Movies That Changed My Life
Can movies change your life?
Absolutely. So says Christianity Today film reviewer Jeffrey Overstreet in his new book about a life of transforming experiences at the movies.
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In Through a Screen Darkly, Jeffrey chronicles how movies have opened his eyes to the glory of God, from his childhood watching Disney films and Star Wars, to a big screen epiphany that happened while he was on a date in high school. His accounts of conversations with movie stars, filmmakers, and moviegoers—Christian and otherwise—reveals that an attentive, conscientious engagement with art can challenge us, inspire us, and lead us to revelation.
In these abridged excerpts from the first chapter of Through a Screen Darkly, Jeffrey writes about how his journey started. Long before he began to talk with the filmmakers themselves about their convictions and beliefs, his own were influenced by features like Dances with Wolves, Chariots of Fire, and Amadeus.
My "Date" (Well, Not Exactly) with Melissa
It's 1990. I'm 20 years old and on my second date … sort of.
Her name is Melissa, and she's spirited, funny and pretty. I'm thrilled that she has agreed to go with me to a new film called Dances with Wolves, because I hear it's three hours long. That's three hours in a darkened theatre with Melissa. Melissa, who doesn't really seem drawn to me in that way, but who is a lot of fun and who's happy to flirt with me so long as I don't respond to her with any earnest romantic intentions.
Sweaty-palmed, hoping that the evening might mark a change, I settle in for the long three hours.
During the course of the movie, Melissa will take at least three breaks, probably because she's rather small and has consumed a jumbo Diet Coke. But while she's gone, I remain riveted, transported through time and space. I'm not thinking about my chances with Melissa anymore. I'm thinking about the chances of that poor soldier, John Dunbar, against those natives—the mean ones, not the good ones.
By this time in my early college experience, my understanding of Native Americans had been shaped by Disney movies, cartoons and family-friendly television dramas. This version of the Old West is more complicated and it makes me uncomfortable. I thrill to the chases and bask in the panoramic landscapes captured by Dean Semler's cinematography. I laugh at the budding friendship between man and wolf. But contrary to my usual moviegoing experience, I suddenly don't know what to expect or where the story will take me.
Then the moment comes—one I still don't completely understand. Dunbar sits in a tent with a Sioux chieftain. Between them sits an agitated woman. Her wardrobe is like the chief's, but her features are more like Dunbar's. This is Stands With a Fist. When she was still a child, her white parents were butchered by Pawnee attackers and she was taken into the care of the more compassionate Sioux. Uprooted from the language of her family, she grew up with the natives, adapting to their language and locking the horrible truth about her family into a vault deep in her memory.
Now, here in the tent, as she encounters a white man for the first time in ages, her brow furrows. Terror flashes in her eyes. Under orders to translate for Dunbar, she struggles to find the right words, turning them over as if they are strange keys. When they snap into place, she trembles and begins to speak. That box of nightmares opens.
There's a lump rising in my throat, and I feel I might choke. So I sit there covering my mouth with my hand, hoping Melissa won't notice that tears are spilling down over my fingers.