Significant Films of Faith
For those who know me or who are familiar with my film philosophy, you know that my faith in Christ is a huge part of my life. One of the key reasons I enjoy a large portion of the films that I do is that I feel they present human beings as they really are. God meets us where we are, and we’re not often in a pretty state when we finally look back at him. So I’m not always looking for films that shows how pretty life can be.
I say all that as sort of a general overview of how I relate many films to my faith. This list, however, represents the films that more directly deal with faith. Not all of these are sunshine pumpers – in fact, many of them aren’t. But I feel they are all important and present ideas (often challenging) that are worth pondering. And so it begins:
Genesis: The Creation and the Flood (Ermanno Olmi, 1994)
One of the most poetic portrayals of a Biblical story put on film. This tells the story from creation to the flood.
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
A known atheist makes Jesus more human than I’ve ever seen him on-screen, without sacrificing his spiritual side in the process.
The King of Kings (Cecil B. DeMille, 1927)
A silent retelling of the Gospel. Relying on images to tell the story of Christ (which is the complete opposite way the story has been told for centuries) is intriguing.
The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)
This is the realest depiction of the crucifixion ever seen on film. There is little focus on Jesus’ message, which may be a fault, but it’s powerful nonetheless.
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
One of the best nativity stories I’ve ever seen. Obvious parrallels, but brings new life to a story we all take for granted.
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
This film features many parallels to the story of Abram and Sarai as they travel to Egypt from the book of Genesis, along with several other biblical allusions.
The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1989)
A 10-part miniseries, each one relating to one of the 10 commandments. It’s hard to identify which represent which, illustrating very real ways they are present in our lives today.
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
Donnie as Jesus, and Frank the bunny as God? Could be borderline blasphemous, but I see it.
Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog, 1971)
Lessons of Darkness (Werner Herzog, 1992)
TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010)
There’s a ton of Christian symbolism here. Creation, rebellion, betrayal, and sacrifice – a digital telling of the Old Testament up through the Gospels.
Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
Edward’s story is a Christ allegory – from his innocent entry into the world, to his undeserving persecution.
The Matrix (Andy & Larry Wachowski, 1999)
Neo’s story is also a Christ allegory – a prophesied savior who was betrayed, but ultimately sacrificed himself.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
Joan’s martyrdom and acceptance of her death and the positive impact it would have on those she left behind is very Christ-like.
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Listen carefully to a monologue near the end discussing the story from Luke where the two disciples come across Jesus but don’t recognize him and relate that to the film. Then couple that with many of the other intriguing monologues/dialogues throughout.
The Trial of Joan of Arc (Robert Bresson, 1962)
Not a lot different to report here than what has been said for The Passion of Joan of Arc – just thought I should point out that there are two great films about this lady.
Undertow (David Gordon Green, 2004)
This could be considered a stretch, but there are enough religious undertones, and symbolic acts involving the protagonist, that I feel it belongs here.
Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
Every character in this film is deep and real, dealing with complex issues, doubts, and questions. The film propogates that faith through enjoyment of blessings (no matter how big or small) is essential.
Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America (Tony Stone, 2007)
An extremely poignant display of sharing faith and God’s love through the building of genuine relationship.
Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961)
The film is about family, recognizing flaws exist, but surrounding each other with love (and by doing that, God as well) despite these flaws.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
Is this more a redmeption story or a story about God’s love? I put it here based on the way Malick presents how small we are in the grand scheme of things, but how important we still are to God.
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi, 1978)
A depiction of community in the best sense of the word. These people live in faith and love, no matter what challenges they meet.
Life in the Clergy
Black Robe (Bruce Beresford, 1991)
Addresses topics like conversion of non-believers and tested faith. It doesn’t take these topics lightly.
Diary of the Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951)
A quietly beautiful spiritual film. Bresson gives us a good, realistic picture of a priest and his struggles, centralizing on the themes of commitment and passion.
Essene (Frederick Wiseman, 1972)
Wiseman films a monastery and the monks and nuns everyday lives.
The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
Journeys of a saint and his followers, including a scene with a leper so full of love, you’ll be fighting back tears.
Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning, 2005)
Watching the lives of monks is surprising entrancing. Knowing that these men have willingly chosen this path for their lives and seeing their passion (although in a very relaxed and focused way) unfold on-screen was powerful.
The Priest and the Girl (Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1966)
The film deals with a priest’s temptations and doesn’t beat around the bush with it. It’s in no way judgmental though, as it fleshes out the priest as a real human (and a mostly good man) filled with confusion.
Clean (Olivier Assayas, 2004)
A story about a woman making a real effort to turn her life around and bring her son back into her life.
Le Fils (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
How to discuss this without including any spoilers? I don’t know if I can. The redemption/forgiveness present in this film is unbelievably touching.
The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994)
Simba’s story is one of working through guilt and repressed emotions to find a redemption he never knew he needed.
The Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismäki, 2002)
Amnesia as a symbol for redemption and completely abandoning an old life to start fresh.
Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)
A man changes his life, and though his past still rears its head, he is able to continue on the new path he’s created and make right choices along the way.
Questions/Hardships of Faith
21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003)
This film is an examination of reconciling faith with guilt and grief. It’s not a pretty picture, but a real one, nonetheless.
Day of Wrath (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1943)
Day of Wrath is an illustration of when authority figures of faith abuse their power. This isn’t a ‘religious people are hypocrites’ message, though, as even the ‘good’ characters live in faith. This presents the good and bad apples in equal light.
The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941)
Sort of a silly, but very accurate representation of how the devil actually works in our lives. Using deception, poking us in our weak spots, and then stealing, killing, and destroying.
Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
The demons we all deal with in our lives are illustrated literally in this film, as the protagonist tries to cope with them.
Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005)
As if living in faith when those closet to you mock it isn’t hard enough, this poor gal then has to try to work out her faith during a time of tragedy on top of it all. Heartbreaking.
Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
Silent Light features characters living in faith but still finding themselves either involved in or the victim of a break in trust. This is also a homage to Ordet.
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
I’ve always compared the main character in this film to King Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes. Both experience doubt; both want proof of God’s existence. Both are on a true search to know God.
The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
Many questions are asked here especially in regards to tragedy, vengeance, and how to reconcile those with God, with little to no answer. But the questions asked are real and ones those of faith often have.
Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
Winter Light follows a pastor as he struggles with God’s silence. His perseverence makes him a Noah figure and while some people of faith find these question unsettling and unnecessary, I find them to be completely relevant and important.
Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
Though the specifics are a little more gray, Tarkovsky has much to say about faith and its relevance to life.
The Clone Returns Home (Kanji Nakajima, 2008)
Deals more abstractly than most of the films on this list, but still addresses spirituality and the idea of a soul.
Contact (Robert Zemeckis, 1997)
Faith in the most basic meaning of the word. Can you have faith in something you can’t see? Is it even possible to live life without faith in something?
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (Andrew Douglas, 2003)
A look at many different kinds of faith in one community. No judgement, just observation.
Vernon, Florida (Errol Morris, 1981)
I’ve always loved the simplicity of country living, especially when it’s met with this philosophy: “I’ve never seen anything more perfect in my life…than to see the perfection of God himself.”
Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr & Ágnes Hranitzky, 2000)
A scene where the protagonist reflects on God’s power while face to face with a large, beautiful whale is extremely moving.