Last Word: Bergman Meets Bresson

As the technological revolution transforms cinema, and computer-generated images proliferate, movies seem dumber and dumber: more epic battles, explosions, and car crashes, but less meaning and certainly less mystery. So I am relieved to have my faith in film renewed by the recently released Polish masterpiece, Ida, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.

In his classic 1917 book The Idea of the Holy, theologian Rudolf Otto reported that wherever the sacred is found, it is mysterium tremendum et fascinans—mysterious, even frightening, but also fascinating and seductive. The medium of film has the potential not only to depict the sacred but to invite us into its mystery. If the Risen Christ and His Spirit are present everywhere, then the sacred surrounds us, and an encounter with God can happen anywhere—even in a movie theater.

I can think of five films during the past decade that offered a profound experience of the sacred. The first was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I have misgivings about the scourging scene in that film, yet clearly something special happened to many members of the audience at the film’s first public...

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About the Author

Rev. Robert E. Lauder, a priest of the diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of philosophy at St. John's University, Jamaica, New York, and author of Magnetized by God: Religious Encounters through Film, Theater, Literature, and Paintings (Resurrection Press).