Posted by: minnow | December 17, 2008

Influencial Movies

Warning this is a long post.

One of Eugene Cho’s recent blogs asked readers to name their most influential movies and tell him why or how it was influential. I enjoyed reading the comments and made a list of movies I have not seen in the hope that over Christmas break I might have the opportunity to rent a few of them.

I could not answer the blog question on the spot because I have not thought about how movies have influenced me as much as I have thought about what movies I like. When I started to make my list and think of the why and how part I realized I had a whole blog’s worth of an answer to his question. So, I apologize a head of time for “stealing” Cho’s idea. And, please visit his post for the lists that got me thinking. Yet, with no further delay, here are the movies that have had the most influence on my life…

The first ten are movies that impacted me as a child. They contributed to foundational attitudes and belief systems some of which have stayed with me to this day. They also exposed me to parts of the world and human experience with which I have had little to no personal connection.

Mary Poppins–was a childhood favorite. I saw it eight times and my sister and I used to lip sink the words to the songs as we played the record over and over and over again. It along with the next two contributed to a foundational belief that good will prevail and the world is ultimately safe.
White Christmas–was my first exposure to WWII. And, I grew up with a totally romanticized idea of war because of it. I’m sure other movies with stars like John Wayne, Errol Flynn, and Shirley Temple contributed to this notion (We watched all the old movies on TV.) but I still remember wanting to march with those soldiers and follow that general.
It’s a Wonderful Life–was a powerful confirmation of the value of family and doing what is right. In addition, the retracting gym floor and subsequent lost bathrobe are still both naught and fun scenes every time I watch the movie. This movie was full of humor that served a purpose and the purpose was never to poke fun at or put someone down in a mean spirited way.
Gone With the Wind–provided me with my first truly strong female role model. I wanted to be Scarlet O‘Hara, not only because she was beautiful but just as intensely because she was determined and smart, independent and oh-so human. She fought for what she wanted and what was hers and she never quit.
To Kill a Mockingbird–was my first taste of the South and first exposure to the concept of “white trash”. It was an amazing blend of finding security in family, standing up for what is right, and the broken innocence of childhood. I met people I never knew and a culture I had never seen but I somehow fell in love with it anyway. The trees, the woods, the back of the Radley’s, and the front porch swing were as big a part of that movie as the characters.
To Sir with Love–made me long for a teacher who cared the way Sidney Poitier cared. And it, along with Guess Whose Coming to Dinner, brought the issue of racial prejudice out of the history books and into my heart.
Fiddler on the Roof–gently ushered a diversity of culture and values into my previously sheltered and isolated world. I saw a very different people struggling with some very familiar problems and my world grew both bigger and smaller at the same time.
Elephant Man–exposed me to suffering and cruelty at a level I could not comprehend. It is probably the first movie I literally wrestled with in my spirit for a long time after seeing. To this day I cannot watch The Elephant Man without a knot in my stomach.
Gandhi–taught me about the power of one and finding strength in weakness. I have always been pretty good at finding messages from God in places where they may not have been intended by the people sending the messages. The movie Gandhi was no different.

This next group of movies were powerful voices in my life for specific people groups or topics. All together they have shaped my thinking about the world I live in and the ones I don’t. I think they have broken down some of my incorrect preconceptions (AKA prejudices) and challenged me to see better. They have at the least helped me to think differently by exposing lies I believed and education me with the truth. Dancing with Wolves–re-educated me about Native Americans and white history, Hotel Rwanda–about Africa and US attitudes when “oil” isn’t a factor, Shawshank Redemption–about our penal system. Pursuit of Happiness–let me see homelessness up close while Reign Over Me and Lars and the Real Girl–brought mental health issues and coping mechanisms to light. I must add that I was thankful for Hollywood’s depiction of the Church in Lars and only wish it was true for a larger percentage of the Church. Finally, Juno–helped me understand youth sexuality and values from a different perspective. I also had to admit I had a prejudice toward non-Christians that was broken by Juno’s decision to have her baby and give it away. I have mistakenly thought that only Christians were pro-life. (I realize that this movie did not really make this an abortion vs. life controversy for which I am thankful. I just got a sideline lesson).

This final list of movies has caused me to do some deep soul searching. I have needed to ask myself questions about what I value, what my priorities are, who I am, and who I want to become. To some degree I may not even yet be able to put into words all of how these films have impacted my life but when I think of them I know they have left their mark. Matrix–is one such film. I understand something about mind control and programming my thinking that I do not believe I would have understood had I not seen this film. Silence of the Lamb–in a similar way taught me something about our thinking. As frightening as it may sound I admired Hannibal Lecture. This movie also showed me that evil is not as easily detected as one might think. Schindler’s List–was one of the most hopeful movies I have seen and at the same time one of the most frightening. I had other exposures to the Holocaust and WWII that had un-romanticized war for me so while this movie definitely had those elements in it the more powerful messages were about the potential of man. We can be evil beyond comprehension, destroying for no reason. But we are also redeemable. Schindler’s admission that he could have done so much more was one of the most powerful scenes in film I have ever watched. For a long time John Keating, in Dead Poet’s Society, was a hero for me. I romanticized breaking free from “The Man” in the form of educational institutions and overbearing parents or authority figures. Today I am not so sure. Keating was at least as responsible for the outcome as the authority figures who were criticized in the movie because like it or not he too was an authority figure. His influence was every bit as powerful as the parents’ and institution’s. My take on the situation now is that ultimately the individual is responsible for his/her actions. Still, when I taught school I often showed this film and had my students write reviews of the movie. It has been a great jumping off point for discussions about authority, self determination, responsibility, following dreams, art, etc. Mona Lisa Smiles–revealed a flaw in the feminist movement that I have always felt but did not have words to express. Pretty Woman–gave me another wonderfully strong female role model, smart about people and unafraid to use her sexuality to her advantage instead of allowing it to be used against her. At the same time it also appealed to my romantic core that love can overcome a multitude of sin. Finally, when I saw Blood Diamond–I walked out of the theatre changed. I can never go back to the way I was before I saw that movie. The world, my thinking, has transformed. Still old habits are hard to break and I had to begin not from where I would like my life to be but from where I actually was. I have a husband and children and a lifestyle we all have come to enjoy. My transformation was not necessarily theirs. At the same time, I have the opportunity to influence those around me in healthy ways and we are making changes. We are spending less, giving more, and looking for ways to contribute our time and energy as well as our finances. It is only a beginning but it is a beginning.





  1. i liked reading all this. gone with the wind / mary poppins definitely in my top 20. 🙂 I love movies!!

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