Rahner at the Oscars?

oscars2015Last weekend the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the 87th annual Academy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. As always, it was a star-studded event. But did anyone consider the presence of Karl Rahner on the red carpet? Stephanie Cherpak Clary, graduate student at the Catholic Theological Union, shared a few thoughts about the intersection of theology and film on the CTU blog, Theophilus.

Clary’s post, “Rahner at the Oscars: A Sacramentology of Film” connects Rahner’s sacramentology with the art of film.

Near the end of Neil Patrick Harris’s 2015 Oscars’ opening number, he aims to answer the question with which he opened the performance: why do we care so much about films when we know that their stories are carefully planned and presented representations of reality, but nonetheless, representations. His answer, “Moving pictures—millions of pixels on screens—moving pictures, they may not be real life, but they’ll show you what life really means,” proposes nothing advertently theological; but, because it speaks to the experience of being human, of finding meaning in life, and of seeking truth, it suggests that our films are so important to us because they are nothing short of sacramental.

She concludes that “Rahner’s strong anthropological theology allows film to be sacramental because it reveals existential, human experiences.

In the same way that a sacrament sacramentalizes an event of God’s grace, calling attention to, expressing, and affecting the reality of the event, film has the capacity to sacramentalize life events. The capturing of oft occurring events of human life onto a screen, within specific constraints of time and space, from particular distances, angles, and perspectives, sacramentalizes these events for no other reason than that they are purely human. Identifying with the events expressed in the film and recognizing the commonalities amongst humanity represented by the sacramentalized events allows one to observe and experience these events in a different way than when experienced in reality. It is because of this sacramentalizing of existential events of human life that a conversation between film and theology is possible.

Clary’s full post can be found here.



  1. Fascinating – thank you

    I’ve begun to think this over in relation to Kate Atkinson’s novel LIFE AFTER LIFE. It will take some time!

  2. In a year where I feel Richard Linklater’s work is finally being recognized in Boyhood, Stephanie, these observations are especially apropos. I don’t think anyone has sacramentalized life in film better than him – especially in the Before series. Anxious to read the full post!

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