Last week I posted the first half of my list of fifteen movies for Father’s Day. Over the weekend I thought of one more that I’d neglected to add so I’m including it in this post. In no particular order I present the rest of my list of sixteen movies that I recommend for viewing whether you are a son or a father.
When we’re growing up the stories our dad’s tell enthrall us and hold our rapt attention. As we grow into teenagers or young men those same stories are stale and we cease to listen or to believe them. And then we pass into a time in our lives where we are telling the stories and realize that there is truth and wisdom in the stories told by our dads.
Big Fish (2003), a wonderfully poignant and weird movie from Tim Burton is such a story in which a son tries to learn more about his dying and estranged father by reliving stories and myths his dad had told about his life. This is a beautiful movie, with memorable characters, and one of the best endings in film.
One of my favorite lines: A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him. And in that way he becomes immortal.
Field of Dreams
On a Saturday night a few months prior to my graduation from college three of my closest friends gathered in my dorm room with me to watch a little movie I’d rented called Field of Dreams (1989). Two large football players, a baseball player, and an athletic young man from the tough world of ranching and farming. We laughed and enjoyed the movie as we all loved baseball, but as we sat in the dark while the credits rolled after the iconic final scene there was a still silence for two minutes. I don’t recall whether it was Jay, Carter or Dan who finally spoke up.
“Who else is crying?”
We all silently raised our hands.
It’s not just about baseball. It is a movie about fathers and sons. About mending old wounds and reconciliation.
It is nearly impossible to select a favorite line or scene from this film. There is James Earl Jones’s “People Will Come” speech which is epic in itself. There’s Fenway Park. There’s that final scene where we turn into goo. For this post I’m selecting a quiet scene between Ray and Doc Graham that for me and several of the fathers I know whose sons play baseball contains everything we wish to instill upon our boys. Pursue your dreams. Don’t let them go. When we’re young we take for granted that there will always be other days for that pursuit. Age and wisdom tells us that those other days don’t always come. As as Doc Graham teaches us even if those days do come we have duties and obligations that can only be served when we are at our most selfless, sacrificing perhaps our own dreams in the process.
One of my favorite lines: We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that that was the only day.
Yes, a cartoon for fathers, with some terrific examples from multiple characters in this 2003 film. Obviously everyone focuses on Marlin and his persistent search for his son Nemo, but I always thought one of the greatest examples of fatherhood in this film came from Crush, the large sea turtle who helps Marlin as he rides in the East Australian Current. Marlin is an overprotective father (and considering how the movie begins with the loss of his wife and all their children except for Nemo you can understand why) and he marvels at how Crush allows his young son Squirt go in and out of the current without adult supervision.
Crush: Oh, it’s awesome, Jellyman. The little dudes are just eggs, we leave ’em on a beach to hatch, and then, coo-coo-cachoo, they find their way back to the big ol’ blue.
Marlin: How do you know if they’re ready?
Crush: Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?
Yeah, I know.
And c’mon, who hasn’t felt like this on your children’s first day of school?
One of my favorite lines: I promise to never let anything happen to you, Nemo.
In this underrated 1993 film (trailer) Michael Keaton plays Bob Jones, a man with a great job, a beautiful and loving wife (Nicole Kidman) who has a baby on the way. And then the doctor tells him he is dying from cancer and has just months to live. What would you do? How would you spend your last months knowing you were going to die and would not be alive for your child’s early life? Our world is full of people who are dying from cancer just like Bob and this movie shows just what a struggle it is. We’re taken on a journey with Bob as he lives out his final days making videos that document his life so that his unborn son will know his father, and to teach him the lessons he will not be present to teach. As he begins filming Bob realizes that he is as shallow as the public relations material he produces at his job. To complete the video project he has to make peace with himself, his estranged parents, and accept his fate. What we see on screen is a great example of what St. Ignatius calls the “examined life.”
My dad used to always tell us stories about the places he grew up and if we were traveling nearby he would drive us through the neighborhoods and streets, describing times spent there in his childhood. I find myself doing the same to my own children, hoping as my dad did that through these stories a part of who I am is being passed on to them and that when I am gone a part of me will live on inside them.
One of my favorite lines: Dying’s a really hard way to learn about life.
It’s A Wonderful Life
You all know the story of George Bailey and Bedford Falls. Of Clarence getting his wings. Of Bert the cop and Ernie and cab driver. What this 1946 classic also tells is a tale of what it means to be a father. It has both good and bad examples of how to carry yourself as a father. George’s father Peter Bailey foregoes what the world considers success (as portrayed in the character of Henry Potter) and while he is not able to provide all the trappings of success to his family he gives them even more: the example of a man and a business that makes a difference in the lives of others. It is a lesson that George has unwittingly taken to heart though he doesn’t realize it until his guardian angel shows him the effects of his life on others. In Mr. Gower, the druggist, we see a father torn apart by the death of his son from influenza and the tragic consequences of his grief. And in George we also see the negative affect a dad can have on his kids. I’m thinking of a scene where after he learns of his uncle’s misplacing $8,000. George doesn’t know what to do or where to turn and inadvertently snaps at his kids when he returns home and finds the household busy preparing for his brother’s return home as a war hero. The looks on his children’s faces when their beloved father uncharacteristically yells at them penetrates deep and is a reminder to us all to remember how “big” we are to those who depend on us.
A scene that shows us the moment a son begins to fill the shoes of his father and outgrows them:
One of my favorite lines: Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
2010’s The Way (movie trailer) is a real life father-son project and a powerful and inspirational story about family and friends. It is also a reminder to fathers that there are lessons for us to learn from our children as well. Martin Sheen plays Tom Avery, an American doctor who comes to France to collect the remains of his adult son Daniel (Emilio Estevez) who was killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James. But instead of returning home Tom decides to finish the pilgrimage to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. Along the way Tom meets other pilgrims from around the world, each of them dealing with their own issues and looking for greater meaning (or miracles) in their lives.
Tom is a father set in his ways and in his comfortable life. He had set out a career path for his son and tried to keep him on what he perceived to be a safe path to a good life. But his son wanted more, and knew that in order to really live his own life he was going to have to break from his father’s plan for him. When Daniel dies he hadn’t spoken to his father in a long time. Tom sets out on the Camino to find whatever it was that his son was looking for and is impacted in ways he hadn’t imagined.
We also see an example of a father teaching his son through the characters of Ishmael and his gypsy son, who through petty theft brought dishonor to his family and his father who is determined that he learns a hard lesson as a result. Before they continue on their journey the father, Ishmael, tells Tom: “Our children, they are the very worst of us and the best of us.”
Truer words never spoken. I pray my children get more of my best rather than the alternative.
One of my favorite lines: You don’t choose a life dad. You live one.
The Tree of Life
There is a lot going on in Terrence Malick’s 2011 masterpiece that I reviewed here. Among the storylines lies the complicated relationship between a father Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) and his three sons. One son, Jack, has a particularly shaky relationship with his father and we see him in his later years (portrayed by Sean Penn) still struggling. Mr. O’Brien’s character represents the way of nature while his wife (Jessica Chastain) represents the way of grace. He is at times a seemingly hard, unfeeling man and strict disciplinarian. He is those things, but he is also a man who while flawed is only trying to prepare the way for his boys in a harsh world. He is a lover of music, plays the piano, roughhouses with is boys and teaches them how to defend themselves. He has a volatile temper, but never beats his children. He simply loves them the best way he knows how. In the end that’s the best any of us can do. This scene brings it all home and shows how a masculine man can still possess and teach humility.
One of my favorite lines: You’re all I have. You’re all I want to have. You’re a sweet boy.
I saved this 2003 film for last as I only recently learned of and watched the film. This is a heart-rending and what I would describe as a wretchedly beautiful little movie. I say “little” because it is approximately 30 minutes long. From the movie’s website:
Most, the Czech word for “The Bridge,” is a fitting title for this 21st-century parable about a loving father, his young son, and the fateful day when they attempt to head off an impending rail disaster. Hundreds of passengers aboard an oncoming steam train are completely unaware of the danger that looms as they head toward an open drawbridge. As a desperate young woman witnesses an act of mercy beyond imagination, her life is changed forever—as are the lives of all who see this film. Both heart wrenching and glorious, MOST vividly portrays the greatest offering of love, sacrifice, hope, and forgiveness known to man.
Basically, this little film is John 3:16 personified. It is available for sale on DVD and I believe you can watch all three parts on YouTube, though I’d recommend the DVD.
This movie is about tragedy, hope, sacrifice and redemption. Ultimately it is about a father’s love and a choice none of us wants to face.
You will never forget it.
And that’s my list of sixteen. There were others of course (The Lion King) but I had to stop somewhere.
What’s on your list?