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Theology and Sci-Fi Film


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So, as you can see from the topic description, I'm doing an independent study on theology and sci-fi (films) in the spring, and I'm trying to gather together some potential texts that I can read. I know that the subject is pretty specific, but do any of you know of any texts that address the subject head-on? Perhaps, with a group of essays on sci-fi films from a theological perspective. Or perhaps you know of particularly good theological essays written on particular sci-fi films but in a random location? I do have some books that address theology and film more generally that contain essays on specific sci-fi films such as The Hidden God: Film and Faith and Catching Light: Looking For God in the Movies. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to track down a book on religion or theology on a Hollywood sci-fi like Star Wars, but that isn't a film I want to watch with the ind. study.

If you have any favorite sci-fi films with theological import, I'd love to hear them.

Any help would be very much appreciated.

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The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, by Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie.

I haven't actually read the book, but the Criterion commentary track for Solaris is taken from the authors reading selections from it and it's quite enlightening, as commentary tracks go. For your purposes, the sections of the book on Solaris, Stalker, and The Sacrifice would be the most relevant.

It's the side effects that save us.
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The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue, by Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie.

I haven't actually read the book, but the Criterion commentary track for Solaris is taken from the authors reading selections from it and it's quite enlightening, as commentary tracks go. For your purposes, the sections of the book on Solaris, Stalker, and The Sacrifice would be the most relevant.

Good idea Tyler, thanks! If I do some Tarkovsky, I'll plan on using Sculpting in Time as well.

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I don't know if it's what you're looking for, but I've enjoyed what I've read so far of Gabriel McKee's "The Gospel According to Science Fiction: From the Twilight Zone to the Final Frontier."

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The Truth is Out There by Thomas Bertonneau and Kim Paffenroth is concerned with S.F. on television, but the introduction has a very good overview of the many intersections of S.F. and religion, and the final chapter (though in many ways narrowly concerned with the nature of television) might have some interesting thoughts, as well.

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I have heard it, though it was about a year ago. Greenbelt talks are typically and hour including questions, but this one had lots of clips, and I can't remember whether the recording includes the sound from the clips, or skips over them. The recording is 56:22 though so it probably includes them.

Matt

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Good call on Solaris and Offret, I haven't seen Stalker yet. For shame, for shame, yes I know.

And you KNOW Ryan is going to come along with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in his filmcaps, so there you go, I've helped him out.

I prefer the quieter ones like Gattaca, The Truman Show, Sunshine (until it's ultimate bad ass ending which RULES, mind you, RULES!), and some old Canadian films I haven't seen in a while but love... Possible Worlds and Dark City...

Going downstairs to get some books...

Of course, James Monaco is the standard with "How To Read a Film," and I own "Sculpting in Time," but IIRC, I attempted it and at the time felt it was too far over my head. I also have "The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue," though I don't remember whether there's any concentration on science fiction. These books are all from years ago. Monaco is a good one to always keep around though. I go back to it all the time, for any genre.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Good call on Solaris and Offret, I haven't seen Stalker yet. For shame, for shame, yes I know.

And you KNOW Ryan is going to come along with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in his filmcaps, so there you go, I've helped him out.

I prefer the quieter ones like Gattaca, The Truman Show, Sunshine (until it's ultimate bad ass ending which RULES, mind you, RULES!), and some old Canadian films I haven't seen in a while but love... Possible Worlds and Dark City...

Going downstairs to get some books...

Of course, James Monaco is the standard with "How To Read a Film," and I own "Sculpting in Time," but IIRC, I attempted it and at the time felt it was too far over my head. I also have "The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue," though I don't remember whether there's any concentration on science fiction. These books are all from years ago. Monaco is a good one to always keep around though. I go back to it all the time, for any genre.

Someone else likes Dark City? And Sunshine? My world isn't quite so lonely anymore. And yes, you should watch Stalker.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Run a thesis and dissertation search for theology and science fiction. There are lots of grad projects done on this annually. I think this is one of the first of those to get published.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I love Dark City, too. FWIW. :)

I actually think Star Trek: The Motion Picture addresses theological themes with some sensitivity and a little depth. Spock: "Each of us... at some time in our lives, turns to someone - a father, a brother, a God... and asks...”Why am I here? What was I meant to be?"" (It's interesting that Spock explicitly locates the conclusion of our search for personal meaning as external, rather than internal.)

I'd echo the recommendation of Gattaca as well. And if you're including Sci-Fi television, Battlestar Galactica.

In case you were wondering, my name is spelled "Denes House," but it's pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove."
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On the film end, Children of Men ranks as a possibility, too. Although the way it reputedly dampened the theological sensibilities of its source material doesn't do it any favors.

Also, there's Klaatu and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Edited by KShaw

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I’d suggest Religions of Star Trek by Kraemer, Cassidy, & Schwartz, 2003. It's partly about the TV series, but also covers the films up through “Insurrection.” Solid insights in the chapters on good/evil, afterlife, false gods, shamans and prophets, the relationship between science and salvation as transformation, etc. Not as inclusive or in depth as it could have been but worth a look.

Or go with Hertenstein's theological take on Star Trek.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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  • 3 weeks later...

The way this independent study is shaking out, it looks like I'll spend 8 weeks on the thematic intersection between theology, science fiction, and film oriented around theological questions (while watching films). These weeks will involve watching the films, reading theology that address the questions, reading commentaries on the films, and doing my own "exegesis" based on the interaction between the film and the theology. As such, I'm employing a dialogical approach to meaning-making. I've listed a couple of films I've attached to the questions for the moment.

Here are the questions I'm looking at for the 8 weeks:

- How should we relate to our technologies? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica (mini-series)

- What does it mean to be human? AI, Solaris (Soderbergh)

- Who is the Other?/How shall we regard the Other? The Brother From Another Planet, The Man Who Fell to Earth

- What shall we say about the apocalypse, disaster, and end-times, God's role in this, our role in this, and what this eschatological thinking has to say about current times? Children of Men, Stalker

For the other 5 weeks, I'll be looking at the why of film and theology moving towards my own theology OF film (rather than theology, SF, AND film) if that makes any sense. There's the question of how theology should approach film (what methods). Then, more generally, there's the question of how theology should engage in culture more generally (and folks like Tillich, Niebuhr, and Bevans have something to say there).

Any other films that you think are an absolute must to consider with the four thematic/theological questions I've listed above?

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Gattaca is still excellent for the first three.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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