The French Catholic film critic André Bazin’ once wrote: “The cinema has always been interested in God.” This contemplative observation is interesting at any time, but it invites a narrative reflection during the Holy Year of Mercy.
What does Pope Francis mean by “mercy”? As we know, he announced the Holy Year on April 11, 2015, in the document Misericordia Vultus which opens by reminding us that “Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy” and that this “sums up the mystery of the Christian faith.” Francis then calls mercy a mystery—we are to gaze attentively upon this mercy so that “we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” It seems that we are not only to avail ourselves of divine mercy, but to be effective signs and agents of mercy as well.
Film as an art form that is “interested in God” is an especially appealing notion for those who seek the face of God in both their daily lives and in popular culture.
The hallmark for any film to reveal the face of God is that it tells a story that is truly human, because then it is truly of the Gospel. Those which do are the films that will transcend our human limitations so we can live in mercy and extend it beyond the boundaries of regional politics and the global economics of consumption.
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner once wrote that “Grace is everywhere as an active orientation of all created reality toward God.” To seek grace and the face of God in a movie theater is an opportunity to bridge created reality and God. To see mercy dramatized, through seeking, journeying, dealing with conflict, healing and restoration, engages the moral imagination through reflection, conversation, and action. To engage thus can inspire audiences to imitate mercy in their own lives.
The Films with the theme “Mercy”
Changing Lanes (2002): Two men clash, reconcile, and make restitution.
Chocolat (2000): The hypocritical mayor of a French town learns mercy on Easter Sunday.
Dead Man Walking (1995): A nun personifies God’s mercy on death row.
Les Miserables (1998 or 2012 version): A tale of giving and receiving mercy throughout a man’s life.
Love and Mercy (2015): The moving story of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Schindler’s List (1994): The true story of a man who saves one thousand Jews from death.
The End of the Spear (2005): Based on the true story of five Christian missionaries who are killed in Ecuador and how their families responded.
The First Grader (2010): Sometimes life is a mercy as an 84-year-old man discovers when Kenya promised a free education for all and he enrolls in the first grade.
The Good Lie (2014): Story of three lost boys and a sister from Sudan who struggle to begin again in America and the people who help them.
The Impossible (2012): After the 2004 tsunami, a mother and her son trust in the mercy of others to find the rest of the family.
The Way (2011): A widower whose only son has died walks the Camino de Santiago to learn, discover, accept, and extend mercy.
To End All Wars (2001): Prisoners in Japanese work camps during World War II suffer terribly but are able to find mercy.
Unbroken (2014): A journey toward mercy.
Erin Brockovich (2000): A woman with a high school diploma is the face of mercy for families who have suffered deaths and illness because of ground water pollution. The film is also a commentary on mercy for the environment as well.
Charlotte’s Web (2006): A allegory of trust, sacrifice, and mercy.
Children of Heaven (1997): A young boy loses his sisters’ shoes and they find inventive ways to hide this from their parents who are so very poor.
Soul Surfer (2011): After a shark bites off her arm, a teenaged surfer girl heals body and soul by serving others.
Into Great Silence (2007): This “silent” film is directed by Philip Groning and chronicles the better part of a year at the Grand Chartreuse Monastery of the Carthusian monks in France. The film explores the spiritual journeys of young monks who enter and of those who grow old celebrating the work of God through the liturgy, silence, and seclusion. Mercy inhabits a thousand years of tradition in this film.
Of Gods and Men (2010): In the 1990s Algeria erupted in several wars between factions and caught in the middle was a community of Trappist monks who had to discern and decide if they should stay or if they should go when their lives are threatened. Based on a true story, “Of Gods and Men” invites a deep reflection on the many faces of mercy and Christian love of neighbor; in French with English subtitles.