Through A Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth, and Evil in the Movies

Reviewed by:

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


Through A Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth, and Evil in the Movies


Jeffrey Overstreet


Baker Books

Publication Date:





352 pages


How do Christians decide what makes a movie worth watching? Does it have to be family-friendly? Are movies even worth that much consideration? Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet has wrestled with many of these questions. Ultimately, he found that when he explains the conclusions he reached, “my answers require than a simple explanation. I end up sharing stories about my journey. I talk about my changing relationships with certain films, my conversations with moviegoers and filmmakers, and events that transformed me.” Through A Screen Darkly describes that journey. Overstreet writes about movies that have impacted his life (from Taxi Driver to Babette’s Feast to Three Colors: Blue) and how they’ve reflected theological ideas in interesting ways. He organizes these movies into several sections, including:

  • Wonders of Heaven and Earth (movies that capture themes like childlike wonder)
  • Saving the World (adventure movies, good and bad)
  • Fools and Jokers (movies about foolishness, from satires to tales about holy fools)
  • Arts of Darkness (movies that explore humanity’s flaws)
  • Music and Light (movies about other kinds of spiritual experiences)

Within his discussions, Overstreet shares not only what he believes about what makes a great film, but also his conversations with other Christians about film and spirituality.

While this book is primarily about movies, the author’s approach means the ideas apply to many artistic mediums. Overstreet ends up digging into not just what makes good movies but what makes good storytelling. Several chapters include reflections on Christian artists that he admires, such as Sam Phillips (famous for starting out as Christian rock musician Leslie Phillips in the 80s, then changing her stage name when she moved into mainstream music). He also works in interviews he’s had with filmmakers or critics, such as film director Scott Derrickson. The interviews with Derrickson are especially interesting, given how Derrickson’s career has evolved since this book appeared. At the time, Derrickson was a promising young director with a handful of credits. Today, he’s known for directing Marvel’s Doctor Strange and has become one of the most cited examples of Christian filmmakers working in mainstream Hollywood.

One of the messy parts about writing a book on Christianity and culture is that American Christian culture hasn’t always handled that topic in healthy ways. Various writers have looked at how Christian entertainment can be simplistic (Steve Turner’s insights on Christian music in Imagine, Daniel Silliman on Christian books in Reading Evangelicals), and the paranoia that American Christians sometimes feel when art doesn’t fit their expectations. Overstreet tells his own story about navigating Christian culture (growing up in Christian schools, realizing that all truth is God’s truth allows for finding spiritual insights even in “secular films,” discovering artists like Sam Phillips who didn’t mesh well with the Christian entertainment industry). He includes a few “war stories” (angry letters he’s received from a Christian mother for saying nice things about a Harry Potter film, bizarrely bad film reviews he’s seen other Christian film critics write about secular films they disliked for unclear reasons). While Overstreet’s not afraid to call foolish behavior what it is, he avoids ranting and focuses on building a wiser vision of Christianity and art.

Combining these elements together, Overstreet provides a great book on how film can affect people, how filmmakers can navigate the relationship between religion and art, but also something larger. He goes beyond discussions about film theory (explored by critics like Paul Schrader) or how movies can explore religious ideas (explored by scholars like Roy M. Anker) to give insights that artists can use in any medium. The result is a wisely-written, thoughtful vision of Christian creativity and stewardship.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Recommended Audience:

Christians interested in understanding movies, how they can explore religious ideas, and the surprising ways that movies without a didactic message can inspire and transform people’s ideas.

Christian Impact:

Overstreet looks directly at what makes something a “Christian movie,” noting how the most engaging movies about faith often wrestle with mature themes. As he explores movies that effectively communicate spiritual or religious ideas, Overstreet also highlights the diverse ways that these movies can impact people (Taxi Driver as a cathartic exploration of human loneliness, Punch-Drunk Love as a movie about lonely people finding wholeness). There are also some interesting insights into why evangelical Christians have struggled to make interesting art in their various sub-cultures.


Note: ECLA Readers who enjoy this book may also enjoy the following books about Christianity and art:


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