Probably not the right word, but "grace" in film and literature?
March 8, 2014 6:55 AM   Subscribe

The movies and films I have in mind are: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick (though many of his films would count). The "technical" definition of grace is such that I'm not entirely sure that's an accurate description of what it is that I see that joins these movies together, but it is certainly something present or mentioned in all three. The things that stick out to me are things such as: forgiveness, that nature is perhaps closer to God(liness), that there is grace/beauty in life despite some of the bad things in it. Do you know of any films and books that might be considered related to my above group given what I've tried to describe?
posted by SollosQ to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
An obvious choice: The Shawshank Redemption.
posted by woodman at 7:08 AM on March 8, 2014

What a lovely question.

Go Tell it On the Mountain, by James Baldwin, though it lacks the nature bit.

The poetry of Mary Oliver, possibly.

I'll keep thinking.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:22 AM on March 8, 2014

Try the films of Ozu, like Tokyo Story, or Kurosawa's Ikiru.

There's a central notion in Japanese aesthetics, yūgen, that refers to the 'profound' or 'mysterious' grace of the world.
posted by Beardman at 7:27 AM on March 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wild Strawberries is another classic.

As you can tell from my references, I think the theme of grace often intersects with the scene of someone looking back over their life (as in Gilead). So it can help to look for films that are about reconciling oneself to mortality and finitude. That work often involves remembrance.
posted by Beardman at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love Michelle Huneven for this. Her book due out April 1 is wonderful. To me her narratives have an old fashioned quality: searching, slow-moving, with a lot of room for ambivalence.
posted by BibiRose at 7:37 AM on March 8, 2014

Mindwalk might fit your criteria.
posted by workerant at 7:38 AM on March 8, 2014

Snow Falling on Cedars exhibits visual grace, for sure.
posted by kayzie at 7:46 AM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Robert Duvall's movie The Apostle
posted by Jahaza at 7:47 AM on March 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

David Lynch's The Straight Story. I know, I wouldn't believe it either...but it is a gorgeous, sad, hopeful, and humane film.
posted by bcwinters at 8:00 AM on March 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

The Secret Garden--I don't think I've seen the film version, but the story, anyway.
posted by Sequence at 8:12 AM on March 8, 2014

The recent film Nebraska is ultimately about kindness and grace in the face of bullying and greed.
posted by Etrigan at 8:17 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You did mention that much of Terence Malick's films work, but I feel like The Tree of Life is the most overt in its treatment of "grace".
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:19 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the vein of Ozu, try Hirokazu Koreeda.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:30 AM on March 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

The movie Smoke Signals
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 8:47 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen Gilead or Thin Red Line, so I may not have the concept quite pinpointed but...

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, touches on the grace of nature, animals, love between humans in spite of the inevitable evils of man. There is a decent movie but it failed to really encapsulate the main characters connection to and description of the horses, the landscape around him, the girl, etc.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:49 AM on March 8, 2014

Possibly Kelly Reichhardt's film "Old Joy"... "a serene melancholy beauty permeates this meditative film" --from Rotten Tomatoes.
posted by dahliachewswell at 8:54 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Never Cry Wolf
posted by HuronBob at 9:05 AM on March 8, 2014

Life is Beautiful

A Little Princess - there's an 80s miniseries of it that was pretty good as well.
posted by frobozz at 9:17 AM on March 8, 2014

There's a central notion in Japanese aesthetics, yūgen, that refers to the 'profound' or 'mysterious' grace of the world.
posted by Beardman at 7:27 AM on March 8 [mark as best answer] [+] [!]

First of all, wow, I didn't realize the SEP had gotten a facelift. Secondly, this actually sounds like something all three books/films I mentioned might have in common. Especially: "This passage instantiates a general feature of East-Asian culture, which favors allusiveness over explicitness and completeness. Yūgen does not, as has sometimes been supposed, have to do with some other world beyond this one, but rather with the depth of the world we live in, as experienced through cultivated imagination."
posted by SollosQ at 9:36 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by scruss at 9:50 AM on March 8, 2014

Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula Le Guin, especially the first novella

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban.
posted by violet forest at 10:14 AM on March 8, 2014

The Razor's Edge had some of this effect for me. Legends of the Fall did too, though I felt the film pushed the button a little too conspicuously at times.
posted by jon1270 at 10:16 AM on March 8, 2014

The beautiful Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey
posted by beanie at 10:39 AM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whale Rider.
posted by third rail at 10:43 AM on March 8, 2014

I think you would like Carol Shields' novels and short stories. My particular favourites are The Republic of Love, Unless, and Larry's Party.

I'd also recommend Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

In terms of movies, the Japanese film After Life would probably suit you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:50 AM on March 8, 2014

I would say this comes across in the film (but not so much the book on which it is based) Into the Wild.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:25 PM on March 8, 2014

To echo vogon_poet, Koreeda works beautifully with grace. He allows viewers to accompany characters in their encounters with the inexplicable. I fully recommend Maborosi. The light and the quiet and the nature in this film.. mm now I want to go rewatch! Good suggestions from others here.
posted by elephantsvanish at 1:01 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think The Heart is a Lonely Hunter might be a good Western take on this.
posted by rhizome at 1:44 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll second a lot of these (esp. Kurosawa's Ikiru and Lynch's The Straight Story), but since the masters have been brought up, why not the granddaddy of them all, Tarkovsky?

In particular, The Sacrifice, which is pretty much what you're describing.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2014

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
posted by belladonna at 2:31 PM on March 8, 2014

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
posted by Chenko at 2:41 PM on March 8, 2014

Annie Dillard's book, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" strains toward grace via close perception of nature, methinks.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:08 PM on March 8, 2014

The Russian movie: The Island
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:14 PM on March 8, 2014

It's been years since I read it, but "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner would seem to fit your criteria.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:50 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you're already aware of Malick - have you considered "The Tree of Life"? The character of the mother seems to particularly resonate with what you're describing.
posted by jbickers at 9:08 AM on March 9, 2014

The Brothers Karamazov strikes these chords for me (except the nature bit -- there's not much scenery in Dostoevsky).

Flannery O'Connor considered grace to be her main subject. When I first heard that, it was a shock. With time and re-reading, it has come to make more sense.
posted by aws17576 at 6:53 PM on March 9, 2014

If you like sudden moments of clarity and greater peacefulness, I'd very much recommend Until the End of the World, directed by Wim Wenders. It's clunky, and it's not perfect by any means, except for one transcendent scene where the two main characters are flying over the outback in a four seat airplane. It's downright perfect, and I'd argue worth the slow meandering first hour before everything takes a dramatic turn.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:14 AM on March 10, 2014

Oh! Ghidorah, you genius. If you're going Wenders, then also check out or revisit Wings of Desire. For all its on-the-noseness, it's on-the-nose about your specific interest: the idea of there being grace/beauty in the world despite the bad things in it. (I mean, it literalizes the idea that fallen humanity is preferable to the life of an angel.)

Some of the best parts of that film are the quiet ones rather than the monologues. If you like Malick then you're probably not put off by voiceovers heavy on existential themes, but I think the angels' POV tracking shots in the first quarter of the movie, lingering on the happiness and sadness of everyday life, are extraordinary.
posted by Beardman at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2014

As it is in heaven (beautiful, and not as religious as it sounds.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 12:26 AM on May 18, 2014

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