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

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Pages   320
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.96" Width: 6.16" Height: 0.82"
Weight:   0.98 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Aug 1, 2008
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  0801035929  
EAN  9780801035920  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Examines forty-five films from the early twenty-first century, offering insight into their spiritual connections and theological applications.

Publishers Description
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.

Buy Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century (Cultural Exegesis) by Craig Detweiler from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9780801035920 & 0801035929

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More About Craig Detweiler

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Craig Detweiler (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is professor of communication at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He previously served as codirector 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 (, debuted in 2008. He has been featured in the New York Times, on CNN, and on NPR.

Barry Taylor (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary), adjunct professor of popular culture and theology at Fuller, is a professional musician, painter, and the leader of New Ground, an alternative worship gathering in Los Angeles.

Craig Detweiler was born in 1964.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
The writing makes it hard to gather the book's value  Jan 22, 2010

Detweiler blogs about working toward understanding between religious and secular, postmodern culture. He argues that movies are a good place for Christians to learn from a fractured, postmodern world. In his book, Into the Dark, he considers many of the films in the Internet Movie Database's user-ranked list of the 250 Movies14, which is, as Detweiler admits, an odd list. Of course, the demotic and non-authoritative nature of the list is the reason Detweiler chose it, it samples the films people watch and talk about, not just canonical film. While Detweiler is fun to read, his book is not cohesive or well-organized and much of what he writes doesn't make sense, critically or semantically. He will casually uses Biblical words, phrases, and allusions in any given sentence. It's easy to miss his point or be perplexed by his point all together. Consider this statement,

"Art and commerce met in the films created by Hollywood's "holy trinity" of Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas. Francis Ford Coppola served as the literal godfather to a new generation of filmmakers fresh out of film school."

Or one of my favorites,

"Despite our unprecedented financial and scientific success in the modern era, the twenty-first century can be characterized as a return to the Dark ages."

Here he writes about the films of Quentin Tarantino,

"Like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, Tarantino was a forerunner for the messy, transcendent movies that have followed."

And he later on continues,

"To some, his success signaled the decline of Western civilization. But to dedicated fanboys (and girls), Tarantino's unlikely rise demonstrates the newer, democratic possibilities of filmmaking, film criticism, and even theology: general revelation in action."

And there is more,

"Quentin Tarantino married postmodern surfaces and brutal violence with the transcendent possibilities of film. Tarantino's disciples were inspired by the psychic power of cinema to simultaneously outrage and inspire. While some were attracted to Tarantino's higher calling, other unleashed even flashier (and emptier) forms of film noir."

These cryptic comments about Tarantino bring me to one of Detweiler's main topics. Detweiler describes a resurgence of film noir and oddly identifies Tarantino has one of the most important figures in this movement, further placing Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, Alejandro Gonzales, and Guy Ritchie as Tarantino's disciples. I had difficulty following Detweiler's definition of film noir15, but I think I understand his broader point. He is arguing that in dark (noir) films sin bears itself out in the "grim consequences of a world without God"; indeed he says Richard Rodriguez's16 Sin City is the "apothesis of film noir." "Film noir at its best reveals our cold, cold hearts. It understands the murderous impulses that lurk beneath our civil veneer," he summarizes.

Just like other critics, Detweiler professes the belief that to be human is to act sinfully. The real difference between Detweiler and other critics, in my reading, is that Detweiler argues that Christian's should be willing to see and discuss any serious or popular film. He says that Christian is not an adjective. I took this as a rhetorical statement, since Christian is more of an adjective, a type of person or belief system, than it is a noun: Christian should not be a genre or label for art and Christian values should not be a measure of a movie's watchability. It's odd then, in his writing on postmodern art, when Detweiler regularly uses postmodern as an adjective; the suggestion seeming to be that postmodernity is not a cultural or historical trend, it's a movement or a point-of-view. The same goes for moral relativism, which is not a trend from scientific or humanistic facts on the ground, but it too is a political, anti-Christian movement. Again, unlike others, Detweiler is not denouncing the glorification of sin and nihilism in movies these days. He tries to avoid accusing filmmakers of playing tricks on us, manipulating emotions, or tempting an audience into sin. Detweiler wants people to watch films as an occasion for understanding: "Only when we agree that we have things worth discussing, convictions worth dying for, can we engage in meaningful dialogue." Still, I did not do very well in understanding much of Detweiler's book, partly because of the cant and mushy language he uses, and I often suspected that he was trying to appear more open-minded about certain films than he really was.
Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark is Excellent!  May 22, 2009
Craig Detweiler's Into the Dark is an excellent resource and appropriate supplement for readers of Johnston's Reel Spirituality (or, vice-versa). The author uses the introduction to first get personal with the reader by explaining his own fascination with film, and then to set forth a basic theological framework for the book. Chapter 1 serves as a further introduction to the content of the book, with chapters highlighting three themes following: Identity, Community, and History. Rather than attempting to comment on the entire book (given the length of this review), what follows here are comments on the various concepts and statements that affected this reader the most.

To begin with Detweiler's introduction, I can certainly relate to his testimony about the power of film in his life. One of my earliest memories is being grounded as a child from television, only to have my father sneak me out of bed long after my mother was asleep to watch what then seemed to be a stunning movie about giant ants attacking a village. That was nearly 35 years ago, and my infatuation with movies - and especially the horror/sci-fi genre, has continued unabated. Like the author, movies for me became a sort of "coping mechanism - a way to keep hope alive in a dark period of my life" (p. 9). Once believing that this was unacceptable (i.e., that I should be leaning on God alone), I now realize that it is also within the scope of God's Kingdom that the Sovereign Lord of all spoke to me through such movies.

Having been exposed to the concept of general revelation early on in my life, it is thrilling to read Detweiler's application of this concept to film. If all human beings image God, and if creativity is His expressive gift to humanity, it stands to reason that many films (though not all - the Imago Dei remains twisted in a fallen world) will demonstrate aspects of eternity being placed in our hearts (Ecc. 3:10-11). Further, since eternity is placed in human hearts and not always in human minds - glimpses of God and His kingdom may not always be conscious expressions. In one way, this is the grand cosmic joke: humanity images God whether humanity knows this or not. In this sense, every film maker is potentially a Nebuchadnezzar or a Cyrus. And some of them may well turn out to be a Rahab, a visiting Magi, or a Cornelius.

I was especially impressed by the references to Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories," which I knew to have been influential in the conversion of C.S. Lewis but had never actually read. Recasting the notion of "escapist" entertainment as an eschatological longing on humanity's part for transcendent Joy hit me as nothing short of revelatory. In Chapter 1, Detweiler's survey of movies that may have initially "failed" due to what amounts to bad timing (i.e., the social context was wrong for the film when released) was also very helpful in explaining why many of the movies he speaks of (e.g., Shawshank Redemption, Lady in the Water) remain personal favorites of mine despite poor box-office returns.

The appeal to general revelation, as Detweiler suggests (pp. 37-41), is probably a significant key to effective apologetics in our contemporary world. As a sociologists, I have found this approach most enlightening ever since reading Peter Berger's Rumor of Angels, written to offset impressions left by his previous book suggesting that religion is "socially constructed." Using the more contemporary example of N.T. Wright's Simply Christian, Detweiler highlights the use of various "echoes" of the Divine that all human beings are likely to appreciate and respond to. Among such echoes are the many situations and themes explored in the world of film.

Detweiler's book is really an exploration of what it means to take the concept of general revelation seriously. In between the lines of the first 58 pages or so are hints of a prayer I am sure that the author uttered more than once: "God, I know you are speaking in this world and I want to hear you. As I watch the movies I love so much, give me ears to hear You." The rest of the book basically exposes the reader to how God answered Detweiler. As I read, I was sometimes surprised to find that God had spoken to me in similar ways through those very same films. Too often, I was not so surprised to learn that God had spoken but that I had missed Him in the moment. Although this book looks - on the surface - to be a tour of "God's Voice" in the movies Detweiler chooses to write about, such a description is not entirely accurate. For this reader, the book is more like this: "Hey, here's the frame of mind I took as a viewer of movies and here are the amazing things God showed me," with the conclusion being summarized in the exhortation to "Go and do likewise."

William Kilgore
Still in the Dark  May 22, 2009
I'm sorry to be so critical, but Derweiller's insights in his INTO THE DARK falls 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.
A Flickering Light  Mar 23, 2009
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.
Read This! The Way You See Film will Shift!  Mar 9, 2009
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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