Desert Island Films

Today is groundhog day, and I have no idea if the stupid rodent saw his shadow or not. Seriously, if the choice is between an early spring or six more weeks of winter… I WISH there would be only six more weeks of winter – middle of March – that would be an early spring. The truth is winter is always excruciatingly long, no matter how many groundhogs say otherwise. If we get spring before May, I’ll be surprised. So you’ve heard all that before. If you’ve been following my blog, you already know how much I hate winter.

But there is one good thing about groundhog day. It’s the movie Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray. Like Bruce Almighty, I see Groundhog Day as a brilliant twist on the It’s a Wonderful Life theme. Every year on Groundhog Day, Susie and I have a tradition of watching the movie. Not this year, though, because there’s some freak show (i.e., reality show) that Susie wants to watch tonight. So I’m writing my blog instead.

So I decided for my theme today I would talk about desert island films. It’s a variation on the theme of desert island books. You know, if you had to be stranded on a desert island, what ten books would you want with you? Maybe I’ll do books another time, but today I’m doing films. Of course that assumes you have electricity and a DVD player on that desert island. These films are in no particular order. And the point is not to debate the merits of these films, but only to recommend them to you if you don’t already know about them. They may not be your top ten, but since you’re probably not actually going to a desert island, you can watch them in addition to your favorites. So I hope you’ll take my word for it and try them. If you see any of these films on my recommendation, I would love to hear your feedback.

Groundhog Day – Filmed in Woodstock, IL, this is so out of the box, it’s just not like any other movie ever made, that I know of. It really encourages some of the values Jesus talked about, like living one day at a time. The premise is that Bill Murray has to relive the same day over and over again until he “gets it.” It’s genius, and Bill Murray is excellent. I talk about this in chapter 16 of Spiritual Blueprint. By the way, if you want to take a quiet weekend in a quaint little town, go to Woodstock, and stay in the Bundling Board bed & breakfast. Tell them Jim & Susie sent you.

Bruce Almighty – I’ve mentioned this one before, and I talk about it in chapter 12 of Spiritual Blueprint. Bruce, played by Jim Carrey, learns so many lessons in this movie, one of which is that you can’t make people love you. The premise of the movie is that God gives this complainer a chance to see if he could do God’s job better. It’s a great reality check, which makes you want to count your blessings.

Hudson Hawk – This is the greatest movie ever made. (You probably won’t think so, but I’m sticking to that.) It’s also the film that lost the most money in Hollywood history, until they made the utterly horrible Waterworld. Bruce Willis plays Hudson Hawk, an ex-con who becomes a pawn in an international plot including the CIA, the mob, some crazy rich people, and the Vatican (and also Leonardo DaVinci). Much of it takes place in Rome, so it just warms my heart. Lots of tongue-in-cheek campiness, but also lots of fun. It’s worth the price just to hear Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello sing, Swinging on a Star.

The Fifth Element – This is also one of my favorite movies. It’s a wild roller coaster ride of action, aliens and I don’t know what. In a way, it’s a Christ story, but nothing like the usual kind. Most Christ stories are like Batman or Spiderman, in which a regular guy is elevated (through personal discipline or science) to a hero status. But that’s not really like Christ. The Fifth Element is about a “supreme being” who comes down to our level to save us. It’s what we call a christology of descent. In this film, Bruce Willis plays a guy who thinks he has to save the savior, but he (and the world) gets saved by her in the end.

Jesus of Montreal – This is a French Canadian film with English subtitles – but it’s worth the extra work to read along. An actor is commissioned to modernize a church’s passion play, but not everyone likes the changes he makes. While the story of Christ is going on in the passion play, the story of Christ is also going on in the lives of the actors.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon – This film answers the musical question, “What if St. Francis was a Hippie?” It was made around the same time as Godspell, but it’s not really a musical – though it has a great soundtrack by Donovan (remember “Mellow Yellow”? – yeah, him.). It has some problems in the historical accuracy department, but it’s beautifully filmed and very inspiring. Bonus: Pope Innocent III is played by Sir Alec Guinness (i.e., Obi Wan Kenobi).

I Robot – Based on the story by Isaac Asimov, this is also a kind of Christ story, but I don’t know how much that was intended, maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see. But it’s a great futuristic story. If you like to see the way filmmakers envision the future, this is a good one.

Dogma – Some people found this film a bit blasphemous, and maybe it is, but there is a great message here about God’s mercy shown to humans. In fact, Ben Affleck has this long rant about how he’s jealous that the same mercy isn’t shown to angels. Affleck and Damon play two angels banished from heaven, consigned to Wisconsin for all eternity. But they have a plan to get back into heaven… There are some moments of really good theology, and some moments of really bad theology. In the end, I’m not offended that God is played by a woman (Alanis Morrissette), but I am offended that God is played by a Canadian. Just kidding Denis Grady.

The Robe – This film is historical fiction (more fiction than history, but still worth it). It’s the story of what happens to the robe of Jesus after the crucifixion. You may remember that in the gospel story, the Roman soldiers don’t want to tear it up, so they roll dice for it. But then what happens to it? Follow Richard Burton and Victor Mature as they hide out in the catacombs (which Christians never actually did) and witness to their faith at the risk of their lives. If you like it, also see the sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. And you might as well see Gladiator, with Russell Crowe. And the HBO series Rome. Oh, and honorable mention goes to Quo Vadis, another great old sword and sandal flick.

Last but not least…

Anything with time travel – Yes, I’m a sucker for time travel movies. So go see these films!

Jim Papandrea

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About Jim Papandrea

Jim Papandrea is an author, educator, and singer/songwriter. Visit his website at:
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