Bringing out the Meaning:
Deacy, Nolan, Scorsese, and what films 'mean'

By Dr Robert Ellis


1. eds. Anthony J. Clarke and Paul S. Fiddes, Flickering Images: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Macon, Georgia: Smith & Helwys, 2005; and Oxford: Regent’s Park College, 2005).

2. See Lynch, Understanding Theology and Popular Culture, pp. 101ff.

3. Sometimes, and perhaps this is when the dialogue is at its most interesting, there is an ambiguity about the voice of the film that is patient of various readings. This is so with one of the most widely discussed recent films, at least in popular theological discourse, The Matrix. There are striking correspondences with the Christian narrative – a number of reviewers spoke of it as a kind of Sci-Fi Narnia. (See the web discussion at (accessed 5 December 2006); almost immediately Internet reviewers were hailing the film as a Christian allegory, though considered reflection (and two sequels) have muted this somewhat.) The Wachowski brothers appear to want to make their film as open as possible in meanings: a truly postmodern product that is available to a range of consumers from sci-fi fans to a variety of religious viewers! As one Internet reviewer remarks, ‘for every part Christian allegory, there's equal parts Buddhism, Greek mythology, Alice in Wonderland and The Terminator—a contemplative stew lacking any purity of focus.’ (, web site of Plugged In Online, accessed 11 December 2005.) Is the final shoot-out a departure from Christian allegory for the ‘myth of redemptive violence’ – the illusion that violence, as long as its perpetrated by the good side, can yet keep us safe and win the day? Or is it instead a particular interpretation and showing forth of the Christus Victor story of atonement? The Matrix proves both allusive and elusive.

4. See my ‘Movies and Meaning: An Introduction to Reading Films,’ in eds. Anthony J. Clarke and Paul S. Fiddes, Flickering Images: Theology and Film in Dialogue, pp. 7-24.

5. Richard Maltby, Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 32 & 56 n. 52.

6. Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, pp. 27-31, et al.

7. In a TV documentary about the late Stanley Kubrick we saw that he had an editing suite in his own home and would invite the editor there so that he could supervise the editing process. We were also given insights into the degree of control he that tried to exercise over writers. The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, produced and directed by Paul Joyce, Lucida Productions for Channel Four Television, 1999.

8. Christopher Deacy, Screen Christologies (Cardiff: University of Wales, 2001), p. 61. Deacy here quotes R. B. Y. Scott, The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1971), p. 170.

9. Screen Christologies, p. 35.

10. Screen Christologies, p. 91.

11. See Conrad Ostwalt, ‘Religion, Film and Cultural Analysis’, in eds. Ostwalt and Joel Martin, Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth and Ideology in Popular American Film (Boulder Colorado & Oxford: Westview Press, 1995), p. 157.

12. Screen Christologies, p. 113.

13. In eds. Clarke and Fiddes, Flickering Images, pp. 25-48.

14. Stephen Heath, ‘Notes on Suture’, in Screen 18/4 (Winter 197-78), pp. 48-76; this quotation is from p. 74, quoted in Nolan, ‘Understanding Films,’ p. 34.

15. Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies (London: British Film Institute, 1987), p 8; quoted in Paul MacDonald, “Star Studies”, in Approaches to Popular Film, p 83.

16. Edward Said, Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World (London: Vantage, 1997), pp. xxvi-xxvii, quoted by Nolan, ‘Understanding Films,’ p. 41.

17. Nolan, ‘Understanding Films,’ pp. 42f.

18. Readers may find it helpful to view chapters 1 and 2 of the movie on DVD at this point.

19. Chapters 28 and 29 may be helpfully viewed at this point.

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