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Movies That Heal: Cinematherapy Classics


Karlo,

My husband, a movie buff, has a hard time opening up. Can you recommend any films that might help us start some real conversations about feelings and how men heal?

Die-Hard DVD-er


Dear DVD-er,

You’re talking about “cinematherapy,” which involves watching movies as a tool for emotional catharsis and as a starting point for self-reflection and sharing. I don’t know exactly what your husband needs to open up about, so here are a few classic films that are so well-made that their themes of healing can get through some of the thickest skins:

Overcoming Social Taboos: Billy Elliot (2000)

Set against the backdrop of a miner’s strike in 1980’s England, eleven year-old Billy Elliot discovers a passion for ballet lessons. Despite his father’s blunt rejection of his desires to dance, Billy continues to train and finds that his energetically emotive dance routines help him heal from the pain of his mother death years ago, the lack of acceptance from his father, and the crushing pressure the strike is putting on his family. Billy’s teacher gives him a chance to audition for the Royal Ballet School, but he must face his family about his true self. (For more, see billyelliot.com).

The Male Problem: Once Were Warriors (1994)

There is little male healing in this film, but I include it because I know of none that more powerfully articulates the emotional and spiritual crises many men are facing around the world today. The film’s main male character, Jake, is a recently unemployed laborer whose machismo has no place to take him but down. Once Were Warriors (www.finelinefeatures.com/warriors) unfolds in a New Zealand slum, but really could take place just about anywhere in the world where modernity is tearing men from their traditional roles. While his wife Beth heroically manages to lift herself and what remains of her family towards a better life, Jake cannot heal. How can men like Jake channel their innate aggression productively in the modern era? We need answers.

Healing from Grief: Ordinary People (1980)
Robert Redford’s Oscar-winning directorial debut concerns a wealthy family that has lost one of their sons in a boating accident, and the surviving son’s attempt to get over the grief and guilt from this tragedy. This film about a fractured family and a young man’s struggle towards emotional reality will touch the nerves of even those who grew up under happier circumstances. A Russian friend once told me this is required viewing for those seeking to understand white Anglo-Saxon protestant culture.

Living with Disabilities: Murderball (2005)

An award-winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, Murderball (murderballmovie.com) portrays the lives of some incredibly hard-core quadriplegic male rugby players playing for Teams USA and Canada, competing for the Quad Rugby championships. A sentimental film it is not. As Co-Director Dana Adam Shapiro put it, “We never wanted to make one of those up-with-people, pat-on-the-back, good-for-you films. You know, ‘Look at the inspiring cripples.’“ As the promos put it, Murderball will change how you think about the disabled.

If all else fails, DVD-er, you’ll always have Bogie in Casablanca (1942). Packed with romance, verve, suspense and lost love, this wartime drama is a cinematic cure-all.

First published in Boston Natural Awakenings magazine's June 2006 "Ask Karlo" column.  Thanks to imdb.com, cinema.com, amazon.com and official film websites for synopsis sources, and to cinephiles Fran Dale, Annie Gjelsvik, and Ivan Lerner for movie suggestions
 

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