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February 01, 2005


Anthony Roberts

(That's the one with Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer, not the one dimensional one with Kevin Costner.)

The tie in with the Book of the Apocalypse (6:8), the allusion to the Faustian bargain, and the portrayal of Doc Holliday by Kilmer (tragically flawed, doomed to die, yet loyal in a way seldom seen "greater love no man hath..") give a very masculine spirituality that stirs something in the heart.


Pulp Fiction, although it's kind of obvious in that one. A lot of people get too distracted by the subject matter to notice a nice triple allegory of redemption.

Rod Dreher

"Fargo," a pitch-black comedy about the banality of goodness. I can't think of another movie as serious as this one, in which the glamour of evil is so pitilessly mocked, and the modest nobility of everyday goodness is so explored and honored. You leave that movie thinking that the reason the world stays on the rails is because of dull, dutiful, thoroughly decent people like Sheriff Marge.


Quiz Show.


Many John Wayne movies qualify.

My favorite is "Cowboys." It is Wayne at his best in a fatherhood, Christ-like sacrifice role.

Donald R. McClarey

The Agony and the Ecstacy. It is a rare movie indeed that has profound observations on Art, the Church and History. Heston was good, but Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II was incredible.


Gattica, especially the parts they took out of the screen version.

Donny Darko

Shaun Gallagher

I can't believe nobody else has mentioned this yet: "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"Moulin Rouge" has some strong religious allusions — notice the names of the main characters: Christian and Satine.

"O Brother Where Art Thou" is totally about redemption.

Also — I'm a big fan of movies that explore what one might call the "burden of destiny" — which, no matter the intent, always seem to evoke the Gospel account of the Passion.


"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
(although the TV series did a better job of representing the burden)

"Terminator" and "Terminator 2"

"The Matrix"

"Spiderman" and "Spiderman 2"

By the way — isn't it interesting that many of the films mentioned deal with time travel in some way? "Groundhog Day," the "Terminator" movies, and "Donnie Darko" all touch on it. And even "The Matrix" plays with its characters' sense of time.

Weird, huh?

Shaun Gallagher


I know it has been discussed around these parts before:

The Sixth Sense


I second "Fargo"

"I guess that was Mrs.(?) on the floor and your partner in the woodchipper."--Marge


Local Hero.


The Four Feathers, most certainly. Another redemption movie, it's about a man who literally gives up everything he has to restore himself.

Bicentennial Man - what is the measure of a man? What defines humanity?


Eugh, some of these picks strike me more as rationalizations of "spirituality", because-I-like-the-movie, than genuine sightings. I'm not much for movies these days, but I'll throw one on the pile: "The Year of Living Dangerously", which beautifully documents the difficulties -- the torments, the capacity for self-delusion, and the many opportunities for failure -- involved in living a saintly life.




Yeah, I think the point of the list was movies that are not at first, or perhaps even second glance expressive of a spiritual worldview...


I've always thought the King Arthur movie "First Knight" is strongly pro-life (and an underrated film).

In the climax the evil Malagant promises freedom from "Arthur's tyrranical God" and His tyrranical laws, the freedom to "live my life!" while the noble Arthur insists that true moral laws are binding on everyone. They could be arguing over abortion.

The screenwriter, William Nicholson, did in fact write the screenplay on abortion ("A Private Affair") as well as the script for Shadowlands (and Gladiator, fwiw).

c matt

High Plains Drifter

Not at first, but if you look closely enough you see a "sacrifice / resurrection" then a sin, penance and (for some) redemption cycle. A mini judgment day for the town of Lago.


Elaborating on my pick (Local Hero) a bit, at first glance it appears the movie is a quirky Scottish comedy (which it is). Quick plot summary: young mergers and acquisitions guy (Peter Reigert) for a large Houston oil company is sent to a tiny Scottish fishing village to negotiate a deal to buy the whole town and turn it into a refinery. But as the movie unfolds there are many hidden gems about the meaning of life and what’s truly valuable and what isn’t. The company’s owner (Burt Lancaster) is more interested in astronomy than business. The simple townsfolk want to take the money and run. Reigert’s character arrives in Scotland wanting to close the deal quickly and return to his Porsche and pricey possessions, but as events conspire to keep him there, the place and people get under his skin. It’s all a lot more subtle than I’m sketching out here, but there are many positive messages about the meaning and value of work, God-given natural resources, committed married love and much more. Plus it’s hilarious. Well-worth renting.


Groundhog Day was funny, but most of the plot involves the hero's effort to get this girl in bed, no? Each time he relives the day he picks up a new tip and finally gets her in the sack.

Well, I guess to modern society that *is* Christ-like.


"Mean Streets"--An early movie ('73?) by Scorsese. It portrays a man trying to do good even while being morally compromised by his lowlife status i.e. mafia membership.


But the religious theme is explicit, so on 2nd thought it may not count.

Michelle K.

Ellyn, I may be an unsophisticated viewer, but Amelie? How so? I guess I found her attraction and subsequent bedding of a man who found employment in a porn shop off-putting so as to be unable to label the movie "divinely inspired", but that's just me.


Bladerunner --- mortality, humaness, self-sacrifice.

Though this may also be disqualifed on account of obviousness.

Dale Price

"Falling Down"--mainly because of Det. Prendergast, the Robert Duvall character. What is remarkable is how he holds it together compared with Michael Douglas' Foster/"D-Fens."

Both of them are on the same path, but Prendergast holds to his duties and responsibilities to his fellow man (even deferring a long-awaited retirement), whereas Foster gives in to what amounts to an extremely violent, self-pitying tantrum, which leads to his destruction.

A *sort* of Judas/Peter parallel, if you think about it. Yes, I'm reading too much into it.


Shawshank Redemption

Dale Price

Oh, and my favorite film of all time:

"The Fisher King." A superb, and superbly funny, tale of redemption, featuring shock radio, an evil knight on horseback, a 1000 person waltz in Central Station, a cross-dressing Ethel Merman impersonator (pitch-perfect) and the Holy Grail.

Did I mention it's a Terry Gilliam film?


Changing Lanes.

The theme is revenge versus forgiveness. Religious icons are dropped throughout the movie so it is a bit obvious, but still subdued.


"Animal House"

It's about redemption too.

Just kidding.

Sandra Miesel

Kurosawa's REDBEARD, in which a young doctor from a rich family is humanized by working in a slum hospital. Also IKURU by the same director which has a dying bureaucrat making a difference in other people's live--for a while.
Scorcese's AFTER HOURS is a black comedy fable about descent into hell triggered by lust.


"Return to Me" - some of the scenes of prayer and lighting of candles could be too obvious, but the theme of God bringing good even out of tragedy, and the enduring nature of true love are less obvious.

I also must defend "Groundhog Day" from the good-natured criticism below; though the main character is *trying* to pick up tips each day to get the object of his affections 'in the sack', it is when his goal changes to becoming a better man and helping others that he wins her affection. And though they end up technically in bed together, it is clear that they have not had sex (though it leaves open the likelihood in most modern minds that they will soon, unfortunately). Anyway, FWIW.

Mike Petrik

Rob Roy and High Noon, although perhaps those are too obvious too.


On The Waterfront.

Donald R.McClarey

"Rob Roy and High Noon, although perhaps those are too obvious too."

I cheered the passage in Rob Roy where his wife tells him that she couldn't bring herself to abort the child of her rapist. To which he responds, it's not the babe that needs killing.


Oh...this might be a bit of a stretch, but I was just researching Alec Guinness' film career for something else, and I think it fits the category: The Man In The White Suit.

Loudon is a Fool

For the Straussians in the house: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

For the men: Rio Bravo

Most of films in which the Coen brothers took an active part (beyond just slapping their name on the film) explore, as Rod ably put above, "the modest nobility of everyday goodness." Although they are probably too quick to parse the active and "passive" virtues.

Wes Anderson's films have a similar quality (with respect to everyday goodness).


Rohmer's "My Night at Maud's"


Babette's Feast.


I had no idea until I read Goldberg's various comments on Groundhog Day that is considered to have spiritual meaning. I am no expert on philosophy or theology. At the time it came out, however, and I saw the film, I felt like it described my dull, run-of-the-mill empty, single, career-chasing life [and not actively Catholic]. I got up and did the same thing every day, went to bed and did it all over again. The movie hit me like a ton of bricks. I told people that was my life.

So, what changed over time? Well, me--my attitude, etc.--and lo and behold circumstances changed too in time. I see this now in retrospect. Certainly not at the time. I guess that's what happened to Bill Murray in the movie.


The Man who Shot Liberty Valence is for the Straussians? I know Ford has his socialist overtones. . .


But on Ford's top redemption movies I'd have to say The Searchers.

And for the Tombstone fan above, check out My Darling Clementine. Victor Mature beats Kirk Douglas, and Dennis Quaid for the Second Best Doc Holliday in my book.

Loudon is a Fool

The film plays with the idea that justice cannot be preserved by rule of law, but only by force. Yet civilization cannot accept the men who, through force, impose justice because these men threaten the stability of the regime. Further, and more importantly, these men will not get the girl. Since the topic is hidden spirituality, this film, with its hidden message about the regime, is perfect for Straussians for whom politics is spirituality. Or maybe for whom spirituality is politics.


Babette's Feast. I would not call it a subtlely spiritual film, but I'd call it a subtlely Catholic film (at least during my first fee viewings). Through the metaphor of the feast, the movie juxtaposes a barren Protestant Manicheaism versus the full Catholic embrace of the spiritual and physical.


That should be first "few" viewings.

Anthony Roberts

Agreed on "My Darling Clementine", I was surprised to see someone of Victor Mature's rather hulking physique pull off the role of a southern gentleman/dentist/gambler dying of consumption.

A film that also just occurred to me, while the spirituality is rather apparent, was the Peter Seller's movie, "Being There." How could I forget Chauncy Gardner?

Anthony Roberts

That's Chauncey Gardener, seems that I had a defective keyboard missing it's E's.


Also Raising Arizona, my favorite Coen brothers film. It has a heartwarming, pro-family (if not exactly spiritual) message. The ending scenes during which H.I and Ed return Nathan Jr. and H.I. has his dream are quite touching.


I second "Return to Me" -- everything Bonnie Hunt writes seems to have a Catholic world view.
I offer "The Quiet Man" as another spiritual movie. It focuses on pride, the meaning of love, and the essence of marriage. Plus, John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara are great in all their movies together.

Stuart Buck

Magnolia, perhaps?


I agree with "Magnolia" and "On The Waterfront".
The latter is religious, not because there is a priest, but because the priest plays a critical role in Terry's conversion from cooperating with the evil in the world to "get ahead" and "stay alive" to his nonviolent confrontation with evil in the court room. Then, he gets beaten to a pulp but struggles to his feet to "carry his cross" and lead the men to the warehouse door. the issues the movie deals with - while ostensibly political - are religious in nature.

c matt

The Truman Show

What is the nature of reality. Man's quest to create reality/play God. Escaping our man made reality.

c matt

I guess I am having a hard time discerning what is meant by "spiritual". It seems a subtle spiritual film is one that hints at the existence of the transcendental and a higher power. Many of the selections seem to indicate a hidden morality, perhaps, but not necessarily something "spiritual". Maybe we need a clarification of what is meant by spiritual.




"On the Waterfront" should also be noted for the priest's coming to grip with the need to have the Church play a role in the outside role, something that Eva Marie Saint's character has to lecture him about at first. Eva's character's speech to Terry before he finds the strength to be good that she's sure he's doing the best he can is heartbreaking in its forgiving attitude towards his weakness at that point.


Good point.

I think Groundhog Day is unexpectedly moral, but does it qualify as spiritual?

Mark Windsor


Mark Windsor

It's interesting how many westerns have been mentioned...


Brides of Dracula: less for the obvious reasons (vampires susceptible to religious objects), than for a certain scene which riffs on "if thine eye/hand/other-body-part offend thee..." and the more extreme and non-imitatable disciplines of the saints. And for the underlying theme that neither the nice young heroine with the good heart nor noble vampire hunter with the superior brain can stand against the enemy, unless they stand together.

Death Rides A Horse: in Wild West, kid's family is slaughtered by robbers. Kid escapes due to intervention of mysterious stranger. Fast-forward about 15 years: he's grownup, seeks revenge on the gang of robbers, and keeps running into a colorful rogue with a grudge against the same gang. After they've saved/spared each others' lives a few times, young guy discovers that the rogue was the man who saved his life: a member of the same gang who arrived late to this particular robbery, after the family had been slaughtered. He says he would have tried to prevent the killing if he had arrived in time, but agrees to a duel with the younger man. When duelling time comes, he refuses to arm himself, apparently willing to let the younger man kill him to expiate the sins of his comrades. What happens next, well, find out for yourself :)

Liberty Valance is more Chestertonian than Straussian, with its obsession with honor, chivalry, and its suggestion that the greatest penance is to, in some sense, sacrifice your reputation (as both male leads do: Wayne by refusing to add to his cowboy glory by admitting to being the man who shot LV, and Stewart, by taking up that role even though it is not strictly his and even though he abhors it. A bit like that book by GKC where the characters pretend to be worse than they are).


The Man Who Was Thurday?

c matt

Oddly enough (and may get flamed for it), I often thought Dogma, while a little more obviously spiritual and at least irreverent if not downright blasphemous, was nonetheless a backhanded acknowledgement that the RCC is what it claims to be - after all, the movie has as its premise that the RCC DID have the power to bind and loose.

John W.

I am a big fan of Groundhog Day. I felt Bill Murray purgatorial stay in Penn. made him into a better person. His suffering in the middle of the movies (killing himself numerous times) show the mental pain and anguish he went through.

My wife and I both loved "Return to Me", not to mention Lord of the Rings!


Robocop. It's about man vs. machine, and how the human things can win out over technology.


All of our favorite films, music, art, etc. become Rorschach tests onto which we project our own highest values. I'm a Catholic convert, so I see Catholicism in every movie I love, and anti-Catholicism in every movie I hate. Am I Catholic because of my aesthetic tastes or do my aesthetics stem from my Catholicism? Being the good Catholic that I am, I suppose my answer must be: both/and.

c matt


Certainly true to one degree or another in every experience we encounter - movies being no different. But also true is that there are some objectively verifiable elements thta can be identified/pointed out, even if not consciously placed there. LOTR is a great example b/c many of the Catholic themes present in the book came through in the movie, not b/c consciously placed there by the actors/directors, but by simply keeping close to the original work. But objectively they are present (unlike the Rorschach which is completely subjective).

c matt

Forrest Gump?

Not sure if its the "spiritual" rather than moral kind. The moral theme seems obvious - hard, no nonsense, simple perseverance will win out over the more "sophisticated" self-destructive behavior most of us engage in. But it also seems to carry an undertone that Someone is looking out for us, and ready for us when we decide to come home.


"I'm a Catholic convert, so I see Catholicism in every movie I love, and anti-Catholicism in every movie I hate."

Same here. It's funny that many of those movies I hate, and in which I can see an obviously anti-Christian philosophy at work, are so beloved by other faithful Catholics. Specifically, I'm thinking of Dead Poets Society, which I regard as utterly vile. Yet I was shown clips of it at a retreat once.


eadfrith: Haven't seen Dead Poets Society, but my parents are on your side, they ended up watching it when I was a kid, because it was going to be screened at a Cath. school event I was going to. Their argument was that the "pushing up daisies" scene uses an Ignatian-esque meditation concept to hammer home the concept of Living For Today, without regard to any possible afterlife, and that the movie glorifies adolescent rebellion to an unchristian degree. Forget why I didn't end up seeing it...I think I ended up being too sick to go to the event or something. Or maybe they managed to get it pulled from the program.

Mark Shea

The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Matrix, and ET are all science fictionications of the Paschal Mystery. Unfortunately, in the case of The Matrix, the creators were too clever by half in the increasingly stupid sequels.

Forgotten by most but still dear to my heart: "Blast from the Past" with Brendan Fraser. Speaking the power of ordinary decency.

Also, don't forget Robert Duvall's awesome performance in "The Apostle".

Finally, "The Elephant Man" is still a very powerful film about the redemptive power of Christian charity and, oddly, "Joe Vs. the Volcano" is Tom Hanks most underrated film that addresses the sheer goodness of existing.


Tom Hanks' character in "Saving Private Ryan" is clearly Christ-like, on many levels.

Another unmentioned spriritual film is Branaugh's "Henry V".

And, much as I dig GH Day, the extra-marital that's suggested at between Murray and Andie McDowall makes it much less spiritual than it might have been.

c matt

Example of moral v. spiritual:

Harry Potter. Lots of themes on good v. evil, love conquers hate, sacrifice for the good of another, etc., but an atheist could look at that and see the same thing. Is there anything in it subtley pointing to a beyond, or a higher authority (other than The Ministry of Magic)?

Mark Thompson-Kolar

"The Incredibles" -- this film has a huge Objectivist/Ayn Randian feel (I believe the character Edna(?) Mode is an homage to Rand herself), but addresses head-on one of the major flaws normal people find in Rand's works, namely, that most of her "heroes" are single, driven people and that winners in her philosophy really can't be family men and women. The movie works on so many levels it's a must-see for anyone looking for an enjoyable, thoughtful antidote for common modern culture.

David Hart

1)There are higher ideas than physical love. 2)Marriage is more important than an affair. 3)Even those who you think are morally bankrupt can be changed.


eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

alias clio

Here's one that really IS frivolous, but nevertheless contains some subtle social commentary: "Dance With Me", with Vanessa Williams.

In the movie a young Cuban (Chayanne) arrives in Florida to find his father (Kris Kristofferson, improbably cast), who owns a dance studio. The slight plot concerns his attempts to get his father to acknowledge him, and to win the love of a dancer/teacher in the studio (Vanessa Williams).

None of this counts for much. What DOES count are the dance scenes: exciting, funny, sometimes sexy but not grossly so IMO, and very revealing of modern North American sexual and social mores. The Cuban man dances to be sociable, for fun, for friendship and only incidentally for romance. The American woman dances for competition, for sexual display, and to earn a living.

And no, this is not an anti-capitalist puff-piece for socialist Cuba. Its Cuba is really drab, fearful and impoverished; but the movie is honest about the faults of the well-to-do world as well. Compare the early scene in the Cuban bar, in which young and old, beautiful and ugly dance together, with the late scene in an American bar, where the young and beautiful, skilled but somehow angular and graceless dancers dance alone, without touching their partners.

Donald R. McClarey

"Another unmentioned spriritual film is Branaugh's "Henry V"."

After his brother remarks on the size of the French army confronting them before Agincourt, Henry responds "We are in God's hands brother, and not in theirs."

Marcus Daly

I've been lurking here for awhile and will take this as my moment to bust out.

"There's Something About Mary" really struck me as Catholic when I saw it in the theatre. Other than the title, and the name of Cameron Diaz's worn-out but good-hearted, if somewhat unredeemed, neighbor, "Magda," there was a lot of "this is the ugly consequence of sin" in it. When I saw it referred to again and again as a "gross out comedy" akin to "American Pie" I thought to myself, "these people are really missing it."

p.s. If I've entered something wrong, please don't call me a troll, I'm not sure I'm working this right.

c matt

ALias Clio:

The attitudes displayed in the film can be neatly summed up:

Americans treat sex as a sport; Latins treat sex as an art.


Read the postings but may have missed it- did anyone mention Star Wars?


What touched me the most about Amelie was the point that we all have an effect on our fellow human beings, whether for good or bad. And that the good can stand by itself, without any accolades for the anonymous do-gooder. (And our selfish actions have far ranging consequences....what about the woman from Quebec who jumped from the top of Notre Dame and landed on Amelie's mother? Huh?) I am not inferring that anyone in this movie is a paragon of virtue or that it would be good family viewing, but I think I see it with the same convert eyes of the person several comments above.

c matt

Star Wars?

No. But I think the reason was that its "spirituality" is not really that subtle - they even give it a name.

Gene Branaman

Edna Mode in The Incredibles is based on famed Hollywood designer Edith Head. A dead-on portrayal. Very funny & done with love & respect, not with ridicule. I didn't catch any Objectivism in the film. It's lacking the basic tenets of Rand's philosophy, IMO.

I'll second The Searchers. My favorite John Wayne movie. And also After Hours, the last Scorcese film I actually liked. I'll also 2nd the Spidey movies, especially 2. Most Christians I know totally missed the crucifixion/death/resurrection bit at the climax of the elevated train sequence. Not sure why; practically slapped me around!

Can't believe nobody's mentioned Chariots of Fire! Love that film. Or Frequency. And I've always found Gladiator to be very spiritual. But, oddly, not in a pagan way.

Jim Henry

I think the book derringdo was referring to was Chesterton's _Four Faultless Felons_. Four linked novellas, plus a prologue. The prologue has a man who seems to be an aesthete or playboy, but turns out to be a secret ascetic: he eats expensive foods that he doesn't like and hangs out with fashionable people who bore him as penance. The novellas have characters who appear to be murderer, thief, and some other kinds of criminals, I forget what.

Peter Briffa

"Die Hard" is the best exploration of Just War Theory I can think of.


I'm probably gonna have LOTS of angry emails, but I gotta say it...

Million Dollar Baby.

It's not about euthenasia. It's about the nature between being saved by works and saved by grace. It's about multiple stories, going on concurrently, that are all interrelated, and all pinpoint different facets of redemption. It's the most spiritual movie of the year.

William Burke

Runaway Train!

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