‘Paradoxical Surprises’—Truth in Oxford

Set in Oxford, England, the locations and cinematography for the movie Surprised by Oxford are wonderful. This film is based on a remarkable memoir that demonstrates that Truth is often initially veiled in paradoxes and ironies and that God works in ways we don’t expect, often in opposite ways. A paradox is something that seems logically contradictory, but with scrutiny, it reveals the truth. For example, it is more blessed to give than receive. Irony can involve the opposite of what we expect as the correct outcome. In the Bible, wicked Haman builds a gallows and noose to execute Mordecai, but justice prevails, and Haman ends up being the one executed on his own rope.

Surprised by Oxford follows the journey of American Caro Drake (Rose Reid). She is a driven and guarded young woman determined to achieve her PhD at the prestigious Oxford University. The film takes viewers on a transformative and tumultuous journey as Caro begins an unexpected friendship with a charming young man (Ruairi O’Connor), which propels her on a profound exploration of mystery, vulnerability, love, and discovery. She develops from an arrogant, cocky, intelligent young scholar to a humble, intelligent, wiser scholar.

Surprised by Oxford invites audiences into a world of romance, reason, and high calling. The true-life story of college-aged American Caro Drake is a wonder-filled exploration of life’s beauty and complexity, experienced in a manner not entirely dissimilar to C.S. Lewis’s famous awakening nearly a century ago in the hallowed halls of Oxford, England. 

I have had the profound privilege of interviewing Carolyn Weber on whom the movie’s Caro Drake is based. Being familiar with the life and writings of C.S. Lewis (including his book Surprised by Joy), Tolkien, and the other Inklings, I have appreciated hearing how Carolyn was influenced by Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings. I have also appreciated her insights about how Truth and God are in Paradoxes and Ironies.

Carolyn was an agnostic when she first went to Oxford. She learned, however, over time there, that faith and intellect are not oppositional, antithetical, or contradictory. As she experienced longing to be fully known, which no human could satisfy, God pursued her as He had C. S. Lewis. As she resisted faith, finding it inconvenient and an impediment to her longing, she, like C. S. Lewis, was a most reluctant convert. Like C. S. Lewis, she found that real life and God were in paradoxes, as we see throughout the Bible and the life of Christ. She learned that paradoxes are only seeming contradictions. She found that faith and intellect can coexist richly. She found that God could fulfill her longing to be fully known.

Director, Ryan Whitaker, has expressed his gratitude for the outstanding cast and crew that brought Carolyn Weber’s story to life, against the breathtaking backdrop of Oxford. “I was captivated by Carolyn’s memoir when I first read it, and immediately saw its clear potential as a film. It’s been an honor to travel to Oxford to tell her story on screen,” said Whitaker.

Producer Ken Carpenter said, “Our cast and crew delivered in an exemplary way…working in Oxford was a charmed experience. The fusion of our American team with our British colleagues—on both sides of the camera—helped shape a story that audiences are finding both thoughtful and engaging.”

A Commonwealth Scholar, Dr. Carolyn Weber holds her B.A. Hon. from Huron College at Western University, Canada and her M.Phil. and D.Phil. from Oxford University, England. Dr. Weber is an award-winning author, popular professor and international speaker with talks ranging from campuses world-wide to Billy Graham’s Cove and 100 Huntley Street. She has given numerous radio, television and podcast interviews on the intersection of faith and literature, as well as topics related to women and faith. She has served as faculty at Oxford University, Seattle University, University of San Francisco, Westmont College, Brescia University College and Heritage College and Seminary. She was the first female dean of St. Peter’s College, Oxford.

Dr. Weber recently relocated to the Nashville, Tennessee area to work more closely with its special creative community dedicated to faith and the arts. She is delighted to serve as a professor at New College Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee, where she is grateful to be part of the rich fellowship of learning at this unique and wonderful college.

Carolyn Weber’s first memoir, Surprised by Oxford (Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins) won among other distinctions the Grace Irwin Award, the largest award for Christian writing in Canada. Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present (InterVarsity Press) was listed for the same prize. It won in the faith living category.

Surprised by Oxford is a cinematic experience that seamlessly blends the allure of Oxford’s historic architecture with a captivating narrative of self-discovery, friendship, love, and faith.  Most importantly, this movie reveals the reality that God and the Truth are found in paradoxes and ironies, and that we all should watch for paradoxical and ironic outcomes in our personal and corporate lives. Finally, Carolyn hopes that audiences who see the movie of her life will come to understand that God has not left us and that He loves and respects us. Most of all, He continues to ask us “Who am I?”