Religious Meaning in Film

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Beautiful Light: Religious Meaning in Film


Roy M. Anker


William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Publication Date:

May 24, 2017




282 pages


What does it mean for a movie to have religious themes? Is there room for something more than the predictable inspirational dramas marketed as Christian films? Roy M. Anker, former professor of film and literature at Calvin College, argues there is. In fact, for people willing to look hard enough, there are some great films which talk about concepts like redemption and divinity in compelling ways. Anker analyzes nine films:

  • Wide Awake directed by M. Night Shyamalan
  • The Color of Paradise directed by Majid Majidi
  • The Apostle directed by Robert Duvall
  • Dead Man Walking directed by Tim Robbins
  • The Shawshank Redemption directed by Frank Darabont
  • American Gigolo directed by Paul Schrader
  • Heaven directed by Tom Tykwer
  • Magnolia directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Thin Red Line directed by Terence Malick

As he summarizes each film, Anker notes spiritual ideas which are central to the film’s plot.

Anker takes on a surprising collection of films. Some directly talk about religion and seem natural fits for his discussion. For instance, The Apostle follows a proud pastor who has to find his way again, and even includes an original song by Steven Curtis Chapman (who fondly remembers working on the film in his autobiography Between Heaven and the Real World). Other movies seem as far away from spiritual ideas as they can get. American Gigolo is, as the title suggests, a story about a male prostitute living in Los Angeles. Heaven sounds like a movie about angels, but is actually about police corruption and a bombing gone wrong.

Anker not only shows how the seemingly nonreligious films are filled with spiritual ideas, he shows how the religious films accomplish things that conventional Christian films often fail at. The Apostle sidesteps Hallmark clichés and makes the pastor’s redemption subtle yet believable. American Gigolo turns out to be all about how the main character realizes purely physical pleasures don’t satisfy. Heaven has a crime thriller plot, but its symbols and themes are all about transcendence.

In the end then, this seemingly mixed bag of films proves that spiritual ideas can appear in the most unlikely stories. God has a way of popping up where we least expect him to. For Christians who love good stories, this concept is freeing, giving permission to find and tell all kinds of stories that point to God in unique ways.

A terrific guide to what it really means for a film to have Christian ideas.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians looking for films about faith that go beyond the conventional Christian film treatment.

Christian Impact

This book will inspire readers to look more deeply at the films they watch, seeking interesting stories that will inform and deepen their faith.


Readers seeking more on this topic should consider reading Anker’s earlier books Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies and Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies.

Beautiful Light: Religious Meaning in Film


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