We asked a few notable Catholics for their favorite flick. Find out what Fr. James Martin, SJ, the Archbishop of Chicago, and Pope Francis picked!
Fr. James Martin, SJ:
Lawrence of Arabia. Besides the incredible visuals by David Lean and the unsurpassed dialogue by Robert Bolt, the story of an eccentric man’s single-hearted pursuit in the face of unbelievable odds never fails to stir me. It also has my favorite line in all of film. After a man is lost in the desert and Lawrence is told that it “is written” that he should die, Lawrence sets out to find him. After he returns with the man, Lawrence, sand-covered and exhausted from his trek, is handed a skin of water. Before he takes a long swig, he says, “Nothing is written.”
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago:
One of my favorite movies is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey. It clearly poses the question of the relationship between biologically embodied intelligence and mechanical artificial intelligence. This difference, as the film explores, is what we have since come to call “affective intelligence,” a function rooted in bodiliness and therefore something machines cannot fathom.
But while emotion or feeling can locate intelligence, they cannot explain its universal grasp. The movie loses itself in unproductive fantasy because it fails to explore intelligence as based in spirit, as self-transparent, transcending the breakdown of both bodies and machines. A well-constructed but fanciful odyssey becomes a meaningful pilgrimage only when it joins us to the infinite intelligence of God.
Sr. Rose Pacatte:
It is almost impossible to answer that question. I have favorite movies in every genre. But if I had to say, the most memorable and significant film for me is John Ford's 1956 epic The Searchers. When I first saw it, I was seven years old and was terrified when the Indian chief kidnapped the little girl from behind a tombstone. I got off my chair and hid under it. At the time I thought it was a Western, but I’ve come to realize the film was so much more.
The Searchers wasn’t a success when it was released, despite John Wayne in the lead role and actors from Ford's stable, such as Ward Bond, Harry Carey, Jr., Vera Miles, Jeffrey Hunter, and Natalie Wood. But when you consider the film in the context of the times, The Searchers becomes an important examination of racism, bigotry, misogyny, and anti-miscegenation in American history—exactly what our country was involved in post-Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the Civil Rights movement, which was born from that historic decision that began the desegregation of schools in America.
The Searchers may be flawed in some aspects, but overall it’s a film that every student of film should see and revisit often. It’s also the film that proved that John Wayne really could act—he was much more than a handsome face.
Sr. Rose Pacatte is the director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, California. She is also the film/TV columnist for St. Anthony Messenger Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, RCL Benziger and Reel Spirituality. You can learn more about Sr. Rose on her website.
Camille D’Arienzo, RSM:
“Two things can lick a play,” warned my film studies professor at The University of Michigan, “one is that the audience doesn’t believe it; the other, that it doesn’t care.”
For me, it’s the characters that make a plot convincing; their struggle with good and evil, their loves and hatreds, courage and cowardice, their pursuit of justice, their extension and retention of forgiveness — these are the elements that make me believe in and care about what happens to the characters struggling for love and justice in Les Misérables. It’s the passion in released convict Jean Valjean’s determination to live honestly and nobly after a poor kindly bishop gives him a second chance; it’s the passion of Inspector Javert’s inability to believe in conversion and repentance that impels him to pursue Jean Valjean and, in the end, drives him to suicide.
Novelist Victor Hugo set this cast of idealists and lovers in a time of political turmoil in 19th Century France. So solid is his story that its adaptations have survived stage and screen renditions, including a long running Broadway musical, along with several filmed versions.
Sr. Camille D’Arienzo is a Sister of Mercy who has ministered in Catholic elementary schools and public colleges. She is also a member of the Mid-Atlantic Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and the former president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
The Pope’s favorite movie is La Strada, a 1954 Italian neorealist film directed by Federico Fellini about a young girl who is sold to a fiery street performer, resulting in a tale of revenge and emotional turmoil.
“I liked those because I watched them with my parents when I was a child,” Pope Francis said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
According to the American Film Institute, La Strada is “one of the most influential films ever made.” The film won the first Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1956. In the past, Pope Francis has also cited Babette’s Feast among his favorites, a 1987 Danish drama and fellow Oscar-winner.
Among my top five favorite movies is the 1981 classic Chariots of Fire. I run slower than a turtle, but something about this film brings me back year after year. At its core, it’s a tale of faith that underscores the premise that God has given each of us a perfect way to offer our “Yes, Lord!” to his will for our lives, to turn our passions and work into a way to shine for God's love and glory.
Olympic gold medalist and lifelong missionary Eric Liddell (played by Ian Charleson in the movie) shares one of my favorite movie lines: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” Although I tend to replace the word blog for Liddell's run, watching Chariots of Fire reminds me of my own little purpose.
Lisa Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com and author of The Grace of Yes.