Movies to Help Us Live and Love

By Gareth Higgins, Founding Director of the Wild Goose Festival and Community Director at Movies and Meaning

My friend Colin Fraser Wishart, an architect, often says that the purpose of his craft is to help people live better. There’s beautiful simplicity, but also enormous gravity in that statement. Just imagine if every public building, city park, urban transportation hub, and home were constructed with the flourishing of humanity – in community or solitude – in mind. Sometimes this is already the case, and we know it when we see it. Our minds and hearts feel more free, we breathe more easily, we are inspired to create things – whether they be new thoughts of something hopeful, or friendships with strangers, or projects that will bring the energy of transformation yet still into the lives of others.

This is not just true for architecture, but for all art; all human endeavor, actually. With this in mind, here are eleven movies that help us live better, which ultimately makes them movies that help us lead with love.

Click play on the youtube playlist above to watch the movie trailers, and scroll
down to read descriptions of each of the films.

Babette’s Feast (1987) – An isolated sect discovers the lost heart of community through eating together a meal prepared by an outsider with nothing left to give.

Smoke (1995) – People from diverse backgrounds congregate at a cigar store, and embody the shelter of shared stories. 

The New World (2005) – A near-mystical take on the history of conquest, as Pocahontas reveals how care of the land, and care of the soul, are intertwined; the face of God may best be revealed through the face of a loved one.

The Fisher King (1991) – My favorite film about friendship, in which four wounded folk – a former celebrity angry DJ, a terribly traumatized survivor of violence, a love-starved woman intimidated into hiding her needs, and a world-weary video store manager – find the keys to heal each other, and that far from being “ordinary”, the dance of love is a mythic quest.

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight (1995-2013) – An extraordinary cinematic experiment, tracing eighteen years (and maybe more to come) in the life of one couple, from nervous first on-your-best-behavior meeting to post seven-year-itch just trying to get by. It’s not the emotional highs that prove the depth of love: real life happens in the cracks.

Inside Out (2015) – If it’s true that we can never love anyone else more than we love ourselves, then it would seem that getting to know ourselves is a good first step. Inside Out is uncommonly wise about the internal conversation going on in each of our heads, and suggests, lovingly, that while there are no shortcuts to happiness, the journey can be a lot of fun.

Stories we Tell (2012) – One woman’s search to explain her family becomes a powerful, moving, hilarious and wise reflection on how it’s more important to be kind than to understand.

The Visitor (2007) – A quietly earth-shattering slice of life, as four strangers, initially mutually suspicious, learn to hold space for the pain each other is experiencing. The old privileged white guy who finds undocumented immigrants living in his spare apartment may at first think he’s the one welcoming the stranger, but the Palestinian-Syrian guy and Senegalese woman he meets end up showing him how to befriend himself.

After Life (1998) – Imagining death as the place in which our dreams are animated, watching After Life always stirs gratitude for today, and the desire to be kinder tomorrow.

The Color Purple (1985) – An exquisite adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, scanning decades in the life of Celie, given one of the most vivid portrayals of pain, hope, and love in the movies by Whoopi Goldberg. Life is hard, and Celie knows it. She also knows something about what really lasts in this world, and how it is possible to transcend suffering without revenge.

Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) – Recently rediscovered, this story of Depression-era folks losing their home and trust in their adult children speaks about what can happen when we fail to care for the vulnerable. Love may conquer all, but sometimes society needs a bit of help.