CONTEST!! Movie Moments that really CHANGED you.

CONTEST!! Movie Moments that really CHANGED you. September 12, 2005

I first saw Ben-Hur when I was in high school. The wheels of those racing chariots dug ruts into my memory. But I also remember that, despite its sprawling adventures, despite Charlton Heston’s brawny performance, it was Jesus who stole the show with one small cameo.

It just so happens that I’ve got a copy of the new special edition release of Ben-Hur on DVD, and I’m going to pass it on to whoever offers me the best answers to the following questions:

What movie moment was the most transporting and transforming in your experience of watching films? And why?

In other words… thinking back on your moviegoing experiences, what moment from what movie stands out as being a transformative moment… something that changed your perspective and showed you what art can do?

Please post your answers in the comments here, or email them. On my birthday, October 9th, I’ll send Ben-Hur to my favorite reply. Whether you post your reply or email it to me, be sure I have a way to contact you in case your answer is chosen.

Never seen Ben-Hur? Here’s the official Web site for the new DVD release.

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22 responses to “CONTEST!! Movie Moments that really CHANGED you.”

  1. Beautiful. But rather than watching “Munich” again, why not revisit the other films White mentions — the ones you didn’t like so much? Because I don’t know how you can take the “Munich” part of White’s argument and separate it from his larger point about Speilberg’s 9/11 trilogy.

    White is the only critic I’ve seen mention this (have I missed it elsewhere?), and it’s EXACTLY why “The Terminal” and “War of the Worlds” are near the top of my year-end best lists for 2004 and 2005. Our greatest filmmaker has turned his attention to the greatest moral issue of the 21st century, and by focusing on themes of alienation, mass chaos, and the effects of retaliation, he’s put together three amazing pieces and produced something in sum that surpasses each individual part.

    Crazy thing is, I’m not sure if he’s finished yet. But I can’t think of a better person to tackle the post-9/11 environment through film.

  2. Of course, one of the reasons Munich is so controversial is because it does suggest that the killing of Palestinian terrorists 30 years ago — and, by extension, the killing of terrorists today — is merely a form of “retribution” and not a strategic or tactical necessity.

    You know the scene where Avner’s team shares a safe house with some Arab terrorists, only a few days after that raid in Beirut? In Vengeance, the book on which this film is based, it is said that Avner and his team were encouraged to hear that the Arabs were spooked by the Israeli success; fighting back, it seemed, was having at least some sort of positive effect. But in Munich, there is no sign of this; if anything, the conversation between Avner and the Palestinian goes the other way.

    The question posed by both book and film is whether fighting back does any good. The book seems to say yes, because the only alternative is giving up and letting yourself be defeated; indeed, the final sentence of the book says, “Ultimately both the morality and the usefulness of resisting terror are contained in the uselessness and immorality of not resisting it.” The film, on the other hand, seems to say no — and I think the film errs if its critique is rooted in the notion that fighting back is merely a form of “revenge”.

    For whatever that’s worth.

    I do agree, though, that Spielberg is unusually concerned, for a Hollywood director, with questions of sin and “righteousness”. I remember being rather surprised by one character’s use of the word “righteousness” — and in a positive way! — in Amistad several years ago. Hearing that word again in Munich was interesting.

  3. I’ll be sorting through the entries this weekend. This week has been unexpectedly busy and I haven’t had time to round up all of the submissions.

    I’m anxious to get it done, though, because I just received a pile of prizes for a NEW contest. Stay tuned.

  4. I saw The Mighty for the first time a couple of years ago. I learned then that a movie can make one weep with sadness and happiness at the same time.

  5. 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.

  6. Since it’s for a DVD version of Ben-Hur, I’ll give the contest a try. 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]

  7. 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 OFOTCN. 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.

  8. “D’oh!”

    So I was a little off on my memory of “Lawrence of Arabia”. I thought I’d pull it off the shelf to relive my moment mentioned above. Well, what I described is the hybridization of two scenes, 20 minutes apart. The only defective part is that he says “The trick is not minding” line earlier than the scene where he’s letting the match burn out and then it cuts to the desert. Other than that, it’s how I described it. Still just as moving….

    My memory has been known to mess things up and put things in the wrong place. Please forgive my uncalculated error!

    Now, what was it that I was saying?…

  9. 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 becuase 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.

  10. 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 it’s 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 transcendant. (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 ecstacy so overwhelming, all we can do is worship the true Creator.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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 craftsmmanship, 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 IIRC 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 pacificism, 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 pacificism than I had before, but I no longer think about the issue the same way either.

    FWIW my “review” of Hotel Rwanda is at

    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 questionning whether the sacrificies 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

  15. 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 procedes 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 sundrenched 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.

  16. Jeff 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 our 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.

  17. I’ve arranged a promotional giveaway with a publicist. It’s “Ben-Hur,” so I don’t mind promoting it.

  18. So is this your review copy you’re giving away, or did you arrange a special promotional giveaway with the publicist? :)