Movie exegesis and eisegesis


Seminaries teach the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis is drawing out the meaning from the text, while eisegesis is reading our own interpretations into the text. When it comes to the Bible, exegesis is the way to go, since eisegesis substitutes our own conceptions for God's immaculate ones. But one reason favorite movies lists differ so widely is that when we watch in the dark we bring to light some of our own preoccupations.

Here's an example: Field of Dreams, the 1989 fantasy-drama starring Kevin Costner as an Iowa corn farmer who hears a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in his fields. When he does, Shoeless Joe Jackson and others from the Chicago Black Sox come, followed by more long-dead major leaguers and a formerly major league writer. The movie is nutty in many ways, yet each time I see it I get choked up.

Why? In part it's the question of reconciliation with fathers, a central theme of the film. In part it's baseball: Fenway Park, where one scene takes place, was a substitute home for me. In part is its attitude toward the 1960s, when leftist attitudes were a substitute religion for characters in the movie and for me. That's all exegesis.

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But Field of Dreams also gets to me because I eisegete it in Christian ways. The ghostly baseball players to me are the equivalent of things unseen. The dramatic change of heart of a materialistic brother is what happens when people are born again: Suddenly the unseen becomes visible. The movement into the cornfield of the writer played by James Earl Jones is our stepping heavenward: If we trust Christ and the Bible then death is not the end but the beginning of a great adventure.

Did the author of the original story, the screenwriter who adapted it, or the director see it that way? Did any of the actors? I strongly doubt it. Are my equations legitimate? In terms of auteur intentions, certainly not. But that's what the film means to me. Does anyone else see it that way? Or, a broader question: Which movies move you emotionally, and is that because of exegesis or eisegesis?

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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