Christianity Today: 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2007

I love to watch movies and TV; to a fault, as my wife would describe it. I find that I mostly watch films that have little or no redeeming value, so this caught my eye at Christianity Today. A list of the 10 most Redeeming Films of 2007. And by redeeming they mean stories of that have some sort of redemptive element in them. These synopsis and links to reviews are all theirs. I’ve only seen 3 of these and read Into the Wild; remember I said I tended towards no redeeming value. I am thankful for Christ, and my wife, who seem to accept me anyway.

1. Into Great Silence
directed by Philip Gröning
Be still, and know that I am God. If ever the words of Psalm 46:10 could be applied to a movie, this is certainly the one. German filmmaker Philip Gröning spent six months living with Carthusian monks at France’s Grande Chartreuse Monastery, documenting the tranquil, contemplative everyday lives of the extraordinary men who live there. It adds up to three hours of nearly silent meditation that is simultaneously slow moving and spellbinding—a film to be experienced more so than merely watched. The film caused several of us to ask ourselves, “If these men can spend entire days—indeed, their very lives—in devotion and service to God, why is it so hard for me to spend 10 minutes a day doing the same?” A remarkable piece of filmmaking that gives rich new meaning to the term, “quiet time.” (Our review.)

2. Lars and the Real Girl
directed by Craig Gillespie
Long before we saw this film, its official synopsis made us nervous: “A lonely, delusional young man buys a life-size sex doll on the Internet and falls in love with her, telling people it’s his girlfriend.” Based on that premise alone, we considered skipping it outright. But we’re very glad we didn’t, because this was one of the sweetest, most sensitive movies of the year, and, surprisingly, a powerful look at the body of Christ in action—and the relentless and patient nature of God’s love. When Lars brings his new “inflatable friend” home—and yes, their “relationship” is pure and chaste—it’s heartwarming to see how his family, friends, and fellow churchgoers (including even the most skeptical among them) love him unconditionally by playing along and embracing him in spite of his bizarre behavior. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll walk away with a smile and warm fuzzies. (Our review.)

3. Juno
directed by Jason Reitman
Exhibit A (or is it B or C or …) in what was a year of films with pro-life themes is a charming, quirky, and witty look into the life of a whip-smart 16-year-old girl (played brilliantly by Ellen Page) who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with her boyfriend. At first, she plans to abort, but after running into a teen pro-life activist outside the clinic, she realizes the fetus she’s carrying is actually a living, growing baby. She changes her mind, decides to carry the baby to term, and begins a quest for “the perfect parents” to adopt the child. There’s some rough language and teen sex talk, but the storylines are mostly redemptive—in addition to Juno’s choice to have the baby (which her stepmom calls “a miracle from Jesus”), her parents are portrayed as loving and supportive (instead of the dolts we often see in teen comedies), and there’s a nice exploration into the topic of unconditional love. (Our review.)

4. Amazing Grace
directed by Michael Apted
Can one person change the world? You bet, and no film indicates that notion more than this one, a biopic about the life of William Wilberforce, a devout Christian politician who almost single-handedly was responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Ioan Gruffudd brings both gravitas and a dose of humanity to the role, portraying the 19th Century Parliamentarian as a man on a mission, driven by his love for God and love for all mankind. En route, he meets former slave trader John Newton (played by the terrific Albert Finney), the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace” who motivates Wilberforce to persist in his quest. It’s a “history film” without being dull, and a “religious film” without being preachy. But perhaps most of all, it’s a movie that will convince any viewer that he or she can also make a difference in a sin-sick world desperately in need of social justice, mercy and compassion. (Our review.) (Discussion Guide.)

5. Bella
directed by Alejandro Monteverde
Another example from a year of films with life-affirming themes (see No. 3 Juno above), this quiet little indie flick tells an engaging story about how our lives can be changed—dramatically, even tragically—in an instant, but that our subsequent choices can make all the difference in the world. When José, a chef at a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, learns that one of the waitresses, Nina, is pregnant out of wedlock, he shows concern—and no, he’s not the father. When she considers an abortion, Eduardo’s compassion kicks into high gear and sets into a motion a series of choices for both of them that will be life-changing. First-time director/screenwriter Alejandro Monteverde calls it a “love story without the romance,” and that’s an apt description of a movie that celebrates life, love, family, and friendship. (Our review.) (Discussion Guide.)

6. Into the Wild
directed by Sean Penn
The true story of Chris McCandless, a young man who gives his life savings to charity and hitchhikes across America to escape society and get back to nature—all while his parents have no clue where he is and are worried sick. Chris makes it to Alaska and moves into an abandoned bus, where his short but fascinating life ultimately meets a tragic end. This idealistic young man was running away from the right problems, but he ultimately ran right past the meaning of life—and those mistakes cost him his life. But the beauty and wisdom he encounters along the way have much to offer us all. (Our review.)

7. The Kite Runner
directed by Marc Forster
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Amir, a well-off boy from Afghanistan who, as an adult living in the U.S., is haunted by the guilt of betraying a childhood friend. Ultimately, Amir returns to his native country to help his old friend in this tale of friendship and family, of guilt and redemption. Includes some powerful thoughts on the nature of sin, and on the need to stand up for what is right. It also gives us a revealing look at a side of Middle Eastern and Muslim society not often seen in the West. (Our review.) (Discussion Guide.)

8. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
directed by Julian Schnabel
Wonder what it’s like to experience the world as a person completely paralyzed, except for the use of one eye? This brilliant French film—the true story of magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who ended up that way after a massive stroke—will give you a bit of a feel for such an existence, as much of the film is shot from his perspective … looking at his surroundings through that one working eye. But what seems hopeless and hellish soon begins to take a redeeming turn, as those around him—doctors, nurses, therapists, family, and friends—patiently and compassionately love him into enjoying life again. Shows that our capacity for joy isn’t dependent on circumstances or physical limitations, but is embedded in something far deeper. (Our review.)

9. Ratatouille
directed by Brad Bird
Rats, roux, rues, and … redemption? You bet. The best animated film of the year, from the brilliant mind and creative hand of Brad Bird and his Pixar cohorts, takes an old cliché—you can rise above your circumstances and fulfill your dreams—and brings it to such inventive and imaginative life, you’ll want to run straight to the nearest French restaurant and indulge in culinary delight. This feast for the eyes and the soul is also a commentary about the pursuit of excellence, rather than settling for competence, and about how great things can come from the unlikeliest of places. (Our review.)

10. Freedom Writers
directed by Richard LaGravenese
It’s an old story: Rogue classroom that is way out of control. Ambitious but naïve teacher who thinks she can change the world—starting with these unruly students. But this true story is more than just a feel-good flick about an inspirational instructor. It’s about teens, most of them headed down a path of self-destruction, who, for perhaps the first time, are hearing a simple but profound mantra: I believe in you, and you can do it. Hilary Swank brings a strong but tender touch to the role of Erin Gruwell, the real-life teacher who turned around the lives of these high school students in Long Beach, California. (Our review.)


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