Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in "The Fighter" (2010)
Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in a scene from "The Fighter.";

"We are a storytelling species, and we have always used our stories to teach one another how we should live, and how we should not."
— David Gushee, "Teaching virtue at the movies in 2011"

In a recent article from the Associated Baptist Press, David Gushee, a professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, highlights four recent films, including The Fighter, that have narratives with accounts of moral virtue. This is a fresh way for me to share and evaluate new films.

I want more meaningful categories with which to talk about films rather than discussing whether it goes on the holiday viewing list or is an Oscar contender. Though I trust Roger Ebert's judgment implicitly, the number of stars doesn’t tell me anything about how to live well or how to treat other people. Gushee's language does.

What four films come to mind that have provided you with some teaching moment in the shape of a moral compass?

Share Your Reflection



"My Name is Khan" is now one of my favorite movies, it addresses Autism, terrorism,being a Muslim in America, romance and a willingness to sacrifice everything for right morals

Thanks for the recommendation, SuSura. It's now in my Netflix queue!

I would have to think about four films. But Chariots of Fire jumped out immediately in my mind. Living according to one's values, even when it was costly.

Ikiru; Babette's Feast; The Nights of Cabiria; The Princess Bride

Like many who were born in the 70s, I imprinted on The Original Star Wars Trilogy. (which, Joseph Campbell talks about extensively in Bill Moyers' "Power of Myth"- Netflix has it)

What's coming to my mind is a list of TV shows from my younger yrs which helped shape and reinforce my values/compass:

1. Mister Rogers
2. Sesame Street
3. Little House on the Prairie
4. Cosby Show
5. Beauty & the Beast
6. Designing Women
7. Murphy Brown
8. Star Trek: Next Gen

Not mentioned specifically are the bazillions of shows/movies that portray violence, sexism & material excess as a way of life. But, I'm sure that's had an impact.

I <3 Huckabees (just watched it again this weekend. So great.), GhostDog, Secretary, and a new one from Ireland, Ondine. There are more, but that's four. My astrology student friends and I get together for metaphysical movie nights and talk about the archetypes being portrayed, which makes me feel less crazy since I see them everywhere I look.

The ones that stay with me are those which can be taken as parables or embody some spiritual virtue or practice. Among these: Babette's Feast (tantra, i.e., "pouring out" and eucharist), Wizard of Oz (quest), It's a Wonderful Life (seeing oneself as others do), Groundhog day (samsara and reincarnation, culminating in the bodhisattva path), OK that's four.

Great point about how we evaluate film, and indeed culture.

Akira Kurosawa, Brad Bird and Elia Kazan are all directors who build stories around their main character's moral compass (or lack thereof.)

Kurosawa's Ikiru and Red Beard tell some of the most inspiring stories of people living sacrificial lives and doing it in obscurity.

Presumably kid's movies, Bird's Iron Giant and Ratatouille are all driven by inspiring moral compasses.

We can be taught by bad examples. Kazan's A Face in the Crowd is a powerful tale of what power can do to a person with a weak moral compass.

Great stories come out of a character finding, or regaining their moral compass as well. Clive Owen's character in Children of Men ultimately regains his moral compass.

Though it's not really teachable, we as Americans, often enjoy characters that seem to operate on their own moral compass or code of honor. Steven Soderberg's The Limey is a personal favorite in this category.

"Il Postino" and "Cyrano de Bergerac (G. Depardieu version)"---the masters of words teaching the inept about language, poetry, and love; "Babette's Feast" and "Chocolat"---giving, serving, sacrificing to break others' icy resolve.

Lars and the Real Girl: a story about how God uses His creation as part of the redemptive process.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - to be young, innocent, totally cool and genuinely good - to find heroes in history -
1776 - If John and Abigal Adams hadn't had a good marriage, I doubt if we'd be a great nation
Dangerous Liasons - why being amoral doesn't work.
Toy Story 3 - helps us to experience our personal profound losses with hope and dignity - and laughter.

We humans have a hangup with stories because they hold messages that can offer wisdom useful in going on in our own lives.

Movies are now the preferred way the masses get their story fixes, so actual and engaging.

Though many of them offer great wisdom in that convenient way of sitting back and just watching, there are those exceptional ones that can sometimes wake us to truths. These great ones rise head and shoulders above the ( feel good boy/girl, love conquers all) stories or those too hackneyed to offer much takeaway.

There are some subscription venues to movies that rise above the ordinary, are serious and have carved impressive territory out in the art of cinema and story telling (online: Cinema Worth Watching).

The byline should read Frank Luke but is wrongly credited.

We humans are universally hung up on stories ever since we were put on earth and able to communicate, IMO. They are the way collective wisdom has been transmitted through the ages.

Movies today are the preferred way we get our story fixes, so actual and engaging not to
mention beautifully photographed and so conveniently gotten laid back in our seats.

Though many of them offer great wisdom in that convenient way of sitting back and just watching, there are those exceptional ones that can sometimes wake us to truths. These great ones rise head and shoulders above the ( feel good boy/girl, love conquers all) stories or too hackneyed to offer much takeaway.

To become fully Enlightened, it would appear that it's necessary to know all the possiblities existence offers to have that kind of comprehension an Enlightened Being would have. Stories provide us with that possibility since most of us cannot live that fully in one lifetime. Stories allow us to attain vicarious karmas that will advance higher consciousness.
When we experience stories that grab us, they are life-changing, in my own experience.

How it got on our Netflix queue I have no idea. The same way books jump off the shelves into one's hands in a library or bookstore, perhaps.
But we watched it and were overwhelmed: a German film called Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblute?), made by German woman film director, novelist, intellectual Doris Dorrie.
About what?
About wives and husbands, parents and children, men and women, Germany and Japan, life and death, laughter and tears, and BEAUTY. The beauty of cherry blossoms, the beauty of evanescence, the beauty of love. About Butoh, Mt. Fuji, about transformation in so many different ways...
And simple, really. A Simple Story.

1. Friendly Persuasion taught me as a child what living out one's morals and religion really meant. 2. To Kill a Mockingbird helped me understand people and judgement, but more than that I remember that African Americans had to sit in the balcony and my mother's explanation of racial judgements. 3. Brother Sun, Sister Moon illustrated, again, about living out one's convictions in quiet love (my mother died the next morning adding to the impact).

I know how those connections work. This has nothing to do with cinema but as my mother came home with a diagnosis of what turned out to be her terminal illness Brahms' Serenade in D was playing on the radio. Bright, sunny happy piece but 22 years later I can't hear it without going back.

1. Any of the film adaptations of Austen's novel "Mansfield Park" (N. B. the book offers MUCH more nuance than any of the adaptations toward the theme of 'a moral compass.' If one is not already familiar with the novel, I recommend the film version in which playwright Harold Pinter plays Sir Thomas Bertram, because some of the key subtext of the novel is made more overt; however, many seem to find this the least like-able, the most 'Hollywood' version.) 2. "Whale Rider" (!!!) 3. Tim Burton's "Big Fish" 4. "The Mission" with R. DeNiro and J. Irons 5. For community (esp. in wake of the recent shootings in Tucson): "The Milagro Beanfield War."

There is nothing like a popcorn war movie to teach you about sacrifice. How about The Great Escape?

Powder, Roger Dodger

"The Shawshank Redemption" is a great book about redemption and that is a term that provides a compass for my life. "What about Bob" is a 'moral compass' for me about relationships and 'judging' people. "Groundhog Day" is a story of transformation and is a morality play, in my eyes. "Babette's Feast" is about celebration and communion and those two words are part of my life's compass.

My husband and I come back time and again to Billy Eliot – because of its message of each person needing to follow their own passions and because of the ultimate love and acceptance the boy receives from his father and brother. We also loved the Lord of the Rings, though we aren't generally fantasy lovers, because of its message of a wide assortment of beings overcoming their differences, applying their differing gifts, to change the world for the better – and because it reminds us time and time again that despair is the greatest ally that evil has in the world. The HBO series "The Wire" forced us to question so many of our assumptions about evil and to look at the hells our society creates straight on and try to at least understand them with more subtlety. And The Road, the film from last year, forced us to think about "carrying the flame," struggling to keep making moral choices in a world in hope is gone and death and savagery surround you.

1. The Color Purple 2. Ghandi
3. The Count of Monte Cristo 4. Powder
My husband's are:
1. Legend of Bagger Vance 2. Ghandi 3. The Fugitive 4. Shawshank Redemption

"National Velvet" made a big impression on me as a child, and then in viewing it as an adult I found a wonderful lesson in wisdom from Velvet's mother. It was about the way to help someone in need (Mickey Rooney's character) during the period they're not ready to be helped. Rather than any degree of intervention, Velvet's mother guided Velvet in providing only patient support so that (Mickey) could find his way in "his" time. I thought it was a beautiful element of the movie.

One film that is easily called to mind because it stays in some part of what I find important:
Tender Mercies
It tells a story about relationships and finding what is important. Simple story. Simple truths.

For years now, I have been conducting my own personal experiment; I ask this question: "What was your most formative film when you were young? What deeply imprinted on you, and how do you see that playing out in your life?"

It is amazing the congruence of these aspects in the choices we make and in our moral imaginations. --

To Kill a Mockingbird, Atonement, Hunger, Invictus

' To Kill a Mockingbird' with Gregory Peck changed my life. I grew up in a small Utah town very similar to Maycomb County. We even had our own equivalent of ' Boo Radley'. I don't know that I can pin point what exactly changed me, but I felt that Attticus Finch was definitely the kind of person I would want to be like.
Three other films that changed me were, 'A Patch of Blue' with Sidney Poitior , 'A Man for All Seasons' with Paul Scofield, and 'Twelve Angry Men' with Henry Fonda.

Eat, Pray, Love;
Groundhog Day;
Quiz Show;

Amelie- love and hard work payoff.
Inherent Vice- though portraying the decline of an era. The main character, Doc, even amidst marijuana use remains loyal, honest, and hardworking.
Breaking Away.
John Wick.