There are some films difficult to view because of their portrayal of the human condition, or their presentation of man’s inhumanity to man. Most of us seek escape from the realities of life whenever we venture into a movie theater. Indeed, that’s the main duty of the cinema, to entertain us.
Occasionally a film can open our eyes to injustice and offer solutions to correct such wrongs. There isn’t a single film on the following list I wanted to see, due to their subject matter or some imagery I knew would upset or unnerve me.
But I’m glad I saw them, because each helped me better understand myself, my fellow man, and in one case, my God.
In Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” the lead character and former gunman speaks one of the most telling lines in movie history about the irreversible finality of killing a fellow human being: “You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” While the statement is not completely true (at least for those who die and spend eternity with our Lord and Savior), it does reveal the inner turmoil a man of conscience goes through upon examination of the deed.
Some may be desensitized to just about anything Hollywood dishes out nowadays, but for many of us, it still grieves the spirit within to view brutal combat or the suffering of people on screen. Such films can, however, give us an insight into the character of man. Such is the case with American Sniper.
Based on a true story, American Sniper recounts the military career of Chris Kyle, a Navy S.E.A.L who was trained as a sniper to protect advancing soldiers into hostile zones. This film, also from director Clint Eastwood, recreates many of his more than 150 confirmed kills. Superbly directed and memorably acted by Bradley Cooper, American Sniper does what most great military films do: it delivers a thoughtful exhortation on the wages of war.
While it is pro God (Chris carried a Bible at all times) and pro country (he did four tours of duty), it points out the haunting price paid by any man who uses a weapon in the name of freedom. The film reminded me not just to thank our soldiers when I see them; but to pray God will replace their nightmares with peaceful dreams, and gently restore wounded bodies and minds. But beware. It’s an R-rated film about men in war. It’s brutal and peppered with obscenity. Does the profundity outweigh the profanity? Your call.
The Passion of the Christ
Mel Gibson’s brutal yet undeniably artistic rendering of the final hours of Christ’s life is aided by superb cinematography, lighting, music, dynamic special effects and Jim Caviezel’s sincere and muted performance. Justly rated R for its graphic depiction of scourging, piercing, beating and crucifixion, The Passion of the Christ is meant to shock and unnerve us, and clarify the ordeal of Christ’s sacrifice. That’s often hard to sit through. But Mr. Gibson’s film, while showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him. It’s about what He did for us.
Based on a true story, this moving TV drama centers on a grieving community after a madman kills several of their schoolgirls. I only watched it because I had to review it. But what a lesson I learned. The book’s title best summarizes the production’s theme — “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.” For me, it wasn’t a defense of a particular religious group, but rather a penetrating examination of the concept of true forgiveness. Make no mistake, this is a tough one. It will move you, often. But it’s an important film because it deals with spiritual truths and provides a positive answer to a nagging question — how do we forgive?
Schindler’s List, from 1993, is the true story of a war profiteer affected by the mistreatment of the Jews during the Holocaust. Besides the historical value of this piece, it presents a great example of redemption, and contains one of the most spiritually uplifting endings I have ever seen at the movies. Caution: it is rated R for language, brutality and sexual situations, including nudity, and adultery. I abhor those offenses and believe the same film could have been made just as effectively without the explicitness. But for me, Schindler’s List contains scenes that represent God’s intervention and His power to heal relationships.
French with subtitles, what really makes it difficult to view is the ordeal the little protagonist endures. After the death of her mother, a child attempts to understand where her mommy is, and believes if she can get close enough to God, He will send the mother back.
While it’s a film that frustrates because we cannot relieve the child’s sadness, Ponette nevertheless is an insightful look at the world of children. It includes an uplifting ending and powerful performances by the three lead kids. There’s also a positive portrayal of a Christian woman as she relates the story of Christ to this little one.
Four-year-old Victoire Thivisol won the 1996 Venice Film Festival Best Actress prize for her portrayal. How the filmmakers got such a dynamic, moving performance out of this cherub is beyond me; but even if she never does another thing, this little girl has greatly contributed to the world of art and the spirit of man. This film is not rated (There are three or four obscenities, but no apparent misuse of God’s name).
In Plain Sight
In Plain Sight is an inspiring documentary featuring the work of six female abolitionists as they fight against sex trafficking in the United States. Right now, children are bought and sold, some by family members, right here in our own cities. This subject is painful to think about, but In Plain Sight will help you understand what is happening, why it is happening, and what you can do to make a positive difference. It’s a moving, informative and necessary film. Not rated, this 68-minute documentary is now available from Word Entertainment.
Anne Frank Remembered
It’s disheartening to think of people having to hide in order to survive, but that’s the way it was for many Jews during WWII. This poignant documentary works on several levels: a true-life coming of age, the insights of a wise young girl, and the human capacity to survive while caring for others.
Filled with many intuitive moments, the film reminds us that soon no one will be here to tell the personal events associated with that horrific time.
One particular moment had a sudden emotional impact on me. Real-life film footage shows a parade during that period when suddenly the camera pans up the side of a housing complex, revealing people looking out the window at the commotion in the street. One of those people was the real Anne Frank. I remember bursting into tears as that visual overwhelmed me. I’m not sure why, other than the fact that here was this human being, full of life, and I realized that life would swiftly undergo change, then be snuffed out one day in a concentration camp. It’s one of the most moving images ever caught on film. Anne Frank Remembered is rated PG. The atrocities of Hitler’s concentration camps are briefly seen toward the end of the film.
Chadwick Boseman is outstanding as the legendary Jackie Robinson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Perhaps the most profound scene in the film has to do with an opposing coach hurling insults at Robinson before a packed stadium. It’s an extended sequence, meant to unnerve and madden us. As difficult as it is to sit through these screen moments, they ultimately serve to unite the theater audience with Robinson.
An equally telling moment has a dad and his boy ready to enjoy the game. The father and son are bonding when, as Robinson takes the field, the father yells out the N-word, along with the crowd. His vitriolic chant against this man of color unsettles the boy, as he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Alas, soon the child is also yelling the N-word along with his father. As demoralizing as that sequence can be, it sends the message that we learn from our parents. This film is rated PG-13.
I’m sure many are asking, “What about the content of some of these films you are presenting?” The above films were difficult for me because of the content and the subjects, but they were also profound in their intent.
— by Phil Boatwright | BP
Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org and is a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.