Films that explore the meaning of life

While films are a great form of escapism or entertainment, they can also be a profound source of insight, requiring us to examine our values and attitudes. Perhaps even make some changes. They don't have to be radical transformations, even subtle and seemingly insignificant changes can have a powerful impact on our lives and our loved ones - for the better.



  • Intouchables
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Life transitions

About Schmidt

I am fast approaching retirement so I could relate to Schmidt, a seemingly lost soul who has lived a less than ordinary life. He got me thinking about my attitude towards my wife. There's no doubt that I took her for granted through the years. Maybe this is how it is for most men, but since this movie, my priorities have changed. Work doesn't rank No.1 anymore. I'm painting landscapes, something I always wanted to do, and I'm courting my sweetheart like I did at the start. She's over the moon and I've never felt as contented as I do now. About Schmidt (2002) is excruciatingly slow, but it gave me the kind of adrenalin rush that comes with a blaring wake up call. - Bill


Departures is a film about acceptance. It's about corpses too, but in a very gentle way. A young man returns to his home town, wife in tow, to inherit a family home. We discover that his father left when he was young, and the hero harbors a stone in his heart for the perceived abandonment. While looking for work, he stumbles accidentally into the business of casketing, a formal and ritualized Japanese process of dressing and preparing the recently dead for funerals. His mentor guides him, in sequences of compassion, poise, and subtle humor, into an understanding of the worthiness of this strange art even as he struggles to cope with the ostracism by friends and family for being a handler of the dead.

For a movie so much about death and the dying, I found this to be very life-affirming. There are multiple stories told in this movie, about acceptance of death and of loss, and acceptance of life and of love. The acting is excellent, and the story is intriguing and cool. I recommend it. - Ross

Song for Marion

This story of an older couple coming to terms with death, and life after the loss of a loved one (spouse) reminded me that people who seem grumpy and hostile are often just that way on the surface. Beneath the outer layer is a whole other world. A world of sensitivity, and tender feelings that go deep and wide. Remember the Disney film about a girl named Pollyanna? When I saw this film as a child, I was thoroughly mesmerised by her ability to connect with people, regardless of how unfriendly or mean spirited they were. The young woman in Song for Marion is a bit like Pollyanna. Far from being saccharine sweet, she tells it like it is. Then at the next turn she reaches out in genuine concern, with humour and affection. Just beautiful. I want to love like this. - Fran


Culture, gender and identity

Coco avant Chanel

I really enjoyed this film, French actress Audrey Tautou was the perfect choice to play the young Coco Chanel. Focusing on the earlier part of her life story, I was inspired by Coco's courage and integrity. Refusing to wear the extremely uncomfortable and impractical clothing that was expected of women, she dressed instead in simple styles that she designed herself. She also refused to follow the conventional protocols that kept women dependent and oppressed. It is not easy to hold one's ground when pressured to comply with social "norms" but Coco seemed oblivious to the disapproval and dismay of her peers. I think there is something about being true to one's self that unleashes creativity. And Coco was truly a beautiful creative spirit. Watching this movie has made me all the more determined to be the person I am called to be. - Georgia

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man

Drowning in self imposed mediocrity, I was wrenched to safety by this cinematic experience that reminded me of the riches to be gained from commitment to Self and self awareness. Leonard Cohen is one of those transcendent individuals whose talent goes beyond the product of art. His song-writing, characterised by a bitter-sweet poetic economy, is a powerful testament to the ideal that growing older can also mean growing wiser. It was refreshing to be entertained by artists of a calibre that is rarely seen under the influence of that aberration 'fame'. Their connection to Cohen's lyrics was intense and illuminating. Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave and an outstanding performance by Antony of "If it be your will" brought tears to my eyes, but it was the humour and insight from the man himself that I found so inspiring. He really embodies his philosophy; you can see it in his face and you can hear it in his voice. - Lisa Hayes

  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Not Without My Daughter
  • Water
  • Whale Rider
  • Yentl


Beyond mediocrity

Mao's Last Dancer

The story of Li Cunxin has much to tell us, about hardship and the human spirit - but what struck me most about Mao's Last Dancer, was the emotional release that accompanied Li's reunion with his parents. I have found that in the course of everyday life, much of what I feel is buried deep, away from awareness. And it is not until circumstances draw these emotions to the surface that I experience the extent of their presence. I have sobbed when I didn't know I was sad, I have trembled when I didn't know I was afraid, I have cried tears of joy when I didn't know I cared. We humans are so much more than we may ever realise. - K

  • Cool Runnings
  • Cosi
  • Dead Poet's Society
  • Mona Lisa Smile
  • Patch Adams
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  • Shakespeare in Love


Resilience and resourcefulness

The Pursuit of Happyness

Based on the true story of Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness demonstrates that with perseverance, imagination, focus and loyalty to one's self, dreams do not necessarily belong to the realm of the impossible. In a chance encounter with a stock broker, Chris observed how happy he looked and asked himself "Why can't I be like that?" This was a profound 'aha' moment for me because it suggests that a dream starts with a question. You might not know the answer but if you continually work on asking the best questions of yourself, you will in time get clearer on who you are and what you are meant to be doing. - Jess Bryan

  • Cast Away
  • Cold Mountain
  • Ever After
  • Moll Flanders
  • Never Tell Me Never
  • Nowhere in Africa
  • Rabbit Proof Fence
  • The Pianist
  • The Shawshank Redemption


Lives transformed

  • Catch Me If You Can
  • Crash
  • Goal!
  • Intouchables
  • Les Miserables
  • Regarding Henry
  • Sommersby
  • Sweet November
  • The Letter Writer

Courage and integrity

Children of the Silk Road

Scenes from this film continue to haunt my imagination almost a month after seeing it. Especially images of the children's faces. The actors were all great and the cinematography incredibly beautiful but what will stay with me is the knowledge that this was a true story, about the life and death of a very decent human being. We can all be inspired and humbled by people like George Hogg who sacrificed so much ... someone in their twenties still has a life to live. It makes me wonder why I do what I do rather than what I want to do. Maybe I'm just plain scared. Or lazy. I hope eventually I get past myself to make a difference ... even just to care would be something.  - Sarah T.

How to Train Your Dragon

I'm not one for remembering the names of the characters in films (some people do!) I tend to be moved more by story line, the script and cinematography. On all three counts How to Train Your Dragon qualifies as one of the best animation movies ever made. I love the way Hiccup, the main character, preserved his individual integrity, all the while yearning to belong to the family and community into which he was born. I believe it is possible to transcend our cultural mores -in fact, the integrity and future of the human race as a whole relies on everyday people like you and me, tuning into our deepest and highest truths which, sadly are not always reflected in social norms. Go see this movie. It will most certainly make you laugh and while there's a very good chance it will also make you cry, How to Train Your Dragon will hopefully inspire you to notice the next time you are caught up in the ever present temptation to succumb to herd mentality.

  • Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace
  • Braveheart
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Lemon Tree
  • Erin Brockovich
  • Fly Away Home
  • Ghandi
  • Man on Fire
  • Michael Collins
  • Motorcycle Diaries
  • Schindler's List
  • St Joan of Arc
  • The Last Samurai
  • The Power of One
  • Vera Drake
  • Veronica Guerin



  • Spirit Bear


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