10 Movies to Watch During Lent
Whether you officially observe Lent or treat it as a time for voluntary reflection and prayer, it is a great time to recenter spiritually. In the weeks leading up to Easter, we can fast to focus our minds on our provider. We can reflect on his goodness and his sacrifice to save us. We pray for his strength to help us grow spiritually and become more Christlike. Lent is a sobering time but a fulfilling time.
Assuming that you’re not giving up movies as part of your Lenten fast, it can be helpful to pursue movies with Lenten themes. They may be movies about Christians undergoing trials that challenge you to keep your faith strong. They may be movies about divine deliverance that inspire you to hold onto hope. Whatever their focus, they can help you reflect on the season in new ways.
Here are 10 great movies to watch during Lent, with tips on the best audience for each.
Photo Credit: Getty Images/FREDERICA ABAN
1. The Miracle Maker
Since Lent is the season leading up to Easter, it’s always a good idea to see a movie about Jesus that reminds us of what we are looking toward. There are dozens of interesting Jesus movies to choose from, most doing their best to capture a particular side of Jesus’ personality or ministry. The Miracle Maker, an animated film made by the same group that made the excellent animated Bible TV show Testament, balances depicting Jesus’ different sides while telling a clear story.
Rather than trying to tell everything from Jesus’ point of view, The Miracle Maker opens with someone that he will eventually heal. This allows the movie to show the culture that Jesus lived in and what made him so surprising when he began preaching. When Jesus comes into the public eye, he comes across as a forceful but kind man deeply interested in the people he offers new life. When the surrounding characters realize he’s offering something unexpected (a Messiah who heals rather than fights? A teacher who spends his time with unwanted people on the margins), viewers see why Jesus’ message was revolutionary.
Photo Credit: BBC, British Screen Productions, Cartwn Cymru, Christmas Films, Icon Entertainment International, Sianel 4 Cymru
2. The Hiding Place
Since Lent is a time for devoting ourselves to God, it can be a great time to remember the Christians who have gone before us. It can particularly be a great time to remember Christians who withstood trials, standing firm in their faith despite persecution. The Hiding Place tells the story of Dutch watchmaker Corrie ten Boom, one of the great civilian heroes of WWII.
The movie starts in 1940 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. It follows ten Boom and her family over four years as they hide Jews in a secret room in their home. When authorities discover their work in 1944, ten Boom, her sister, and her father are imprisoned. Some of the movie’s images in the second half (as ten Boom and her sister are placed in a concentration camp) are a little intense for younger viewers, though not graphic by today’s standards. The story of ten Boom’s perseverance and trust in God shines through in the film.
Viewers who enjoy this film may also enjoy Return to the Hiding Place, which covers much of the same story, but with more emphasis on surrounding characters in the Dutch resistance.
Photo Credit: ©World Wide Pictures
3. A Man for All Seasons
A frequent mention on lists of the best movies about religion ever made, A Man for All Seasons has a story that particularly resonates with Lent’s themes of restraint and reflection. The story follows Sir Thomas More, a member of England’s government faced with a problem. His king, Henry VIII, wants to divorce his first wife. He needs England’s lords and clergy to support him in getting an annulment from the pope. More refuses to give it. When Henry VIII splits England’s church away from Rome to get what he wants, More’s refusal and silence about Henry VIII’s new marriage is interpreted as treason.
While the movie cuts right to Christian debates about divorce and remarriage, A Man for All Seasons sets up the religious debate as something larger. Henry VIII is a man with essentially selfish reasons for pursuing his goals. He will use any loophole in church teaching or power pressure to get what he wants. More believes in sticking to the only thing he has: faith, truth, and knowledge that he must ultimately answer to God, not humans. As things worsen, More must slowly give up everything except his faith. In a season where we give things up to focus on Christ, meditating on what will truly satisfy us, A Man for All Seasons is a great meditation on how countercultural sacrifice can be.
Photo Credit: Fan poster by G. Connor Salter
Chocolat talks about Lent in a very direct way, pushing audiences to consider what the point of the season is. Vianne is a single mother who moves to a small French Catholic village in 1959 to set up a chocolaterie. The strict townspeople resist buying her wares since Lent has started. However, they are slowly transformed by Vianne’s treats and fun-loving attitude toward life. The story sets up the townspeople as legalistic Christians and Vianne as a fun-loving pagan (she advertises a “pagan festival” she wants to host in town), a well-horn and historically inaccurate cliché. However, since the movie never delves into how pagan Vianne really is (she never does anything witchy, and her primary sin is being a single mother), it’s hard to call this a pro-pagan film. It does have a few sensual scenes that aren’t appropriate for younger viewers but make for good discussions with older teenagers and adults about what love is.
What makes Chocolat good viewing during Lent is its suggestion that the Christian characters have missed the point. Instead of making Lent a time for devotion to God and practicing his teachings (including caring for the unwanted), the townspeople keep Lent to keep up appearances. This makes Chocolat a good film for discerning viewers to reflect on the line between piety and self-righteousness.
Photo Credit: © Miramax
5. A Man Escaped
Robert Bresson may be the most Lent-appropriate director. His movies (particularly Diary of a Country Priest and Pickpocket) are filled with spiritual ideas but delivered restrainedly. There’s plenty of room for struggle and paradox in his stories. Add to this the fact Bresson liked a stripped-down approach (not much music, rarely moving cameras, subtle acting), and viewers have to pay close attention. His movies give rich rewards… if you’re willing to stop, slow down, focus, and reflect.
A Man Escaped follows a WWII French Resistance fighter planning his escape from a German prison. Like many Christian dramas, there are discussions about salvation and hope despite the circumstances. The movie even opens with a subtitle from John 3:8, which suggests divine grace is wrapped up in this story somehow. All these themes sound common if you’ve seen many Christian films, but the stripped-down style makes them more real. Bresson refuses to make this story about salvation into an “inspiring Christian melodrama.” His hero’s trials are sobering but compelling, and any lessons are hard-won. All these elements make A Man Escaped a challenging movie for Lent, in the best way.
Photo Credit: Fan poster based on theatrical release poster. Recreation by G. Connor Salter.
While Lent can be misused as legalism, it is a time for contemplation. Therefore, Lent should lead to recognizing how much we need Jesus to save us. Therefore, a great subject for Lenten viewing is stories about Christians who didn’t have easy spiritual journeys. Their trials can remind us that it’s normal to struggle and that Jesus can forgive even our worst inner demons.
Ragamuffin depicts the life of Rich Mullins, one of Contemporary Christian Music’s most memorable figures. He wrote some of the genre’s best-known songs, like “Awesome God.” He also had a knack for spiritual advice that forced listeners to rethink their biases. As bandmate Rick Elias observed, he also had a great appetite for sin outweighed by a great pursuit of God. This biopic follows Mullin from childhood to his untimely death, showing his struggles without much varnish. His struggles to make something compelling for God come against music executives who want inspirational fare. His craving for acceptance from his distant father leads to anger and alcoholism. With help from fellow “ragamuffin” Brennan Manning, Mullins faces his pain and finds new freedom.
Ragamuffin’s not a standard inspirational Christian biopic because Mullins’ life had more than its share of sound and fury. The result helps readers see that God can bring healing and work great things even from the most broken people.
Photo Credit: ©Color Green Films
7. Come Before Winter
Figures like Corrie ten Boom provide inspiring examples because of their perseverance and survival, but it’s equally important to remember Christians who died for their faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor involved in a German resistance plot to assassinate Hitler, might be the most famous Christian martyr in recent decades. His story can be a sobering tale to remember at Lent, helping viewers consider the cost they might pay for their faith. Bonhoeffer’s story has been told in several films (including the 2003 documentary). Come Before Winter is one of the most recent and most interesting.
The story opens with the story of someone else: Sefton Delmer, a British journalist who produced a radio show broadcasting anti-Nazi propaganda into Germany. The film introduces Delmer’s staff—future spy novelist Ian Fleming, actress Agnes Bernelle, and German defector Otto John. As the team discusses reports of what’s happening in Germany, John discusses the Hitler assassination plot he was involved in and meeting Bonhoeffer during the planning phase.
The story cuts between this framing device (Delmer’s team thinking about what’s happening in Germany as the war goes on, Delmer feeling intrigued by this “good German pastor”) and dramatized scenes of what was happening in Bonhoeffer’s life at the same time. As the movie shows the scenes from Bonhoeffer’s life (his time in prison, everything leading up to his execution), Bonhoeffer experts like biographer Ferdinand Schlingensiepen provide insights into the faith that drove Bonhoeffer’s work.
Besides one or two mature references (Fleming flirting with Bernelle, generic references to battle carnage), the movie is great for viewers of any age.
Photo Credit: Stories That Glow Collectors
Lenten reflection and repentance would be strange if we didn’t believe God was listening and willing to forgive us of our sins. But how far does forgiveness go? What do we do when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers? These questions are central to Silence—both the original novel by Shūsaku Endō and the film adaptation by Martin Scorsese. The story is simple. Sebastião Rodrigues is a Jesuit monk in seventeenth-century Portugal who receives troubling news. His mentor, a missionary in Japan, has reportedly committed apostasy. Rodrigues travels to Japan, helping the “hidden Christians” who fear being exterminated and seeking news of his mentor.
Silence looks at what many Christians consider an awkward part of religious history—Christians who publicly denied Christ under persecution to save their loved ones or themselves. The question is, have these people denied Christ in their hearts? If they have truly turned their backs on him, can God’s love still reach them, offering forgiveness and new life? The movie doesn’t pretend this is an easy question to answer. Viewers seeking movies that require them to ponder the true meaning of forgiveness, reflect and discuss what they believe, will find this movie well worth exploring.
Photo Credit: ©Paramount
9. The Wrong Man
Rating: Not Rated
Alfred Hitchcock isn’t usually associated with religious films because he kept his faith private. Raised by the Jesuits, he attended church throughout his life and donated money to churches and charities, but disliked being called a “Catholic filmmaker.” The Wrong Man is one of two films where Hitchcock openly talks about faith. It presents a religious struggle very appropriate for Lent, though subtler than in the other films mentioned in this article.
The story (based on fact) follows musician Christopher Emanuel “Manny” Balestrero, who gets arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Manny knows he didn’t commit the crime, but eyewitnesses and evidence all seem to label him the culprit. As Manny seeks to prove his innocence, his faith (seen in small moments as he holds a rosary and prays) keeps him going. Still, it’s a hard and surprising journey to justice.
Like Silence or A Man for All Seasons, this movie depicts a Christian undergoing a long hard journey. Hitchcock films the legal process (Manny being arrested, filling out his information at prison, being bused to prison, attending his trial) as grinding, frightening moments that leave Manny disoriented. However, Manny suffers not because he’s a Christian but because, as Ecclesiastes warns us, life is uncertain. Sin has filled the earth, and sin’s consequences affect even the righteous in unexpected ways. Hence, faith is important not just for withstanding persecution but for withstanding the trials that can come anytime in this sin-infected world.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros
10. Three Colors: Blue
Lent is about somber topics (reflection, restraint, contemplating how much we need Christ), but it culminates in the joy of Easter. Therefore, it’s a great time to look at movies that show how tragedy and renewal can fit together. Three Colors: Blue provides a great way to meditate on that idea in a story with an overt biblical theme. The movie has some sexual elements that make it certainly a film for adults, but these scenes become part of a theme about how sex binds people together, even when they try ignoring how it binds them.
The story starts sadly. Julie de Courcey is a young woman whose son and husband died in a car crash, leaving her grief-stricken. Her attempts to avoid being hurt again (selling her house, living alone in an apartment while evading her neighbors) run into complications when she has spiritual experiences involving music. The music reminds her of her composer husband’s unfinished work and a certain 1 Corinthians 13 passage. Her attempts to push the past further away only lead her closer to rebirth.
Photo Credit: Criterion
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