4 Secular Movies with Hidden Spiritual Lessons
By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
The whole concept of art imitating life stretches back to classical philosophy. Even today, we use art, specifically story-telling through television and cinema, to draw viewers in, make them feel something, or help them respond to concepts or stories in powerful ways. Within these powerful forms of media, we have specific genres, drama, comedy, and so forth. Still, as Christians, we might categorize film and T.V. into two classifications: Christian media and Secular-media.
While watching a Christian movie, we expect to encounter Christian themes and spiritual lessons. When watching something "secular," we often don't anticipate encountering deep spiritual themes that ultimately point back to our need for a Savior. So, how fun is it when we watch a movie that does just that, possibly even to the surprise of those who produced it? Here are four movies, some family-friendly and some not, that have surprisingly profound spiritual lessons.
4 Movies with Hidden Spiritual Lessons:
1. Togo: Selfless Care and Love for Your Neighbors
Last winter, amid the onslaught of the COVID-19 outbreak, I hunkered down in with my husband and kiddos for one of our Friday family movie nights—admittingly, we were watching a lot of movies during that first wave of quarantine. Our daughter, the animal lover, picked Togo. I'll admit, I'm a softy, but this story left my whole family in bittersweet tears. I'm pretty sure I even caught my husband blinking back tears while my son, who was nine at the time, wept uncontrollably.
What created such an emotional response for us: The themes of compassion, brotherly love, and self-sacrifice. It may have hit even closer to home because we have two huskies ourselves and know how much these dogs love us and protect us.
Although I'm sure some liberties were taken, the story- a historical drama—takes place in Nome, Alaska, during an outbreak of diphtheria. Our hero, musher Leonhard Seppala and his faithful companion Togo put life on the line to deliver a diphtheria antitoxin serum to Nome. The journey is treacherous and reminds me of John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
We discussed the concept of "glory" after watching Togo. Togo and Leonhard seem to be robbed of man's appreciation after Balto and his musher run the final leg in delivering the anti-serum. My kids felt that this was unjust, and indeed it was, but if we live our lives for Christ, we don't need to be concerned about the glory of man. This theming created some beautiful conversations for our family about why we love others better than we might even love ourselves and why we live to please God— once the tears had dried, of course.
2. Yes Day: The Sad Reality of Free Will
From the moment it was released, my kids were begging to watch "Yes Day." This movie was marketed as a light and fun family-friendly movie, and while it was just that at the surface, I think it also told a darker and sadder story. The whole concept of this movie was based on the premise of allowing children to have an "anything goes yes day" as a form of family bonding.
As you might guess, it turns out in a disaster, and I'm sure insurance claims. While my children love the concept of a "yes day" and regretfully continue to ask for one, I think the film ultimately portrays humanity's fundamental need for a savior. The poor mom in this movie is trying everything she can to please her children. She desperately wants to connect with them on deep levels and wants them to see her acts of discipline and structure as her way of loving them.
Throughout the movie, I couldn't help but think about how frustrated I am every time I read through the Old Testament. I find myself audibly saying, "Good gracious Israelites, get it together. Don't you see how much God loves you?" In my lament, I often forget, oh wait, that's me, that's us. Yes Day amplifies this human desire to exert our free will over our authorities, and just like in the movie, this exertion can often end up in disaster. We see these examples repeatedly in Scripture and probably in our own lives when attempting to be our own authority.
3. Hook: Redemption, Forgiveness, A Father's Love
I love whimsical stories, so Hook has always been a favorite. When I was a little girl, I loved the transformation that Peter goes through, from a stuffy businessman to the magical Pan, all to save his children from the snares of the villainous Hook. All these years later, my children now love the story as well. I recently watched it from a parent's perspective rather than a child's, and I realized that there is so much more to this story beyond sword fights and crowing and food fights.
This is a story of finding our lost selves, fighting for love, and even experiencing compassion for our enemies. The most incredible part of the whole film comes directly after Hook slays Rufio. Pan would be fully justified in returning evil for evil, but instead, he takes the hands of his children and attempts to walk away.
In 1 Peter 3:9, the apostle Peter writes, "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing."
Peter's daughter Maggie puts it so aptly, "He is just a mean old man without a mommy." She sees past the wig and the hook and understands that there is a root issue causing Hook's villainous behavior. She extends grace and becomes an example of compassion for all the lost boys. What are we, after all, without a savior? Merely, "a broken person, who needs Jesus." In every way that I can think of, we, too, are just lost boys in need of redemption without Christ.
4. Chocolat: Our Freedom Is in Christ, Not Religion (Adult Themes/Not Appropriate for Children)
According to a Roger Ebert review, "Chocolat is about a war between the forces of paganism and Christianity, and because the pagan heroine has chocolate on her side, she wins. Her victory is delayed only because, during Lent, a lot of the locals aren't eating chocolate."
While I believe that Ebert got the overall premise right, I wonder if there's a bit more to this story than meets the eye. This isn't simply a story about paganism, chocolate, or strange nomads and gypsies in idyllic French towns; there is so much more under the surface.
In a very Mary Poppins sense, the "heroine" arrives in a quiet and boring French town as the wind blows her and her daughter in. Immediately, she set up shop - a chocolate shop right at the kick-off of Lent. If we look at this story at face value, sure, Ebert's review holds up, but when you look at it through a Christian worldview, some things might come to mind: This town, as lovely and serene as it presents, is broken. The people within it cling to their rites and rituals and yet are entirely lacking in the joy of the Lord. The people are very religious but feel a bit like whitewashed tombs. It takes an outsider to disrupt their complacency. The chocolate has an almost magical effect on those who break their vows at Lent and consume it throughout the film. Abusive marriages are brought into the light, love is restored, neighbors and families forgive - wow, that must be some powerful Chocolate. I can think of something even more powerful that might have this effect on people's lives.
Ultimately, when viewing Chocolat through a Christian worldview, I see more of a cautionary tale about what happens when we become so religious that we forget to experience the true transformative power of Christ in our lives. God doesn't just want us to honor him through rites and rituals; He wants us to honor him with our daily lives, through our marriages, friendships, parenting, and truly in every other aspect of our lives. Watching this movie makes me think about what would have happened if the heroine, Vianne Rocher, made her way into a town where the Christ-followers welcomed her, loved her, and shared the gospel with her? Certainly, she was in a town filled with "Christians, " yet their love for the Lord was reduced to obligatory mass and begrudging rites. Let's not be those people.
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a Bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos, and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: www.rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.