Movies for Lent

At my ‘Faithful Questions’ talk on Tuesday I mentioned that one of the ways we can make the most of Lent is to watch movies and read books that help us to delve into the divine. Later, in the Q&A portion, someone asked for a list. And I proceeded to sound like a babbling idiot only able to spit out one or two titles. So to redeem myself, here’s a list of movies I think can be of value during Lent:

  • ‘The Mission’: This is a movie about redemption set against the backdrop of conflict between the Jesuits trying to bring the natives to Christ and the powerful who want to see them exploited, in 18th century South America. One of the slave traders kills his brother in a jealousy induced rage and goes into a self-inflicted depression and isolation. The movie centers on the relationship between him as he seeks redemption and one of the lead Jesuits. A great Lenten movie.
  • ‘Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky’: During the Nazi occupation of Rome, the Pope must navigate the treacherous waters of somehow protecting the persecuted Jews without causing an even greater crackdown. The movie follows his heroic actions as he tries to find the best combination of direct confrontation and rebuke, against secretly undermining the Nazi’s efforts. It’s a little bit more subtle how this is connected to Lent, but sometimes what we need to see is heroic virtue to evaluate where we are falling short in following God.
  • ‘Bella’: The story of a man who can’t forgive himself for a life he took away and a single and struggling woman who’s recently found out she’s pregnant, and their unexpected friendship. It’s a story about the search from redemption through service and accompaniment of another who needs to know that she is loved.
  • ‘There Be Dragons’: Another movie about relationship, this time between a future Saint and a man who loses his faith in God through the Spanish Civil war. The value of this movie as a Lenten movie is similar to Pius XII, in that we see both sides of what one might choose in difficult circumstances: the heroic and the tendency towards self-preservation.
  • ‘Doubt’: The story of a nun who is the principle of a parish school who suspects, but doesn’t have proof, of sexual abuse by the pastor. While the movie itself doesn’t strike a particularly redemptive tone, I think in our current situation, spending the time to reflect on this shameful area of our Church is very important, and definitely fits the penitential spirit of Lent.
  • ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’: This might be the biggest stretch in the list, but I think it still is worth a watch during Lent. It follows the trial of an exorcist priest who is charged with a crime for the death of a young lady who was in his care. He was convinced she was possessed, but the prosecutors argued that she had a mental health issue and the priest did her great harm by dissuading her from receiving psychiatric help. Lent is a good time to reflect on what we really believe and this is a movie that exposes the difficulty of discerning when a person’s difficulties can be attributed to the demonic or instead whether mental health issues are to blame.
  • ‘A Man For All Seasons’: The story of St. Thomas More and his martyrdom. This is a bit of mix between being challenged by the heroic virtue of a saint who chooses martyrdom instead of compromising his faith, and a movie that challenges us intellectually to this about the right relationship between Church and State.
  • ‘The Passion of the Christ’: The most obvious movie for the list and thus saved for last. There couldn’t be a more Lenten movie than one about Christ’s crucifixion. The one point I would make is to make sure you watch for the specific parallels between the 14 Stations of the Cross.

In addition to movies specifically intended to have a religious theme, here are a number of more secular movies that I also think are of value. Each of them are more focused on a lesson we can learn about life. I will mention that some of these movies have some objectionable content, both sexual and violent. Particularly considering my background, I tend to be less sensitive to these sorts of things than some, and do my best to not let those scenes distract me from any overall good that can be found in the movie. I’m also more willing than some to overlook the troublesome but common morals of society that show themselves in secular movies, as long as their is something that stands out as of value among them.

So with that caveat aside, here is that list:

  • ‘The Painted Veil’: A wonderful movie about true love. It centers on a newlywed couple. Infidelity tears their young marriage apart, but then they find themselves in a difficult situation and must find their way toward forgiveness and redemption. Fair warning: It’s a tragedy, not a Hollywood ending.
  • ‘Up In The Air’: A movie about a man who has purposely chosen a life of nomadic solitude and material indulgence being challenged by a young woman who has much more interest in a traditional domestic life. While the ending is a bit muddled as I think they tried to give a Hollywood ending to what is fundamentally a tragedy, I think it is a wonderful movie about what makes life both valuable and joyful. (Caution: definitely a couple of pretty explicit sexual scenes in this one)
  • ‘Braveheart’: One of the greatest movies of all time in my opinion. I see St. John Paul II’s dual admonition to ‘Be Not Afriad’ and to cherish Freedom, in the lead character of William Wallace. This is another movie that challenges us by showing us what heroic virtue looks like. (Caution: There’s tons of violence in this one.)

(Expect to see a list of books similar to this in the next day or so.)

Finally, feel free to add any additional suggestions in the comment section.

3 Comments

  1. Clark Schumacher

    A bit surprised but happy to learn you are a Jack London fan, as am I. I read “Sea Wolf” many, many, many years ago but didn’t see it in that light. I am going to re-read it in light of your comments. You mention a book by Matthew Kelly that I have not read but I have two others; “Perfectly Yourself” was given out at Church a few months ago and I have found it very helpful. “Rediscover Catholicism” I have just picked up and plan to read, Kelly has written many books and I suspect they are all good. And thanks for the list of movies. I’m always a little hesitant about movies that purport to have a religious theme because you never know about the motives or perspective behind them.
    Clark

  2. kencraw

    I think the Sea Wolf is one of those books that can be taken many different ways. When I was an atheist, I thought Wolf Larson was right and saw him as the hero. But when I re-read it after becoming Catholic I saw it in an entirely different light. Humphrey isn’t exactly a Catholic-friendly protagonist (he’s more of a “enlightened agnostic” with high-society morals of the dignity of man). But if one thinks about it, one has to realize that his dignity of man morality comes from Christianity. The enlightenment philosophers he cherishes are merely borrowing (somewhat ignorantly I might add) from Christian tenants. So, while Humphrey (and even Jack London) might not realize it, he takes on the responsibility of defending Catholic ideals of the dignity of mankind as made in the image of God against Wolf Larson’s darwinistic survival of the fittest framework… and I think he does so reasonably well.

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