Like a lot of other bloggers in this general emerging/missional conversation, I’ve mentioned some movies in the past, considering some metaphor or other that I’ve extracted. There are in fact a lot of movies out there with poignant themes, but I thought I would take a stab at listing ten that have themes relevant to the conversation in which we find ourselves. Some of these I’ve mentioned here before, and others I haven’t. I’m listing them in alphabetical order since this isn’t really a “top ten” list, so there isn’t another order that would make any more sense than that. For each one, I will attempt to give a bit of a precis and some reasoning why it fits into this list.
In 19th century Denmark, two adult sisters live in a remote village with their father, the beloved pastor of a small church. Each declines opportunity to leave for brighter horizons, choosing instead to remain their father, serving him and the church. Babette, a French refugee, arrives on their doorstep, begging them to take her in. They do, and she works for them as a housekeeper and cook. Some time after their father dies, Babette comes into a sum of money and wishes to prepare a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. As the lavish ingredients Babette has ordered begin to arrive, the sisters worry that the meal will be a sinful sensual luxury. They convene with the congregation and allow it to proceed after agreeing to take no pleasure in the meal and not to mention the food as they ate. A General at the Swedish court attends the feast, a man who in his younger years was in love with one of the sisters, but chose his career over her. At the feast, he unknowingly identifies Babette as a famous chef from Paris.
The meal is an extravagant outpouring of Babette’s thankfulness and shows overtones of eucharist and grace. The congregation cannot help but delight in the feast, which “breaks their distrust and superstitions, elevating them not only physically but spiritually. Old wrongs are forgotten, ancient loves are rekindled, and a mystical redemption of the human spirit settles over the table.”
Larry Mann (Kevin Spacey), a foul-mouthed cynic, Phil Cooper (Danny DeVito), and Bob Walker (Peter Facinelli), an earnest young Baptist, are industrial lubricant salesmen, sent to land a very important account they refer to as The Big Kahuna. As events unfold, their target invites only Bob of the three to an exclusive party. Phil and Larry contemplate the meaning of life while they wait in their hotel room for the greenhorn Bob to return from the party with news that could end their careers. When Bob finally does return, he reveals that rather than try to sell their product, he chose to talk to the wealthy businessman about his faith. Larry is outraged, but Bob stands fast for all that is pure and true — until he is unable to muster any reply at all when Phil quietly explains that he sees no difference between Bob and Larry: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down’. That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.”
Invite friends over for a chocolate fondue while you watch this one, from the book by Joanne Harris; Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) obeys the North wind just as her ancestors had, drifting across the country as it blows to signal its intent for her to move. In the winter of 1959, the clever wind leads her and her daughter Anouk to a quiet French village, where she opens a chocolaterie. The villagers are curious, but also filled with angst as her shop opens during Lent. As the villagers yield to the mysterious stranger who does not attend church, “Vianne’s profound allure and savory confections enlivens a married couple’s aphrodisia [and] encourages an elderly man’s secret love” as she befriends her landlady (Judi Dench) an embittered woman estranged from her daughter (Carrie-Anne Moss), and inspires an oppressed woman (Lena Olin) who lacks the courage to leave her drunk abusive husband. The village mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), brands Vianne an immoral provocateur and battles against her in part through leveraging the church and his influence in the community. The battle comes to a head when a band of river gypsies camp on the village outskirts and Vianne finds herself in a mutual attraction to the Irish wanderer Roux, (Johnny Depp).
This film is filled with beautiful imagery and metaphor — notice the colour and tone of the village in the opening and closing scenes, and take note the colour red whenever it appears. Themes are rich as the townspeople learn to set aside their mistrust and Vianne learns about finding a home among them. The church is ever-present, but seems out of touch with the people, and the new priest is heavily influence by Comte de Reynaud. Conflict and change are inevitable… you might even say it’s blowing in the wind.
Seven boys attend the prestigious Welton Academy prep school, whose four principles are Tradition, Honor, Discipline and Excellence. On the first day of class, their new English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) tells the boys they can call him “O Captain! My Captain!” (the title of a Walt Whitman poem) if they dare. Breaking staid Welton tradition, in his first lesson he whistles the 1812 Overture and takes them outside the classroom to lecture on the idea of “carpe diem” (Latin for “seize the day”) by looking at the pictures of former students in a trophy case. In later classes Keating has the boys rip the introductory essay from of their textbooks, has them stand on his desk as a reminder to look at the world in a different way, just as Henry David Thoreau intended when he wrote, “The universe is wider than our views of it” (Walden). As the boys awaken to independent thought and the pursuit of their own dreams, other events are unfolding around the campus… conflict arises between one of the boys and his parents, and the headmaster is none too happy with Mr. Keating. It becomes clear in the final scene that Keating has taught the boys some valuable life lessons which have taken root in their young lives.
This movie came out when one of my Bible College prof’s was essentially being shown the door for his charismatic leanings and differing viewpoints, many of which had inspired a number of his students. I could therefore have a bit of a biased view of the film, which makes strong statements about refusing to be bound by traditional norms and ways of thinking.
The red pill/blue pill metaphor has become a classic.
Computer programmer Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) leads a secret life as a hacker under the alias “Neo”. He wants to learn “What is the Matrix?” and messages begin to appear on his computer monitor. He finds a group led by the mysterious Morpheus, who offers him the truth about the Matrix, if he will accept. Neo awakens in a liquid-filled pod among many others, each wired together into a central system. Morpheus rescues Neo and takes him aboard his hovercraft, where he learns that humanity is fighting a war against intelligent machines, which use human beings in pods as their energy source. The world which Neo knows is the Matrix, a simulated construct of 1999 developed by the machines to keep the humans docile. Morpheus and his crew have unplugged from the Matrix and recruit others to resist the machines. Within the Matrix, they can use their knowledge to bend the laws of physics within the simulation, giving them apparent superhuman abilities. Morpheus believes Neo to be “the One” prophesied to end the war through his limitless control ov the Matrix.
One of my favorite exchanges:
Oracle: I’d ask you to sit down, but, you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I’m sorry…
Oracle: I said don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: Ohh, what’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?
Recently named “Best Epic.” Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is a misfit British lieutenant, notable chiefly for his insolence and his knowledge of the Bedouin. From his station in Cairo during World War I, he is sent by the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks. En route, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) for drinking from his well without permission. Reaching Feisal’s camp, he encounters his superior officer, Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment and leave. The order goes unheeded when Lawrence Feisal and his outspoken intellect piques the prince’s interest. While Brighton advises the Arab leader to retreat, Lawrence proposes an attack on Aqaba to provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies for the rebellion. Too strongly defended from naval attack, Lawrence convinces Feisal to provide fifty men on camels, led by Sherif Ali, to cross the “impassable” Nefud desert and attack from the lightly-defended landward side. Having crossed the desert, Lawrence meets with Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the leader of the Howeitat tribe, and convinces him to join with them and turn against the Turks. The alliance takes Aqaba. Soon after, Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and thwarting the Turks’ efforts at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley makes him world famous by publicizing his exploits.
This film is set during the Jesuit Reductions, when Jesuit missionaries set up missions independent of the Spanish state in order to teach Christianity to the natives. Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) enters the South American jungle to build a mission and convert a community of Guaraní Indians. Former Spanish mercenary Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) joins him with the idea of the Jesuit mission as a sanctuary and place of forgiveness for murdering his brother. Both men attempt to defend the community against Portuguese colonials attempting to enslave the Guaraní, Gabriel through nonviolence and Mendoza through his military training. The mission is handed over to the Portuguese as the Vatican orders the Jesuits to withdraw. Ultimately, Spanish and Portuguese forces combine to attack the mission, seeing the simple life of the Guarani as a threat, kill many of them as well as the priests. The Spanish and Portuguese authorities attempt unsuccessfully to convince the Cardinal that the massacre was justified.
The film leaves you with serious questions concerning the approaches of the two men — violent confrontation versus nonviolence. The colonial approach of the church’s mission of the time provides further foil for reflection, including the view of the indigenous peoples taken by the missionaries and by the governments.
From the 1982 novel by Paul Theroux. “Maverick inventor” Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) isn’t finding much success for his inventions in the United States, and decides to escape the urbanity of American culture to the Mosquito Coast of Honduras with his wife and four children. He purchases the little township of Jeronimo, where they arrive in the jungle. Allie Fox attempts to construct his own paradise, but meets with numerous difficulties. One of the thorns in Allie’s side is the Reverend Spellgood, a missionary attempting to spread Christianity (or his version thereof) in Allie’s region of the jungle. After a series of events destroys their home, the other family members want to return to the U.S. but Allie will have none of it. He tells the family the U.S. has been destroyed in a nuclear war, which some of the children believe. The new settlement is destroyed by high water, and the Foxes are mobile again. They arrive at a Spellgood’s mission church, where the final climactic conflict ensues.
A friend of mine uses this film to present the concepts of modernity and postmodernity and generate discussions among his grade 11 students in a Christian school. Viewed as an archetype of modernity, Fox rejects the shifts going on in Western society and attempts to create his own utopia through technology, logic, and order. For his part, Spellgood reflects another version of modernity, his wrapped in colonialism. Allie’s relentless efforts to hold onto modernity are thwarted turn after turn, and the final scene of the movie reflects a move out into the wide unknown of postmodernism.
Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss), a musician and composer takes a teaching job to pay the rent while trying to compose one memorable piece of music to make him famous. The story follows Holland’s teaching career over a thirty year span from the 1960s to the 1990s, including the Vietnam War, assassination of John Lennon, and the Watergate scandal. A supreme irony, his son is born deaf. Holland has a difficult time relating to the boy as he grows older, which brings strife into the home.
The story illustrates how Mr. Holland’s opus was not greatness through a single musical composition as he had hoped, but through the lives he touched in small ways as a teacher over the course of his career. Eventually, Holland is fortunate to be shown some of this impact, but the movie prompts the question of how our lives impact those around us. Reviewing how Holland fights against this version of events as they unfold serves as a reminder that one never sees the bigger picture while in the midst of the unchangeable circumstances of life. One wonders what even greater impact might have been achieved if these eventualities could be accepted as they come along and the energies spent fighting these forces had been diverted.
Set in the 1950s, the film focuses on the bachelor C. S. (“Jack”) Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), an Oxford University academic and author numerous books, and his relationship with divorced American poet Joy Gresham (Debra Winger) and her young son Douglas. Gresham and Lewis begin a relationship by correspondence, later meeting in person. The two are quite differently-minded, and Lewis finds his quiet life disrupted by the outspoken Gresham. Nevertheless, each shows the other new ways of seeing things, and a strong connection is formed between them. They marry for convenience, a platonic union designed to allow Gresham to remain in England. When she is diagnosed with cancer, loving feelings surface and Lewis’ faith is tested as his wife tries to prepare him for her death.
Many are familiar with Lewis’ writings, either as theology or theological fantasy and allegory. His own life actually paints another story as well, and fills in a different side of Lewis’ perspective than one might imagine from his writings on suffering, for example.
And there it is — ten movies to make you think. Which of these have you seen, and did you take some of the same “lessons” away from these as I did, or other insights?