Top Five Spiritually Significant Films

What would you choose as the Top Five Spiritually Significant Films you’ve ever seen?

The Arts and Faith board posted their top 100 recently.

(I didn’t vote in this process because I became increasingly baffled as to what “Spiritually Significant” meant to this particular group. When Apocalypse Now, or the films of Peter Weir, aren’t considered “spiritually significant”, I realize I must think very differently about the terms. To me, well, I think the label means: Films that move me, and have moved me, to a greater apprehension of the life of the spirit, and to a deeper understanding of God, humankind, and the chasm between them bridged by Christ. This means they can deal directly with religious life; they can offer quiet provocation about spiritual activity within the ordinary; and they can demonstrate — even inadvertently — the cost of living a life without apprehension of God (a la Apocalypse Now.)

Darren Hughes then posted his top five.

And then David Lowery posted his.

Mine? Glad you asked!!

1-2. (tie) The Decalogue and Three Colors: Blue
Kieslowski buffs tend to describe Blue as a film about emotion and ethics, but I think they overlook the significance of the text being sung in the “Symphony for the Reunification of Europe,” which is straight from 1 Corinthians 13. This is not just a film about personal healing, liberty, and pain; nor is it just a film about the healing of rifts between people and nations–although it profoundly explores both of those things.

It is, ultimately, a film about choosing to engage with the mystery of the divine, which pursues us like a haunting light, like a refrain of music we’d rather forget. That engagement, like a marriage, brings incredible trouble and pain, but it must be embraced, or we live in slavery to the idea of “personal liberty,” which cuts us off from healing, growth, and fulfillment of our purpose.

The Decalogue, on the other hand, may as well be called “The Dialogue” … as in “A conversation with The Ten Commandments, and about them, and questions posed to them.”

3. Wings of Desire
It’s fuel thrown on the dying fires of spiritual inquiry, wonder, and compassion. Walk with Damiel the angel once a year, and the way you see the world around you, your neighbors, and your enemies differently. This film has changed my life profoundly.

4. Au Hazard Balthazar
In many ways, it’s a clinically delivered diagnosis of our spiritual condition. But the spirit is moving through its choppy, maddeningly mechanical pace. And Bresson’s refusal to encourage particular emotions demand that we engage with the film and wrestle with it until it surrenders something to us.

5. Babette’s Feast
Still the simplest, most beautiful cinematic parable of grace that I know.

Runner-up. For its spiritual implications and symbolism, I’m tempted to say Jackson’s big, clunky, brash, blind-to-its-own-revelation The Lord of the Rings trilogy; but I’m also tempted to say Dreyer’s Ordet which is as wide-awake-to-its-revelation as any film I’ve ever seen.

Other runners-up would include Magnolia, the Daredennes’ Brothers The Son and Rosetta, the films of Terrence Malick (especially Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line), The Apostle, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky (especially Solaris, Andre Rublev, and The Mirror), Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, and Waking Life.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Neb

    Whew! Thanks for the explanation on the Oprah thing. I don’t watch her show or know much about what goes on there. I know Cruise has been so Hubbardized as to be unclear on the difference between his hinder and a hole in the ground, but I was starting to wonder if I’d lost my mind, too!

    Alatriste: YES! Bring it on! Matchlocks, swords, good clothes, great hats, armor, artillery, horses…and Viggo! My husband and I are in line already…

  • Chris

    The Viggo trailer reminded me– I think unintentionally– of Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano de Bergerac. But, it showed promise, I’ll see it if it comes near me.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    It’s a joke. Oprah’s comments are from her already-famous recent confrontation with James Frey, the author whose “memoir” turned out to be fiction. It’s interspersed with moments from her interview with Cruise last year.

  • Gary Scott

    Guess I am out of touch. What is Oprah getting on Tom Cruise’s case about? The clip makes no sense without context!

  • John

    Blue, it seems to me, is ultimately about love.

    Most of the movie focuses on someone who has chosen to isolate herself from others, to refuse to love, because love opens up the possibility of being hurt.

    Hence the impact of 1 Corinthians 13 at the end (though, as I recall, the video version of Blue had subtitles so that you can tell that the song was 1 Cor. 13, but the DVD version I saw didn’t).

  • Peter

    I’m surprised The Wicker Man didn’t make the list. Saw that recently and I was amazed at what a violently powerful depiction of faith in the face of evil it presented. Not for the faint of heart nor those bothered by nudity, it’s a pretty terrifying, intense thriller that also contains one of the most unabashedly blunt portrayals of Christian faith I’ve ever seen on film.

    On a side note, I believe it’s being remade with Nic Cage for next year.

  • Cpt Casual-T

    The Blues Brothers. “We’re on a mission from God!”

  • The Cubicle Reverend
  • Adam

    I really like your definition of a “spiritually significant” film. I think you are spot on.


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