Telling Stories with Dr. Craig Detweiler, Part Two

This week on the podcast, Dan continues his conversation with Dr. Craig Detweiler, President of The Seattle School, about where he comes from, the work he pursues, and the intersections of faith and culture. Dan pulls from Craig’s background as a filmmaker and asks him to reflect on three of his favorite directors: the Coen brothers, Wes Anderson, and Christopher Guest. Together they wonder about how even absurdly comic films might reflect something of the heart of the Gospel.

Dan: “Our family, I believe, has cohered because of Jesus—and also because of The Royal Tenenbaums.”

These filmmakers are, Craig says, “three of the greatest comedic minds.” With contagious enthusiasm, he and Dan wrestle with the bleak comedy in Coen brothers movies like Fargo, the quirky dreamers reaching for the impossible (“the core of the filmmaking task,” says Craig) in Wes Anderson’s films, and the absurd characters Christopher Guest so fully devotes himself to—whether a heavy metal rockstar in This Is Spinal Tap or Best in Show’s surreally hilarious dog show contestants.

Dan: “If there’s one thing you want to invite people to as they’re engaging a movie, what would it be?”

Craig: “I would say, enter with eyes to see and ears to hear. That was the requirement of what it means to be a good disciple—an openness to hear from God at any time or place, through any means. Until we’ve opened ourselves up, we may be missing revelations that are available.”

Craig shares his conviction that compelling filmmaking, like compelling fiction, reflects and reveals something true of the Gospel, which Frederick Buechner famously talked about in terms of tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. This doesn’t mean we should look for literal Christ figures or direct mention of the Gospel in every film. It means, Craig argues, that we should remain open to receiving the many ways God might choose to surprise us, and open to the ways that a good story beautifully told might open our eyes to whole new worlds—or whole new ways of seeing our own world.

Craig: “If stories coming through cinema or TV cut people off from dreaming and imagining, then they’re not performing their proper function—and that needs to be reclaimed.”