My name is Toby Woollaston and I am a film critic for NZME.  This blog aims to take the films that I review and throw them under a Christian lens, exploring to what extent these films can be viewed as “prayers” by the secular. The goal is to break down the perceived wall between movies dedicated to God and movies done for worldly motivations — to understand that many secular films are an expression that is just as valid to Christian audiences as it is to non-Christian audiences.

Film as a medium provides such fertile ground for the communication of human expression.  As such, films are often more than just mere entertainment, but express very real feelings and tell stories about the world we all live in. However, I have met many Christians that shy away from “secular” cinema because, among other reasons, it represents a world that ignores God.

So what do I mean when I refer to the “secular”?

Secularism, particularly in film, is not a state of neutrality as some suggest.  When observing and analysing movies it is immediately apparent that there is no such thing as a neutral film.  By its inherent nature cinema expresses at least some form of opinion or view, be it bad, good, wrong, or right.  In brief, secular cinema is born out of some sort of world view-point.

American hiphop artist and Christian, William “Duce” Branch summarises that “conflict is inevitable in the Christian life between the so-called secular and the sacred. Some think that secular means ‘neutral.’ But that’s not true. Things done for the world, by the world’s standards, and without God in view are called secular, and they are trying to expand secularism. This is as ideological as the sacred things done to advance the recognition of God.”

Branch observes the common ideologies between both the secular world and the Christian world but acknowledges that there is conflict between them. However, we must constantly remember that God is sovereign over all life. God is in all life. The secular world and the Christian world — secular cinema and Christian cinema. Watching secular films garners an understanding of secular thinking. To understand the struggles of people who do not call themselves Christian is important. After all, if we as Christians are genuine about saving the lost then we must understand the world that we all share.

In his yet to be released book Movies are prayers: how films voice out deepest longings, film critic and editor of Think Christian, Josh Larsen, takes a selection of iconic films and explores the extent to which they are prayers on topics such anger, confession, lament, yearning, justice, obedience, contemplation, joy.  Larsen’s project challenged me about the films that I review and has been the impetus for this blog. My aim is to encourage the reader to see and understand filmic expression and its intention to communicate in much the same way that we as Christians view prayer. In doing so, I hope to peel off the outer layers of film and find a beating human heart within. Of course not all films will stand up to such an examination and I am expecting some films to be inherently flat and lifeless. Regardless, this should be an enlightening project and I hope that you and I will learn more about film … and more importantly about our relationship with God.