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Review: Meaning at the Movies, Part 3

So, it’s been some time since I left off part 2 of this review of Meaning at the Movies, and I’ve decided I might as well sit down and make myself finish this review.  Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with Professor Horner’s aesthetic philosophy (why movies exist, and how we should respond to them) as well as his argument for the practice of discernment (as opposed to the mere possession of such.)  I believe Horner did a fairly good job of laying out his case, and I believe Christians would do well to put his recommendations into practice.

How many movies are being viewed in a given moment?

The remainder of the book focuses on an analysis of various genres (including comedy, horror, and film noir) and an application of Horner’s general thesis to films within these categories.  Given the nature of the content, I can do little to provide a helpful review on this section.  I think he does an excellent job, and I think he makes some compelling points, and I am more than happy to see that he recommends that we view and evaluate dark comedy and film noir.  Still, I’d like to briefly mention the last chapter in the book.

In the final chapter, “The End of the Matter: Movies and Meaning, Memory and Man,” Horner makes a convincing case for the delineation of a subset of films which deal specifically with “Memory” or “Consciousness.”  When I first ran across this in the table of contents, I was lightly intrigued.  By the time I came to the end of the book, I was both convinced and further intrigued.  The movies he analyzes in this final chapter “all deal, in various ways, with the relationship between the nature of memory and the nature of humanity: to be fully human means to be connected mentally with the past.” (p. 197)  At the same time, these movies–Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, and Memento–cut across genre and time period.

While his reviews and analyses are insightful, I find most helpful the simple matter of marking “Memory”- or “Consciousness”-films as a unique category for study.  On the spot, I was able to hammer out a series of engaging and enjoyable films which all treat this subject either directly (as does Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Everything is Illuminated) or indirectly (as does Insomnia or Seraphim Falls).

Drive In
I saw half of “The Burbs” at a drive-in like this, in Broomfield, Colorado.

In viewing movies that deal with the topic of memory or human consciousness, Horner argues that we’re getting to the core of film as art.  All movies (all photographs, as well, I suppose) are thoroughly soaked with the concept of retaining memory.  What else is film supposed to do if not retain a record of a past event for us to review at a later date.  However, when we address cinematic art (or, again, artistic photography) we are not reviewing a simple record, but a carefully edited, selectively framed, and purposefully developed memory.  Given Horner’s general thesis–that humans make art in order to deal with humanity’s repression of the knowledge of God–films which deal with memory, and which are by their nature falsified memories, present a ripe field for a Christian moviegoer to harvest.  Helpful questions might include:

  • What does this movie say about human nature? Are we the sum of our memories?  Something more?  Something less?
  • What does this movie say about memory?  That it is intrinsically “rose-colored”?  That it must always fail?
  • How does memory play a pivotal role in motivating the characters?
  • Does the narrator (if the film has one) present the events reliably, or is his or her memory obviously skewed?  What does this mean for our interpretation of events?

These are just a few examples.  I would like to recommend Christopher Nolan’s Inception–Horning reviews his earlier work in Memento–as a good jumping off point for this sort of focused viewing.  The main characters in this movie are each driven in various ways by memory, the plot itself revolves around the creation of memories, and the conclusion would fail to move apart from memory (both our own, and that of the main character).  It’s an incredibly well-told tale, and I believe you’ll feel rewarded for the effort.  If you’ve seen it, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

I’ll end here.  Go watch a movie.

Grace & Peace,
Dan J.

Published inBook Reviews


  1. “…that humans make art in order to deal with humanity’s repression of the knowledge of God…”

    I’ve not heard this proposition before. I suppose the connection is because of idols & graven images are prohibited in the 10-commandments, but all art seems like a stretch. Need to think about it.

  2. Dan

    That was the author’s thesis–he claims that most secular culture springs out of the conflict in Romans 1. People deny God’s existence in spite of the clear evidence provided through general revelation, but after denying this and repressing the truth of the knowledge of God, they’re left trying to replace that truth with other narratives, images, and religious forms. He does a better job explaining it than I do! :)

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