Play Along with the Joke (God in Film Pt 2)

Here’s where you can read part 1 in this blog series

I noted last week that some film critics and filmmakers (particularly Paul Schrader and Roy Anker) have argued you really can’t show divine encounters (God or angels literally showing up in a movie) without it seeming cheesy.

This argument has big ramifications for Christians trying to make films. It means we have to move beyond Biblical epics or miracle stories if we want to talk about God via film. We have to ask the question, “Can we find other ways to talk about the divine in films?”

One possibility is to show God or angels, but play them as humorous. If Anker and Schrader are correct, they’ll will look a bit absurd anyway, so just lean into that tendency.

Instead of having big serious angels, have humorous angels like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, with his frilly undershirt and his inability to do normal things like order drinks in a bar.

This may seem irreverent way to show holy things, but it doesn’t have to be.

Rather than making angels or God funny and imply that holy things are a joke, you can treat it as being an insight into how heaven and earth relate to each other.

The supernatural barrier between earth (where sin still operates) and heaven (where sin is no more) means that holy things will always look a little strange when they show up on earth.

In fact, Scripture says holy things may look foolish by our earthly standards.

Some writers have captured this idea through stories about “holy fools,” people who seem foolish or crazy but shake other characters up and end up pointing them toward wisdom.

The “holy fool” concept takes some inspiration from the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, who would have looked very foolish as they threw clay pots around, shaved their heads and threw their hair around cities, and did other strange actions to symbolize God’s messages to Israel.

So, if God’s holy wisdom is foolish to humanity, so you can portray the divine as initially seeming foolish, then change the tables on viewers.

This is precisely what happens to George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life — Clarence pushes him to shocking new truths about how much his life really matters.


Any thoughts about this? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear them. 

Also, stay tuned for the next article in this series, where I examine another possible way to show divine encounters in films.

10 thoughts on “Play Along with the Joke (God in Film Pt 2)

  1. Pingback: Can Movies Show God? (God in Film Pt 1) – G. Connor Salter

  2. Pingback: If Demons, Why Not God? (God in Film Pt 3) – G. Connor Salter

  3. Pingback: Jesus the Strange Man (God in Film Pt 4) – G. Connor Salter

  4. Pingback: Metaphors for God (God in Film Pt 5) – G. Connor Salter

  5. Pingback: Chance Encounters (God in Film Pt 6) – G. Connor Salter

  6. Pingback: God in the Abstract (God in Film Pt 7) – G. Connor Salter

  7. Pingback: God in Nature (God in Film Pt 8) – G. Connor Salter

  8. Pingback: Transcendental Style (God in Film Pt 9) – G. Connor Salter

  9. Pingback: The Need for Absurdity – G. Connor Salter

  10. Pingback: Sentimentality and Susbstance (Sidetrails 1) – G. Connor Salter

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