Several readers have asked EthicsDaily.com to recommend films to jumpstart spiritual discussions. EthicsDaily.com’s three movie reviewers each weighed in, offering 10 films apiece.
“Cimarron,” 1930, Not Rated
This is the first and only western to win the Best Picture Oscar during the first 60 years of the Academy Awards. “Cimarron” is not a film about faith, but rather a western about the settling of Oklahoma. The fact that it is an old film will probably turn some people off. It contains one of my all-time favorite worship service scenes, which is both humorous and real in its depiction of contemporary church life. There is also a court scene later in the film, which makes an important statement about being judgmental.
“Sullivan’s Travels,” 1941, Not Rated
A slapstick comedy in the tradition of the Marx brothers. Sullivan leaves a successful career as a Hollywood director of comedies to experience real drama in his life and return ready to make an important film. Along the way, he discovers that a person often does not know the impact of his own work. Many Sunday school teachers, benevolence workers and youth leaders could benefit from seeing John Sullivan’s journey of discovery.
“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” 1953, PG
This is a classic film that needs to be viewed by anyone who does not understand the existing struggle among Christians over legalism versus grace. Sir Alec Guinness is brilliant in his portrayal of a man who believes that the rules are paramount. The last moments are a tragic revelation of the truth: One can follow the rules to the letter, only to discover that he serves the enemy. Legalistic Christians may find one day that this is true about their own lives as well.
“Searching for Bobby Fischer,” 1993, PG
In this film based on the real life of an 8-year-old chess prodigy, there is a moment when the boy’s mother says, “He is not weak. He is decent.” In these days, when our society is continually assaulted with definitions for strength that conflict with the gospel message, this film offers a powerful portrayal of young boy who understood that winning is not everything, and is never worth sacrificing one’s integrity or humanity.
“Apollo 13,” 1995, PG
Though director Ron Howard did not intend for this to happen, “Apollo 13″is the best metaphor for how the church should cooperate ever produced by Hollywood. If one watches the film with the idea that it is a metaphor for the church, in the same way Paul used the metaphor of the body, one can discover all sorts of parallels. Ultimately the film is about cooperation. In a time when more and more Christians seem interested in division rather than cooperation, perhaps the cooperation of NASA in saving the lives of three astronauts is just the kind of example the church needs.
“Dead Man Walking,” 1995, R
This R-rated film is not for everyone. There is much bad language, and a brutal and explicit crime scene late in the film. For those who are prepared for those moments, this is a great essay on the power of faith, forgiveness, repentance and love. The fact that it is based on the true experiences of Sister Helen Prejean makes it even more powerful. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of capital punishment, no Christian could watch this film and not applaud the commitment of one to reach another for the kingdom of God.
“Almost Famous,” 2000, R
This film is also rated R for language and the sordid lifestyles of the members and groupies of a smalltime rock band. Again, this film is not for everyone. If one does decide to view it though, one should see it as more than just a story of a rock band. This film is ultimately about the nature of truth. The word truth is used over and over again throughout the story, but nowhere more powerfully than in the line of dialogue, “Isn’t it funny, the truth just sounds different.” Now there is a message for the church trying to reach a world being led by false prophets.
“God’s Army,” 2000, PG
This small, independent film plays like an advertisement for the Mormons as it depicts young men seeking faithfully to win converts every day. The film was made by a Mormon and has great respect for its subject matter. One can learn a lot about Mormons through watching the film. “God’s Army” can also be used as an example of what one may accomplish if he is truly committed to his faith. No one can deny that every Christian denomination in the world could benefit from more members as committed to the faith as the Mormons in this film are committed to theirs.
“Signs,” 2002, PG-13
Much has been written and said about the theology of “Signs.” Certainly some of the answers in the film are worthy of debate, and even criticism. The power of the film, though, is not the answers, but rather the questions it raises. The scene early in the film when the two brothers talk about the two kinds of people in the world is a conversation every group of believers should have.
“Stolen Summer,” 2002, PG
A sweet, simple gem of a movie about one boy’s desire to ensure that his Jewish friend makes it to heaven. There are many lessons here about religious tolerance, friendship, respect, and even evangelism. Other than a little foul language from the youngsters in the film, there is little else that is objectionable in a film certain to provoke conversation.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.