Our Mr. Demkowicz

3293842016.jpgUnlike any other living thing, human beings learn vicariously through the experiences of other human beings. Storytelling is the trait which God gave us to allow this unique feature of our species to work; no other species tells stories of their experiences past, present, and future. Our stories come from our lives – what we did, are doing, or hope to do. They can be real or imagined.

 Jeffrey Overstreet learned of God at an early age from the stories of his parents, church, and Christian school. And he learned a lot about life from the stories in the movies he watched, beginning with the Muppets and Walt Disney’s celluloid fables. From his earliest years, Mr. Overstreet seems to have been engaged in a three way conversation about life – the life he experiences first hand, the life God has revealed to him, and the life reflected into his eyes from the screens of movie theaters.

 Mr. Overstreet’s book, Through a Screen Darkly. Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in Movies, might be read as an autobiography of those conversations. Along his way, a movie might challenge or enhance Mr. Overstreet’s understanding of God, or God might provide an insight into a cinematic moment. But always movies and God cause Mr. Overstreet to re-examine what he believes about his life, his God, and film. As he says in the book’s introduction, “the power of art has led me to growth and understanding.” Eventually he decided that he wanted to write “about film the way C.S. Lewis wrote about books.” As a result, Mr. Overstreet has become a master in explaining the stories of movies for those of us who don’t get them, (and for those of us who think we do).

 Through a Screen Darkly recounts Mr. Overstreet’s maturation both as a person and as a connoisseur of films. He states he was “startled to discover how profoundly time and experience have changed [his] perspective,” perspectives on life, on movies, and on God. With time, Mr. Overstreet grew bold and “found redemptive insights and moments of piercing brilliance in places [he’d] been told were off-limits to conscientious moviegoers.” His book recounts the “many moments at the movies that have become a part of [his] history, giving [him] images that function as vocabulary, enhancing what [he] experiences when [he] is away from the screen.”

 When a senior in high school, Mr. Overstreet’s teacher, Mr. Demkowicz, showed Babette’s Feast to his class. It changed Mr. Overstreet’s life, as he began to learn how “things mean things.” Now Mr. Overstreet has become a Mr. Demkowicz to the world, as he himself is a teacher at Seattle Pacific University, and as movie critic for Christianity Today, and as host of the ever-interesting website LookingCloser.org.

 Mr. Overstreet loves movies –“all kinds of movies”. And his love and accumulated wisdom is infectious. I urge you to read Through a Screen Darkly to meet a passionate, friendly, and insightful fellow traveler on our journey with Christ, whose delight in explaining how movie things mean God things, and vice versa, will prompt you, as it did me, to look at some movies with fresh eyes.

 Mr. Overstreet quotes Frederick Buechner: “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors.” Let Mr. Overstreet introduce you to some of our fictional neighbors of the screen. He loves them. You might come to love them, as well.

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