuit film critic and writer Leonard clearly believes the latter. He examines 50 films and extracts their theological themes with a direct and engaging prose style. Some of the film selections might surprise readers-Leonard is not afraid to tackle gloomy and often graphically violent films, such as The Exorcist, Unforgiven and The Godfather. He is quick to point out that, while some movies contain lurid content, this should not detract from their critical messages about God, human nature and relationships. Leonard also includes more lighthearted fare, such as Groundhog Day and Chocolat, thus illustrating that no film genre is completely devoid of theological possibilities. The central point for readers who are followers of Jesus is found in the essay on Billy Elliot: "Christianity, rooted in the Incarnation, must be embodied." Leonards insights about films being opportunities for theological reflection are refreshing, and his questions at the end of each essay are excellent resources for teachers, retreat directors and religious educators who desire to use film in their ministry. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
- Publishers Weekly