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Baraka (1992). Without plot or dialogue, Baraka remains one of the most breathtaking and acclaimed films of all time. Shot in over twenty-four countries and on six continents, a deeply spiritual and ecological message is conveyed through enthralling scenes of diverse religious practices and of nature’s beauty and harmony, alternating with scenes of civilization’s ‘progress.’
The following list was compiled by M. Gail Hamner, Assistant Professor, Religion Department, Syracuse University.
Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957). The classic film about a Crusade-weary Knight playing chess with Death across plague-torn Europe in an attempt to stall his demise long enough to accomplish ‘one significant act.’
Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989). A Jewish ophthalmologist wants to extricate himself from a long-term affair and his brother offers to hire a hit-man to kill the woman. The doctor agrees but is haunted by the words of his father that “the eyes of God are on us always.”
Decalogue series (Kieslowski, 1989). A set of 10 55-minute films, each loosely based on one of the Ten Commandments. Filmed in Warsaw in 1988, they are a testament to the power of ethical mandates and to the frailty of human life.
Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001). This animated film portrays a family’s stumble into the spirit world, and the young daughter’s spiritual and physical journey to lift the curse that turns her parents into pigs.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim, 2003). Gorgeous, meditative, and brutal. This film tracks the people who inhabit a floating monastery in remote mountains in Korea in ways that demonstrate the grace, horror, growth, and repetition of human development (or reach for enlightenment).
Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (Douglas, 2003). Two British filmmakers set out to understand the world of the U.S. South for how it generates a God- and sensuality-obsessed genre of music. In the rural, poverty-stricken white South they find Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic alive and well.
Jesus Camp (Ewing and Grady, 2006). Two non-religious American directors explore the world of three Midwest Pentecostal children and the ‘Jesus Camp’ they attend one summer. This ‘camp’ mixes summer fun with military discipline and by showing the vitality of Pentecostal “spiritual warfare” it questions the viability of the separation of church and state.
Trembling Before G-d (Dubowski, 2003). A respectful and probing look at Conservative and Hasidic views on homosexuality, including both closeted and ‘out’ gays and lesbians, as well as religious leaders on both sides of the question of whether or not to re-interpret Torah for the sake of community inclusion.
For the Bible Tells me So (Karslake, 2007). Another respectful and probing look at homosexuality, this time within Christian conservative communities.
A Serious Man (Coen and Coen, 2009). As hilarious as it is traumatic, this story examines a Jewish mathematics professor whose life is falling apart at the seams. In desperation, he seeks the advice of three different Rabbis, hoping to learn what it takes to be a ‘serious man.’
Departures (Takita, 2008). When his orchestra goes bankrupt, Daigo, a cellist, returns to his hometown and secures a job helping to prepare corpses for cremation. As he learns this new trade, he also regains his spiritual footing in life.
Do you have a film or films to recommend, e-mail _______________ with is name and why you chose it.