In his book, Movies Change Lives, author Tony Kashani shares how cinema can serve as a bridge between people and the answer to universal issues that include social economics, racism, morality, and so on. (My colleague Dan Taylor wrote an incredible article on Kashani, and included the 7 movies Kashani believes will change the lives of viewers. You can read about it here.)
I got to thinking about which movies I’ve seen that have resonated with me both in how well the story was told, and the impact it had on me even after I’d left the theater. Here are 5 movies I’ve seen that have changed my life (or even just entertained it).
- Made in Heaven. This movie is right up there with all the other cheesy movies made in the ‘80s. And yet, I absolutely love it. The story is about this guy (Timothy Hutton) in the ‘60s who leaves for California after being rejected by the girl he loves, only to die before he gets there. Once in Heaven, he ends up meeting and falling in love with a girl (Kelly McGillis) who’s never been born. When she falls to earth, he decides to follow her. His mission is to find her and fall in love with her again, or they’ll never find each other. The only problem is, once he’s been born, his mission is forgotten.
There are several things I love about this movie. First, a bunch of well-known people make guest appearances in the film. Tom Petty shows up as a guy in a bar. Neil Young is a truck driver. Ric Ocasek (of The Cars) is a mechanic. And a chain-smoking angel named “Emmett,” who is basically God’s right hand man, is played by a surprise actor—Debra Winger, who was married to Timothy Hutton at the time. To keep the surprise, her name was never included in the rolling credits. Instead, it said “Emmett as himself.” Next, a bunch of things that were on earth showed up in Heaven, and vice versa. I loved seeing how Heaven and earth were connected, and seeing glimpses of things in both places. Third, I loved the underlying message of how everything happens for a reason. Tragedy made way for miracles. A chance meeting with a particular couple leads to a dream realized down the road. There were tons of these tiny nuggets throughout the film.
- Gladiator. I will never be able to watch this movie without crying. Russell Crowe stars as Maximus, a Roman general who is chosen by the dying emperor to be his heir, only to then be betrayed by the emperor’s son (Joaquin Phoenix) who murders Maximus’ family and claims the throne. Maximus is enslaved as a gladiator, and revenge becomes his main motivation.
This movie is not my typical choice, mostly because the violence in it is so graphic. And yet, I wouldn’t change any of it. The cinematography was stunning. The soundtrack was moving. The characters were believable. And the storyline shared the incredible resilience of one human being who was placed in the worst of circumstances.
- Cast Away. In the beginning of the film, Tom Hanks stars as a man who is married to his job, which appears to be holding back his relationship with the woman he loves. Then the plan he’s on crashes, and he’s the only survivor. The majority of the film takes place on a deserted island where Hanks doesn’t even talk for a full 20 minutes, and when he does, it’s to a volleyball he’s named Wilson. When he finally escapes the island, it seems the world has completely changed. But really, the change was in him.
Why did this movie change my life? First off, what other film could have me crying real tears over a VOLLEYBALL? Next, Hanks is one of the best actors in the business. Finally, it really speaks to where most of us are—placing too much focus on things that don’t deserve that much attention, and missing out on the things that really matter. Overall, this movie took one really terrible event, and made it the best thing that could have ever happened to the main character.
- Peter Pan (2003). I am a sucker for any Peter Pan story, as you all know from my latest book, Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan. This has pretty much been from the beginning. But the Peter Pan retelling that has always tugged at my heartstrings was the one created in 2003. My favorite scene was when Peter took Wendy to see the fairies in their tree, and they watched as the fairies danced. Then Peter and Wendy began to dance. But as Wendy saw this as a moment of love, Peter saw it as a giant game of pretend. It was the moment when Wendy realized she was meant to grow up, and she could never force the likes of Peter to follow suit. And isn’t that a lot like real life relationships, the ones where we realize it’s time to stop playing, and find someone who loves us the same as we love them?
- Fried Green Tomatoes. I think I’ve watched this movie a dozen times. This is two stories in one: the story of Evelyn, an Alabama housewife, who befriends Ninny, an elderly woman in a nursing home, and the story of Idgie and Ruth, two women who lived in the 1920s and form an unlikely friendship. Both stories seem to mirror each other in the themes of trust, deep friendship, and overcoming fear in favor of fully living life. As each story unfolds, you can see the growth in each character—Idgie who softens around the edges, Ruth who learns how to loosen up, and Evelyn who slowly grows a backbone. The only character that remains a constant is Ninny, who seems to hold all the secrets to a handful of lives. This movie was life changing. And I think I need to watch it again!
Which movies have changed your life? Let me know in the comments!