It is far too easy to feel lost in life, to forget our sense of purpose, or perhaps not have one at all. Films are often taken for granted as stories of human triumph, inspiration for our dark moments, and intricate storytelling that we can lean on and look to in our darkest moments. If you ever feel lost, here are a few films that have the ability to bring you back with conviction, reminding you of what you are here in this life to do.
1. Tombstone (1993) – starring Val Kilmer & Kurt Russell
“There is no normal life Wyatt, there’s just life. Live, Wyatt. Live for me.”
Friendship, adventure, and realizing what we truly want from life and how to seek those things out amidst loss and struggle, Tombstone is actually my favorite movie of all time because of the way Doc and Wyatt portray a friendship that is based solely on mutual respect and understanding. Fair warning; it might leave you feeling unsettled and in desperate desire to order room service for the rest of your life.
2. Dead Poets Society (1989) – starring Robin Williams
Recognize Robert Sean Leonard from “House” in his breathless performance as Neil Perry? Robin Williams is delicious in this story of learning not just English, but Literature and the driving forces behind poetry and great writers; the desire to live deeply and “deliberately.” Whether you’re a lover of the classics or not, this movie will remind you that we all do have a chance to “contribute a verse” to life, and that we should be careful not to let those fires burn out. Life is about adventure, and seizing not just the day, but every opportunity.
3. Gladiator (2000) – starring Russell Crowe
The obvious ups aside (battles, victory, betrayal), the best part of Gladiator is the message that our status in life, as Maximus shows us, is not determined by our military rank, or position, or our possessions, but by our family and what we love. Our true royalties, love, cannot be stripped of us no matter what place in life we might find ourselves. Maximus is just as noble when he is at the side of Augustus as when he is trudging through mud as a gladiator, bound for death. He takes his royalty with him, and his graces lie within.
4. The Family Stone (2005) – starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton
This film is magnificent in its ability to portray the best love stories of all; those within our families. We all make mistakes, misjudge people, and act ridiculously when it comes to defending those we love from mistakes we think they are making, but The Family Stone shows that familial love is the most flexible, valuable, and most constant of all. No matter our outward appearance, a family is what we make it, and home is where the acceptance and honesty is. This movie is hilarious, and one of its best lines is between Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rachel McAdams:
SJP: “What’s so great about you guys?!”
RM: “We’re not so great…”
DK: “It’s just that… we’re all we’ve got!”
5. The Way Way Back (2013) – starring Steve Carell, Liam James
Aside from being laugh-out-loud hilarious, this film really hits the heart of struggling to find your place amongst the jerks and weirdos that we are all bound to meet and often, forced to deal with. It’s about finding our own niches, our own places to belong, even in the most abstract settings. Duncan, the main character, seems harmless, but his refusal to lie down and be miserable during his summer vacation as his mom’s jerk boyfriend’s beach house should be a lesson to us all; happiness is everywhere, but it is up to us to seek it out and have the guts to embrace it.
6. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – starring Ben Stiller
The cinematography of this film alone with make you want to travel, but the story is so quietly beautiful that you cannot help but leave with a desire to better your life and enact those vivid daydreams. What are we if not alive and capable of doing what we dream of? This movie is so poignant and so beautiful, even if you are NOT in a funk about life, it will spur you onwards and upwards.
7. The Way (2010) – starring Emilio Estevez
This story inspired my parents to walk the actual El Camino de Santiago, and it might just do the same for you. The Camino is a pilgrimage across Europe, which Estevez decides to take part in to honor his son that died trying to do the same. Sometimes, we don’t understand why the people we love make the choices they do, but this story proves that maybe by making an attempt to walk a mile (or hundreds) in their shoes, we can understand and possibly see their lives, and our own, in a new light. Life, like the Camino, is a journey, and it isn’t always about the destination, but about the memories and characters we meet along the way. Sometimes the paths we take aren’t for us, but for the ones we love and remember.
8. Batman Begins (2005) – starring Michael Caine, Christian Bale
Even if you are not a comics lover, this film really resonates with the sound of human beings rising above their conditions and becoming something better than what they thought they could be. Watching Bruce fall and fall over again, making him human, reminds us that even our greatest heroes are subject to flaws and arrogance. It is in learning to deny our inclinations to be small that we rise to greatness.
Ducar: “Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.”
Bruce: “That’s what makes it so important. That’s what separates us from them.”
9. The Last Kiss (2006) – starring Zach Braff
We all make mistakes, but it is so often how we come back from them and what we learn that defines our lives hereafter. I know this is a remake from the original, but I really love the different friendships portrayed, the struggle between staying and going, accepting a place in life and wanting more, and facing the scary challenges that life often presents us with, especially in terms of commitment. Best of all is Tom Wilkinson’s line, “Every asshole in the world says he loves somebody. It means nothing. It still doesn’t mean anything. What you feel only matters to you. It’s what you do to the people you say you love, that’s what matters. It’s the only thing that counts.”
10. The Descendants (2011) – starring George Clooney
My favorite part of this film is its ability to showcase the messiest parts of life and how we choose to survive them. People are weird, liars, and often leave us empty-handed, but that shouldn’t dictate how we act towards everyone else. This movie shows, as Clooney states so eloquently in the beginning, that even those who appear to be living in paradise still have problems. Messy as it is, we have to hold on to our truths, our families, and the good parts of what we find amidst the chaos.
11. Away We Go (2009) – starring John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph
Besides the amazing music, courtesy of Alexi Murdoch, this is a film that really digs into our guts as human beings and shows us that there is a place for us, though we often have to search deep within ourselves to find it. Home is where our heart goes, and though there are so many people who try so hard to tell us where we belong, we are the only ones who can decide where to settle, when to leave, where to go, and where to stay. Maya Rudolph is just beautiful in this movie, and her and John Krasinski’s chemistry and pure love is an example of how we take with us the important things, and the places are just places until we fill them up with love. Our stories are what bring life to a location, and traveling is more than just moving place to place.
12. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011) – starring Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt
Having lived in the UK multiple times, I enjoy the dry British humor, but the heart of the story lies in believing in a cause that, with proper work and belief, can be realized, though extremely difficult. Cynicism is such an easy default in our day to day lives, and we often find ourselves bored or complacent, throwing stamped fish at our bosses faces (ok, not really). To awaken ourselves is frightening, as Dr. Jones so perfectly illustrates, but astounding things can happen when we stand up, shake off our dust, and challenge ourselves to care about a cause (or a person!). This is truly a moving film, and without being too corny, always showcases that human love very often stems from a common goal, and that together, whether romantically or not, we really can achieve so much. We just have to cast our flies!
I am aware this is by no means a definitive list, but these films have brought me inspiration when I had none, drive when I was stagnant, and a smile when my face felt like stone. Films tell us stories about ourselves and can often bring to light truths about life that we didn’t see before. This is just one list of stories that might push you beyond where you stand, into a different mindset where you just might find something you’ve lost along the way.