Popcorn for the Soul
The movies we saw on those stolen Sabbaths probably didn’t stack up to Father Dowling’s homilies —- the Park Theater was no art house, and that suited us prepubescents just fine —- but there was a discipline in this ritual that was as mystical as it was mischievous. Even at a young age, we understood the power of the cinema to transport us to worlds unforeseen, to bring transcendent moments into our lives.
At the movie house, it’s just you and this piece of art, alone together for two hours. How rare is that in this day and age of distraction, of surfing and roaming, of call waiting and picture-in-picture, of never being alone with anything? The medium of film plucks you out of your everyday environment, tells you a story unimpeded by SUV commercials, makes you laugh or cry or both (OK, so there can be some multitasking involved), maybe asks you to suspend some beliefs, and sends you on your way a changed person. Has there ever been a time in American history when our culture has been more in need of existential refreshment?
Just as some people have used entertainment as an escape from the horrors of last September’s terrorist attacks and the retaliation that followed, many are seeking out films that can serve as touchpoints of meaning, of spiritual sustenance. Seeker-cineastes will find many such films out there; themes and images of spirituality and meaning have churned through the history of cinema. Sometimes the result is Cecil B. DeMille splashy: Charlton Heston as a VistaVision Moses in The Ten Commandments. But more often, as with so many things mystical, it is more subtle.
What are the best spiritual films? Any such list is bound to arouse controversy . From the vast array of movies that address the spirit either overtly or symbolically, we offer here ten suggested titles — none of which is so esoteric it couldn’t be tracked down at your local video store, or on-line.
Life Is Beautiful. Director: Roberto Benigni, 1997.