A Spiritual Journey thru Film


By Alvin Bulaong Cruz



In the mood for a spiritual retreat this Lenten season? Here’s a quick guide to five of the most unforgettable movies that dare to tackle the deeper issues of our faith


To travel for pleasure, to escape, or to seek new thrills and adventures has always been my mission statement, a life philosophy inspired by St. Augustine whose words had made him my own patron saint of travel: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”


But perhaps by “travel” St. Augustine meant not only a journey towards self-fulfillment and gratification but also a pursuit of a higher calling, a kind that leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and a clearer sense of purpose and meaning of our existence. Hence, any journey that uplifts the spirit, no matter what the cost, is a journey worth taking. And this is why at some point in our lives we move on from pursuing worldly pleasures to seeking spiritual enlightenment.


But where does one go to begin a spiritual journey? For some, it’s walking where Jesus walked in the Holy Land, or going on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca. For others, a spiritual journey means a visit to a place of miracles where once the Blessed Virgin appeared, like Lourdes of France or Medjugorje in the former Yugoslavia. And still others believe exploring nature can turn the whole experience from natural to supernatural, as in Zen-inspired Tibet of Dalai Lama.


I’m sure these are all perfect destinations for a religious pilgrimage, and I would be lucky enough if I could at least visit one of these places in my lifetime. But for now, during this Lenten season, I am taking a journey of a different kind – a spiritual journey through the art of cinema.


Through the years I have been inspired by movies that re-examine our religious beliefs and moral values in the light of recent global conflicts and issues. Of these, five great films remain etched in my memory, radiant like a flame that guides me in my own personal quest for spirituality.


Priest (1994)

1Priest (1994)


Directed by Antonia Bird and winner of the Teddy Award at the 1995 Berlin International Film Festival, Priest dramatizes the personal struggles of a young Catholic priest (Linus Roache) assigned in an inner-city parish. On one hand, he struggles with his repressed homosexuality, and on the other with an older priest’s radical and liberal theology that goes against his conservative religious upbringing.


Aside from the scandals that plague the Church today, this touching film also dares to speak the unspeakable: personal confessions that are so disturbing that it makes one question the confidentiality of the sins confessed and the motive behind the confession. Does one confess his sins to ask forgiveness or to cry for help?


Memorable quote from the film:


“If you do anything… to prevent one single human being reaching their full potential, aren’t you interfering in creation and spitting in the face of God? That’s what I believe. That’s my truth. That’s what made me become a priest, and makes me remain a priest.”


The Mission (1986)

2The Mission (1986)


Set in 18th century South America, this Palme d’ Or winner at Cannes Film Festival chronicles the journey of a Jesuit missionary (Jeremy Irons) in the South American jungle with one mission: to convert a Guarani tribe to Christianity. Along the way, he meets a mercenary (Robert de Niro) who, amazed by the spiritual and intellectual transformation of the Guarani brought about by the mission, decides to become a Jesuit and help in the mission. But the future of the indigenous people is at stake as the Portuguese colonists threaten to end the mission.


Memorable quote from the film:


“So, your Holiness, now your priests are dead, and I am left alive. But in truth it is I who am dead, and they who live. For as always, your Holiness, the spirit of the dead will survive in the memory of the living.”


The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

3The Magdalene Sisters (2002)


Written and directed by Peter Mullan, and the winner of the Golden Lion at the 2002 Venice Film Festival, The Magdalene Sisters is inspired by true stories about life inside the Magdalene Asylums in Ireland in the 60’s. Also known as “Magdalene Laundries,” the asylums serve as a refuge for women considered “fallen” or sinners who must pay a penance for their sins. The film revolves around three young women sent to the Magdalene Asylum by their families for their “immoral acts” such as tempting boys and giving birth to a child out of wedlock. As they live their lives in the strong and abusive hands of their Mother Superior, they discover that the Asylum is more a place of condemnation than a place of redemption.


Memorable quote from the film:


“All the mortal sins in the world wouldn’t justify this place.”


Dead Man Walking (1995)

4Dead Man Walking (1995)


A crime drama based on a true story, Dead Man Walking tells the story of a special connection between a nun, Sister Helen (Susan Sarandon) and a convict on death row (Sean Penn) in a Lousiana prison. Convinced of his innocence, Sister Helen offers him legal assistance and spiritual guidance. But as the day of his execution nears, the truth about his crime is revealed, finally establishing the line between mercy and justice, vengeance and forgiveness, doubt and faith.


For their riveting performances in this film, Sarandon won the Academy Award for Best Actress while Penn bagged the Best Actor Award at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival.


Memorable quote from the film:


“I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I’ll be the face of love for you.”


Doubt (2008)

5Doubt (2008)


Based on a Pulitzer-prize winning play, Doubt deeply explores the many facets of truth as seen from a prejudiced or biased point of view. A sermon on doubt by Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is enough to trigger suspicions in Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). Such view puts Father Flynn’s actions under question and threatens to destroy his reputation. But until evidence is found to establish the truth, the shadow of doubt will cling and linger even in the hearts of the faithful.


Memorable quote from the film:


“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.”


Watch these great cinematic moments for some soul-searching this Holy Week or post-Lenten reflective viewing. Let them take you on an inspirational journey of faith that will reawaken your quest for life’s higher purpose.


April 2015 Health and Lifestyle

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