An unexpected movie watchlist for Lent

It’s the first Friday in Lent, and you know what that means: Mandatory Lent Film Party! At least, that’s what it means at our house. As much as we can manage, every other evening in Lent is screen-free at our house. But on Fridays, we assemble the family and watch a movie together. But unlike most other movie nights, the adults get to pick it.

The parameters: Each movie should have a religious or spiritual theme or setting (not necessarily Christian), and it should be well-made enough that there’s a reason to watch it besides the spiritual aspect. We lean toward movies we probably wouldn’t get around to watching otherwise.

Some of the movies are new to us, and sometimes they turn out to be terrible! This is not a problem, as long as we talk about why we didn’t like it. Talking about the movie afterward is also mandatory.

We’ve done this for a few years, and I’ve reviewed these movies as we watch them. (Click the title of the films below for my full review.) I tried to include age recommendations—my kids range from age 8 to 25—but it’s a good idea to check out a site like for specific elements that may make it inappropriate for your household’s audience.

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the lesser-known or unexpected films on our Lenten watchlist to date… Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine


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2 thoughts on “An unexpected movie watchlist for Lent”

  1. (continued)

    And that The Longest Day so far evaded that many people realized it as the religious movie it is, is somehow an actual plus-point.

    2. This is the somewhat less serious suggestion: The Miracle of Bern. But then that’s a movie about soccer and Germany, with far less religiosity than The Longest Day. But still, something that is probably a Confession, and certainly involves the local parish priest, is the main turning point of the movie. (This, too, has, even in the circle where the movie is known, evaded notice by almost everyone.)

  2. What would I recommend?

    Two movies, one, like, really, one in a throwing-in like manner.

    1. The one I really do recommend – provided the children are old enough – on a religious-movie list, where you’d probably not expect it to end up, is The Longest Day, 1962, Ken Annakin &al.

    We don’t really need to get into the excellence of filming, cast and setting and all. If at all possible, do choose the “original language plus subtitles” version. Most of it is English, but it makes for a nice experience when the French speak French and the Germans speak German. – The movie, for those who don’t know, is of course a mostly historical depiction of the 1944 Normandy landings (partly played by actual veterans of the same, though mostly in other roles). It makes a fair attempt to present all the involved; the Germans are presented as opponents, not monsters (it does not of course deny that other Germans elsewhere really did commit monstrous crimes); the Allied also are presented as a coalition of Americans, British, and even Free French that otherwise are so often forgotten.

    Why, though, does this war movie, granted a very fine one, make it on my list of religious movies? – For one thing, I really do consider the Second World War, at least the part of the Western Allied against the Germans, a crusade against outright evil, which by its victory (achieved by classic heroism and not yet tainted by the use of nuclear weaponry) really did make the world a better place. (And if it secretly also was about not making this a Soviet-Union-only victory and not leave to her all Continental Europe, that does not contradict but underline the point to be honest.)

    However, even more generally this movie really does underline, especially in its very poignant semifinal and final scene, that not everything one does is in vain. (Without need for fairytale-telling. We did see a couple of soldiers storm an empty fortress and concluding “then we came up here for nothing”.)

    This message is underlined with quite the share of explicitly religious references. Let be noted here that the next words after “you only have one friend” is not “your rifle” (though the rifle does get an honorary mention), that a padre does take the responsibility not to throw away the Blessed Sacrament seriously and is instantly rewarded for it *, that a young enlisted soldier, after being sent a blessed Rosary to accompany him to battle finds a curious way of demonstrating detachment from material goods ** , or the sermon at the beginning that sets the tone for the whole work ***. As one soldier says to the other, “Let’s do something about God’s work this night”: This is how they understood what they did, or at least what they are depicted as understanding what the did.

    * The padre accompanies a paratrooping unit (with jumping himself and all – which is apparently historical, wow) and has a “Communion set” which he loses in the swamp. He insists on retrieving it against the wishes of a sergeant or something he accompanies; and he does retrieve it seconds later. The sergeant then says: “Glory be.” Just the two words, quite soldier-like.
    ** He had won a fortune by gambling (just luck, no cheating), and had had the nerve to quit at the right time and has quite nice ideas what to do with the money: Something nice for himself, the bulk of it sent to the mother, you get the idea. But by the Rosary he is reminded of something, we do not really see what, and then he returns to the gamblers with the explicit purpose to lose everything. He doesn’t want to be burdened with any money when jumping; he’s a paratropper also.
    *** Au coeur des ténèbres, au plus profond de la nuit il ne faut jamais désesperer. Guardons notre foi intacte, inébranlable! Pour chacun de nous, la délivrance approche. – Just so that the German officer who listens cannot arrest him; and he really does mean both deliverances.

    From the age of 12. A lot of war-fighting but, by Saving-Private-Ryan standards, not really so much graphic violence. An overall tolerance of war-movies does help.

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