Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on June 13, 2017
As a committed atheist, I wouldn't typically select Josh Larsen's "Movies as Prayers" as a film book of interest. However, I'm a huge fan of Larsen's work, particularly as co-host of Filmspotting, and I'm pleased to say that "Movies as Prayers" is a thoughtful and illuminating read, even for non-believers. Larsen argues that prayer "is a human instinct, an urge that lies deep within us" and that movies are one way that audiences can communicate with God through the emotions and ideas they provoke. He identifies nine forms of prayer (praise, yearning, lament, anger, confessions, reconciliation, obedience, meditation/contemplation) and then illustrates each with interesting examples from a wide variety of films. To his great credit, Larsen cites films both old and contemporary, American and foreign, and classic and cult. Introspection is the key here and, whether you choose to pray or not, Larsen makes a compelling case for how movies express our most human and critical desires. His observations, even on the most famous of films, are consistently thought provoking. For example, though "Godzilla" has been frequently discussed as a commentary on nuclear fear in the wake of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Larsen points out that Godzilla's roar is "actually a wail of sorrow" and that "the giant beast isn't terrorizing; it's crying." Another critic might not have achieved this insight, yet Larsen does so by viewing the film as a prayer of lament. Similarly, when discussing reconciliation, Larsen offers a thoughtful discussion of "Tangerine" the recent independent film about transgender prostitutes. He explains how the film encouraged him to identify with characters radically unlike himself. In a beautiful combination of self revelation and film criticism, he notes, "We must recognize before we can reconcile - especially in instances where we are too blinded by privilege, comfort, and tradition to even notice that reconciliation is needed." Throughout the book, Larsen cites a variety of religious sources to support his argument and, for the uninitiated, some of these prove a bit dull. I also found it unusual that Larsen cited almost no film criticism - popular or academic - and I think the book might have improved by incorporating the wide range of voices available on the intersection of film with philosophy and religion. However, Larsen achieves a lot with this compact and highly interesting book, an approach to film that I hope others will explore further.
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