Given the holiday season, you’ll probably want something to do. Given I’m a movie buff I’m going to see Avatar [see my Avatar experience], and will probably watch a few others on my laptop when I can. If you’re hiring a DVD, here are my ten must-see movies to kick-start your spiritual journey , or provide sustenance along the way. Regardless of their spiritual subject matter (or not) these are good films in their own right. Note that some contain violence or sex; these aren’t the kind of films Pastor Bob shows to the youth group – no tacky evangelistic flicks here. Some films will inspire you, some will revolt you. All of them will make you think, and perhaps grow. In no particular order:
1. The Exorcist (1973, re-released 2000)
Evil. Some perspectives – Buddhist, atheist, Hindu – have no concept of it. Usually Hollywood portrays evil as somehow “cool”. Hell is a place where the fun people get to party for all eternity. Heaven is a boring place for wimps. Devils even have a sense of humour, a trait that C.S. Lewis rightly pointed out a devil could not have – humour is a good, not an evil. The Exorcist portrays hard, uncompromising, callous, hate-filled evil. Think of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.
What’s truly scary about The Exorcist is the possibility that there could be malevolent entities as well as benign. I first encountered what may have been a demon when I was 16. Pentecostal christians like to talk a lot about demons, but this was the only encounter in 20 years I had where I truly believed it could be real. Comment if you’d like me to talk about this some time.
The New Age tends to ignore the dark side of spirituality. It’s perfectly possible if there are spirits that some could be the equivalent of the shark; hidden, unfeeling predators who will take opportunities to attack humans if given the chance. If this is so, it would pay us to find allies among the good spirits.
2. Breaking the Waves (1996)
This film blew me away. A ‘simple’ young woman from a strict christian group marries an oil rig worker who then suffers an accident. She believes g0d tells her to prostitute herself in order to heal her husband. Is she insane? Is God cruel? Why don’t her conservative church help her? Filmed by Lars von Trier, this is not an easy watch by any means, but is deeply thought-provoking and for me, ultimately rewarding.
Breaking The Waves is a movie about the protestant christian concept of grace – un-earned kindness. It’s about trust in g0d against impossible odds. Make sure you watch the final minute of the movie. It changes everything.
3. The Mission (1986)
Set in 18th Century South America, a warrior priest and a pacifist both try to save the people they love and care for. Who will succeed – just war priest, or tree-hugger priest? Another major plot concerns the conversion of a hard-living slaver to a devout Catholic. But can he truly give up his past? A provocative and powerful film.
4. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)
The dramatic portrayal of Buddhist lifestyles and spiritual truths is perhaps more difficult to accomplish in an exciting way than depictions of Western religious practices and stories, because the Dharma is geared to inner transformation. And while enlightenment may be one of the most profound experiences a human being can undergo, it doesn’t exactly translate easily into compelling cinema.
While that may be true, this Korean film is a moving and powerful portrayal of a Buddhist “redepmtion”. The movie is slow and lyrical – meditative, which is surely intentional on the director’s part. An old monk educates a young man, who subsequently leaves the monastery and commits atrocious crimes. The subsequent story is well worth an evening’s viewing.
5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Koyaanisqatsi is not an explicitly religious movie and in that respect one could call it an atheist meditation on life, technology and our interactions with them. Perhaps one could call this a humanist movie, the first of a trilogy. It’s more a documentary or a work of art yet has no spoken narrative, only a mesmerising soundtrack by Phillip Glass. For me, the film portrays a deep sense of the wonder and tragedy of human acheivement. Watching it is a meditation in itself.
6. Jesus of Montreal (1989)
This Canadian production is probably the best modern re-imaging of what Christians call the ‘gospels’ – the biographies of Jesus. Yet it’s a totally atheistic Jesus, one that could be believed without reference to a g0d. As one would expect from a movie that captures the ‘feel’ of Jesus, it’s brilliant and compassionate.
7. The Apostle (1997)
Robert Duvall portrays a Pentecostal preacher going through hard times. Exploring hypocrisy, belief and wrenching humanity this is one of the more challenging looks at the underbelly of US christianity.
8. The Rapture (1991)
Rapture (rap’chur) 1. ecstatic joy or delight. 2. a state of extreme sexual ecstasy. 3. the feeling of being transported to another sphere of existence. 4. the experience of being spirited away to Heaven just before the Apocalypse. You’ve possibly heard the fundies talking about being ‘raptured’ As far as I know the writer and director are not Christians, but chose to explore what it might be like if this really is true. A telephone operator living an empty, amoral life finds God and loses him again. What would it be like for a non-religious person addicted to sex to be ‘born again’?
9. The Message (1976)
I hesitated to include this in my list, but I think all non-Muslim Westerners would do well to acquaint themselves with the story of Muhummad. The film itself is well produced and acted, it won several awards. Bonus: It was announced just a couple of months ago that Oscar-winning producer Barrie M. Osborne, of ‘Matrix’ And ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame will make a movie about the founder of Islam. I will watch with great interest. Neo and Gandalf meet the last prophet?
10. Natural Born Killers (1994)
You’re probably wondering why I include this as a ‘religious’ movie. You’re right, it’s not – and that’s the whole point. To me it’s a movie about nihilism, one extreme form of atheism: Nothing means anything, there’s no right or wrong, only pleasure. If we want to kill, who cares? Other people have no value except as we choose to use them. Yet the love the two main characters share perhaps belies this point of view. Is this a redeeming factor? Or does it show that nihilism can’t be lived?
So there we are. It was hard culling down a large list to just ten. Perhaps we’ll have to do this again sometime. I hope you gain insight and connection through watching them. I’ve written part two of my pagan experience, I aim to get that online soon. In the meantime, have you seen any of the above films? What other movies did you find spiritually – or atheistically – enlightening?
listening to Terra Nine and Aviatrix | Wonder, T9 + Aviatrix | Whisper (Pete Ardon and Helix drum n bass remix)
tful Karen jokes about Santa Claus
 Again, I am including atheism as a spiritual journey for want of a better description. I mean no offence by this.
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