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Ten Films to Stir the Spirit: Part 1

Several readers have asked EthicsDaily.com to recommend films to jumpstart spiritual discussions. Our three movie reviewers have each weighed in, offering 10 films apiece.

“Giant,” 1956, G<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
This epic film, based on an Edna Ferber novel, tells the story of Texas rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson), the wife he plucks from back east (Liz Taylor), and the ranch hand (James Dean) whose “new money” competes with his boss’ old. “Giant” deals with marital roles, cultural sensitivity, violence, child-rearing and so much more. It’s a “family film” like no other, in that it presents a fully realized, bound-by-blood unit whose respect for the past—and hope for the future—infuses every act. “Giant” leaves a hefty footprint. 
<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Lawrence of Arabia,” 1962, PG
This film touches the spirit on account of its artistry alone. Directed by David Lean and written by Robert Bolt, it tells the story of T.E. Lawrence, a British officer stationed in Cairo who winds up leading a revolt in Arabia. Peter O’Toole is outstanding as a transformed Lawrence. This film stands out in a desert of others depicting Muslims on film. And speaking of deserts, the one Lean projects here is nothing less than a spiritual place.

“Gandhi,” 1982, PG
Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for his portrayal of the nonviolent leader. Under the direction of Richard Attenborough, Kingsley offers an incredible performance. Anyone seriously interested in spiritual exploration must deal with Gandhi, and this film is a terrific aid. It also complements “Lawrence of Arabia” nicely: both are epics, both profile strong central characters, and both characters choose different leadership styles. 
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” 1982, PG
Steven Spielberg’s tale of a suburban boy who befriends an abandoned alien tugged heartstrings when it was released, and it just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Many have drawn parallels between E.T. and Christ: a creature from the heavens is left on earth; he’s misunderstood and mistreated; when the boy tells others of his find, they don’t believe; and more. Plenty of food for thought here, and it speaks easily to children.

“The Karate Kid,” 1984, PG
Another good film for kids—and adults—is “The Karate Kid.” Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is not only the new kid at school, but he’s also the target of ridicule by a gang of boys who know karate. Miyagi (Pat Morita) comes to his aid, teaching him not only karate for self-defense, but also important life lessons. At its heart, “The Karate Kid” is about a student and his teacher. It’s about learning from a master.  
“Places in the Heart,” 1984, PG
This Sally Field movie has one of the most stirring movie endings ever (and it’s in a church, too). Field plays Edna Spalding, a Southern widow in the1930s who tries to bring in a cotton crop with the help of a dedicated field hand (Danny Glover), a blind tenant (John Malkovich) and her two young children. Their struggle against sexism, racism, harsh weather and tough economic times is poignant—and well worth viewing. And just wait for the ending …

“The Accidental Tourist,” 1988, PG
William Hurt plays Macon Leary, author of travel books for helping travelers minimize discomfort while away from home. But Macon’s marriage to Sarah (Kathleen Turner) crumbles when their only son is killed early in the film. Macon approaches grief like he approaches traveling—minimizing discomfort. That approach drives Sarah away, leaving them both lonely. Only when Macon meets a quirky woman (Geena Davis) does his life begin to assume any real meaning again. Some people may not “get” this film, but those that do will be engrossed and provoked. It would be particularly challenging for married couples, as a discussion starter for topics on grief, friendship, communication, faithfulness and divorce. 
“Leap of Faith,” 1992, PG-13
Steve Martin plays traveling evangelist Jonas Nightingale. When Nightingale and his cronies become stranded in a Midwestern town, they decide to set up shop and bilk the locals, preying on their desire for rain to help the crops. Jonas doesn’t really believe in miracles, but what if he witnessed one? “Leap of Faith” is engaging for the way it sends up over-the-top evangelistic behavior and treats the “genuine article” such behavior can’t touch.

“Schindler’s List,” 1993, R
Spielberg makes the list again with probably his most masterful film: the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German profiteer who risked his life and fortune to save more than a thousand Jews from extermination camps during World War II. The film is rated R for language, some sexuality and graphic violence, and should therefore be viewed judiciously. For those willing to watch, however, “Schindler’s List”—with its performances, camera work and subject matter—will wrench the soul. 
“Contact,” 1997, PG
Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) has been searching for extra-terrestrial life ever since childhood, when her parents died. She finally receives a signal from Vega, but the discovery throws her into confusion over the difference between faith and science. “Contact,” based on a novel by Carl Sagan, is an intelligent and entertaining mainstream movie. It deals with the nature of belief, even as it presents radically different religious perspectives.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.