Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Essential films for theologians

I asked Tyler Williams to come up with a list of essential films for theologians. Here's what Tyler says:

Ben asked me to contribute an entry on film to his “Essential Lists for Theologians” series. I was honoured to be asked and have spent some time formulating my list. I submit it with some trepidation, knowing that I have omitted a number of significant religious films—especially older classics that many such lists include (see, for instance, the Faith & Art Top 100 list here).

I have tried to be representative of different film genres and have included some “art house” and foreign films as well as films that are more popular fare. I wasn't too concerned with a film's box office success, though there are some successful films in my list. And, of course, I readily admit to including some of my personal favourites.

That's enough caveats—drumroll please.... My “Top Ten Essential Films for Theologians” (in alphabetical order) are:

  • The Apostle (Robert Duvall, 1997; IMDb).
  • Balthazar (Au hasard Balthazar; Robert Bresson, 1966; IMDb).
  • The Big Kahuna (John Swanbeck, 1999; IMDb).
  • Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982; IMDb).
  • The Decalogue (Dekalog; Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1989; IMDb)
  • Jesus of Montreal (Jésus De Montréal; Denys Arcand, 1989; IMDb).
  • Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999; IMDb).
  • The Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986; IMDb).
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb).
  • Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin; Wim Wenders, 1987; IMDb).

    For a more detailed discussion of the films on this list, please see the extended post on my Codex Blogspot; and see also the alternative lists at Anduril.ca, Pontifications, Connexions, and The Confessing Reader.

  • 24 Comments:

    Rory Shiner said...

    Good list. Glad to see The Apostle at the top (although it's a feature the list being alphabetical, I still think it is fitting.)

    I would like to see The Thin Red Line included. That is a truly great film, and the last speech is an eloquent testimony to the monistic tendancies in western thought. Would have been cool to get up in the cinema afterwards and give a speech on Trintiarianism!

    Rory Shiner said...

    (PS sorry for the spelling mistake on 'trinitarianism')

    Timbo said...

    Excellent list Ben. I would have added to the list "Run Lola Run"; and perhaps a war film, like "It's a beautiful life" or the delicate Spansih masterpiece, "La Lengua de las Mariposas” (The Butterfly). Very happy to see Magnolia on the list. If that isn't a modern work of film in the apocalyptic genre I don't know what is!

    Tyler F. Williams said...

    Thin Red Line and Run Lola Run are both excellent films. I debated long and hard about Thin Red Line, as I think that it is one of the best war films out there. I have watched it many times and pondered what Malick was up to.

    Stijn said...

    Happy to see both the Dekalog and the life of Brian on the list: They both deserve their place here.
    I would like to add 'la meglio Gioventù' (I think in the English-speaking world it is known as 'The Best of Youth') by Giordana: A brilliant film if you want to see christian love in daily life. The central phrase of the film 'Everything that exists, is beautiful' ('Tutto quello qu'existe, è bello') could easily be a quotation form Thomas Aquinas.

    Chris T. said...

    This is an excellent list. I would add a couple—Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Dreiser's recently-restored Passion of Joan of Arc.

    Since others are recommending war films (and coming to terms with violence is indeed important for theologians), I'd also add Come and See, a Soviet film about WW2. You will only want to watch it once, however—it is quite disturbing and draining.

    Chris T. said...

    Oops, I meant Dreyer of course.

    Tyler F. Williams said...

    You are all revealing holes in my movie viewing habit :-)

    My friend and I have Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev on our "to watch" list, but we haven't set aside an evening to watch it yet (especially because we have the 2004 re-release which is 183 minutes long!).

    It is much the same for Dreyer. I know that Ordet and La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc are classics which everyone includes, but I have not actually seen either of them yet, so I didn't feel right about including them.

    I have posted my "Director's Cut" extended list at Codex here

    Pontificator said...

    Trackback Pontifications

    Dave said...

    I like the idea of mixing genres and getting popular fare in there as well as the "Art and Faith" classics, but I would have included Ordet, Diary of a Country Priest, Andrei Rublev or Babbette's Feast long before The Apostle.

    Also essential would be the David Fincher films Fight Club and espescially The Game, which is one of the most explicitly Christian mainstream films of the last 15 years.

    Dave said...

    You could swap The Matrix for Blade Runner for the same effect, methinks. But both are nice fits for this list.

    Chris T. said...

    I had a hard time with the film version of Diary of a Country Priest--I found it incredibly tedious. I just feel like the novel doesn't translate well into the cinematic medium.

    Dave said...

    That's a common response to Bresson's films in general. He does that on purpose: it's a device he uses to deny the viewer emotion, and heighten their sensitivity to the spiritual undercurrent of the story. Paul Schraeder's _Transcendental Style_ is the classic text on Bresson and his technique. I think you might find his work more satisfying once you realize what he's doing. Transcendental style demands more of the viewer, but also rewards the viewer's investment in the film in ways more straightforward and superficially emotional films never could.

    Ethan Cordray said...

    I recommend "Pi" as a film that comments on the way gnostic pursuit excludes real love and community and ends up being futile anyway.

    Dave said...

    Good call. And read Hans Jonas' essay "Is God a Mathematician?" as a critique of the underlying Carteisian conceit of the film.

    Ken said...

    On Diary of a Country Priest, I identified with this commentary left at IMDB: "The Diary of a Country Priest moves as if it were marking every step along the Via Dolorosa. There is no let-up to its solemnity. Jean-Jacques Grunenwald's score is like a dirge commemorating all those who see Christ's place in the world as a desolate one; a place unconcerned about self even in the midst of suffering, misunderstanding, and rejection. The director Robert Bresson has been said to come as close to approximating the meaning of Georges Bernanos' novel as any director ever could. I think he comes as close [as possible] with this movie of approximating what the Church means by Christ as a Man of Sorrows."

    Chris T. said...

    I agree that that's a central aspect of Bernanos' novel, which also plods along and supresses emotionality up to the very end. But I don't think that translates well into film. (For the same reasons that I find Brecht tedious in the theatre, actually.)

    Just my $0.02. :-)

    D.W. Congdon said...

    Nice list, but leaving out Ingmar Bergman is a travesty. "The Seventh Seal," "Fanny & Alexander," "A Winter Light," "Persona," or just about any other film he has ever done. He is absolutely necessary viewing.

    elin g said...

    I see Decalogue is in there but I would also want to make a case for Kieslowski's Red/White/Blue trilogy - especially Red and Blue!

    Also a film that came out a few years back to subside very quietly - The Third Miracle with Ed Harris. Great questions about faith, signs, and the the prodigal nature of grace.

    Ariel said...

    I'd nominate the film version of Sinclair Lewis's Elmer Gantry for this list...long before The Apostle.

    Doug Floyd said...

    Glad to see Kieslowksi and Tarkovsky who I think are essential filmmakers for thinking about faith. When I first saw Andrei Rublev, I had no words to describe the encounter. No other film has ever impacted like it.

    Here are a few more recomends:
    Dersu Uzala - Beauty, calling, relationship
    Hawaii, Oslo - The answer to determinism.
    The Ruling Class - This is a must watch in light of today's world.
    The Tree of Wooden Clogs - Faith among peasants.
    Nostalgia/The Sacrifice - Two more essential Tarkovsky films
    Ordet - Dreyer pulls off a film about faith that few filmmakers could ever achieve with such authenticity.

    Anonymous said...

    You should add The Passion of Joan of Arc to your list. You can watch it for Free at MaidOfHeaven.com

    http://www.maidofheaven.com/joanofarc_videos_movies.asp

    Andrew said...

    The 'Before Sunrise/Before Sunset' movies are a great insight into the striving for transcendence through relationship.

    Tara Smith said...

    This is way after-the-fact, but I must make a humble appeal for Cool Hand Luke.

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