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Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century (Cultural Exegesis) [Paperback]

Craig Detweiler

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Book Description

1 Aug 2008 Cultural Exegesis
In this book, Craig Detweiler examines forty-five films from the twenty-first century that resonate theologically from The Lord of the Rings trilogy to Little Miss Sunshine offering groundbreaking insight into their scriptural connections and theological applications. Detweiler writes with the eye of a filmmaker, leads Hollywood and religion initiatives at Fuller Seminary, and even came to faith through cinema. In this book, he unpacks the "theology of everyday life," exploring the Spirit of God in creation, redemption, and "general revelation" through sometimes unlikely filmmakers. It's the first authoritative book that dissects up to date movies selected by the popular Internet Movie Database. This book is recommended for teachers, students, pastors, film fans, and those interested in the intersection of Christianity and culture.

Frequently Bought Together

Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century (Cultural Exegesis) + How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints inCulturally Significant Films + Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)
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About the Author

Craig Detweiler (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He previously served as co-director of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary. Detweiler has written scripts for numerous Hollywood films, and his social documentary, Purple State of Mind (www.purplestateofmind.com), debuted in 2008. He has been featured in the New York Times, on C.N.N., and on N.P.R. and is the coauthor of A Matrix of Meanings.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking humbly with Him into the dark... 6 Nov 2008
By Bryce VanKooten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I wish I could summon the spirit of the late Don LaFontaine here - it would come across much more powerful, of course - but I cannot. In a world where required reading often means required time and nothing less, it's a rarity that we're able to dig through the junk to find the jewels. Into the Dark gives you nugget after nugget of the finest film gold. From Memento to Donnie Darko -- 45 of IMDb's top 250 - and page by page, movie by movie, it's a perfectly paced walk through the best aspects of cinema. Detweiler stays the course to provide a trustworthy guide and an altogether insightful interpretation, all the while providing theological insight along the way. It's like watching the movies all over again, with a different set of eyes. A little deeper, a little smarter, a little slower wins the race.

Into the Dark is the journey of films through some of the darkest hours in order to show the brightest of grace. The chapters poignantly scribe the picture of a holistic faith seen in contrast with a dynamic culture. To speak personally, the book acted as an awakening towards the movies I could not reconcile. It was my own journey through the theater in hopes of finding others - Evangelicals even - sitting next to me, ready to commence The Great Discussion with two ears, one mouth and an eternal sense of grace in sight.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Still in the Dark 22 May 2009
By olingerstories - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'm sorry to be so critical, but Derweiller's insights in his INTO THE DARK fall short on both the theological and artistic levels. If you want to consider the intersect of faith and the movies, read top line critics Pauline Kael (I LOST IT AT THE MOVIES, FOR KEEPS) or Stephen Hunter (NOW PLAYING AT THE VALENCIA). Hunter, for instance, argues perceptively that Quentin Tarentino defines sin solely as being boring. Kael, for her part, might have dubiously preached treating films for their emotional effect rather than their structure or intellectual content. But, at least she could explain why she held her stance when she was hostile to the spirituality of a film like TENDER MERCIES. I had no sense of Derweiller ever having that ability with the films chosen. The appeal apparently is that he is writing from a "Christian" perspective. But, just like poor "Christian rock," this is poor Christian movie reviewing trying to read the spiritual out of something creational. You would be much better off reading Hunter, Ebert, Denby, Lane, and other noted movie critics to get at the philosophical heart of a movie.

I know this is a very hard review, and I wanted to like the book, but it was nearly unreadable.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Flickering Light 23 Mar 2009
By Jonathan Fung - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It has taken me time to slowly digest the writings of Craig Detweiler's text, "Into the Dark." There is so much wisdom and years of life experiences that emanate from these pages that I can only address concepts that engage my own personal experiences. Like Detweiler, my personal film experiences as a youngster were about escapism and entertainment. I loved going to the movies. I remember being dropped off at the movie theater by my dad and seeing a triple James Bond feature with Doug Smith, my 7th grade friend, and still wanting more after the movie ended. I used my imagination and a world of make believe as a form of escapism. I can recall spending hours in the bathroom and my bedroom fantasizing that I was Bruce Lee beating up the bad guys with my Kung Fu moves.

I found Paul Schrader's description of the formation of a canon as a story very fascinating: "To understand the canon is to understand its narrative. Art is a narrative. Life is a narrative. The universe is a narrative. To understand the universe is to understand its history. Each and every thing is part of a story -- beginning, middle, and end." The thing that resonates in my heart as an artist is how to lead the viewer to the divine story, as referred by Jurgen Moltmann. How can I ask the right questions so the viewer is prompted to reflect and somehow have a general revelation from God? Moltmann said, "Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum acknowledged the power and importance of a film canon as an educational tool. It should start arguments about the art of cinema, causing us to reflect on what matters and why." As an educator and pastor, I am always seeking ways to have my students dig deeper and ask important and meaningful questions. Everything I use in the classroom, on set, or in the ministry can be defined as an educational tool that equips. This creates a series of experiments that have a built-in safety net and provides growth.

I agree with Detweiler about practicing what Jurgen Moltmann has advocated. This leads to an intimate relationship with the Lord and a divine connection with the Holy Spirit. "It is possible to experience God in, with and beneath each everyday experience of the world, if God is in all things, and if all things are in God, so that God himself experiences all things in his own way." To answer this question, "How can God communicate through such unlikely means as movies?" I found the term "general revelation" to be an interesting concept. Detweiler states, "The theological term to describe this phenomenon is general revelation. It suggests that God can speak through anyone or anything at any time." Detweiler continues, "Christ remains our only saving grace, but movies can provide moments of grace as well. They dispense comfort and hope. Only God knows which debased art forms can still prove helpful to the mysterious ways of the Spirit." God can use anyone at anytime for His will. The Wachowski Brothers weren't believers, yet they incorporated Christian-Judeo allegories in the box office hit "The Matrix."

Jurgen Moltmann said, "The theology of revelation is church theology, a theology for pastors and priests. The theology of experience is pre-eminently lay theology." The films I made before I was a follower of Christ engaged and challenged audiences. There were even some biblical themes that were addressed unintentionally. God used me as an artist before I was a follower and spoke through my films. The reverse hermeneutics of the Spirit guiding us from art (beauty) to ethics (goodness) to theology (truth) tends to be the process I work from when creating films and works of art. I agree that art making emerges from divine action. It is my passion to tell stories that reflect where I am spiritually, physically, and emotionally in life. I share the same sentiment that Detweiler does, wanting the viewer to connect with the story and to experience the grace of God. "Into the Dark" continues to challenge me to look, listen and receive where God is leaving an imprint in movies.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opens A Dialogue 25 Feb 2009
By John Winterson Richards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Christians need to get back into the mainstream media if they are to avoid locking themselves up in a cultural ghetto. Instead of focussing on producing Christian films and television shows that are seen only by other Christians, they need to consider how Christian values can be communicated to mass audiences, in accordance with Jesus' command to preach to the whole world. Dr Detweiler shows how this can be done by illustrating how Christian themes are already found in recent blockbusters. In doing so, he also shows that Christian values are far more deeply entrenched in our culture - even in the very secular culture of Hollywood - than most people realise. Christians can build on this if they can get into the media. Of course, the great danger for Christians engaging with the secular mainstream is that they may be tempted to compromise too much. If any criticism can be levelled at this book, it is that Dr Detweiler lays himself open to that danger: an admirer of Jurgen Moltmann, he is perhaps too inclined to compromise in his theology and his politics, and also perhaps too eager to see Christian themes in films where there are none. That said, he deserves great credit for taking the first steps in the right direction; other Christians should follow.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This! The Way You See Film will Shift! 9 Mar 2009
By Robert Davidson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In many ways, the four star rating system of film critics have killed the film goer's experience. We have slowly dismantled the relationship between the viewer and the film on the basis of "entertainment" value. What can this film do for me?

Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark offers a welcomed alternative to the pervasive mentality. As Detweiler unleashes his wealth of knowledge on film history, production, and the culture it permeates, we are confronted with deeper questions surrounding film, their meaning, and their place amongst theological study. By taking his cues from the top 21st century films on the IMDB (Internet Movie Database), Detweiler asks two prominent questions: Is there a particular film narrative that has emerged in the postmodern era (or within what he calls the "new film canon")? And, does God reveal himself through film?

Detweiler tackles the first of these questions by diving head first "into the dark" of the film noir of our day. By taking a bird's eye view of films such as Memento, The Departed, and Batman Begins, Detweiler sheds light on the emerging patterns of identity, self deception, and depravity. In a similar vein, Detweiler analyzes the imperfections of humanity midst films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Walk the Line. The complexities of community emerge front and center in Hotel Rwanda and Crash. And ethics take the focus in the conversational films Million Dollar Baby and Talk to Her. And so on...

But if this journey in film exegesis stopped at topical discussion, we would find ourselves with a mere collection of movie reviews. Here is where the genius of Detweiler's culture analysis comes to life. As our second question (Does God reveal himself through film?) gets addressed, we discover two prominent realities at play: 1) general revelation transcends our (often presumed) constructs and is deeply immersed in culture, art, and the profane and 2) the role of the viewer matters.

The understanding (and expectation) of general revelation is central to Detweiler's thesis as depending on how one approaches such a topic, everything shifts. Taking his cues from theological greats such as Bart, Schleiermacher, Moltmann and Balthasar (to name a few), Detweiler confronts the actual reality of God "having made himself known" not only through the person of Christ but through the work of the Holy Spirit today. In order to understand its relevancy for film, Detweiler champions Balthasar's (alongside others) reversal of the hermeneutical flow. Rather than approach theology (as most evangelicals do) from TRUTH to GOODNESS to BEAUTY, Detweiler asks what more might we "know" and "encounter" by starting with BEAUTY and subsequently arriving at TRUTH. For Detweiler, it is a marriage of "film and theology" on the notion that God does in fact reveal today. And this revelation often occurs in the most peculiar of places - say Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull.

A prominent offer of Detweiler that should not go ignored is his challenge to the viewer and the way we approach and/or "see" film. As we discover in Christopher Nolan's Memento, where one sits determines what one sees. The question Detweiler weaves throughout his discourse remains: where do you sit? It is here that we truly discover that our approach and posture to film matters. Rooted in Christ's own prophetic warning in Matthew 13, we are tasked with asking whether our eyes and ears are open. The understanding of general revelation becomes mere academia without its grounding in our everyday real experiences and encounters - no matter if we are face to face with beauty or have stepped into the dark.
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