Film Focus: Lenten Movies


Thomas Farrell, Contributor

The Lenten season is one of suffering, self-denial, sacrifice, forgiveness, and so much more. Even for those who are not Christian or religious, there is much that can be gained from engaging with these themes, as they are an eternal part of the human experience. One of the easiest ways to do this is to sit down for a couple hours and engage with the countless films made that deal with these themes in a compelling and contemporary manner.

“Bad Lieutenant”

Starring Tarentino and Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel, this ’90s crime drama couldn’t be stylistically further from either of those directors’ films. Set in crime-ridden New York, Keitel plays the titular “bad lieutenant.” He’s vulgar, addicted to both drugs and gambling, cheats on his wife, and constantly takes advantage of his position of power as a police detective. Yet, when a nun is brutally raped in a church and she forgives her assailants, he has a crisis of conscience and find a way to forgive himself for his misdeeds.

Keitel delivers the best performance of his career, capturing the lieutenant’s depravity and despair brilliantly. Similarly, the gritty and grimy visuals excel at painting the setting as just as depraved and corrupt as the lieutenant himself. Thanks to the lack of a traditional soundtrack, it feels like you’re watching footage of a real person rather than a fictional film.

“Bad Lieutenant” lives up to its title as the lieutenant stoops to incredibly depraved lows that make the central conflict even more impactful. While both version of the film – the NC-17 cut and the R-rated cut – are both very strong, the NC-17 cut really makes the lieutenant seem “bad.” Neither version I would recommend you watch in polite company, but it’s one of the best films of the ’90s, and its tale of redemption and forgiveness is particularly relevant for Lent.

“Of Gods and Men”

In 1997, seven French, Catholic, Trappist monks were kidnapped and murdered in Algeria for refusing to abandon the Muslim villagers they were tasked with ministering to despite the violent conflict between local fundamentalist Muslims and the government. “Of Gods and Men” tells the tale of this event and is an incredible witness to the power of self-sacrifice and suffering in service of others.

Released in 2010, it took home a number of awards, including the prestigious Grand Prix of the Cannes Film Festival. Weaving complex religious and political themes in a non-condescending manner, “Of Gods and Men” definitely deserves the recognition it received. While thematically distinguished, the more technical aspects of the film are excellent as well. The visuals are strong, and the film is not afraid to rest on shots for a while. One highlight is a long, Last Supper-type scene at which all the monks gather for the final time. These visuals are complemented by excellent performances from the cast members, who capture the agony the monks go through during their dilemma.

While this is an explicitly Catholic and religious film, it can be enjoyed by all for its artistic merit and engaging story. While not a happy movie, it is inspiring to see those who live out their convictions and do the right thing, no matter the cost.


While it may not be immediately clear why this 2016 big-budget, sci-fi, modern masterpiece is a good movie for Lent, it’s deep contemplation of sacrifice and the virtue of suffering makes it a worthwhile watch this season.

Amy Adams plays a linguist recruited by the military to determine whether mysterious aliens who have landed across the globe are peaceful or not. Consequently, “Arrival” is more of a mystery and drama than a sci-fi film. There are no bombastic action sequences, no wisecracking sidekicks, and very little otherworldly technology. Rather, it uses the concept and setting to tell a powerful tale about human nature amidst crisis.

As is typical with films from Denis Villeneuve, the visuals and score are stellar. Both capture the confusion, mystery, wonder, and uncertainty of the situation earth has found itself in. Along with the audio-visual elements, the lead performance from Amy Adams is the best of her career so far. “Arrival” is a film best seen without spoilers and will leave you with plenty to think about after the credits roll.