NOT YOUR MOTHER’S LENTEN MOVIE LIST

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Submitted Date 03/20/2019
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I’ve always wanted to compile some of my favorite movies that I like to re-watch during Lent. I’ll just drop this little warning though, this is not your typical Sunday school affair. These movies are pretty raw and intense, while also being quite tragic. I did leave the classic Passion of the Christ, off the list for more or less obvious reasons, but what else is there you ask?

Below, I have listed my movie picks, I’ll include ratings, a basic summary, and insight as to why they belong there as we go along, but if you decide to sit down with any of them be warned, these are not your Mother’s movies. Some are violent. Some are uncompromising in what they represent. All of them are tragically beautiful.

They all, I believe, have a Lenten core. I will go into further detail as I briefly unpack all of these movies, but I will say that they epitomize what Lent is for me. These days in the desert, wrestling with temptation, desolation, and death. They ask questions, present wonders, and strive to reveal something in the viewer. We can only hope that Lent does the same for us.

Calvary - Drama - R - 2014

I’m going to start here, because this is the one of the most poignant films on the list. Calvary follows Fr. James, a Catholic priest for a small town in Ireland, who is told while in the confessional, that he will be killed on Sunday. After this threat, what follows is a microcosm of priest life. He administers communion to his flock of less than faithful followers. He counsels, is privy to truly abhorrent behavior, and struggles to be a father to his estranged daughter.

I know the R rating might keep people away, but none of the things that make this R (sexual references, language, brief strong violence and some drug use) are unwarranted or used graphically. They spell out the spiritual desperation and desolation of the villagers that Fr. James administers to. The struggles and questioning that he undergoes through this week, models the trials of Christ, which of course is prefigured by the film’s title.

Last Days in the Desert - Drama - PG-13 - 2015

This was a film that slipped under for most when it released, but this is such a gem. A fictitious chapter of Jesus’ life. This movie details a small chapter where during Jesus’ wanderings in the desert he encounters a family in crisis and His struggle with the Devil reaches new heights.

This one is theologically a lot more fluid than others, and the director takes a much more cavalier lens of how he views Jesus, but that does not detract from the message here. Jesus becomes enraptured by a family who is struggling to get by, make a life, and have hope. He remains partially an observer, while also a helper, even as Satan whispers all kinds of self-doubts into his mind. What inevitably comes of this is that Jesus is resolute in his mission and proceeds on when he has felt his time with the family has reached its end. The quiet, restrained cinematography of this movie and small cast of characters makes this such an intimate take of Jesus that is increasingly rare to find. It revels in the humanity that is found within the Godhead.


Ida - Drama - PG-13 - 2013

This film is ventures further down my more artsy taste, given that it is in black and white and is entirely in Polish. We follow Anna, a young orphan in 1960s Poland, brought up by nuns in a convent is on the cusp of taking her vows when she asks to see her aunt, Wanda, her only remaining relative. The two undergo a journey together of tragic self-discovery as Anna is told of her Jewish heritage and Wanda is brought into contact with her pious niece.

I’m part Polish, so this movie has a very intimate connection to me, even if I don’t know all the ins and outs of my heritage. What strikes me the most about this movie is how much Anna and Wanda challenge one another. They each from from different worlds, one of the world, the other of God and both need to reconcile those neglected parts of themselves, so they can feel better justified in their states in life. Wanda’s defensiveness softens and Anna’s naivete of the world is broken, so that she can maybe take her vows with full knowledge of what she is sacrificing. It’s a lovely microcosm of our Lenten fasts, except played over two lives.


Noah - Action Adventure/Drama - PG-13 - 2014

This re-telling of a biblical classic takes on a new form, as directed by Aronofsky of Jewish upbringing decides to bring this story back to it’s Judaic roots. It goes pretty much the same as how the Bible tells it. Noah is tasked with building an ark, but this movie takes a much more intimate glance into how this burden weighs on him and how this in turn taxes his little family.

Aside from the obvious, raining 40 days and 40 nights, Noah undergos his own psychological questioning and suffering. Why would God burden him with this task? Why would God save himself and his family and no one else? It places the question of faith and trust at the center of this and reminds ourselves why we have to trust in the sacrifice of the Christ. The way Noah is brought into such personal focus through this film is the primary reason why this is a must see during this season.

Tree Of Life - Dama - PG-13 - 2011

This movie is my literal favorite movie of all time, but I promise it has relevance here. This movie is the archetype of an artsy movie with plenty of indescribable shots and other strange tangents, but don’t let that obscure the core of this film, which is centered on a family in Waco, Texas in 1956. We follow the eldest son as he loses his innocence in growing up, while he struggles to absorb and understand the conflicting teachings of his parents.

There are a lot of themes and messages that bounce around and the narrative of the film is rather loose in some respects, so it’s hard to pinpoint, exactly why this movie belongs on this list. The Lent themes for me are at the center of the conflict of the boy and his father. The father wants his boy to be better, made in his image, and not fall into the same mistakes he did. This in some ways models what we are required to do during Lent with our sacrifices and penitential attitudes, but like the boy we do what is asked, but disobey in private. This is really a terribly small slice of this film, but there’s plenty there that I would also consider defined by this Lenten season.
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Comments

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  • Miranda Fotia 6 months ago

    I haven't seen any of those movies but I am always looking for good recommendations. I'll have to check those out. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tomas Chough 6 months ago

    Hey Alexander! I've never seen any of these movies. "Noah" looks like a good one. Thanks for the recommendations!

  • Kiersten Felch 4 months, 3 weeks ago

    Thanks for the recommendations!