What are some movies with moral beauty?
September 22, 2009 9:05 AM   Subscribe

What are some movies featuring moral beauty? I recently showed "Les Miserables" (the movie with Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman) to my boyfriend. I love the movie (as well as the book, of course) because it has moral beauty, and he absolutely loved that aspect, and asked me to show him any more morally beautiful movies. So what are some others? (He is also a fan of conflicting moral systems and honor - also present in "Les Miserables" of course - but that's just a bonus.)
posted by tamaraster to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might have to clarify this a bit more, but Hero could fit the bill. Bonus: aesthetically beautiful as well.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


What about The Remains of the Day?
Disclaimer: I haven't seen the movie, only read the book.
posted by muddgirl at 9:11 AM on September 22, 2009


I liked Goodbye, Lenin because it's a quirky love sotry (in the sweet, not creepy!) way. Young man goes to extreme means to shelter his mother and there's moral ambiguity as well.
posted by pointystick at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon... or most Ang Lee films, come to think of it, which tend to unfold as morality plays. Also, yes, very pretty.
posted by rokusan at 9:18 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


How about A Man for All Seasons. One of my favorite movies btw.
posted by travis08 at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dersu Uzala is a story of a man with a sort of integrity, a physical/spritual relationship with the natural world, confronting the civilized world, and the relationship between him and a man of the civilized world.
posted by lorrer at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Rob Roy? The themes in this movie center around honour and duty, as well as moral (and despicably immoral) living.

The Wings of the Dove? Ahhh, Henry James - all about moral quirks.

Dogville, which I found interminably boring, but it's an interesting morality play.

and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird

happy watching!
posted by miss_scarlett at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Try The Emperor's Club.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2009


(beautiful and has some sparks of honor/integrity/charity involved)
posted by lorrer at 9:24 AM on September 22, 2009


The Mission, also by Robert Bolt, would be a great one, too.
posted by rikschell at 9:26 AM on September 22, 2009


Babette's Feast, hands down. Not only is it morally beautiful, but you could also argue that beauty is its subject.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:31 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Say what you will about Che Guevara's politics later in life, but The Motorcycle Diaries (biopic of his early life) is a great example of this sort of movie. It follows his slow awakening from a privileged, girl-chasing young man to someone deeply affected by the poverty and injustice on his continent.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Slumdog Millionaire.
posted by misha at 9:35 AM on September 22, 2009


I'm Not Scared
Moral beauty, sound beauty, visual beauty, etc.
posted by amethysts at 9:44 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what you mean by "moral beauty", but "conflicting value systems" and "honor" made me think of Edward Scissorhands.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:49 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd recommend these two favorite movies of mine: (If you don't mind foreign movies)

- Il Postino - Pablo Neruda, famed Chilean poet goes to exile in Italy where he befriends a simple postman. IMO, there is a profound beauty displayed in the relationship between these two new friends, but I won't describe more not to run it.

- Lagaan - Great story of local Indian village standing up to British and fighting them through a game of cricket. Yes cricket. I didn't know anything about cricket but you'll get into the game and how the Indian players use it as a way to fight the British.

And as a free bonus, here's a third one that might work:

- Life is Beautiful - Pretty famous, but if you haven't seen it, please do. Usually sold as a comedy about the Holocaust, I'd prefer to see it as a beautiful fight of a father to save his son from the surrounding horrors. I can't watch this movie anymore because the boy looks too much like my son at times.

Not sure if that matches your definition of 'moral beauty', but hey, IMO, they are all great movies of watching at least once, if not more. Good luck.
posted by dealing away at 9:50 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Not sure what you mean by moral beauty, but The Lord of the Rings trilogy is certainly full of heroism and sacrifice.
posted by kathrineg at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Could you explain a bit more fully what you mean by "moral beauty"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2009


Eric Rohmer is your man. He made a series of films called the Six Moral Tales, and they all feature characters with moral systems being tested, redefined, or failing. This sounds heavy-handed and formulaic but it turns out to be supple and humane. All of them are at least worth watching, about half are really really good.

My favourite one is Ma Nuit Chez Maude. If you really want to go nuts they're available in a big Criterion Box.
posted by voronoi at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I came here to suggest Babbette's Feast, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:04 AM on September 22, 2009


Hotel Rwanda - A fantastic movie about enormous moral courage in the face of horror.
posted by epj at 10:07 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Children of Men - an amazing story.
posted by doh ray mii at 10:10 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Decalogue?
posted by juv3nal at 10:13 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Lives of Others
posted by Wavelet at 10:14 AM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


Any movie with substance has some moral message. I recommend using Amazon Listmania to search for what specifically you want to see. "Moral beauty" is too vague. I'm sure there are people who find movies with a more nihilistic trend to be morally beautiful.
posted by fairykarma at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2009


Response by poster: I'm not sure how to explain what I mean by "moral beauty" exactly, but I mean moments where the sheer goodness of a character makes you want to cry. If that helps. Or moments where there is a trascendence, a connection to some greater good, that is invoked.
posted by tamaraster at 10:18 AM on September 22, 2009


I'm not sure how to explain what I mean by "moral beauty" exactly, but I mean moments where the sheer goodness of a character makes you want to cry. If that helps.

"Inspirational", perhaps?

Towards that end, there's Schindler's List and Hotel Rwanda. Schindler's List is actually the only movie that's made me cry period -- the second time I saw it, I was only tuning in halfway through when it was being broadcast on TV, and that scene at the very end where the actual people depicted in the film are all paying their respects at Schindler's grave had me completely wracked in sobs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on September 22, 2009


Response by poster: It's not really "inspiration" that I care about, nor "triumph of the human spirit" type of stuff (generally speaking). Perhaps "gratuitous acts of overwhelming kindness" gets closer.

But keep the suggestions coming - it's fine if they don't exactly hit the mark for me; these are great movies.
posted by tamaraster at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2009


Casablanca!
posted by biscotti at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


The Crucible
Dear Zachary
The Defiant Ones
Ikiru
It's a Wonderful Life
Seven Samurai
Ugetsu
posted by meta87 at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


A Tale of Two Cities.
Twenty-Four Eyes.
posted by lilnemo at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2009


The Color Purple
posted by elle.jeezy at 11:06 AM on September 22, 2009


Anvil! The Story of Anvil is about the quiet and difficult virtue of knowing the difference between perseverance and stubbornness, and practicing the former. Certainly the most uplifting movie I've seen this year.
posted by escabeche at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2009


Maybe I'm off-base here, but I'm going to say The Iron Giant.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


I might be off a bit too, but

The Shawshank Redemption
The Green Mile
posted by bach at 11:32 AM on September 22, 2009


Spring, Summer, Winter Fall... and Spring is a lovely, simple story with the feeling of a Buddhist fable. And Kieslowski isn't exactly someone who desires to deliver a moral lesson, but his series The Decalogue includes a bunch of moral tales (based loosely on the biblical ten commandments). Looks like juv3nal beat me to that one.
posted by whir at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


The Dardenne Brothers are what you are after. See L'Enfant or Lorna's Silence! These movies are about bad decisions and hitting rock bottom only to find true beauty. Or how about Mansfield Park the BBC edition?
posted by ergibson at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2009


Forrest Gump?
posted by elisynn at 12:05 PM on September 22, 2009


Reaching a bit, but Amélie is kind of like that - it's a bit fantasy-ish, but the way the main character tries to "do good" in little ways is a nice, easy lesson in karma.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Amelie, parts of it anyway.

Seconding Goodbye Lenin. What the son does for his mother- brings tears to my eyes as I type this. So sweet.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2009


Sorry pontifex, didn't notice you'd just reco'd Amelie.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:21 PM on September 22, 2009


Also- WANTED.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2009


Sonnenallee
In America
posted by apophenia at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2009


I'm not sure how to explain what I mean by "moral beauty" exactly, but I mean moments where the sheer goodness of a character makes you want to cry. If that helps. Or moments where there is a trascendence, a connection to some greater good, that is invoked.

Just about anything by Robert Bresson may fit the bill, although it is not necessary overwhelming kindness that creates transcendent moments in his films, but rather moral or sublime grace. Often the focus is on transcendence through suffering, which I've always connected with moral grace (probably remnants of my Catholic upbringing). I'd recommend Au Hasard Balthazar (Belthazar the Donkey), which many consider to be his best film. Bresson is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.
posted by Falconetti at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


I mean moments where the sheer goodness of a character makes you want to cry. If that helps. Or moments where there is a trascendence, a connection to some greater good, that is invoked.

Very interesting. Reading that definition, the first movie that popped into my head was The Professional / Léon. The second was Little Children. Maybe I'm irrevocably warped and you should ignore my suggestions. But Little Voice, I think, has moral beauty on an interpersonal scale in Ewan McGregor's character.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:37 PM on September 22, 2009


Some movies that do it for me:

12 Angry Men (I don't think it needs explaining)

Fargo (thinking specifically of the Marge Gundarson character's no-nonsense morality)

Running on Empty (a family dealing with the consequences of standing up for what they believe in)
posted by teg at 12:38 PM on September 22, 2009


Perhaps The Visitor?
posted by amarynth at 12:58 PM on September 22, 2009


Babette's Feast would be at the top of my list followed by Schindler's List. Other suggestions include:

Waking Ned Devine
Dancer in the Dark
Breaking the Waves
What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Sophie's Choice
The English Patient
posted by inconsequentialist at 1:23 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


if Iron Giant (and I think it passes) , then The Beast. even though it be a war movie. the Honor of the Afghan people, more than human, after all they went through....
posted by Redhush at 1:34 PM on September 22, 2009


Second the rec for Eric Rohmer. Very strongly.

Also, I do think I understand what you mean by "moral beauty." There are tales that make you feel that, despite everything, it's possible to live a life that rightfully would make others proud to be a human being. It's not just movies with morals, there are lots of those. But having your nose rubbed in a good example can have contrary effects, making you feel bad and rebellious and snarky-cynical. But there are also some that can make you feel better about being human (and want, pretty urgently, to be a better human) just because of hearing or seeing the story told. It's immensely more difficult to make a good movie about goodness than one about badness, but that's where the art comes in.

(Schindler's List and Man for All Seasons are my top two, and I'm glad to see recommendations of others I haven't run across before.)
posted by jfuller at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2009


Ikiru.
It's a Wonderful Life.
The Seventh Seal.
The Three Colours Trilogy.
After Life.

The top 100 spiritually significant films is a great list - I recommend browsing it.

One film not on the list though, is Ten Canoes which based on an Aboriginal Dreamtime legend. Highly recommended and very unusual.
posted by plep at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2009


nthing Spring, Summer, Winter Fall... and Spring . Great film.
posted by plep at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2009


teg: Fargo (thinking specifically of the Marge Gundarson character's no-nonsense morality)

I'd agree. The bit where she talks to Gaear Grimsrud in her police cruiser-- ' So that was Mrs. Lundegaard on the floor in there. And I guess that was your accomplice in the wood chipper. And those three people in Brainerd. And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don't you know that? And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day.' -- hits me in exactly the way the OP describes.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:52 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lars and the Real Girl. A pathologically shy young man buys a sex doll off the Internet for companionship and introduces her as his girlfriend. The entire town goes along with the fantasy. The scene with the toy bear is the moral beauty you're looking for.
posted by joaquim at 2:04 PM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: I watch it about once a year and for a day or three want to be a better person because of Nausicaä's example.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:05 PM on September 22, 2009


Thirding Ikiru. An incredible movie.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:20 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if you want to check out more lighthearted portrayals of moral fortitude, growth, and decency, I'd recommend these films:

The Cats of Mirikitani
Wall-e
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Être et avoir (To Be and To Have)
Ghost World
posted by inconsequentialist at 2:24 PM on September 22, 2009


Dear Zachary has been mentioned but it deserves repeating. One of the most incredible documentaries I've ever seen. I think "moral beauty" describes it perfectly; don't read the reviews or synopses, just watch.
posted by telegraph at 2:28 PM on September 22, 2009


Pvt. Witt in Terence Mallick's The Thin Red Line is exactly who you're looking for. He's just a guy trying to do some good in a crazy situation, and it's utterly heartbreaking. The first time I watched that film - no, every time I watch that film - I have tears streaming down my face at the sheer beauty of it.

Also, the character of Pocahontas in Mallick's The New World is on similar lines; she just appreciates beauty and is an innocent girl caught up in mad circumstances.
posted by hnnrs at 3:34 PM on September 22, 2009


Also putting in votes for Ikiru and Afterlife. Both are Japanese. Ikiru is my favorite Kurasawa film and I saw Afterlife in the theater a decade or so ago and it has stuck with me ever since. The film imagines a limbo world between life and death where the dead get to pick one memory that they take with them into Heaven ("Heaven" is that one memory for eternity).
posted by Falconetti at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2009


I second Dersu Uzala

also, The Great Escape
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2009


I agree completely about The Iron Giant and Fargo. I'll also recommend Glory very highly.
posted by Zonker at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2009


Red Beard, another Kurosawa movie (the other being Ikiru, already recommended 3-4 times here). The title character, a doctor, kind of reminds me of Valjean (from a moral strenght perspective).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:04 PM on September 22, 2009


The Night of the Hunter, for Lilian Gish's character
La Grande Illusion
posted by pxe2000 at 4:15 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I quite like The Station Agent.
posted by soonertbone at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2009


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