A Translator of Transcendence

Paul Schrader is a strange fish in a big lake. The fish is a film director and Hollywood the lake. Unlike the likes of Quentin Tarantino and a burgeoning tide of young filmmakers whose primary frame of reference seems increasingly to be the vast lexicon of movies themselves, Paul Schrader's imagination was shaped by one of Hollywood's biggest taboos—religion.

And unlike peers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Schrader holds little interest in producing sure-fire Everyman dramas. He prefers making a case for the marginal and the bane of the status quo. In all this Schrader has elbowed a place for himself in the film industry.

As a writer Paul Schrader has to his credit Raging Bull, Mosquito Coast, and The Last Temptation of Christ. As a director his repertoire includes Patty Hearst, Light of Day, and The Comfort of Strangers. Many argue that the little-known film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is his masterpiece. But Schrader's signature works are Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, and Light Sleeper. In these films, more than any others, one witnesses the spiritual mindscape of Paul Schrader's cinematic imagination.

Schrader's films do not directly reflect the fact that he was once a pre-seminarian reared on the catechisms of the Dutch Christian Reformed Church. Watching movies was never a casual affair, as it is for most of us today, because as a youth he was prohibited from such worldly activity. His subversive aesthetic awakening coincided roughly with his joining in Vietnam War protests. If Schrader was already a misfit among the conservative subculture of his childhood, he is no less so in Hollywood today.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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