Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Lesson in Living: Five Films That Teach Us What It Means To Live

Life can be a challenging and emotionally draining experience at times. Unsure of how we fit into the world, what we should do with our time on it. Do we fall in line and take the trodden path or do we seek to trace out a path of our own? Is there a middle ground to be had? Such is the way of the world, and so in turn films have journeyed. From analyzing our deepest psyche to our greatest personal conflicts, they tackle how we face seemingly transient journey that is life. But what does it really mean to be alive? Is it the blood pumping through our veins, or is there more? To that degree, I give you five films which tackle - in their own way - a fulfilling life and have left their impact upon me.

Limelight (1952)
Lesson Learned: The fame of today can be gone in a flash tomorrow, but you remain. Don't give up just because things don't stay the same.

Without question the least seen on this list, and perhaps the one I am the most adamant champion of. Chaplin's curtain call here is moving, fulfilling, and beautiful. If only this were his true final film, maybe more would seek out this masterpiece.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Lesson Learned: Throughout all the calculations and worries and fears our minds present, there is no negative in life which can counter hope.

This one may be too easy a call to place on the list, but there's no denying the resonating punch that was delivered to audience members of all shapes and sizes when this film hit theaters all those years ago. It may have taken it a while to gain proper appreciation, but appreciation, respect, and love it has earned in full.

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Lesson Learned: Do not drown yourself in the worries of today, one must rise to find the joy in even life's toughest moments.

Perhaps one of the most prudent looks at the turbulent teenage years - for men anyways - Dead Poets Society blends tough issues with the unrealized dreams sought by so many youths before their coming of age. A constant reminder that life is as much what we make of it, as how we let those around us influence it.

You Can't Take It With You (1938)
Lesson Learned: Friends, loved ones, and fulfillment through the things you love come with a value which exceeds any monetary amount you can imagine

Number two on the unseen meter for this list, no movie on how to live is complete without a bit of Jimmy Stewart I would contend. And this film here is a gem to behold. Packed with a talented cast, and heartwarming message, You Can't Take It With You is an exemplification of the life we all aspire to live.

Ikiru (1952)
Lesson Learned: Far too often in life we forget to seek out what we truly want to accomplish in life until we are faced with our own mortality. But life is not about when we discover what we hope to fulfill, it is about what we do in that moment.

If you thought you were escaping this list without a Kurosawa reference you were horribly mistaken. If you thought you would escape this list without my reiterating just how important I believe this film is, you were mistaken. If you have yet to see this film, do so. I cannot promise you will like what it has to say, or the method by which it chooses to say it. I can, however, promise that if you open yourself up, you'll learn many of the wonders life has to hold - the beauty in the tragic, the gain in loss, and the difficulties we face in realizing our own goals.

Honorable Mentions
Harvey - Can't say it enough, if you want to know how we should all aspire to treat one another, then watch this movie.
Monty Python's Life of Brian - Always look on the bright side of life :P.
Forrest Gump - You can hate all you want, this movie is a slice of warm apple pie on a rainy day. If you're thinking right now "I hate apple pie," you're missing the point.

Well, there you have it. Five films on life that I think anyone can learn and take something away from. Do you agree/disagree? What other films would you include on the list?

17 better thoughts:

Nikhat said...

Shawshank and Dead Poets were there in my list too. Haven't really seen the others.
I have a huge list of films that impacted me...wonderful things, films are.

Lesya Khyzhnyak said...

I absolutely love this list, Ryan. I'm glad I clicked on it, especially today when I'm not reading any blog posts (so yeah, this one caught my attention, are you glad?), preparing to my very last exam, which will be a dreadful experience as I still have a *lot* to study. So with this post, you also hit the mark, regarding how not well I feel now. It raised my spirits, so thanks. As for the five films, I have only seen The Shawshank Redemption, which I love insanely, but all others, except for Ikiru, have been on my watchlist on IMDb. Right now Ikiru is also getting a chance to appear in that list.

Damn, what a terrible comment. Thanks for the list though, once again.

Alex C. said...

I would add 'Midnight in Paris' with the lesson: Live in the now.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a great experience, although I think I'm referring more to the play than the film. I read the play first and as good as Capra's adaptation is it feels just a little too lightweight. I can't deny, I wouldn't be against a new adaptation.

Lime(tte) said...

Oh, the Life of Brian... Brilliant!
And I also love the Dead Poets... really need to rewatch that one.

Anonymous said...

I do really need to see Limelight. Chaplin is one of those classic figures I want to spend more time with.

As for the rest of your list, honestly, it's okay. It's a number of obviously inspirational films that people tend to talk about a lot.

I would have been more interested in seeing you make a list of five films that personally shaped the way you go about living your life. Maybe these are those films, but I would have liked a more personal slant to it.

Castor said...

Ikiru was superb, indeed a wonderful movie about finding purpose in life. I loved The Shawshank Redemption, not only because it is about hope but also about great friendship. Great list Univarn!

Univarn said...

@Nikhat I wish my list were quite so long but the number of films that had a demonstrable impact on my mindset (and in turn life) are rather limited.

@Lesya Thank you for clicking and commenting (it's a good comment - no worries). Best of luck on your final!

@AlexC Until I see it, I can't include it, but thanks for the recommendation!

@Andrew Don't go hating on the film, it's that lightweight, charming attitude that draws some of us in :P

@Lime I've found Dead Poets wanders a bit on its second viewing, but on the whole still a solid film.

@Cinema They're all films that have impacted me, but to varying degrees. In many respect, it's a compromise. Ikiru, Limelight, and You Can't Take It With You all helped greatly bolster my outlook on what is important in life as I've grown older. Shawshank Redemption helped remind me of the importance of hope as I was going through a personal issues when I was in middle school - the same to be said for Dead Poets Society.

It's a personal list, I just left out the personal associations. If I make the list 'too' personal then readers feel it lacks applicability, but I don't want that. I feel lots of these films should garner more attention for the strength of their message than just their aspect in the social zeitgest (or therefore lack of).

Oh, and yes - do go see Limelight.

@Castor Friendship is a message that one could also apply to many of the films on the list. Thanks!

Duke said...

Great list - all of those would be on mine as well.

I would mention "Almost Famous" - for showing us that pursuing a profession or anything of value takes passion, honesty, and persistence.

"American Beauty" for understanding your existence on this world is short. Cherish life and be grateful for everyday you have.

"American History X" for displaying nobility - and that change truly is possible.


"Say Anything" which proves that what comes around goes around - karma builds up to something eternal - and treating people with respect and love is the only way to obtain happiness.

Again, very good post Ryan.

Simon said...

Limelight makes me smile.

Last Life in the Universe, I think, was trying to say that you've got to appreciate life and the people around you or something, but then the end fucked up my brain, and now I don't know.

Candice Frederick said...

totally agree about Forrest Gump. I know thi is an unpopular vote, but i'd also say Eat Pray Love too.

Anonymous said...

Oh great unique list! I am not usually a fan of these lifelessons in films, but it's a nice sunny day today and I get to go out and drink so YAY for this.

Wes22 said...

Really good list man. Awesome that you've seen Limelight. Nobody ever knows about that movie. Definitely going to be following you more closely.

Univarn said...

@Duke American History X is such a tough pill to swallow, but I'm glad to see it's sustained a solid stream of praise on IMDB - a pithole for spikes of love in the moment and resentment the next.

@Simon Perhaps I'll have to check out Last Life in the Universe... or perhaps not. I hate to be too declarative :)

@Candice I haven't seen Eat Pray Love, can't really say I want to. It is unfortunate that much of this list is based around male dominated life lessons, but I couldn't think of a solid example with a female spin on it.

@5plit Look at it this way: it's entirely up to you whether or not you let the life lessons impact you :)

@Wes22 Thank you for commenting, I'll be certain to check out your blog as well.

Andina said...

I am loving this post. I love 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Shawshank Redemption'. I haven't watched others (except Forrest Gump). Finding these movies are like treasures, in fact they're the ones that made me want to do blogging.
Nice post =)

Ronan said...

Shawshank is one of my all-time favs. It is hopeful and reminds me that no matter what the circumstances, it is always possible to love others. I saw Kung Fu Panda 2 (perhaps an unlikely addition to the list but hear me out) last night and it has a good message about 'living in the here and now' and deciding what you want to do with it. It's A Wonderful Life is a no-brainer and I would cite Fiddler On The Roof as a example of cheerfulness through adversity. There are so many to choose from, a list of 5 doesn't do it justice. There is also a documentary called the Heart of Jenin that I would mention. It is a powerful story of forgiveness and charity.

John said...

I'll give a big fat thumbs up to any list that holds Ikiru in that much reverence.

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