I Interview Me on My Book, “Lights in the Darkness”

Self-Interview on “Lights in the Darkness: Exploring Catholic Themes  

in Twelve Extraordinary Films”


 This interview is intended to get at questions by a special interviewer with intimate knowledge of the book. If you want to see more information on my book or to buy it go to:


Q: Why Did You Write the Book? 

A: I have always been intrigued by movies. It started with “Mary Poppins” when I was six. It was magnificent. I still like it. And I was thinking about what movies I would recommend to my son who was in college and why. So, I began to develop lists of movies. I noticed that I could locate key Catholic themes in these movies like the common good or justice or sacramentality. So, I developed a thematic framework and then narrowed the movies to twelve. Going back to my son, we have watched all the movies and he likes all of them but one. Which one? Ask him. I think they are all great.

Q: Your previous book, “Returning to Reality”, was a critique of technology including information technologies. And yet this book praises one of those technologies-movies. Seems odd. 

A: Fair enough. Well, I was feeling a bit guilty for being so critical on information technologies in the last book. I thought it was only fair to point out some good aspects in one of the technologies-movies. So, I have assuaged some guilty feelings through this book. Nonetheless, I might add that there is a ton of trash out there in the film world. As Catholics or even just thoughtful adults, we must discern; we must look for the good, the true, the beautiful, and the deeply edifying. Perhaps, this book will help people do that by providing criteria for evaluating these twelve movies and many other films. At least that is my hope.

Q: What surprised you in writing the book?

A: I was surprised at the number of really fine movies out there. I added three additional lists at the end of the book in an appendix by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Richard Leonard, S.J. (a film critic), and the National Catholic Register. You can find hundreds of additional movies there.

Q: Do you have to be Catholic to enjoy this book?

A: Heavens no. You just have to be human.

Q: What kinds of movies did you put in the book?

The first criterion was that I must really like the movie. My book, my movies. I wanted to have diverse movies in terms of historical context and geographical location. There are fairly popular and accessible movies like, “A Man for All Seasons” and “Of Gods and Men”, and more esoteric ones like “Diary of a Country Priest” and “Decalogue 1”. Moreover, a common criterion was that all of the movies must include some of the selected themes. Most of all I wanted movies that thinking, adult Catholics could use to explore and deepen their living faith.

Q What kinds of movies did you not put in the book?

A: Let me say that thoughtful people may well disagree with my criteria. I did not put in movies that are too sentimental or overly didactic. Many of those movies are worth watching, but I was looking for movies with serious artistic merit and thematic depth. A while back, I gave a talk on my forthcoming book, and a man asked why I picked movies which often ended in a death. (8 out of 12 movies) Why not present more movies with happy endings like “Bells of Saint Mary’s”? Well, there is nothing wrong with “Bells of Saint Mary’s”, but I was more interested in exploring deep themes of the faith in complex settings. There are other dangers. Take the genre of “Christian movies”. Setting out to overtly teach a lesson is a dangerous thing. The art may suffer. Such films can too easily drift into propaganda or be preachy. Also, I present no Jesus movies. I have a chapter on why. The short answer is that it is a very difficult kind of movie to make and make well. Another kind of movie not in the book-Church scandal films.

Q: Why twelve movies?  

A: Really, you cannot figure out why a Catholic or a Christian for that matter would settle on the number twelve? Just give yourself a second.

Q: What would you like to ask the reader?

A: What movies do you like and why? Email me at pthomp8@emory.edu.