Five Spiritually Significant Films

The fine folks at the Arts and Faith discussion forum have cast their votes, crunched the numbers, and released their second annual list of the Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films. I’ve been an on-again, off-again participant at the forum for several years now and was excited to check my virtual ballot. The results, I have to say, are pretty darned impressive.

I’m especially glad that the main criterion was left intentionally vague. In the weeks leading up to the votes, there was some debate over the precise meaning of “spiritually significant,” but the only consensus reached was that there was little chance of us reaching any kind of consensus, and that that was probably for the best. It brings me great satisfaction (and even a bit of hope) to know that a group consisting largely of American evangelical Christians would include The Gospel According the Matthew, Ikiru, Stalker, and Sunrise among the Top 20.

In honor of their fine work, I offer my own obvious and predictable Top 5 list:

My Top Five Spiritually Significant Films

5. Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman, 1961) — A few years ago I would have gone with the more obvious choice, Winter Light, but Through a Glass Darkly, I think, is the most potent and concentrated expression of Bergman’s agnostic horror. I still think the final scene is a bit out of tune with the rest of the film, but David’s speech to Minus isn’t what we remember, right? It’s Karin’s final lines and that image of her putting on her sunglasses. Devastating.

4. The Son (The Dardennes, 2002) — I’ve been told that Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are more interested in the Old Testament than the New. The Son is like a story from Genesis, like Abraham and Isaac. It makes all of those Christian catchwords like “grace” and “vengeance” and “Father” suddenly as strange and ambiguous as the world I live in.

3. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson, 1951) — Again, a few years ago I probably would have gone with Au Hasard Balthazar (and I might change my mind tomorrow), but for now the story of this well-intentioned priest is, for me, the more “spiritually significant” of the two. It’s the final scenes that get me. Every time.

2. Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1969) — Any of Tarkovsky’s film would fit comfortably in this spot, but I chose Rublev because it is actually about an Orthodox icon painter, and what most moves me in his films is their icon-like mysticism. At the end of the day, Tarkovsky’s film are about artistic creation, but the truecreative act here is always committed in a spirit of idealized surrender and sacrifice.

1. Ordet (Dreyer, 1955) — I’m a Christian by faith, not just by name or birth or culture, and faith is utterly irrational. I can’t recall at the moment who said it, but I agree that “Ordet is the only filmed miracle.”