This was an extremely subjective contest, and thus it was difficult to pick winners from the many honest, interesting testimonials.
Some talked about how it revealed to them what art at its best can do. Some of the contributors talked about how the movie affected them emotionally. Several talked about how the film were demonstrations of scriptural principles, or how it powerfully illustrated things that they deeply believe. And movies certainly do these things. They lift up our emotions. They strike chords inside of us by showing us things we recognize as true and by appealing to our desire for things to be made whole.
A few entries addressed how a particular film, or two, influenced their lives beyond the theater. The movies didn’t just make them think about Jesus, or make them cry, although many can do that, and that can be a truly transporting experience. These saw something new, and it changed the way they see and think. Those were the entries that really stood out to me.
But in the end, two entries stood out to me as a perfect examples of film’s transforming influence. They were honest, detailed, thorough and well-written. I enjoyed each entry, whether the writer was talking about how intense the experience of watching the film was, or describing the “sermon illustration” application of that moment. A few went further, to focus on what it was that the film revealed to them in its own unique way, and how it showed them this through its approach to the subject.
So, a copy of Ben-Hur goes to… David Habecker.
David Habecker writes:
Perhaps the film that has left the most significant impact on the way I see the world is Karen Shakhnazarov’s little known Russian gem Day of the Full Moon,which I caught at the DC Film Festival several years ago.
Basically the movie has no particular plot or story, but rather the camera just weaves in and out of space and time, following the lives of over 70 different persons over the course of a single day in Moscow. The camera begins by following a man as he is going to work in the morning, and the viewer gets a small window into his life. Then at one point he passes an attractive woman in the hallway, glances at her, and suddenly the camera starts following her—we never come back to the first man again. We gain a window into this woman’s world for a few minutes, and then she passes some young boys in a car on the street, and suddenly the camera is off following them.
The film proceeds like this for well over 90 minutes, and it’s astounding to see Shakhnazarov’s creativity in the perspectives he chooses to show. A boy is reading a book in his dingy Moscow apartment and suddenly we are transported into the story, and the viewer is transported to the windswept plains of southern Russia in the early 19th century. A woman in Moscow receives a wrong-number phone call from a big-shot Russian mafia boss in Cyprus, and suddenly we are with him and his buddies on a sun-drenched island lounging by a pool. A man is walking along in the deserts of Central Asia and looks up to see a plane flying high above him in the sky, and suddenly we are on that plane, as a Russian business traveler gazes idly down at the steppes from the window. Even these few examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
This film is an amazing experience, unlike anything I have ever seen. (Richard Linklater has done something vaguely similar in his films Slacker and Waking Life, but Shakhnazarov’s film moved me much more deeply than either of these.) It powerfully communicates the ways in which the lives of individual human beings are interconnected in ways we could never dream of, not only in the present but stretching centuries back into the past as well. Another wonderful thing is that a film can do this with no plot and only the sparsest dialogue. One would not even really need to understand Russian to appreciate this film, in my opinion.
So there is no particular moment in this film I could point to as having impacted me, but rather the entire glorious tapestry of the film as a whole. I still sometimes find myself walking down the street, passing a random stranger, and thinking to myself, “What if the camera started following him?” The film has indelibly impressed on me that there are literally billions of stories out there in the world waiting to be told, and I can only ever know the tiniest fraction of them. I can truly say that Shakhnazarov has changed the way I look at the world. It’s a pity this film is so hard to find, as it deserves a much wider audience.
David, ever since you first wrote to me, years ago, to tell me about this movie, I’ve been watching for an opportunity to see it on a big screen. Hopefully someday that day will come. (I’m working on another possibility too.) Your experience reminds me of my own experience with Wings of Desire, which transformed the way I look at people on the bus, on the street, in the store… everywhere. It’s like the experience of having Christ touch your eyes and wipe the scales away so you can see the world the way he does. Thanks for sharing.
And whaddaya know, I’ve got another copy of Ben-Hur, so that copy’s going to Matt Page.
Matt Page wrote:
For me, there are a few, two of which I’ve indulged myself in writing up this year in reviews.
The most recent would be Hotel Rwanda. Not an outstanding piece of craftsmanship, but it so shook my world that after I left the cinema I had to stagger to the nearest bench to sit down and think about it. In fact, if I recall correctly, I was sat in the high street weeping my eyes out at what I’d just seen.
For years I had held a kind of idealistic pacifism, and was pretty much opposed to war of any kinds, and propping up the military etc. Hotel Rwanda shook me because it challenged me about what a comfortable position I was in to be able to make that call, and that whilst I couldn’t see Jesus grabbing a machine gun, I also couldn’t see him stand by and let what happened in Rwanda happen.
I haven’t now taken the opposite stance to pacifism than I had before, but I no longer think about the issue the same way either.
FWIW my “review” of Hotel Rwanda is at www.openheaven.org/news/213.
As for Field of Dreams, my life sucked when I saw it. I was spending 150 minutes a day in the car going to a job I hated, that didn’t even give me the security of being permanent, and that once the petrol had been paid didn’t really pay me enough for us to live on. And I was questioning whether the sacrifices I made as a younger man to serve God in ways I thought he was calling me to were all worth it, or whether I had made a big mistake. Field of Dreams, particularly the final shot where it all comes together and his faithful obedience is shown to have been right gave me massive reassurance and gave me hope when I felt like I was in a slimy pit. God spoke to me so powerfully through that film.
My review of that is at www.openheaven.org/news/273.
I agree with you, Matt, that Hotel Rwanda isn’t the most artful film of recent years, but it does powerfully transport the audience into a specific time and place, and it sticks to that fundamental rule of art: Show, don’t tell. As a result, we have the opportunity to wrestle with the issues on our own and come to our own conclusions. In your case, this proved transforming. Thank you for writing about your experience. (As for Field of
eams, sounds like it made a difference for you as well. For me, I just thought the ending seemed contrived and I walked away frustrated. But I’m definitely in the minority. I have several friends for whom that was a pivotal film.)
Here are a few other memorable responses (in no particular order):
My favorite movie is, by far, Donnie Darko.
It makes me wonder about the world if I had never existed or had died before making any impact on anyone other than my family. The most moving moment in any movie I have seen would be in Donnie Darko when “Mad World” is playing. Never have I witnessed such underlying truth come to the surface than in that scene. I never knew a movie could portray such emotionally moving things unless it was based on a true story.
Remembering each character from the movie and seeing how they act and respond to certain events puts a spin on how you think they act in private. But seeing this scene makes you think twice that maybe the person you hate most of all is struggling with some greater evil that you can’t see just on the outside.
Donnie Darko, besides being a great film in itself, does a great job in teaching us that, to use the cliché loosely, “all that glitters is not gold”. Even Donnie himself is used on this way. We see a loner who is not accepted by the general public, and even those who do accept him find him a little strange sometimes. But he’s struggling to understand life and death and the future, which we do not see just by watching him defy authority or make a fool of someone he doesn’t approve of.
Donnie Darko has taught us all a valuable lesson in his life and his death (much like Jesus) and we should recognize and live by that lesson.
You wrote, “This scene makes you think twice that maybe the person you hate most of all is struggling with some greater evil that you can’t see just on the outside.” That is something that films have taught me as well—that characters I usually write off as mere villains have often become villains as a response to a life of hardship, neglect, or abuse. It has changed the way I respond to people who offend me, and it makes me consider the experiences of terrorists, serial killers… all of those typical “villains” of the evening news. What conditions led them down such a dark path? What is God’s perspective on these people?
Mark Stewart writes:
Right at the end of Christopher Nolan’s 2002 Insomnia.
Ellie speaking to Dormer as he’s dying: “Nobody needs to know”
Dormer’s response: “Don’t lose your way”
Dormer is Ellie’s hero; even though she knows he’s guilty, she wants to protect him. But Dormer’s conscience has been working overtime; he can’t keep the light out, no matter how hard he tries, and sleep passes him by.
The only thing worse than going against your conscience is watching a “child” of yours follow your example. I loved the restrained performances and story showing us the subtlety of sin and its effect upon our consciences. We need to be so careful of taking that first step; the devil is too strong and we are too vulnerable.
His death allows Ellie to start over—the death of one hero is the birth of another. Dormer has learned through hard experience and personal integrity and honor are more important than success and acclaim. We can hear his last words as he finally closes his eyes: “Just let me sleep.” Only when we enter glory can we finally arrive at complete peace, when
sin will be no more.
Jesus is the only Hero worth worshipping. And when the curtains open and the light shines in to reveal my sin, in all its convoluted mess, I don’t need to cover the windows up; I’m already covered in Him.
As usual, even when I try to organize and express my thoughts about a special movie moment, it still sounds lame and falls short of what I really felt when I saw it, and continue to feel on multiple viewings. I grew up in a church culture that frowned on watching and appreciating film; it’s movies and scenes like this that have changed my mind.
Tyler Petty wrote:
In The United States of Leland, where Leland (Ryan Gosling) tells Pearl (Don Cheadle) about how he sees the world. Leland says that there are basically two ways to look at life: You can look and pretend everyone’s happy and everything is okay, or you can see things the way they really are — all the sadness and frustration, the one kid who didn’t get picked to play with all the other boys.
While I do not agree with Leland’s philosophy, it has profoundly affected my thinking (as well as my writing) over the past several months. Leland’s worldview did not allow for good to arise out of evil actions or motives, what Tolkien called “eucatastrophe”; my Christian worldview, though, does. In fact, it demands it. If Leland were to look at the Cross, he would see only a strange man being killed by angry people who didn’t understand him; and while that is certainly true, it is an incomplete picture. When I look at the cross, I see—through the all the hate and anger and misunderstanding—the Only Son of God dying to give life to the entire world. Reading the Old Testament makes it clear that it had to be a violent death—blood must be shed in order for sins to be forgiven.
Everything is not okay, but neither is it hopeless. There has to be another way, one that sees the pain and sadness but is willing to stare into it hard and long enough to see the good as well. The Leland’s philosophy led him to kill Ryan Pollard; Christ’s sacrifice forces me to see life where death seems to be the lone inhabitant, and to excite others to see the same picture.
Vince Crunk wrote:I was a beginning film student at the time and had duly watched Eisenstein’s Potemkin and other early classics to learn about the craft of editing. But until this moment I did not realize the power of film editing to have so many layers of action, visuals and subtexts all happening at the smae time. How time could be compressed. If you had any doubts about what type of person Michael was and/or could be, this dispelled those doubts. The contrast of the Catholic church with its own rituals v. those of Omerta and the Cossa Nostra. I’ve always ranked The Godfather as my favorite movie (even though it now looks dated and moves more slowly) but apart from perhaps Witness, has to be one of the best contemporary (wow – talking about a movie made in the 1970s and one from the 80s as contemporary!) movies made.
Clichéd by now I’m sure, but the Baptism scene—or actually a series of scenes from The Godfather where Michael participates in the infant baptism as a Godfather in a spiritual sense while the carefully orchestrated murders of all his opponents are being carried out.
You didn’t ask for a second moment but it comes from the same movie: When Vito—the Godfather—has been shot and taken to a hospital and Michael goes there to look for him—the one moment when he finally finds his father and enters his room then the nurse speaks and the door moves! That is one of the scariest moments in any movie I’ve even seen. Coppola has set us up to expect Michael to be killed or something since everyone knows he’ll be looking for his father and the musical score, the pacing as he dashes around this deserted and almost dark hospital all lead up to that moment of surprise.
Raiders of the Lost Ark — I saw Indy for the first time in the theater when I was around 8-years-old. Up until then, I had been to the movies only a handful of times to watch cartoons.
During the opening scene, I started squirming in my seat when the darts were shooting out of the wall. Then, when Indy tried to jump over the pit and missed and grabbed onto the loose bit of plant and it started to give way, I closed my eyes in horror. But I was even more horrified by not being able to watch, so I opened my eyes again just as Indy dove under the stone door and snatched his hat back at the last second. At the time the only experience I ever had that could compare to the intensity of viewing this scene was when I had fallen several stories and broken my leg and fractured my back a year or so before watching the film for the first time. Watching Indy almost falling, I was suddenly falling again in my theater seat.
My only thought as I opened my eyes again was that Indy must have landed at the bottom of the pit by now, and I couldn’t let him writhe in pain without reaching out to him in some way, if only by watching.
And there he was, pulling the hat through at the last second, and I was left in the pre-just-rewind-the-video-and-see-what-happened world thinking that this man had performed some act of heroism beyond my wild imagination. I would never know.
I don’t even remember seeing the scene with the giant ball rolling after him during my first viewing since I was busy bugging my parents to tell me how he got out of the pit.
My dad leaned over and said, “He just climbed out,” and of course I knew that must have been all wrong. My dad must have had his eyes closed too.
So, I guess this is the most monumental scene I didn’t see, and perhaps that disqualifies me. Oh well. Thanks for the opportunity to remember.
Like you, one of my all-time favorite scenes was Jesus’ brief cameo, where our source of Living Water helps Judah Ben-Hur in his critical moment.
My selection of an artistic moment of a film that changed me will go to the final scene from The Sure Thing, the (20 yr old?) romance-comedy directed by Rob Reiner starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga. No, it’s not a high-brow or intellectual movie, but when they are “transported” to the rooftop it showed that true love triumphs.
It changed me by simply helping me to see that I needed to take a chance in love, which I did back in 1985 (and was married a year later). While the overall plot may be predictable, Reiner made the journey fun and interesting, pulling it all together at the end.
(From the movie) Alison: Spontaneity has its time and place.
[msv0828 at yahoo.com]
Jay Colle wrote:
The movie that “did it” for me was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I was a junior in high school and, as was our habit, a group of us wanted to see a movie on Friday night. For whatever reason we chose One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Maybe because it was new or maybe we had seen everything else (this was the 70’s and the multiplexes had not invaded small town Texas just yet).
For the first time ever a movie transported me. There are a lot of reasons for that and I’m sure a psychologist could dissect it for me but, regardless the reasons, I was enthralled. If I had to pick a particular scene that was most moving it would have to be when McMurphy tries to move the ridiculously large sink and fails. He then looks at all of the “patients” and yells “At least I tried!” (forgive my paraphrase). As The Chief ran across the field at the end of the movie accompanied by a soundtrack played on a saw (which was brilliantly creepy), I actually cried for the first time at a movie. I’m sure I was crying for Billy and McMurphy and The Chief but I couldn’t distinguish any of that in the moment. I just knew I was moved. I can still recall that feeling today, roughly 30 years later (yikes!).
And the other stark memory was I quickly realized as we left the theatre that I was the only one who was affected. Everyone else in my group was laughing and arguing about where to go eat. I remember thinking how strange that was and how it solidified the experience as mine alone.
Adam Walter wrote:
I first saw Ben-Hur when I was in high school. The wheels of those racing chariots dug ruts into my memory.
Yes, that’s one of those films I watched several times growing up, a truly formative experience. Here are a few other films I associate with it—childhood classics, if you will, for which I have a difficult time finding contemporary equivalents: The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Elephant Man, and Bass & Rankin’s The Hobbit.
But my all-time favorite screen performance is Paul Scofield as A Man for All Seasons, an exemplar of rectitude, Sir Thomas More. Scofield’s More is my model of a Christian hero — full of wit and integrity, piercing intelligence and humble self-sacrifice. And here he’s supported by Orson Welles, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern and the young, almost-unrecognizable John Hurt — what more could you ask for?
This is a sample of the dialogue from Robert Bolt’s play that made me fall in love with the film:
William Roper (Corin Redgrave): So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
No matter how many times I watch this movie, it still gives me the shivers. And I cannot imagine anyone giving a more nuanced delivery of this dialogue than Scofield. In fact, the film has caused me to seek out several audio book performances that Scofield has recorded, just so I can hear more of his wonderful voice!
But it’s probably impossible to isolate a single moment from this film as the great moment for me. From More’s confrontation of King Henry VIII in his defiance of God and Church, to More’s heartrending separation from his family, to his final trial and execution — it’s all part of one great, moving effort of a man trying to do the thing God wants from him.
J. Mark Bertrand wrote:
My moment is easy to pinpoint: it’s the final scene in the film version of David Hare’s Plenty (1985). This was my first exposure to a story told out of chronological order—and it remains one of the few that puts this technique to good purpose. The downward spiral of the heroine’s life is illustrated in painstaking detail, but then that final scene goes back to the beginning. She’s on a hilltop overlooking the French countryside, having just heard that the war is over, and she dreams of how wonderful life will be from now on. She says, “There will be days and days like this.” And that’s the end. The viewer knows there won’t be, of course, because we’ve already seen what will happen. That scene was a revelation for me; it was a Rosebud moment. The idea that the ending of the film—it’s final moment—could color everything that had gone before, was eye-opening.
Chris Durnell wrote:
While there have been various movie moments that affected me emotionally before this (The Right Stuff when I was 9 years old comes to mind), the one that transformed the way I viewed movies would be seeing the Director’s Cut of Blade Runner in its theatrical release—in 1993 I believe.
I had already seen the original movie on video the year before and really liked it. I was very excited about seeing it. It was my first year in college, and I had to walk to get there. I timed out the walk earlier in the week so I knew how much time I needed to get there.
Seeing a slightly different version caused me to ask questions. Why was the Harrison Ford voiceover removed? What is up with the new dream sequence with the unicorn? These questions often went beyond the typical “What is going on in the story” to deal with issues of craft.
But the single moment in that movie that impacted me the most was the final scene. Instead of the inserted studio-demanded happy ending of Ford and Sean Young driving down the highway, it ended abruptly was they fled Ford’s apartment with the closing of the elevator.
It was powerful and totally changed the entire movie experience for me. I started clapping, and I don’t remember actually clapping in a movie theatre before. At that point, I started paying a lot more attention to movies and examining them in terms of craft and art rather than simply entertainment.
The Cubicle Reverend wrote:
During my junior and senior year in high school I worked in a video store. One of my co-workers recommended I watch a small independent film called Smoke. More than likely I was very skeptical, but gave it a chance anyway.
Up to that point I mainly watched sci-fi/action epics or screwball comedies. Great for escape, but not much else. As I watched this film about a group of men whose lives intersect at a Brooklyn cigar shop I got drawn in to the point where I felt like I was a part of the movie, a part of their world and felt like I knew these guys. Their characters were textured with flaws who may not always know the right thing to do, but still acted out of love and courage to help each other out. After I saw this movie I could only respond by saying, “Wow.” I wondered why I had never seen a movie like that before and more importantly are there other movies out there that are just as compelling?
Fortunately an independent movie theater opened up near where I live giving me the opportunity to start watching movies initially unavailable to me including documentaries and foreign films.
Also, as a Christian it made me want to find the same thing in Christian literature and movies which teach about life without having a preachy or overt message. As a poet and writer it became important for me to produce work much like Smoke where the characters and story are so compellingly written and real you are a part of their world. Not uber-christians that life and circumstances never seem to touch them or have the pat Brady Bunch ending. Every time I watch the movie I ask myself, “Why aren’t we producing things like this?” Maybe nothing explodes, or a waiter carrying a tray of dishes doesn’t fall down a flight of stairs, but we do have a group of men loving and persevering in the face of loss and hardship. That is what it means to be a Christian who produces any form of art.
Luke Brodine wrote:
The film that is still burned into my memory from childhood is Lawrence of Arabia. I can’t really say if I saw all of it in one sitting. All I can remember is the sheer scope of the film in every facet of its production. Director David Lean is one of the true masters of using the entire pallette of what goes into making a film (cinematography, costume, music, etc.), but it’s all in the name of story telling! … not merely to dazzle the senses like many modern epics tend to lean towards. **step down off of soap box**
The moment that I remember is quite early in the film. We learn about the event of T.E. Lawrence’s death, and then a flashback to when he first prepares to go Egypt (and the rest of the film to follow).
He is in a room, putting out flames with his fingers. He’s asked why he has to keep doing it. He replies “The trick is in not minding.”
With that, he strikes a match and the scene flashes to sunrise on the desert. The screen is awash in color, and the music is so rich and unexpected that every hair on my body was raised (at this moment, they’re at attention just thinking about it!). In that split second, I was transported (in every sense of the word) to the world that Lean is depicting. And it’s just a shot of the desert!
(I’m a bit partial to tales in the desert, probably has to do with self-reflection and isolation. Reading “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey is another time that I have ever felt so definitively transported, and that’s about the desert as well.)
I think that this moment came to mind because it has shown me the power of art to take us some place new, somewhere unexpected, possibly even transcendent. (Listening to Sigur Ros right now is a good example… thanks Jeff for the link!) Art is our attempt to reflect God’s image as creator, and sometimes it reaches a crescendo of pure ecstasy so overwhelming, all we can do is worship the true Creator.
My favorite movie moment is simple: Melora Walters’ smile at the end of Magnolia. For the entire film we have seen her do nothing but abuse herself for the sake of drugs, and when Officer Kurring comes along and offers her love, she pushes him away. But Kurring doesn’t give up. He seeks her out. We can’t hear exactly what he says to her at the end of the film, but we don’t need to because it’s all there in Waters’ face when he looks directly into the camera and (for the first time) smiles.
For me, this moment captures what love is and it captures what God did. He offers love, yet we refuse because we’re stuck or stubborn or whatever other excuse we might come up with. But He doesn’t leave things at that. He searches us out, pursues us. Waters’ smile is, for me, a symbol of love, hope, and redemption.