Movies Dripping With Character

I LOVE movies that show character. I already posted here about one the women in my family try to see every year. Recently my college daughter needed to watch several movies for her Ethics Class. Right up my alley, baby!

We chose “Babette’s Feast” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington“, from the list. Both were easily found on Amazon Prime to rent.

Babette’s Feast was made in the 80’s and watching it was like peeling an onion, layer after layer full of meaning. It is in Danish, with English subtitles. The premise is simple: two elderly Danish women, take in a French refugee, who cooks for them in exchange for room and board. The French woman wins a large sum of money, and uses it all to cook a tremendous feast for the two women and their church congregation. Who was the most Christ-like? The religious people featured or the outsider? So many questions about sacrifice, what constitutes a religious life, people’s love language and how people choose to spend their money. My other daughter who watched it said, “That was the dumbest movie, ever!” So some may not appreciate its subtle messages, but it invited a lot of discussion between the rest of us.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington features Jimmy Stewart, who is chosen to replace someone who has died, to be a senator of an unnamed state. He is picked because he seems to be a simpleton who can be controlled. He is without guile and trusts everybody. He descends into the snake pit of the Senate and comes to realize the man he looked up to and reveres, the other senator, is just a lackey for a wealthy and powerful man. Jimmy Stewart sticks to his ideals, despite everyone turning against him and defaming his good name and character. The movie can be slow, partly because it was made in 1939, but is so tender in some parts. Frank Capra directed it and he is famous for his attention to American values of God, family and country. It’s story is simple enough for you to watch it with young children around 8 and can start a great conversation on what patriotism is and doing the right thing even when everyone is against you.

Yesterday we finished It’s A Wonderful Life, another Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart combo. Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey, a man who sacrifices his dreams of travel and college, and stays in Bedford Falls to keep the family business from collapsing. When a series of terrible events happen, Jimmy Stewart stands on a bridge, ready to jump, wondering if he was worth more dead than alive. An angel named Clarence appears and shows George Bailey what would have happened if he were never born. I have seen it many times, and I never get tired of the last scene when Jimmy Stewart realizes that he has his old life back, that he had felt such despair over, and everything he had complained about earlier in the night was now magnificent and a wonder.

I think about fulfilling, character building movies long after the credits roll. I think our children will do the same. We are helping them build mental models of character and furnishing them with a latticework of ideas from which to build a mental framework to live by. In these movies, we are shown choices people make and examples of good and evil. I always liked to pause the movie and talk about these concepts right then. When Jimmy Stewart turns to God finally in his despair, he is given a complete mindset change and realizes how wonderful his life truly is. His realization of this priceless gift of hope makes this Christmas movie such a treasure to watch.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in 1994:

“Does hope really matter, or is it merely an antique virtue?’

“Without hope, what is the future of lubricating forgiveness among the human family? Without hope, why forgo now in order to preserve precious resources for future generations? Without hope, what will keep the remaining idealism from also souring into cynicism and thereby laying waste to governments and families—institutions already in such serious jeopardy?’

“Hope beckons all of us to come home where a glow reflects the Light of the World, whose “brightness and glory defy all description” (JS—H 1:17). Jesus waits “with open arms to receive” those who finally overcome by faith and hope (Morm. 6:17). His welcome will consist not of a brief, loving pat but, instead, of being “clasped in the arms of Jesus”! (Morm. 5:11).”

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