Faith and Film

The ultimate need of human beings, argued psychologist Victor Frankl, is to find a sense of meaning in their lives. As an inmate of a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War, Frankl noticed that the prisoners who could hold on to their religious values, their compassion for others, or the dream of seeing their loved ones again tended to survive.  Those who abandoned such things were far more likely to perish.  It was on the basis of this observation that Frankl founded the concept of logotherapy (logos = meaning), one of the most influential ideas in modern psychology.

Helping people find meaning in their lives is the entire task of evangelism.  Like anything else, evangelism can be done well or poorly.  Poor evangelism tries to cajole, judge, and frighten people into accepting a single, rigid answer to the question of meaning.  It's a power play, and to that extent, evil.  Competent evangelism challenges, but does not dictate.  Like God Himself, it respects a person's inalienable right to make their own choices.  It summons people to take seriously the quest for meaning and to look carefully at the answers at which they've arrived.

Christians understand that the stakes are vast.  They don't have a lock on such an understanding:  all philosophies and faith systems agree that questions of meaning are central to human existence.  But few philosophies and faith systems emphasize the urgency of the search of meaning as forcefully as Christianity. Read, for example,  A Vision of the Lost  by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army .

How then to encourage others in the search for meaning?  The best way is to create conditions in which questions of ultimate values will naturally arise.The possible strategies are limited only by the imagination, but one excellent method is the film and spirituality group.  As the name states, this is a group that meets together to view a film and then discuss its spiritual implications.

Potential Films

I recommend that films not be explicitly Christian.  (For example, no films like King of Kings [1961] or Left Behind [2000].) It's too heavy-handed.  The ideal film is one that simply has a strong moral theme.  However, films that deal with the tensions within the Christian belief system, like Black Robe or The Rapture, can be effective.  Don't worry:  If Christianity has proved anything over the past two millenia, it's that it's highly resilient.

Here are just a few possibilities.  For reviews, I recommend Roger Ebert (whose Catholicism informs his thoughtful, superbly written reviews); and especially HollywoodJesus:  "pop culture from a spiritual point of view."




A Beautiful Mind


Grand Canyon


Chariots of Fire






Thirteen Days




The Apostle








The Seventh Seal


What's Eating Gilbert

Dead Man Walking



A River Runs Through It


Places in the Heart

Black Robe


Tender Mercies


Crimes and Misdemeanors



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