Movies for Navelgazers

Movies that represent major life themes and lessons can inspire us to think more deeply about important issues. They can act as a springboard for discussion and further exploration with friends and family. Here are a few of my favorite movies that depict major life themes.

Forrest Gump
This movie provides a juxtaposition of competing themes. Life is a crapshoot, but we also have a destiny. Karma exists among chaos – kindness is rewarded, but there is also random pain and suffering. Wisdom can be found in the simplest of things. The power of kindness as well as the impact of cruelty really shines through in this movie. Best of all, its a feel good movie that leaves you feeling optimistic about life.

What Dreams May Come
This film is gorgeous with innovative cinematography for its time, but it is also a love story with relationships that endure and conquer. It’s an interesting commentary on grief and loss and a reminder that life is fleeting and to appreciate you have. It depicts suicide as a selfish act that spreads destruction like ripples in a pond to everyone around, but also provides hope that no human being is beyond redemption. The meaning of life, love and death is explored all within the context of a movie that leaves you feeling good at the end. If you want to believe in soulmates, this is a good movie to watch.

AI (Artificial Intelligence)
This movie is an interesting commentary on human (and not-so-human) behavior. Themes of rejection, abandonment and isolation are central as well as oppression, discrimination, fear and hatred of what is different. The child’s undying quest for mother-love, even when its not reciprocated, is exquisitely and painfully portrayed here. And although the mother does a cruel thing, she isn’t villianized. This is not a feel good movie and may leave you with a lingering sadness about the darker side of human nature.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This is a movie with a complex message about relationships. One might wonder whether to feel hopeful or doomed at the end. Many of us have probably felt like erasing an ex from our memories and it was interesting to watch what might actually happen if we did. It leaves us with so many questions about destiny, free will, and the nature of love. Perhaps the message is “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Not a feel good movie, but thought provoking.

Bastard Out of Carolina
This is an extremely disturbing move and not for sensitive viewers due to stark depictions of poverty and child physical and sexual abuse. It shows the complex forces that allow abuse to surface and escalate, even when others are aware its happening. It shows how a mother might choose not to protect her child and the devastating effects this has on family relationships. It is a story of survival. Viewers may walk away feeling changed and perhaps a little less innocent.

Garden State
This movie depicts how afraid Americans are of strong emotion and how many of us will do almost anything to avoid or escape them. More and more our culture sees emotion as a problem to be fixed. This movie shows the healing power of emotional awareness and expression. It illustrates how meaningless and colorless life can be without emotions and how rich and rewarding it can be when they are acknowledged. The characters are complex and entertaining and you may walk away feeling a little better about life.

Being John Malkovich
This is a movie about walking in the shoes of another person – the closest thing to perfect empathy. But, it turns into a nightmare for some of the characters involved. Issues surrounding gender roles, sexual identity, and privacy are broached. Overall a weird, wonderful film.

About Schmidt
This is a movie that will impact a person in different ways depending on age and station in life. Those in or nearing middle age may find it uncomfortable. Mid-life changes cause Schmidt to review his life and search for meaning. He learns the hard way that the things that were supposed to be important in his life were fleeting or shallow or pointless. His quest for a purpose goes awry, but the movie ends with a message of hope.

I’d love to hear about your favorite “psychologically minded movies”. Feel free to send me a comment mentioning the title and describing the major themes. Please also visit my website for more information and resources regarding a variety of mental health issues and concerns.

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