Tell me a story.... What could be better than a tale of adventure, woe, joy, excitement, or tenderness unfolding before your very eyes? We love how good movies transport us to other realities where we become immersed in a world of imagined, and sometimes unimaginable, possibilities. All of this while eating popcorn no less!
While Hollywood sells movies as entertainment (and they are undeniably fun), there are many reasons to revel in the silver screen. Stories are a very potent way to learn. We think in narrative chunks—this, then this—which makes a tale easier to understand and to reflect upon. Also we can take in oodles of information visually, especially when it comes to observing details about people, relationships, and emotions.
Personally we use films to stretch ourselves, spending time with people, places, and situations we might not otherwise encounter—like our very own personal growth simulator. After a film we reflect not just on what we thought of the movie, but how we felt during the movie. What moments touched us? What resonated and what was strange or difficult? What would we do in that situation? How would we be different if that was our reality? And by re-watching meaningful films we have the chance to experience powerful moments again and again.
We have listed a few (very few!) of our favorite flicks that chronicle journeys of personal transformation. It was a real challenge given that we watch 200 films a year. OK, it can't begin to compare with Meryl Streep's dilemma in Sophie's Choice, but it was hard and a lot of great stuff was left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. These movies made our list because they are lesser known, excellent works, which reflect a range of realities from different countries and time periods.
An Angel at My Table (1990, New Zealand)
Powerful portrait of the rocky childhood of New Zealand's most famous author, Janet Frame.
As It Is in Heaven (2004, Sweden)
A music conductor re-ignites his passion for life by leading a small town church choir.
Common Ground (2002, Argentina)
A middle-aged couple reinvent themselves after the economic crisis in Argentina.
Departures (2008, Japan)
A cellist returns to his hometown and finds an unexpected path to self-discovery and healing.
The Dhamma Brothers (2008, USA) Documentary
The truly transformational power of meditation, from inside an Alabama prison.
Ikiru (1952, Japan)
A dying man commits to performing one last act in this classic Japanese film.
The Lost Boys of Sudan (2007, USA) Documentary
Two Sudanese refugees journey from their turbulent home to make a new life in the US.
Lemon Tree (2008, Israel)
A Palestinian woman's lemon grove is at risk as the Israeli defense minister moves next door.
A German family struggles to find their way before, during, and after Nazism and WWII.
The Sea Inside (2008, Spain)
A life-affirming story about a quadriplegic's fight for the right to end his life with dignity.
30 days (2005 - 2008, USA) Documentary
TV series in which people inhabit lives very different from their own for 30 days.
The Visitor(2007, USA)
A widower discovers a couple living in his apartment and, through them, a new life.
Waste Land(2010, Brazil) Documentary
Brazilian artist and garbage-pickers work together to create transformative art.
Yi Yi (2000, Taiwan)
Life's everyday crises seen through the eyes of three members of a middle class family.
But wait, there's more! Ryan Niemiec has published a book, Positive Psychology at the Movies: Using Films to Build Character Strengths and Well-Being. You can access this treasure trove of films organized by different themes like creativity and perseverance online. Wowza!
What kind of stories and characters appeal to you these days? Which would be a stretch versus what feels very comfortable and confirming? Watch a film from one of the lists above and note what it brings up for you, with or without that popcorn.
Have a good time at the movies!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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