Inspired by discussions of Randy Astle’s presentation on how film criticism can help improve Mormon film making, and reading the interesting Notes of a Mormon Filmmaker blog, I decided to write about movies that have touched me spiritually. These are not particularly religious films and some were never meant to be more than secular entertainment. Yet, they still touch the mind and soul in a way that transcends the medium, material, and creators. Watching the movies is an experience beyond a viewing. They remain with me and sometimes have been transformational. They are art and greater than art.
Lawrence of Arabia. I struggled to decide if this one should be included because it is the most secular of the movies with spiritual value to me. There are others with stronger spiritual themes, but it is my overall favorite movie and that can’t be ignored. Other movies I have seen twice as many times, are more exciting, quote and mention in casual conversation, and would be expected to be a favorite if asked. Still, none of them are pure artistic genius in my mind with a character as rich and textured as any Hamlet production. When I think of near celluloid perfection, I think of this one. That impression has to count for something.
Miracle on 34th Street. Christmas is always a special time of year when gifts are exchanged and thoughts turn to a little baby in a swaddling clothes that will grow up to become the Savior. Despite the movie’s hero as Santa Clause, its theme is about more than children’s faith in the mythical character. It asks the eternal question of how faith can be maintained when life becomes harsh and we all grow up. The ending might be wrapped and tied in a bow like a forgettable present, but the message lingers. We must remain as innocent and caring as little children even as we mature in experience if we are to hold onto the best of human nature.
The Seventh Seal. Dark and brooding as the black and white film it was shot, the film seeks to examine the light in a shadowy world. Some moments are comical in a desperate bid to break from the madness of a reality where death is all too soon waiting. Overall it is a search for the meaning of life that mostly leaves the viewer to decide what the film concludes.
Groundhog Day. This movie is a deceivingly simple and light hearted comedy. Behind the antics of the actor and his character is the story of transformation and repentance. There is even the examination of death and suicide behind the farce and slapstick. A hidden classic.
Field of Dreams. Every time this comes on television I have to stop and watch at least the first part. It has more Mormon themes in it than many of the secular films I could have included. There is a study of revelation in action, a prophetic character grappling with his message, and the thin line that separates the dead from the living or the past from the present. Ignoring the few disagreeable political statements within the story, the rest is a wonderful spiritual treat that transcends the whole production.
The Green Mile. Brutal and crude mixes with the sublime and touching. That is the point of the movie and book it was based. It looks at the strange ways of miracles that can happen when least expected. Hidden behind the darkest of life and humanity can be the inexplicable hope of a miracle worker condemned by circumstances and others. For a brief moment those who pay attention to the miracles can be forever changed for the better.
Star Trek – The Motion Picture. Similar in theme as 2001 and 2010, it inverts the question of who controls our destiny and for what purpose to what destiny does human choices create?
We can bring our destruction or exaltation depending on how we decide life issues.
Star Wars Trilogy. Forget the overdone prequels, these three are the original great movies. It includes topics of love, war, forgiveness, growth, Priesthood, uses of power, family ties, sin, repentance, and more. Yet, it is fun and exciting as any summer blockbuster.
These are among my favorite movies that I have watched and continue to return to over the years. Others might list It’s a Wonderful Life or Chariots of Fire, both fan favorites having spiritual messages. I am sure there are more that can be listed than what is here. Next time I will discuss movies based on religion, including Mormonism, that are my favorites.
Note: Geoff B. has a series of posts on this topic specific to Mormonism. For those interested it includes: