how we watch movies

“It’s possible we will glimpse the glow of glory, truth that cannot be reduced to a simple paraphrase, glimmering through a screen darkly.” Jeffrey Overstreet


Through a Screen Darkly Week 1 – How We Watch
Movie of the week: The Story of the Weeping Camel

Welcome to the first week of reading Through a Screen Darkly by Jeffrey Overstreet. As we get started, here are a few things to keep in mind: The reading schedule covers a great deal of territory each week, so the questions posed below only skim the surface. Of course, you’re welcome to answer all the questions, but please don’t feel like you need to. Respond to whatever stirred you. What caused you to pause and think? And feel free to share any of your own questions/additional observations as well.

If you haven’t been reading the book, my hope is that each post will still provide fodder for thought. Don’t disregard the questions because you’re not reading along – we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps the conversation will whet your appetite, and you may choose to read the book at a later time that is more convenient for you. Regardless of your level of involvement, thanks for joining us!

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“Like a pillar of cloud or fire, sometimes a movie offers us mysteries that draw us out of the captivity of our own perspective.” – p. 21

“Art reflects life, and when we meditate on life, we might see something in a new way – and  that might awaken us to possibilities, problems, hope, doubt, salvation or sin.” – p.34

“When we realize or remember something that tells us our view has been too narrow, we suddenly prefer to stay put.” – p. 36

1. Has a movie ever caused you to change (or broaden) your perspective? How?  Do you typically approach film as a work of art or a form of entertainment?


 “If we are shocked by something as common as a spoken obscenity, it may reveal more about our distance from people in need than it does about the person who blurted out such coarse language.” – p.63

2. Is this a new thought for you? When has your reaction to scene or character in a movie revealed that your posture was defensive rather than humble and curious? Have you ever “caught” yourself, readjusted, and been able to find value in that which you had previously dismissed?


The progression of our interaction with movies is much like the evolution of our eating habits:

1 ) Childlike – reaches for everything without discernment
2 ) Reactionary diner – surveys what is presented and makes immediate judgements based on assumptions (or by tasting a small sample)
3 ) Glutton – Consumes great quantities without discernment or awareness of negative impact
4) Educated Connoisseur

3) Which of these descriptions best fits your approach to watching movies? What would it look like/require of you to move to the next phase? Are there other areas of life in which you see a similar progression?


“As a critic, I feel more like a nutritionist – doing my best to counsel others on a balanced diet that serves their individual needs and respects their sensitivities. But I also want to be the kind of connoisseur who can speak knowledgeably about the culinary arts.” – p. 93

4) Our life experiences may cause us to have sensitivities to certain types of movies (“cinematic allergies”). Are you aware of your own sensitivities/the sensitivities of others and the underlying causes? What does this principle infer about our relationship with others?


“Great art reveals its significance by its ability to show us new surprises every time, speaking to more than one culture, more than one age. Sometimes, even the artist doesn’t know the significance of what he’s done. In his impulsive response to an experience, he creates another experience that communicates more than he could ever realize.” – p.128

5) Has a movie ever impacted you in a substantial way? How?


6) What did you think of The Story of the Weeping Camel?


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If you’d like to join us, you can find the reading schedule here.
For further reading on the creative process: The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers


If you liked this post, you might like these:

A Letter to My Church
The Year in Review: Top Ten Books of 2012
Summoned by Music and Light

6 thoughts on “How We Watch

  1. 1) I can give at least two examples of films that have broadened my perspective. The first would be The Fellowship of the Ring, most because it introduced to the works of Tolkien, which then pretty much revolutionized my life and introduced me to a whole new way of looking at the world and my faith. Another example would be the films of Terrence Malick, particularly The New World and The Tree of Life. Watching Malick’s films are like watching poems in motion. In terms of approaching films as art vs. entertainment, I think it depends on the film. If I know the film is primarily designed for entertainment, I’ll enjoy it for that. But if I know it’s a bit higher caliber, I will pay more attention.

    2) For awhile I was against the Harry Potter phenomenon. But then I started to sense a bit of a contradiction in my own stance as I loved the works of Tolkien and Lewis. So I started exploring the Potter films and slowly began to change my mind about them. Now I really love and appreciate the beauty of the Harry Potter series.

    3) I would hope that I’m becoming an educated consumer, although I’m sure I still have a ways to go. I’m pretty open to experiencing movies, although I haven’t really watched many foreign films.

    4) Horror films are definitely something that bother me and I stay away from. I guess I’m just particularly sensitive to that stuff and I haven’t found any redemptive qualities in them yet.

    1. I totally concur with you on your feelings about horror films. Since I don’t enjoy being fearful, I don’t want to choose putting myself in the position on purpose. I think I like sleeping well too much and these type of movies get me disturbed.

  2. “So I started exploring the Potter films and slowly began to change my mind about them. Now I really love and appreciate the beauty of the Harry Potter series.”

    Thanks so much, Chris. As we’re reading together, I’ve been challenged to 1) be open to the possibility that movies may have more to teach me if I’ll let them and 2) consider the posture of my heart (humble and teachable or arrogant and closed) as I view. My posture determines the tone of my experience and the potential for growth. I suppose that’s true of life as well.

  3. I loved his concept of “cinematic allergies.”

    I looked up adult-onset allergies and found this quote: “Allergies can also develop if you are exposed to allergens when your immune system is weakened. That’s why pregnant women often develop allergies after they give birth.” It was in an article titled “Why Sudden Allergies in Adulthood.” This fit so well with my own cinematic allergy, which is to movie violence, and which developed when I became a mother. Suddenly life was so precious to me that I couldn’t bear see it treated so callously on the screen. I never wanted to become calloused to violence, either, so I choose to watch it very sparingly.

    1. What a great analogy. Now you have me thinking about my “cinematic allergies” and not only why they developed, but when they developed. The state of the emotional immune system would certainly be relevant. Hmmm….

  4. Thoughts vaguely related to Question #1:

    My roommate once told me I’ve ruined her for watching movies with her family. She goes home for a visit and they watch something, and when it finishes, she wants to examine it and consider it and look at the implications and the beauty or the ugliness it portrayed. They look at her like she’s a little crazy that she’s not just turning off the movie and getting back to regular life.

    I didn’t realize I was so much *that* kind of viewer until she said that. I’m certain that I developed that skill/habit somewhere along the line (most likely college, in which I took a course called “Film, Culture, and Theology” and LOVED it). But I know I tend to be that kind of a viewer of all kinds of art, so it didn’t surprise me too much.

    I loved the idea presented by Overstreet about films as a transformative experience. Loved these quotes:

    “When some people encounter glory, they do the strangest things. They build an ark. They write stacks of psalms in gratitute. They go up against Pharaoh and his minions.” (p. 31)
    “In Scripture, when a man encounters the glory of God – whether it’s in a blinding light, a burning bush, a pillar of cloud, a dream, or a talking donkey – that man is changed. Sometimes he goes back to his friends with his face shining.” (p.40)

    Thinking through movies that have transformed me – or changed/broadened my perspective…hmm…

    There are a few, I think. But now that I’m pondering them, I’m realizing that though they had emotional impact, the stick in my memory for the artistic impact – they are teaching me how to “do” art.

    *Gone Baby Gone* is one. Even more than the content of the film itself (which is tough, friends – child kidnapping is at the center of it), the fact that it did not tie everything up nicely in a neat package at the end blew my socks off. You were left at the end, along with the main character, wrestling through questions of right and wrong, good and evil. It explored those questions, explored what it means to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, but it did not tell you what the answers were.

    Another was *Dear Frankie.* I was bowled away by the use of silence in that movie. The titular Frankie is deaf, and there are so many places throughout the film where the music and sound drop away, leaving you only with the visuals. It is a movie that breathed. It gave space for response. You not only saw the character say the line, but you watched the other character react to it.