I’m back after a quick journey to the Planet of the Apes with some more scenes from movies on my top 100 list. See entries one, two, three and four for more scenes, and my full list for full listiness. As always, if the title of a movie is a link, follow it to find my full review.
Yeah, Moonrise Kingdom is probably Wes Anderson’s sweetest film, since it concerns the puppy love between two pre-teens on a twee little island, but it’s also really really funny. Here’s a little clip that illustrates how much joy there is in the film. Ben Schwartzman’s Cousin Ben character is just the jolt the movie needs at this point to bring the whole thing home. Look at how much fun he’s having! Sliding down the pole instead of climbing the ladder, getting all exasperated at the annoying kids. This is great stuff.
67. The Lion in Winter – “What does it matter…”
“But wait!” you cry out to me, “This isn’t a scene from the movie!” No, technically not. But I’m also not going to do much better than this, so deal with it. If the best fictional president can’t convince you of the movie’s greatness, I don’t know who can.
42. Hot Fuzz – A Terrible Accident
Edgar Wright is a master visual film maker. I know that the visual qualifier shouldn’t really be a necessary addition, but it is. There are so few directors that are able to match his wit, sense of pacing, and penchant for layered frames which add to the aural jokes coming from his more-than-able stars. Here it’s the name of the soon-to-be-dead guy and the shock of his death that is absolutely heightened by the build up (not only do we have a ticking clock but also a spinning drum thing) and the pay-off (a surprisingly cartoonish spurt of blood, followed by a few more of the same). That’s how you do it, friends.
This is, I think, the most recent addition to my list, as I watched it only a few days before compiling the final version of the list. Jean Renoir (briefly seen here in a bear suit) creates in this scene a parallel between the ritualized danse macabre, the staged entertainment, and the silly love games that the rich attendees play. The acrobatic skill of the skeleton is matched by the fluidity of the camera in the second half of the scene (note the lack of cuts here) to draw the parallels even further. Yes, the games are fun, but death will still come in the end.
35. Sherlock Jr. – Into the movies
Ok, so let’s just move swiftly past the genius of the first minute or so of this scene. It’s right there, you can see it. The slapstick of the latter half as Buster Keaton has only a few moments to acclimate to his new surroundings (brought about by a cut in a movie) is at an all-time great level, given both the imagination and the physicality of the idea and Keaton’s performance. The best gag comes towards the end, when Keaton prepares to jump into the ocean which gets swapped out for a snow bank as he is in flight. Talk about craftsmanship in joke telling!
That’s the end of today’s selection. Let me know what you liked, or if you love another scene from these movies.
I went on a mini-vacation but now I’m back with more scenes from movies randomly selected from my new top 100 list. See entry one and two for more fun. Movie titles will be linked to full reviews if I have one.
31. The Thing – Blood Test (WARNING! Not for the squeamish)
The Thing is one of the most macho films on my list. There’s not a woman in sight, and the men become more and more paranoid as the movie progresses until it reaches its zenith in this tense scene. It’s the paranoia running just barely under the surface here that makes everyone in the first half of the scene utterly still. The bursts of fire from the flamethrowers are the only real movement, echoing their pulses, maybe, or their anxiety. So they sit their as each sample of blood gets tested until one of the people starts shaking and transforming. Then one of the best practical effects movies starts showing off again and there’s blood and grossness and everything you ever wanted in a movie.
This scene takes place after The Tramp rescues a rich man from an attempted suicide. As thanks, the rich man stuffs The Tramp full of alcohol and takes him out on the town. What follows is maybe the funniest I’ve seen Chaplin be. His faux-gentility gets amplified by the alcohol and the frou-frou setting and the absurdities of it all. We go from questioning why a person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between eating spaghetti and a coiled streamer to laughing at just how long he eats that streamer. And when the music takes over his body and he charges onto the dance floor we can see just how great a performer Charlie Chaplin was.
48. The Night of the Hunter – “The Devil Wins Sometimes”
How insidious a character is Robert Mitchum’s Mr. Powell in The Night of the Hunter? Here is a con man, a thief, a murderer whose false religiosity combines with his powerful charisma to fool nearly everybody he meets throughout the course of the film. The husband and wife who run the local ice cream shop are probably the worst part of the whole movie, and yet this scene, in which Mr. Powell explains his new wife’s transgressions, still works thanks to Mitchum’s amazing pull on screen. Of course, it’s all just a build up to one of the best visuals in all of cinema, his wife floating in their car at the bottom of a river. The floating plants mirror her flowing hair, and the whole scene takes on an eerie beauty. That beauty is only increased when viewed from above and then from the side, allowing us to appreciate her naïveté and the power Mr. Powell had over her from the start. Amazing.
19. Hoop Dreams – Graduation
If you’ve been around the block with me a few times in this whole top 100 thing, you probably already knew the scene I was going to pick for Hoop Dreams. I teared up again when I watched it for this post. When Roger Ebert reviewed the film he started with these words: “It takes us, shakes us, and make us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.” The scene that exemplifies this power is suprisingly one in which the two stars of the film, William Gates and Arthur Agee, take a back seat in favor of Shelia Agee, who finds out that she’s graduating from a Nursing Assistant’s program at the top of her class. It’s her joy that makes you realize just how powerful achievement can be. She is, as she says, at the beginning of her journey, but it’s an important first step and an example for her son, Arthur, who will have his own ups and downs in his life. Shelia is the center of the movie.
73. Repulsion – Cracks, clay, and creatures
What tricks will our minds play on us when we are alone? Do you run up the stairs when you turn out the light with visions of hands grasping at your legs? Are you brave enough to turn around after that quick ascension to see if there really was anything there? There isn’t much dialogue in Repulsion but there is a lot of noise. Flies buzz around a rotting rabbit corpse left out of the refrigerator, clocks tick away the seconds minutes hours and days, and walls moan and crack under the pressure. While the specifics are never clarified, Catherine Deneuve’s character is clearly messed up, and her weekend alone is bad news for her and the unfortunate people that come into contact with her over the course of it.
Those five will do it for today. Any thoughts or other favorite scenes from these movies to share? Leave a comment and let’s talk a bit.
We cross the halfway point in today’s part of the list. Some of these are even more idiosyncratic, which I enjoy. I hope you do, too! Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.
During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play these song at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.
A really lovely “realistic” musical. I already really like this kind of folksy rock music and with the bittersweet love story added on top I was destined to love this film. “Falling Slowly” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard and the quaint setting in this film allows the viewer to fully invest in the story and emotions of the song. Just wonderful.
59. Cloud Atlas
Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.
An adaptation of the superb book on which this is based would have to do one of two things to work. Either it would have to be a delicate balancing act, one which tones down a lot of the philosophical mumbo jumbo which works well on the page but often doesn’t translate when people have to say the words, or it could steer into the skid and, by holding nothing back, transcend the silly and reach a level of emotional and technical wonder that few films even aspire to. This is the latter and, though it is a mess, it is a spectacular and thrilling mess that really got under my skin.
58. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We’re not so different, you and I. We’ve both spent our lives looking for the weakness in one another’s systems. Don’t you think it’s time to recognize there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps the opposite of Cloud Atlas in every way except their ultimate quality. A quiet spy movie with only a few explosions to speak of, it relies instead upon intricate character work and a deliberately plotted story that takes its time getting where it’s going. Centered around a quiet but forceful Gary Oldman, the story takes many twists and turns and I’m still not sure I know all the ins and out of it as cold war spies deal with the end of their career’s work. A dense and marvelous clockwork spy drama.
57. The Shop Around the Corner
Flora, take a letter. Ah… To whom it may concern. Mr. Vadas has been in the employ of Matuschek & Company for the last two years, during which he has been very efficient as a stool pigeon, a troublemaker, and a rat.
This is one of the top 5 most delightful movies I’ve ever seen. A story of people who love each other in writing and hate each other in person which jumps to life thanks to the wonderful chemistry of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The other characters get a bit to do, as well, giving it a nicely rounded happiness. An all time great Christmas movie.
56. The Tree of Life
Toscanini once recorded a piece sixty five times. You know what he said when he finished? “It could be better.” Think about it.
Here is a film so rich that subsequent rewatches can seemingly change the film itself, morphing it from a coming of age story to a parable about mothers and fathers to a study of the evolution of man and nature together. Beautifully shot, a given for Terrence Malick, it mushes all kinds of stuff together into one floaty whole.
55. Throne of Blood
Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.
Throne of Blood is what happens when a master of cinema decides to do a mashup of a traditional Japanese theatrical style and one of the best plays Shakespeare ever wrote. Decidedly over the top actors play on relatively sparse stages and still the creepy ghosts and witches spook and the royal plotting delights. Our hero meets his end by a thousand arrows and it’s intensity defined.
54. The Quiet Man
There’ll be no locks or bolts between us, Mary Kate… except those in your own mercenary little heart!
John Ford’s most John Ford-y movie doesn’t even take place in the West! It does have all the myth-making and lush beauty (especially on the recently released Blu-ray) you come to expect with him, and the central romantic pairing totally works. Maureen O’Hara might be the only person who could ever put up with John Wayne’s particular brand of manliness. There’s some questionable sexism type stuff that happens here, but taken in the spirit of the film it’s only a minor bump in an otherwise exquisitely gorgeous road.
53. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Hallie’s your girl now. Go back in there and take that nomination. You taught her how to read and write; now give her something to read and write about!
One of John Ford’s more complex westerns is at least in part a meta-western about the end of the wild west and the beginning of bringing civilization to those untamed lands. Those two opposing forces are embodied by John Wayne (of course) and Jimmy Stewart (again, of course) with Vera Miles trapped in between and Lee Marvin providing the cold violence to get the story going. Shot in beautiful black and white, this movie does all kinds of nuanced things that one unfamiliar with the director and genre might not expect.
What are you telling me, that you’re, you’re, you’re gonna leave Emily, is this true? And, and run away with the, the, the winner of the Zelda Fitzgerald emotional maturity award?
I’ve still only seen three Woody Allen movies, but each of them (Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris being the other two) is great in its own right. Manhattan is consistently funny and really pretty to look at, much like Diane Keaton. It’s one of those movies that I can see myself coming back to every other year or so.
51. The Long Day Closes
“Wish I knew if he knew what I’m dreaming of.”
Yet another coming of age story graces my list. And again it delves into issues of religion and sexuality and escape-via-film. A deeply felt film which has stuck with me for over a year now, one which I find myself returning to in my mind quite often. The recently announced Criterion version will be a must-buy when it comes out in January.
50. The Truman Show
I have given Truman the chance to lead a normal life. The world, the place you live in, is the sick place.
The Truman Show has only gained cultural relevance in the years since its release with the proliferation of social media instigating a lot of intentional oversharing of a person’s life. Centered around a career best performance from Jim Carrey and smart direction by Peter Weir, this movie is one for the ages as it is entirely of its time and feels specially timeless.
49. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
No, that’s just dried blood. THOSE are his brains.
There really needs to be another movie in this series because Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are too much fun to watch when they go sailing. The ship fights are great and the naturalism subplot adds a really interesting historical and thematic hue to the proceedings. And with a mostly child-populated cast it comes off as a well acted and well directed swashbuckler of a time.
48. The Seventh Seal
I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.
For a movie about death and the absence of God, The Seventh Seal gets a lot of play out of being kind of pleasant, especially in its middle section. It’s also pretty funny, given all those things. There are intense and scary scenes and a lot of deep philosophizing, but it’s those other, calmer scenes which work to make the existential angst even more effective and give it a spot on my list.
47. The Act of Killing
You acted so well but you can stop crying now.
As a movie about movies, The Act of Killing is a really fascinating look at the power of film to play into ideals and perverse fantasies. As a movie about insane people, it’s even scarier. It’s a truly singular documentary that leaves the viewer shocked, grossed out, and thinking.
46. In Bruges
A great day this has turned out to be. I’m suicidal, me mate tries to kill me, me gun gets nicked and we’re still in fookin’ Bruges!
Last year Martin McDonagh finally released his follow up to this sweet-and-sour little movie and, though it wasn’t as good as the intricately plotted and intimately performed In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths at least proved that he’s not a one trick pony in the film world. Though, if In Bruges was a once in a lifetime kind of thing I’d be cool with that because it’s just so darn good.
45. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages
And then we will console ourselves with the notion that the mildly temperate shower of the clinic has replaced the barbaric methods of medieval times.
Haxan is a compelling mishmash of “documentary” and reenactment footage compiled to both scare and draw parallels between our treatment of so called witches in the past and the mentally ill in the present (of 1922). It’s weird and totally interesting.
44. His Girl Friday
Of course he had to have a gun to re-enact the crime with. And who do you think supplied it? Peter B. Hartwell. B For brains.
How hilariously fast can a movie possibly be? I think this one pretty much maxes out both categories. Howard Hawks pairs Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell plus a guy that looks a lot like Ralph Bellamy to perfection. All wits and barbs here, and it’s all super fun.
43. Girl Walk//All Day
You should always be happy.
The unparalleled joy of Girl Walk//All Day can hardly be explained in mere words, so for the first and only time in this countdown, let a clip from this full album length dance video suffice. It’s got a flowing artistry that is really something special and can be seen in its entirety on youtube.
42. North by Northwest
Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then, but I have tickets for the theater this evening, to a show I was looking forward to and I get, well, kind of unreasonable about things like that.
And look, another Cary Grant movie! Hitchcock deftly plays into action movie tropes while maintaining a really fun romance and his impeccable direction. Just really well made.
I will step outside the church if that’s what needs to be done, ’til the door should shut behind me! I will do what needs to be done, though I’m damned to Hell! You should understand that, or you will mistake me.
You may have figured out by now that I like super-verbal films. Throw two or three people into a room and get them talking and I’ll be in, especially when it’s the likes of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (plus scenes with Viola Davis and Amy Adams) speaking the words of John Patrick Shanley. Doubt is a triumph of talking that doesn’t skimp on more typically movie-ish elements in the direction.
See, wasn’t that fun? The lower 60 are now done and the top 40 on their way sometime soon! Let me know anything you feel like saying here in the comments and check back for the penultimate section.
Time to come down to earth a little bit. After the portion of this list presented earlier in the week about God(s), my focus now turns to brothers and sisters. I have one of each and the relationships that form between brothers and sisters are some of the weirdest and sometimes strongest that we build in our lives. This is our family, and different though we may be, we are generally forced to live with each other for the developmental periods of our lives. Neither my brother nor my sister are very much like me, though I can see myself in facets of each of them. It’s this relationship that fascinates me and forms the basis of this part of the list. Some of these films will just be about brothers, or just about sisters, but they’re all about how these people that we don’t choose to affiliate ourselves with have a profound and lasting influence on our lives. And now, the poll.
Now that the voting is out of the way (you did vote for your favorite, right?), let’s get into the meat of it all. I don’t think I included any cannibal brothers or sisters here, but let’s start with the more strained relationships. Some of these are small in scope, take the snowball fight in Where the Wild Things Are as an example of a very minor but very important scene of brother and sister fighting. It’s a scene that provides a very grounded basis for the rest of the film, and also a scene likely acted out by every brother and sister in the known universe. A young boy spies on his older sister and her friends as she leaves the house to hang out. He goes into attack mode and tosses some snowballs at them while they are getting into a beat up old car and when she and her friends retaliate it all seems like a good time. That is, until one friend goes too far and jumps on top of the snow cave the brother built. What was fun turns instantly into a sad, angry scene as the brother gathers up some snow and throws it on her bed after she leaves. It’s almost too real a scene to be included in a fiction movie, but it’s that scene that sets in motion the rest of the film’s fantastical-if-sadly-strange wonderland. There’s a similar scene in Punch-Drunk Love, where Barry, a weird and lonely man, is invited to have dinner with his multitude of sisters. What starts as a nice, if forced, dinner conversation turns into a typical rage fit for Barry after all of his sisters pile on and pester him about his weirdness. It’s the ugly side of sibling relationships, but they do exist.
Even twins have antagonistic tendencies. Adaptation is a weird movie about a weird man trying to write a weird movie about a weird book. He becomes a character in his own film, and his twin (who doesn’t exist in real life) tries to be like him but fails spectacularly, writing all the wrong things and falling into all the screenwriting traps he is trying to avoid. Melancholia features, in its first half, the wedding of a young depressed girl. Her sister is organizing everything and as the wedding falls apart thanks to the bride’s depression, the sister gets more and more exasperated. All of these sibling rivalry type relationships are pretty obvious in their construction, but I think they say important things about the way we treat those that are related to us. Perhaps the biggest, and certainly the loudest, example of this is from The Lion in Winter, a movie based entirely around familial bickering over important and not so important things. On the important side, which of three brothers will take over as King of England, on the not so important side, which of the brothers is loved more by which parent. And then, to take it one step further, Halloween features an older brother who goes crazy and kills one sister and then spends the rest of the film trying to kill another. This relationship isn’t revealed until the second film, so it’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s too fun to keep off this portion of the list.
Of course, not all brothers and sisters want to kill each other. Sometimes they’re the only source of hope and the only people one can rely on in rough situations. The Night of the Hunter features a ferocious performance by Robert Mitchum as an evil step-father who tries to extract the location of stolen money hidden by the father of the young brother and sister at the center of the film. His evilness is elaborated upon as the film goes on, which only serves to bring the two kids closer together as everybody around them that should be their protectors are revealed to be ineffective. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are a little more obviously and immediately life threatening and as such the brother and sister in that film don’t demonstrate much beyond some playful jabs at each other’s nerdiness, and they learn just how resourceful they can be when the other is in danger. The Proposition‘s Australian outlaw brother trio is as messed up as they can be, and yet their relationship grows stronger and deeper the further into trouble they get. The titular family in The Royal Tenenbaums is falling apart and at the outset this movie would seem like it should go more in the first category of unfriendly siblings, but as the film develops the second generation comes together, puts aside their petty fights and hidden jealousies to save their family from dissolution. It’s a group of true and real relationships painted with Wes Anderson’s typical style, which elevates the movie into greatness. Similarly, Pan’s Labyrinth features a girl who’s mother is pregnant, and whose pregnancy is jeopardized by health risks and an evil stepfather (noticing a trend?). At first Ofelia is angry at her soon-to-be-sister for endangering her mother but once she grows up a little she realizes how much this relationship will mean and tries her best to save the recently-born child. Not all fathers must be evil, of course. Terrence Mallick’s The Tree of Life might seem at first to feature an evil father but repeat viewings reveal Brad Pitt’s father to be a loving, flawed human being. Still, the brothers often find themselves uniting against him and going on young boy quests through the wilds of the mid-century mid-west. Fanny and Alexander again features an evil stepfather and a brother and sister who team up to weather any abuse they must endure while their mother fights her own battles against the tyrannical man she married.
Some of the more observant of my readers might notice a few films on this list that seem like they shouldn’t fit the topic at first glance. What brothers or sisters are there in Blade Runner, for example? Well, if you’ll allow, I extend the idea of siblings into friends that have a tighter relationship than the norm. So the similarly created robots in Blade Runner share an impending death and they fight the system that tries to keep them less than human. The World’s End, too, features friends that, at the beginning, have fallen out with each other thanks to the destructive habits of their leader. Still, that leader succeeds in bringing them back together as they fight an evil extraterrestrial threat (and try to drink 12 pints from 12 different pubs at the same time). In Never Let Me Go the nature of the relationship between all of the characters in the film is left a mystery for much of the run time, but their strange situation brings them together and they form bonds that act similarly to the brother and sister relationship. There’s always the other side of that coin, though. The rival magicians in The Prestige know each other so well that they develop a deep jealousy which turns murderous. There Will Be Blood seems like a movie that features a real brother-brother relationship, with the introduction of Henry, a man who says he’s Daniel Plainview’s long lost brother (turns out, no) and the brothers that hate each other, Paul and Eli Sunday. The two young basketball players with dreams of going to the NBA in Hoop Dreams aren’t related by blood, but they nevertheless support and cheer for each other through high and low.
And then there are the siblings torn apart by circumstance. The Mortal Storm begins with a strong family bond which breaks as Hitler declares war on the rest of Europe. The older brothers become surprisingly fascist and leave to join Hitler’s fight while the only sister, the incomparable Margaret Sullavan, stays behind to help her elderly and disgraced father retain some kind of dignity. Later in the film she goes to one of her older brothers to ask for his help in escaping their country for one that has been kept out of the war. The conflict between his duty and his family is strong and quite affecting which, after several rewatches, is elevated to being at least as moving as the love story at the film’s center. Anna Karenina spends the first part of her movie trying to help her lecherous brother through an affair but turns into an adulterer herself as she leaves him to figure out his own issues. The sibling rivalry in City of God gets to quite destructive ends, as one brother tries desperately to stay out of the gangs that rule the slums and the other tries just as hard to get into one, to his ultimate demise. The problem between brother and sister in The Quiet Man isn’t quite life or death. Maureen O’Hara’s crazy older brother is dead set against her betrothal to John Wayne and gets into a hilariously long (in both time and distance senses of the word) fight scene over her. I guess that’s some kind of love. And, though they call themselves a family, the organization in The Godfather is a kind that says it’s all about loyalty at the front and will turn with jealousy at the drop of a hat. The secrets and lies that boil underneath the relationship between the two sisters in A Streetcar Named Desire are what leads to that film’s climactic battle of words.
Brothers and sisters are a strange bunch. Through love and jealousy and hatred and reverence they idolize and vilify each other. A port of refuge in a storm or a strong wind that sets the other adrift, the relationship between siblings, blood or otherwise, is difficult to get right. These 26 movies do, and for that I salute them.
That’s all for now. If you have another movie you like about brothers and sisters, leave a comment for me! If you haven’t voted for your favorite from my list, go do that. And if you’re on Letterboxd (and you should be), check out this list there and be sure to check off all that you have seen. And tune in sometime next week for the next installment of this ongoing series. It’ll be another familial relationship. Or not! Who knows!
Welcome to the first real post about my new top 100 movies list! It’s very exciting, at least to me. The first grouping will be, as the title suggests, movies about God(s). As a not-religious person my interest here is not to affirm my own point of view or force it upon you, but to see how movies about god(s) and religion raise questions that matter deeply to us as humans. How does the presence or lack of a god inform our lives? How do we cope when we try to approach something beyond our understanding? Who do we blame when something goes wrong, or praise when something goes right? Religion has been a large part of our cultural heritage and movies are no different. Without further ado, here are, in alphabetical order, the movies from my top 100 list that are, in some way, about God(s).
Ok, have you voted? That’s a poll, go vote on it! Pick one that is your favorite. Do it!
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk a little. First, movies about playing God. We have within us a deep desire to create and specifically to create life. That is often seen as the territory of God or Gods, depending on the creation myth you like best. Through movies we’ve come up with some fantastic creation myths of our own, none better than Jurassic Park. Here’s an example of creating life gone wrong, bringing back what should have been left dead, or at least should have been created with a little more care and foresight. “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” This pretty accurately describes the thought process up to the beginning of the movie as wryly stated by the one and only Jeff Goldblum. Laura Dern counters with the potential plot of the rest of the film, “Dinosaurs eat man … woman inherits the earth.” But Jurassic Park isn’t the only movie about humans trying to reach god-like status as creators of life. Blade Runner, too, concerns itself with the perils of trying to re-create humans and improve upon them. At what point does that creation turn on its creators for being imperfect as some would argue we have done with God? Roy Batty is perhaps the most human character in the film as he struggles with this question, though beneath his synthetic skin an artificial heart beats and a computer thinks. The Truman Show goes on a bit of a different path as a tv producer creates not life but a life for the titular character. Everything is controlled and broadcast for all to see and though it may seem idyllic initially, soon the curated life becomes a prison, which leads the viewer to ask whether or not the same would be the case if we were to know with certainty that our lives are curated in a similar respect.
Some movies warn of the perils of religion and religious thinking. Doubt, for example, presents some obvious issues with the concept of certainty when it comes to things that are immensely complex, whether it be belief in God or the relationship between a man and a boy. That film does a wonderful job of not answering any of the factual questions we have as that would not accurately reflect the situation the characters find themselves in. Haxan: Witchcraft through the Ages is an early documentary that explores the way religion has treated anybody that isn’t normal in the society of the time. Even in 1922 the movie is smart enough to link this bad behavior to the treatment of mental illness in “modern” times, a situation that hasn’t improved as much as it should. In The Wicker Man a Christian detective is brought to an island of pagans to investigate a missing girl. It’s a clash of religious ideas that is as loopy as it is unsettling, with its nude ritual scenes and creepy costumes. Fanny and Alexander is a movie in which an artistic family is subjected to the strict religious rules thanks to a mother’s second marriage. The bishop she marries is one of the greatest screen villains precisely because he is almost always certain he is doing the right thing. The Night of the Hunter has a similar father figure, and though his evil is even more apparent, it is no less scary.
It’s not always so obvious, though, the insidious implications of religion. The Long Day Closes shows a boy struggling with his sexual identity in the face of religious doctrine which states that he is ill-formed. The Seventh Seal demonstrates that life during the Black Plague was a nasty one, and religions reflected and enhanced that nastiness with their own misguided beliefs. In A Serious Man, the Job story from the bible is reinterpreted for the 60’s as a Jewish man’s life is ripped apart in any way possible while his religious leaders offer little comfort. And finally, in There Will Be Blood, capitalism is set against harsh Christianity as two ideals enter and both lose. There is very little up side to either as the deep-seated flaws are laid out in the forms of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday. Metropolis, too, shows us that economics are nothing to be worshiped.
Of course, God and religion are really just one way of trying to understand things that are bigger than ourselves and beyond our current understandings. As our scientific knowledge grows we answer questions with facts that we had once answered with gods, though new questions always appear in relation to even crazier things that happen in the natural world. Sunshine shows us a man who has lived so close to the sun for so long that he has gone crazy, believing that the sun is God incarnate and that he is an angel sent to destroy humanity. Cloud Atlas has, in one of its stories, a woman who becomes a god-figure thanks to her deeply human act of freeing millions of slaves. How one person can be so good is deified through countless retellings of a story. The Devil’s Backbone shows young orphans as they try to comprehend the insane violence of the Spanish Civil War through an unexploded bomb in the middle of their orphanage and tales of a ghostly kid who will exact revenge. Melancholia is a planet that appears out of nowhere and is on a collision course with the earth. As it nears us, a young woman deals with depression and the pressures of life. The Tree of Life and The Fountain are twins of a sort, both of which examine the role of God in our day to day lives, however mundane or grand they may be.
We also have, in movies, a great way of exploring whether or not God even exists. The Seventh Seal and Doubt ask the question early and often, while movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fantasia, The Exorcist, and Contact answer the question with a resounding yes, and that God is kinda scary. Fantasia and Throne of Blood explore non-christian religions through sometimes creepy and sometimes glorious imagery. Haxan, too, has a terrifyingly beautiful vision of hell, while Contact‘s heaven might be some distant planet. Holy Motors posits that movies are our new religion where we can make our own heavens and hells and realities. That’s the one that appeals to me most, I think. Cameras and projectors as instruments of revelation. That’s my kind of religion.
That’s enough for this subject, I think. I hope you voted. I’ve compiled this list on Letterboxd as well, so you can check off what you’ve seen. If you have any thoughts on what I’ve shared here, or a movie you think might fit this topic that you love, or anything at all, please leave a comment below! Tune in soon for a new topic of consideration.