A good list, although many films listed here are good for their own sake and not because of intrinsic spirituality. Glad to see some unconventional choices: Fearless (see my take on it), My Night at Maud’s (a surprising pick but a great film), Solaris, Tokyo Story, Crimes and Misdemeanors, 13 Conversations about One Thing (which I put on last year’s Best of list). Lots of other good titles, including the usual suspects (Dreyer, Bresson, Schindler’s List, Becket, etc). Curiously not a lot of Asian titles here even though I’d consider Asian titles to be just as infused with Buddhism–even if only in its terseness or depiction of nature and the nature of suffering. For example, I find Kurosawa’s Ran to be a very spiritual film.
The only major omission I see here is Michael Tolkin’s Rapture. See this amazon comment. I read it 5 minutes ago and was going to write a response only to realize I had already done so two months earlier! Boy is my memory going bad. Rapture is a great, haunting film.
Religion has never been a major part of my life (and I never forget that it is a major predictor of whether you voted for George W. Bush), but I’m struck by how many of the films on the list I have seen–and made a lasting impression on me. Decalogue, for example, has an expansive view of the world–its images and ideas have stayed in my mind.
I’m being only slightly facetious when I say this, but TV has a spiritual dimension even in the places you’d least expect. Angel and Buffy (obviously), but also Bernie Mac (which brings up a lot of religious issues–albeit in a satirical self-mocking way) and My Name is Earl (which despite its American feel, is all about the Eastern concept of karma). Southpark tries to be spiritual, and so does King of the Hill and even occasionally the Simpsons. I don’t watch the one hour dramas or mainstream cinema, so I imagine a bunch of them have spiritual dimensions as well; some are simply pandering to a populace who need their daily dose of Jesus (see the horrifyingly bland Chronicles of Narnia film or more recently Evan Almighty). Isn’t it interesting that the titles I acccuse of “pandering” are all movies, whereas the examples of more worldly depictions of religions (and religious quests) come from TV shows.
Speaking of the Angelverse, I just finished Season 4 of Angel and found the Jasmine episodes to be terrifying. Jasmine is this evil hypnotic women who controls the minds of anyone who comes in contact with her. From the Amazon comments, I’m guessing that fans weren’t enthusiastic about this story arc, but the depiction of brainwashed Americans definitely reminds me of how brainwashed Americans have been sounding (“War on Terror” “Power of Pride,” “Freedom Ain’t Free,” etc) since January 2001. Maybe Buffy and Angel will save us all.
See also my post about religion in American literature and film.