Sunday, July 22, 2007

32 Films I Take With Me (25-21)

25. Babel (2006)
It is difficult to know what the lasting power of a movie will be, and having seen this one so recently I may be overstating its importance. But if had to find a way to summarize the feeling of living in the world today I would probably show Babel (or possibly Lost in Translation). This film captures the disconnect in humanity while also retaining that tiny spark of hope. Each storyline adds up make the global village seem incredibly small and yet the gap between each person overwhelmingly large. The film suggests that this gap that may only be crossed as we lend another person the tiniest of hands. Even then, so much can go wrong. The scene with the nanny and the children in the desert was one of the most gripping I’ve ever seen. My stomach was in my throat. This movie makes you wish we could all just love our neighbour. Made me feel that way anyway.

24. Andrei Rublev (1969)

This is the longest movie I’ve ever seen. It took me weeks to watch it. I almost didn’t finish. It frightens me to think what impact it might have on me once I am able to watch it again in one sitting. It literally entered me into another place, another time, and another worldview so that I was only the richer for it. I’ve read books set in Russia, I’ve studied Medieval history, and I’ve become familiar with some of the tenets of Eastern Orthodoxy, but I never even began to understand them until I saw this film. Of course I don’t know everything there is to know about this era or these people, but now it feels like the only thing that separates us is the years. The cinematography was so amazing, and the director so committed to ignoring the clock that you couldn’t help but feel you were walking along with these characters as they experienced what life threw at them and grappled with faith. There are so many scenes that have stuck with me—too many to name. Just like a Dostoevsky novel, Andrei Rublev brought them into my world and me into theirs.

23. The Outsiders (1983)

This movie and the next one are hard to separate in my mind from the books on which they are based, which has perhaps leant more power to the movies than maybe they would have had on their own. But it is a tribute to a book-based film when it doesn’t ruin but captures the feeling of the original. The Outsiders was perfect, if you ask me. It may sound silly, but one thing that hit me was that the main characters in this story would have been the guys I was deathly afraid of growing up. Looking back I think it was life-changing for me to get this movie’s glimpse into their lives and see that they were just struggling to make it through life themselves. They have feelings, they think about life, they just want to be happy and experience love too, of course. Even without the minor epiphany this film gave me, the story itself was compelling. I doubt anyone who has come to know Sodapop and Ponyboy has been able to avoid being impacted by them as I have.

22. Lord of the Flies (1990)

Another movie from a book, this one might have had the opposite effect of the Outsiders. It showed the alternate reality that not only does everyone have love inside them to give, but everyone has evil inside them as well. Rather than show how people are alike, it divides us into two (or debatably three) camps and warns us to choose wisely. There is truth to this story too—even if it is a truth told with sadness and begging for us to find a better way. Just like many others I might forever carry in my mind images of Piggy being hit by a rock, Ralph struggling to stay sane, and Simon taking the brunt of the madness—not to mention the first sign of the boots of the soldier. Its an incredible story and a captivating film. In my opinion it is the best and most poignant in the whole "shipwreck" genre—a genre that has an important place in our world because it rings so true to the situation we find ourselves in. See Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for more on that topic of course.

21. Gerry (2002)

Gerry is one part of a Gus Van Sant trilogy dealing with mortality and its simplicity and hopelessness are so desperately realistic I just couldn’t shake it. I think my wife and I just sat in silence for awhile when it was over. I didn’t know what to say then and I don’t know now. It may sound pretty dark, and it is, but the characters and the story are pretty funny and endearing as well. Who can forget the "dirt mattress"? I can’t talk about this one much or I’ll ruin the ending. I haven’t found the words to describe it anyway.

This batch of films from my list are all about stark reality I suppose. That’s fine. That’s the kind of list this is. These are the kinds of films that strike me. Part of why I gravitate to the tragic and realistic in film might be because I find myself bombarded with so much telling me that everyone’s fine and it is all going to be okay—messages simplifying life into dualistic polarities between black and white, the good guys and the bad guys—that I find it so refreshing to see the portrayal of life as it actually is. It centers me, I find, and releases me from the bliss of ignorance to at least be open to the honest joy that there still is in being alive and the vital hope we all have for something better to come. Somehow for me, as Sarah Harmer puts it so well, "the darkness rings."

Don’t worry, the next batch does have a comedy in it.


matthew a. wilkinson said...


Wow! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

I'm always surprised when I see this movie in Blockbusters; even if it does have Matt Damon. It's so extraordinarily slow, and anti-Hollywood. I love imagining people renting it, thinking they're in for an adventure movie.

Great choice! Even as a Van Sant fan this movie was a surprise for me.

Tony Tanti said...

More great picks Jon. Babel had a very similar effect on me, the dessert scene was intense in a way that very few scenes have ever been for me.

Outsiders and Lord of the Flies, awesome. A kid at youth this year told me they hated both these books and we argued for an hour about it and I made him promise me he'd re-read them.

I haven't seen Gerry, I was unaware of a trilogy by Van Sant. Is Elephant one of the films in the trilogy? If so I'll see Gerry because Elephent was astoundingly good.

I'm loving this list Jon. Every day I come here to check if the next 5 are there.

Tony Tanti said...

Are we going to see The Princess Bride on this list?

jon or angie said...

no you won't, but nice try. i probably didn't give as much weight to comedic and mythic influences as others may have. but i did try to think of myself at all ages, so perhaps flight of the navigator is also going to be a glaring ommission, as it was the first movie i watched at home on a vcr. over and over and over.

Tony Tanti said...

No Princess Bride or FOTN?? I suppose in the spirit with which this list is being compiled they don't necessarily fit.

Justin said...

I keep running into your blog because of shared allusions to Tarkovsky... particularly Andrei Rublev. I am glad you have such appreciation for this film-maker... there is a significant conflict between the pagan world and the Christian scene represented in this film. I personally prefer to respect the witch (not necessarily to trust her or be seduced by her, but to respect her may be necessary). I admire the character's (Andrei Rublev's) position in that movie, tied up as he was, but think he should have had a greater kindness in his heart for her. When confronted with religious dilemmas it is better to offer thanks to the Divine presence and just offer oneself to prayer, rather than jump to my or any one else's being right. I just don't know.

The whole scene from "summer holiday," as I believe the chapter is called, presents the formula that seems to present itself in great works of art: the question of the sensual is religious, more than psychological, and it is least of all physical.

In any event my humble respects to you.