I could have listed dozens of films that have personal or spiritual significance to me but I decided to whittle it down to eight that came to mind immediately, probably because I have either watched or re-watched these particular movies in the past year. So this list is by no means exhaustive, and I realized when compiling this list that I've seen waaay too many movies and the task of recalling all of them seemed well...taxing. Nonetheless here are 8 that made me think, reflect or contemplate life and the human spirit (in the past year or so). There's something here for everybody but we'd love to hear some of the movies that you find meaningful and significant to your personal or spiritual journey.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
If you haven’t seen the films it is imperative that you make that a priority immediately. Besides it being a classic epic adventure story (originally penned by J.R.R. Tolkein) it is ripe with strong spiritual metaphors and wisdom. The film follows hobbit Frodo Baggins and his journey to destroy the “ring of power” to prevent it from being abused at the hands of power- hungry men and other malevolent beings who would use it. The story is a wonderful example of the journey through different spiritual planes of consciousness. Frodo is the reluctant hero whose physical journey is merely a mask for the true inner journey he is tasked to complete as he makes his way to Mordor at the end of the film. The destruction of the ring of power can be seen as the burning away of the ego. The series is by far one of my personal favorites. I could write a whole post about the various spiritual themes in the movie (and I may do that soon) but even if you aren’t so into the spiritual part it boasts, wonderful action and beautiful scenery and direction by Peter Jackson.
The Harry Potter Series
Okay, I admit I’m a fan of high fantasy and although LOTR is my favorite, I did enjoy many of the Potter films (particularly the later installments when the stakes got higher). The movies are geared more for children but they are a wonderful parable for a young man’s journey through his initiation into spiritual life. He is forced to acknowledge his archetypal identity as a wizard and the difficulties associated with coming into one’s own power despite resistance from those who would want to keep him limited. Additionally, the film exemplifies the principle of “things are not what they seem,” and how shifting one’s perspective can open a multitude of realties that can have an immense impact on the world around you.
This film received much attention during its hey day in the late 90’s early 2000s but it is actually a very smart metaphysical metaphor. The film, while action-packed and full of slick Keanu Reaves one liners and oh-so-90s leather trench coats, is really a meditation on the various levels of reality in which many are blissfully unaware. Much like Harry Potter, the film forces the discerning viewer to look deeply at what is “real” and the possibility that the reality that we subscribe to may really just be the imagining of someone else. Could we really be living in someone else’s imaginings, believing we are in control when really a design (matrix) has already been laid out with us as players? The conceit of the film fits in nicely with many spiritual beliefs that we are indeed the dreamer and the dream, and the possibility that through challenging "the program" can we break free from the confines of our limitations. Morpheus in the film is the archetypal spiritual warrior who seeks to help others break free of the monotony of the matrix in order to create a new vision of the future.
This is a great documentary by film director Tom Shadyac (director of Ace Ventura). The essential question of this film is “how do we make the world a better place?” and it seeks to answer that question through some very practical illustrations of human behavior and society. I like this film because it helps to ground some very basic (non-denominational) spiritual concepts in science and research and makes the concepts very accessible. It’s a great film for those who may be a little unsure of some spiritual concepts, as it helps to illustrate principles like empathy, compassion, non-dual connectedness and love through the explanation of various scientific experiments and observations that circle back to many of the longstanding spiritual precepts most of the world’s religions have been talking about for ages. The film is at turns touching and insightful while being simultaneously thought provoking and educational. It also leaves you with a sort of “feel good” glow that will make you want to go out and do something good for someone else, or at best make someone else watch the film.
I just saw this film last weekend and was actually quite impressed with some of the latent spiritual and philosophical metaphors at work. The film follows Theodore Twombly, a lonely professional writer who sparks up a relationship with an intuitive operating system. The Spike Jonze film is smart and melancholy and poses some interesting questions about connection, communication, and the role of technology in our lives in the future. Samantha, Twombly’s human-like OS, evolves and develops through the film from a very advanced super computer to an intuitive, emotion-filled and very much alive (yet bodiless) being, complete with desires, emotions and intuitions. Despite all of the commentary about technology and connection, the film’s real spiritual conundrums arise in the questions it poses about love. What is love? Why do we restrict love to one person? How can we expand our capacity for love while in individual human forms? Heavy questions when you start to delve more deeply into them. It's also super hip and indie feeling, which one should always expect from Jonze.
The Hours is by far one of my favorite films ever, and while for many it was very depressing it is also quite beautiful, if a little melancholy. The film, an adaptation of the Michael Cunningham novel of the same title, follows the intersecting lives of three women across time threaded together through the narrative of famous Poet and writer Virginia Woolf. The film is about the trials and tribulations of our interactions and connections with other human beings and how those interactions shape our future. The meaning behind the film’s title is a constant refrain throughout the film as it asks the viewer to examine what we do with the hours in our lives. The film reminds us that moments, however bleak or blissful, must always be followed by more moments (hours) and it’s what we do with those moments that is significant. At its core, the film is a meditation on presence, and appreciating what we have in any given moment. Furthermore, it is beautifully acted by Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman with an equally beautiful score by Phillip Glass.
This is another epic film based of of the David Mitchell novel of the same title and while it is long (and at times too long), it is another great representation of an important spiritual concept: timelessness. The film is a sort of meditation on time, human relationships and the laws of karma. It is one of the few American films I’ve seen that has so obviously addressed reincarnation and the various permutations our relationships take over the course of many lifetimes. I’m not going to lie, at times (at least for me), the plot lines got a little convoluted and um…weird, but it’s worth enduring because it is a great reminder of the timeless endurance of the human soul across many forms. The film is about the persistence of love across time and how, above all else, that’s all life is about anyway.
This is a French documentary about Perfect Master Ammachi (also known as “The Hugging Saint”) who has hugged millions of people around the world as a form of darshan (blessing). The film follows Amma for a period of time as she wins both a nobel prize for her humanitarian work and her service work around the world administering to the hungry, needy and suffering. The film ends with a dizzying look into the process of her giving darshan to thousands of people over a 24 hour period. It is a fascinating character study about a woman who has selflessly devoted her life to easing the suffering of human beings. This film is at once fascinating and completely enrapturing when you consider that one woman has devoted her life so fully to nurturing and easing the pain of others. What’s more is if you read about her life and her spiritual journey, it leaves you both humbled and in awe wondering what you can do to help ease others' suffering.