“Rising To New Life” in the Movies

2013-03-27 08.46.20Last year, I posted a list of My Top Ten Easter Movies, and shared the list on Salt + Light Radio.  That list still stands–it hasn’t changed in a year. But this year I wanted to share some not-so-obvious films that might “fit” many themes of the Easter season–films about coming to new life. (You can listen to the list on Salt + Light Radio here.) We “rise to new life” in many ways throughout our lives, and this short list of five movies to watch during the Easter season (with five runners-up) addresses these various kinds of “new life” that we may be invited to.

The movies on today’s list are not traditional, fluffy “Easter bunny” films because the best stories about coming to new life also have to take us through the darkness of death. So these films may not be Easter Sunday viewing, but they can offer insights about how we can live the greatest mystery of our faith–the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection–in our own lives.

5. NowVoyagerCoverThe classic 1942 Bette Davis film Now, Voyager, is the story of a woman who has been so emotionally abused by her family that she has lost all sense of herself. Through friends, therapy, and a romance, she gradually–and precariously–transforms from an ugly duckling into a strong woman who comes to care for others. Bette Davis and the entire supporting cast give wonderful performances—Bette Davis was nominated for an Oscar. The “new life” of the protagonist is not literally an escape from death, but a psychological and emotional coming to life as Bette Davis’s character discovers what it is to truly love and be loved.

4. DarkKnightRisesCoverFilm number 4 is a tie between two movies from 2012: Les Miserables and  Dark Knight Rises. Despite the limitations of a comic-book adaptation, in Dark Knight Rises, Batman and Gotham both undergo an incredibly dark oppression. Actually, Batman’s Bruce Wayne begins the film as a broken man–he has not recovered from the great sacrifices he  made the last time he rescued Gotham. Yet, once he has been captured and even further broken by Gotham’s new nemesis, Bruce struggles not to give up his agonizing hope to escape and once more free Gotham from oppression and destruction. One of the things I love about this film is that both Bruce and Gotham make a journey from death to new life. Batman’s willingness to not just sacrifice his life but everything makes him a Christ-figure that is appropriate for Easter.

LesMiserablesMusicalCoverAny of the cinematic portrayals of Les Miserables offer wonderful insights on what it means to be redeemed. The musical version, however, offers powerful melodies and lyrics that add another level to the story. One of the most powerful scenes is Jean Valjean’s soul being “bought back” from evil by the bishop’s kindness. Yet, for me what makes this story unique and even more powerful for mature believers is that the story doesn’t stop at Jean Valjean’s early redemption, but shows the consequences of what it means to live this redemption throughout one’s life, within difficult and challenging circumstances. And how his “new life” affects those around him, as he offers others mercy and hope. In the musical, the closing scene has a beautiful scene of resurrection for all the characters that have suffered.

SecondhandLionsCover3. Secondhand Lions is a little-known gem of a movie from 2003 that the whole family can see together. But this is not a fluffy Disney-like film–the more attentive you are in viewing the film, the more you’ll get out of it. Haley Joel  Osment stars as Walter, an awkward adolescent whose irresponsible mother drops him off unannounced at his seemingly crazy uncles in Texas, whom he’s never met. Robert Duvall and Michael Caine are the eccentric, gruff uncles that eventually come to offer something special to the lonely Walter, but they are not untouched by his arrival. Writer-director Tim McCanlies does a marvelous job of layering meaning into a simple story. Walter’s journey is not literally from death, but more of a journey from neglect and “fake” love to a new life of freedom from fear and genuine love. Secondhand Lions is a delightful film with wonderful performances that will engage the entire family.

MatrixCover2. The Matrix cinematically offers so many visual and narrative moments of resurrection that I had no choice but to include it on this list. As with many films (such as Dark Knight Rises), I am not satisfied with a seeming glorification of violence that is portrayed in this film. Yet this many-layered movie offers a great story, amazing sequences, and profound insights. Neo, a computer hacker played by Keanu Reeves, discovers that his entire life has been controlled by others—without his knowing it. He is encouraged to lead a rebellion against those who control him and his world, but the journey from a coma-like state to full awareness is not without a huge cost. Neo’s journey may very well change the future of the entire world—from captivity to freedom.

SchindlersList1. Schindler’s List, the masterpiece directed by Steven Spielberg which explores the depravity of the Holocaust, best captures a journey of coming to new life: both in the lives of the Jews who are rescued from the Holocaust, and in Oskar Schindler’s own journey from self-serving, greedy jerk to a man who repeatedly risks his life and eventually loses everything to save the lives of 1200 Jews. Schindler’s journey from selfishness to self-sacrifice, from sinfulness to grace, leads his workers from the certainty of death to the possibility of new life at the end of World War II. What makes this film so brilliant is the contrast between the journey of Schindler, who repeatedly chooses life for others, and Goethe, the Nazi commander who repeatedly chooses death for others. The true story of this ordinary man who, under pressure, saves the lives of others at the risk of his own, offers hope to all of us.

What are your favorite movies that revolve around the theme of resurrection? I’d be very interested  in your feedback–and I suspect other readers of the blog would be interested as well.

My list of five runners-up–without commentary for now–is below.

  • Spitfire Grill
  • Tender Mercies
  • Truman Show
  • Patch Adams
  • Superman Returns

My prayers for a very Blessed Easter for each of you!

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