In the words of Martin Scorsese ‘Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we each see the world’ and cinema is one of the many ways we can do this.
Allowing us insight into someone else’s life and mind, films widen our perspective of the human experience. Particularly relevant in this time of global crisis, they remind us that we are not the centre of the world, but that there are billions of other people on earth, each living a unique and valuable life, whether that looks something like ours, or nothing like ours.
So why not take a couple of hours to watch a movie that will encourage you to think a bit deeper about the world. Here are 8 incredibly clever and fascinating films that definitely left me contemplating certain aspects of my own life, and prompted me to explore some of those bigger questions we all have.
Passionate and compelling, Selma recounts Martin Luther King’s battle for black voting rights and the historic events of 1965. With the Southern states deliberately obstructing black citizens from registering to vote, and all forms of public office only open to registered voters,
Dr King was working in a de facto white supremacist confederation. Leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr King is determined that black Americans should be treated with dignity and afforded justice.
As public confrontation, he embarks on a march across the south, from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In face of club-wielding police, state troopers and blood-thirsty Dixie nostalgists, King is insistent that the protests be non-violent, instead using his power of words and the conviction that God created everyone as equal, regardless of their racial background.
It has often been easy to present King in a hagiography, and yet this film is a humanising one. Selma presents King as charismatic and compelling, as well as complicated and credible, struggling with fears and moral choices.
In light of the shocking recent reminders of the reality of racism and police brutality in our society, Martin Luther King and his determination to stand up for those whose voices had not been heard continues to challenge us to consider the ways in which we can educate ourselves on issues of injustice in our own country.
‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ but crucially, we should combat this through love and kindness; ‘Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Have you ever wished you could erase a painful experience or wipe your memory of a certain individual? This film explores just that, depicting a world where scientists have developed a memory erasure procedure, used particularly by those harbouring hurt from broken relationships.
The film follows Joel and Clementine, who meet unaware that they had previously dated for two years, having both undergone the procedure to forget the pain of their break-up.
However, the film appears to criticise such a procedure, perhaps most interestingly suggesting that it is better to have loved someone in spite of the hurt rather than to erase such pain or go through life unscathed.
It seems that erasing the pain places Joel and Clementine in a similar position as refusing to forgive. In this sense, they experience what, on the surface, might seem like closure, but really means that they hold on to the pain, hence their meeting again only to relive the hurt; contrary to their belief that it had been eradicated.
As humans, the closest we can get to such a procedure which attempts to erase pain is by forgiving those who hurt us. Forgiveness is not about condoning what someone did, but rather allowing ourselves freedom.
In the words of Najwa Zebian ‘Today I decided to forgive you. Not because you apologized, or because you acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace’.
Reality Bites (1994)
Reality Bites follows Lelaina, an aspiring videographer working on an eponymous documentary on the subject of the disenfranchised lives of her friends and roommates.
It brings to attention a multitude of issues plaguing young people, acting as a zeitgeist for ‘Generation X’; who were characterised by feeling a strong sense of displacement and a lack of identity.
This dissatisfaction is embodied in Lelaina’s best friend, Troy. He is extremely intelligent, particularly in knowledge of philosophy and how the world supposedly works yet is completely lacking in motivation or purpose. He appears very empty and is unable to maintain any sort of healthy relationship.
Most notably he is afraid of commitment and rejection, but when he finally allows himself to be vulnerable, he realises that we are all broken in one way or another, but that we are ultimately made for companionship and love.
Many of us live from high to high, problem to problem, but Reality Bites reminds us that sometimes sex and drugs don’t fill all our longings for intimacy. This film raises questions about what our generation wants from life.
At Eternity’s Gate (2018)
‘At Eternity’s Gate’ follows the life of a painter bitterly unknown during his lifetime, battling a life of illness and poverty. Despite his pain, Vincent Van Gogh is on a spiritual search and sees his talent as a gift from God; a way for him to cope with the difficulties life throws at him, and to express his faith in something larger than himself.
Van Gogh remarks poignantly ‘When I look out to the landscape, I see eternity’. When we view Van Gogh’s paintings, we see into his soul, his inner being which finds so much of God’s refuge in experiencing nature.
Here we are reminded of God’s transcendence of time, and his living in the eternal present. Although during Van Gogh’s life, people did not understand his work, his gift was for generations to come who, in his paintings, would find beauty, truth and the splendour of God, even amidst pain.
Heartrending and difficult to watch, this documentary pays respect to those killed in the 2015 racially motivated massacre at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Through interviews with victims’ families, survivors and others, the documentary demonstrates the power of forgiveness as a collective act of defiance. The church members refused to retaliate with violence but instead with the unexpected weapon of grace as a means of healing a hurting community.
Reverand Norvel Goff remarks ‘This act of terrorism, racism, bigotry, was the act of one individual who wanted to create a race riot. What they found out is that our faith was greater than fear and that love will always overtake hate. We pulled together to make sure that how we responded to evil was not with evil.’
Erin Brokovich (2000)
A stylised and clever film, dramatising Brokovich’s explosive legal battle against the powerful Pacific Gas and Electric Company, who covered up nuclear leaks in their water supply, causing cancer in multiple residents of Hinkley, California. A dramatisation of an inspiring true story of a legal clerk and environmental activist, Erin Brokovich makes us consider our responsibility to defend the natural world.
Many people were having to suffer because of an incident of humanity’s neglect of the world, but Erin, proving wrong all those who judged her, was determined to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves.
This of course, which Erin highlights, is an issue far larger than campaigning for a comfortable world for ourselves, as she goes through the stress of trying to feed her family amid the backlash. We have a responsibility to protect creation and defend it for the generations to come.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
Based on the memoir by William Kamkwamba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind follows the inspirational true story of a young boy in Malawi who refused to see his village suffer from famine any longer.
The film explores the selfless love and determination that it took William to engineer a windmill from scratch, in order to enable the planting of crops without rain.
William’s family pray together and even though they are reluctant to pray for rain, wanting to seem ‘modern’ compared to their ancestors, it seems that their prayers are answered in a way they might not expect.
After overcoming much adversity, William completes his windmill, providing enough energy to pump water from deep in the well, allowing the village to plant crops in the dry season.
The film ends with the poignant line ‘God is as the wind, he touches everything.’
The Beach (2000)
In The Beach, Richard, a young American, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, seeks out literal perfection in the form of a secret, pristine and uninhabited island in the Gulf of Thailand.
The desire to find something real, to connect with someone or something, is what drives Richard to search so adamantly for the island. He idealises the discovery and appears convinced that this mystical paradise will solve all his problems in life and bring him true happiness.
However, in this hedonistic ‘Lord of the Flies’ type world, complete freedom proves not to be very free. Lies catch up with Richard and he discovers that community requires hard work and the sacrifice of some of his own desires.
As life becomes increasingly toxic and self-destructive, Richard finds out that this paradise is less than perfect, encouraging us to seek something deeper and more meaningful from life.