Tag Archives: The Road

10 Films for Lent

A few years ago I thought it would an interesting challenge to think of films that reflected the heart of the season of Advent. You can see that list of “10 Films for Advent” here. This year I decided to create a similar list for Lent. What makes a film “Lenten”? As I thought about it, I first thought of images: films of desert, spartan landscapes; faces of lament and suffering; gray and drab color palettes. Then I thought of tone:  somber, contemplative, quiet, yet with a glimmer of hope or a moment of catharsis. Finally I thought of themes: suffering, isolation, hunger, penance, hope. I came up with the list below (in alphabetical order).

Ballast (2008): Lance Hammer’s debut film is a quiet (indeed, sometimes silent) look at the hard times of a downtrodden family in Mississippi. Amidst the film’s pervasive squalor, destitution, and grim grayness, there is an affirmation of life and a building towards hope. It’s a film about people on the brink getting a second chance, gradually finding their bearings and ballast as they move through the mire of life’s hard knocks.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951): French director Robert Bresson’s Priest charts the everyday struggles of a young priest trying his best to follow God’s will in shepherding a small parish in rural France. Quiet, contemplative, lonely, quotidian and yet transcendent (Paul Schrader would say), Priest is a gorgeous picture of a devoted-yet-imperfect believer leaning on God in the mundane isolation of modern life.

Gerry (2002): Gus Van Sant’s avant garde film is essentially a silent observation of two hikers (Matt Damon and Casey Affleck) who get lost in the unforgiving deserts of the American Southwest. There are scant more than a couple dozen lines of dialogue to be found in its 103 minutes, nothing like a “plot” to speak of, and yet the film is utterly spellbinding. The desolate, waterless wilderness is ominous but strangely beautiful.

Hunger (2008): The debut feature from Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), Hunger is a raw, visceral depiction of IRA leader Bobby Sands’ 1981 prison hunger strike. Less political than existential, Hunger is about self-imposed suffering for a cause. Bleak, brutal, hard to watch, Hunger nevertheless ends with a note of hope/catharsis.

Into Great Silence (2007): Philip Gröning’s film is nearly three hours long, pretty much silent, actionless, and repetitive. But all of this is appropriate for a documentary about the ascetic life of monks. The film, like Lent, is quiet, contemplative, beautiful in its simplicity and a truly worshipful experience.

L’enfant (2005): I was debating which Dardenne brothers film to include here, because I think many of their films have a Lenten feel to them. I chose L’enfant (The Child) because of its cold, stark tone and its exploration of sin, suffering and penance. The “penance” part comes really only as a hint, in the final cathartic minutes, but what a powerful climax it is.

The New World (2005): Terrence Malick’s The New World centers on the story of Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), whose journey in the film is decidedly Lenten. At one point she has her own “ashes to ashes” moment when she covers her face in ash and dirt as she grieves the supposed death of John Smith. She undergoes profound suffering in the film but is beautifully resilient, learning from every up and down and growing “towards the light” like a tree even when a branch breaks off.

Of Gods and Men (2011): A true story about monks in North Africa who risk it all in pursuit of their mission, Gods is one of the most inspiring films about faith, sacrifice, and community that I’ve ever seen. A quiet, austere, but utterly transcendent film, Gods paints a picture of what it means to be faithfully present as Christ’s ambassadors in hostile world. It’s a film about joy in suffering, and the beauty of picking up one’s cross in pursuit of Christ.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): This silent masterpiece from Danish director Carl Dreyer provides an amazingly artful and moving account of the suffering and martyrdom of Joan of Arc. Shot almost entirely in close-up, the film’s striking images—especially Joan’s face—are gripping and evoke the holy, even in their spartan simplicity.

The Road (2009): John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is a dark, gray, horrifying film about suffering and survival in a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. This was actually the first film that came to mind when I thought about “Lenten films.” As dark and painful as the film is to watch, there is a quietness and slowness to it that engenders contemplation. And though 90% of the film feels like Good Friday, its hopeful ending nods in direction of Easter.

Spend Your Thanksgiving With The Road

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It’s a day when we celebrate the bounty of what we have, with family and friends, turkey and football. But in the midst of the gluttony and laziness and consumerism (black Friday!) of the weekend, it’s sometimes hard to really see the forest for the trees when it comes to our blessings. It’s hard to really get a perspective on how good we have it.

I have an easy way to fix that problem this Thanksgiving: Go see The Road.

This is a film that reminds you that even in the darkest of times, there is much to be thankful for. It reminds you that we are thankfully NOT living in a post-apocalyptic hell, scavenging for food and avoiding cannibals in a world devoid of sunlight and plant life. It’s a film that will reminds us never to take things like food, water, clothes, or shoes for granted again.

Plus, it’s just a phenomenal movie (even if not “enjoyable” to watch in the strictest sense). I’ve seen the film twice and would love to see it again. I wrote a review for Christianity Today, and also interviewed the director, John Hillcoat.

Take two hours out of your holiday weekend to see this film. You’ll be thankful you did.


Why do I always forget how blessed and lucky I am? Why do I always have a hard time recognizing the many things I should be thankful for? How every little thing in my life—both easy and hard, painful and pleasurable—has been orchestrated by God to form a purpose far grander than my own ambitions?

I think part of it is that I’ve grown up in a world of entitlement. Ours is a world of debilitating entitlement. We are raised to assume that we have the inalienable right to be happy and healthy, that we are entitled to money and security and insurance and freedom to do and say whatever we want. We think it’s our prerogative, our destiny, our right. And so when good things happen to us we’re liable to shrug it off as “our due” instead of being humbled to a place of deep gratitude.

But newsflash: we aren’t entitled to anything.

EVERYTHING is a gift from God. Every good thing is a grace, given not out of obligation but love.

When I realized this, it was so utterly freeing. It allowed me to pull back from my life and see it from beyond my own small sphere. Turns out I’m just a miniscule part of a much bigger picture; turns out there is a purpose to my life, but it has much less to do with my immediate satisfaction than the success of the “bigger picture.”

Occasionally I have moments—little God-given epiphanies—when all of this hits me like some sort of heavenly ton of bricks. Last Saturday was one of those moments. I found myself in a five star hotel, eating amazing (and free) food, interviewing the filmmakers of The Road (a film of extreme deprivation, by the way: It really makes one thankful for what we have). Then I met a fellow journalist who—in a roundabout way—might be responsible for starting the chain of events 6 years ago that eventually led to me being allowed to write a book about hipster Christianity. It was a weird and wonderful experience of grace—a “full circle” moment of connection in which God opened my eyes to just how carefully he crafts every detail and weaves every occurrence in life together for his good.

In that moment, I was overwhelmed with thanksgiving, and it was such a sweet feeling. To be humbled to that point of immense gratitude and smallness is nothing like the blow to pride you might take it to be. On the contrary, it’s the fullest and happiest I’d felt in a long time. To realize that I have no right or entitlement to any of this—five star hotel film journalism or whatever the case may be—and yet have been given it in so deliberate and complicated a manner… it’s just so much to take in.

I think it’s true that, as John Piper often says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him.” And maybe that is where the fullness and joy of thanksgiving comes from—we are feeling the spilling over of God’s glory. His pleasure in our satisfaction is compounding our joy.

The funny thing about grace is that it just keeps coming, even when we don’t recognize it or pridefully mistake it for something we deserve. Of God there is so much to know and love and fear and wonder about. But on cool November mornings like this, in my warm house with some coffee on and the residual smell of bacon in the air, there’s nothing sweeter but to know that he gives. And he gives and he gives.