Theology in Film

Admittedly, this is my favorite class to teach. I grew up doing two things on a weekly basis: attending mass and watching movies. This class is where my love of faith and film come together and it has become a favorite for each senior class I’ve taught. The seniors get to experience films through a theological lens. What that means is that we study a particular theological theme , unpack it, then analyze the film for insights into the theme. What the kids find exciting is that these films are not “Christian” films because they are not overtly about Christ(as they often remind me.) After we spend time studying the theme and watching the films, each student has their moment of realization when the non-Christian film begins to reveal more about Christianity than they ever could’ve imagined. These are the moments that I live for.

This class is an example of the Jesuit understanding that God is in all things. Most recently we studied the theme of Christology through the 1999 classic Sci-Fi film, The Matrix. The students were shocked to realize that the names, imagery, and themes of the film were tied to the life, works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.(The Wachowski siblings did their homework!)

As we are a college prep school, we utilize challenging text from current theological voices like that of Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. Dr. Johnson is a professor emerita at Fordham University whose works have helped shape our theology department over the past few years. Through who works the students are confronted with college level rigor while also being challenged to see that God’s grace can be found in some of the most unlikely of contexts…like that of a sci-fi film.

The Matrix has helped the students understand the Gospels in a new way that connects to them in their current context. The Christ-like figure of Neo proclaims this in his final monologue of the film. Imagine Jesus saying these words instead and see if it resonates.

“I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.”

Something to think about, don’t you think? Jesus knows that the spirit of the world is afraid of change. This spirit of the world is that which breeds greed, injustice, hate, separation, and a misuse of power. Jesus knows that a change is coming since he is the herald of that change. He came to show us a better way of living, of loving, of being what God made us to be. That world he shows us is without the controls of sin, without the boundaries we have arbitrarily created between each person, each community. A world where authentic Christ-like love is possible not only on an individual level, but on the communal as well. But as always, God gives us free will to choose to live like Christ or not. The choice is up to us.

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