Asking a Sunday School teacher for a lesson in how to watch movies sounds about as exciting as inviting a U.S. Senator to a heavy metal concert. (Is he going to give me The Look when I tell him my favorite film is Dark City? Will I get rapped on the knuckles with a yardstick if he sees my rated-R films?) But When the Lights Go Down is not your average book, and Dr. Mark D. Eckel, a theologian who writes movie reviews, is not your average teacher.
The idea of reading a Christian opinion about popular films at first reminded me a of a book I read in college from a minister who wanted people to understand the evils of rock music. That book accused nearly every well-known musician of being a worshiper of Satan, and it was (unintentionally) very hilarious. By contrast, When the Lights Go Down is very supportive of the film industry. Dr. Eckel understands the potential of film to tell stories in a unique way and teaches his readers how the stories presented in a movie can change our lives for the better.
Through his book, Eckel teaches us that stories have the ability to “incarnate” a truth. We understand the struggles of others best when we see their journey and walk with them, even if it’s for a mere two hours. The value of hope or the importance of family can be demonstrated through a film or a book in ways that are more powerful than a class lesson. (Not a lot of scholars will admit to that.) Want to teach someone the importance of friendship? Good luck putting the idea into words, but I think watching Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King will show you exactly what friendship means and why it matters.
But When the Lights Go Down is not just a discussion about how to watch films. This book also contains many interviews by interesting people who are, in some way or another, in a unique position to tell us about the magic of movies. Some are critics and scholars, but others are film makers and artists. A reader of When the Lights Go Down will learn a great deal about Christian filmmakers and how the industry is changing for Believing artists.
Movie lovers and aspiring film makers will find a lot of value in Dr. Eckel’s book. Go here to purchase it.
My favorite part? Two of the book’s interviews really jumped off of the page when I read When the Lights Go Down. The first is in an interview with Dr. Drew Trotter, expert on theology and culture. Dr. Eckel asked him, “How should Christians distinguish themselves from other viewpoints without alienating the people who believe them?” Dr. Trotter’s response was perfect: “Love and humility are key to answering this question…We should not try to distance ourselves from others because we are, in ourselves, not different from them…our first response in everything should be humility in communication.”
In another chapter Dr. Eckel interviews Eric Bumpus, a scholar who writes books about the clash between Christianity and Hollywood. Bumpus’s advice to Christian storytellers is challenging: “If Christians want to be heard through story, they must be willing to tell their story in such a way that it invites others to participate in the conversation and does not make them feel they are simply listening to a lecture while having zero input of their own.”
That’s good advice for anyone.
Photo by avrene