Lent is a time to reflect on Christ’s life, His endless love, and ultimate sacrifice. I know that for me, it can be easy to get caught up in everything I’m not doing during Lent (eating meat on Fridays, eating sweets, using social media, etc.) to the extent that I forget to dedicate the time to actually engage in reflection.
This year, I’m making an effort to be intentional about incorporating time to reflect amidst the ordinary routines in my life. Part of that is changing my phone wallpaper to a passage from scripture; another part is routinely praying the Angelus with my roommate; and still another aspect is being selective about the media I choose to view. That’s right, something as simple as the movies we watch can be an opportunity to engage in Lenten reflection. And while movies such as The Passion are a must, we can also find Lenten themes in popular movies that don’t retell biblical or explicitly religious stories. Here are a few of my suggestions:
1. Les Miserablés
For a play that’s literally called “the miserables,” this story is incredibly hopeful despite an abundance of suffering—not unlike Jesus’s passion. The protagonist, Jean Valjean, goes through a powerful conversion when he experiences love and compassion from a priest. This simple act changes his whole outlook on life, and from that moment on, Valjean dedicates his life to taking in the outcast, loving the broken, and fighting for justice. Jean Valjean is a man of great physical strength, but what makes him a beautiful Lenten role model is the strength of his faith. It’s a faith that allows him to carry on when hope seems lost, a faith that enables him to love the very man who lives to see him imprisoned again, and a faith that eventually leads him to heaven.
2. A Quiet Place
As a diehard fan of the US version of The Office, I’d put A Quiet Place high on my watchlist because it was the directing debut of John Krasinski, who also plays the husband of his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. Whatever I was expecting from the trailer was quickly surpassed by the depths of the Christian (and at times often Catholic) symbolism in the film. A film with so little dialogue spoke so loudly of the sanctity of life, the beauty within the family, and the sacrificial love of the Father. This story provides an example of a father who works tirelessly to provide for his daughter, although always silently and unseen. She fears that he blames her for some of the family’s misfortune, but she is proven wrong in the best way imaginable. I went into the film expecting Jim Halpert to fight monsters, but I’m extremely grateful for such a brilliant reminder of God’s awe-inspiring love for us. Bishop Robert Baron wrote a stunning review of the film that goes into more detail about the intentional themes and unassuming details that set it apart from others in its genre. I highly recommend checking out the film itself and the review.
3. The Thin Red Line
When Terrence Malick’s film debuted in 1998, audiences were still talking about Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. And while both films are set amidst World War II battlefields (Saving Private Ryan in Normandy; The Thin Red Line in Guadalcanal) they differ greatly in scope and theme. As Marc LiVecche of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and Foreign Policy points out, The Thin Red Line is a deeply theological movie, confronting viewers with the big questions about meaning, morality, and hope. Two characters, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) and Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) have an uneasy relationship throughout the movie, with Caviezel’s character representing an outlook that’s dependent on hope beyond the material, and violent, world. Penn’s character continuously tries to tempt Witt into accepting there is no other world, and that only the strong and selfish can survive on a planet that is spinning off amongst the galaxies. Yet after Witt’s death, the choice of faith is presented to Welsh and the viewer. However, the choice is subtle and artfully presented. We don’t see a “saved” Welsh; there are no singing angels or “Aha!” conversion moment. Rather, in an internal monologue that suggests a prayer, Welsh struggles with the two visions for existence. Though he seems to settle on a vision where the only thing a man can do is to “find something that is his, and make an island to himself,” he speaks to an unnamed entity who could be no one else but God. “If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack; a glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours.” (Special thanks to Franciscan Marketing and Communication Writer Adam Nettina for this suggestion.)
4. Son of God
I had to sneak one biblical film on this list, although it’s definitely a lesser known film. The 2014 depiction of Jesus’s ministry didn’t receive the same kind of attention that The Passion did, but I still think there is merit to be found here. One of the interesting aspects of this film is that it’s actually framed as a reflection of an exiled and aging St. John the Evangelist, meaning we get to look back and reflect on the life of Jesus with him. Son of God does include the crucifixion and doesn’t make light of it, but rather puts it into greater context. Seeing Jesus and Peter interact makes Peter’s triple-denial all the more heart-wrenching. Seeing a life that leads to the Cross gives the Cross a new weight. A major difference that sets this film apart is how it ends. After reliving all his experiences with Jesus, St. John is greeted by the risen Lord who assures him, “I am making all things new.” This ending is one that exudes hope. It’s a great reminder to not just remember the suffering and the sacrifice of Christ, but to remember for whom the sacrifice was offered.