Profound, moving, life-changing content (books, movies, etc.)
November 22, 2016 5:04 AM   Subscribe

What are profound, life-changing books, movies, articles, content that you can suggest?

I'm taking the week off for Thanksgiving to de-stress from my excessively stressful situation at work, and after two days -- I already feel like a weight has been lifted. I've been roaming around book stores and movie theaters, taking in things that I normally wouldn't have the time to see. It reminds me much of my younger days when I was in college, and I'm wanting to tap back into that sense of introspection and deep, emotional "learning".

So, I guess what I'm asking for is:

1. What are books, movies, things you've experienced over the years that had a profound, moving, life-changing effect on you?
- These could be books, new or old, classics, whatever it may be.
- Movies, documentaries, anything that I can watch or listen to.

To give you some examples from my past:
- Counting Crows - August and Everything After - The music of my youth that made melancholy a thing. Still deeply emotional for me today and makes me feel like I'm actually "feeling".
- The Lumineers - a newer band that has had somewhat the same effect as Counting Crows
- Jack Kerouac - On The Road - Read this while I was traveling a lot for work. It was inspiring and made me want to travel more.
- Interstellar - I loved this movie because it tapped into the scientific wonder of my brain, but it also had that extra emotional string to pull.

These are just a few examples off the top of my head. As an added bonus, I'd love to hear how the item affected you.
posted by MMALR to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
Two old movies I can watch time and again, "The Whale Rider" and "Life Is Beautiful". One especially good for Thanksgiving is "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles." Tomorrow here in Houston starts "The Eagle Huntress", which I am looking forward to.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:16 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

- Krishnamurti: Freedom from the Known. Don't worry about the word 'spiritual' because in this case it's synonymous with 'personal development' and his language is very far from flowery. He is passionate but he does not tell you how to think. Instead, he asks you to identify what is behind the way you think. For me it was the first time (10 years ago) that I became acquainted with the notion of possessiveness and attachment to people and things. I am going to revisit it because I have fallen by the wayside a little but it made me understand that loving someone else was a 'possible thing' for me (which I know sounds tragic). Up until that point, I was always looking to be loved - a thing to be given by someone else. I think it's just the way 'love' was presented to girls of my generation - as a form of approval that you receive, not as something that you give.

- Patrick Suskind: Perfume (synopsis here). I could partially relate and realised that what I always thought I wanted was perhaps not that appealing in the long run (the ending is depressing but good-depressing). It's also just a really great story and an enjoyable read.


I am very wary of doing this because while i'm obsessed with music, I think it's impossible to recommend any as it is so personal. I don't know which tones, timbres or sounds affect you the most and which feelings you like to connect with. Do you like to feel like you're in a strange land or on familiar territory? I will just explain a particular experience.

Up until a few years ago, I had only ever listened to music with lyrics (even though I never actually listened to the words). Brian Eno talks about something called 'surrendering' - something, he says, that religious people experience all the time and non-believers/atheists and the like (which he is), experience less frequently. Interestingly, the first time I ever surrendered to music (that is, I didn't imagine performing it or engaging with it in any emotive way) was when I listened to his album with Jon Hassell - Possible Musics. I also recommend Day of Radiance by Eno/Laraaji. Walk around and listen to it. Listen to it in the dark. Look out of your window at the skies and lose yourself in it. It is hard to articulate what it did for me but 'letting go' and (oddly) 'immersing' would be the best terms I can think of to describe the experience. It is also interesting to watch yourself try to find or 'hang onto' any hook and attach to it then detach as you look to surrender again. It's basically like meditation.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:45 AM on November 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

"When a Child is Inconsolable: Stay Near" (originally published in 1998) has spoken to me clearly more and more over the years. It's not about children, but about having the integrity to sit with inconsolable grief.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:47 AM on November 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Movie: Adaptation. I've watched it probably over 25 times. (It probably requires multiple viewings.) Besides the joy and pleasure of seeing such a well-written, acted, and directed film, it gives me all kinds of emotions. It's a hard movie to describe. It is loosely based on a true story and deals with evolution, orchids, the beauty of nature, insecurity, love, passion, the legal system, tragedy, and it's mind-blowingly meta. The title is refers to the the screenwriter's difficulty in writing an adaptation of the book The Orchid Thief (which is worth reading); we see the process of writing the movie we are actually watching. It also refers to the adaptation in the sense of evolution, and how people adapt to their circumstances. It's funny, clever, confusing at first, but ultimately encouraging and life-affirming.
posted by The Deej at 5:54 AM on November 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

As a Bill Murray comedy, "Groundhog Day" punches well above its weight class for elevating the spirit.
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:17 AM on November 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you loved "Interstellar," "Arrival" will leave you a puddle of awe-infused ooze.

Give the John Rutter "Gloria" a listen. Regardless of your religious convictions, it is a, by turns, joyful and moving piece of music.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 6:23 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is the best book on religion and faith I've ever read, and I've read a lot of books on religion and faith.
posted by Etrigan at 6:24 AM on November 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Enchanted April, which is a terrific book by Elizabeth von Arnim, and an equally terrific movie.
posted by JanetLand at 6:28 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Music-wise, I stumbled into the Nick Cave k-hole a couple of years back and have yet to emerge. I've seen him twice live since then and have tickets to a third concert next year--he is PHENOMENAL. He has such a range of sound and his lyrics are INCREDIBLE. As far as albums are concerned, Let Love In is my favorite, and is widely regarded as one of his best, but if you don't like that one, rest assured there are others that sound NOTHING like it and are still fantastic.

It's a little de rigueur, but the first time I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, I could NOT put it down. I read it in like a day and it haunted me for weeks afterwards. The Joke by Milan Kundera was another one that really stuck in my brain.

Also, stumbling across this Dorothy Parker poetry anthology at the library as a child was, I am convinced, one of the more formative reading experiences of my life. I still aspire to such salty perfection, but alas, I doubt I will ever reach such heights.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:48 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Scarlet Letter catapulted me towards coming to terms with being a woman in a misogynist society. I embroidered an "A" on my late-80s jean jacket when I was 15 after I read it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:50 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Joni Mitchell's Blue album. Seconding Arrival. And for books, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
posted by Threeve at 6:56 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

When Breath Becomes Air kind of did this for me. You can read a related essay here. Kalanithi reminds me of really intense people I knew in college and the book gave me something of the feeling of sitting up all night talking to an exhilarating new acquaintance. There's an obvious downside to the subject matter if you are worried about illness or death in the near term.
posted by BibiRose at 7:10 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, while agreeing with ihaveyourfoot about music-- and I love Day of Radiance-- sometimes a cd of classical keyboard music like this one will be strangely refreshing to me. I don't know how professionals feel about Simone Dinnerstein but i have never played a cd of hers without feeling that my ears have opened up.
posted by BibiRose at 7:19 AM on November 22, 2016

I present to you, Untitled #8 ['Popplagið'] by Sigur Rós, from their album ( ). It's my absolute favorite song of all time, and I think it's utterly sublime. Amazingly, each time I listen, it provides me with solace, catharsis, and awe. It's one that you take to bed with you—not because it is an excellent bedfellow, but because it gives you all the space you need to feel yourself within it.
posted by a good beginning at 7:55 AM on November 22, 2016

I feel like I recommend this in every book thread, but Anna Karenina.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:13 AM on November 22, 2016

Song of Myself (Walt Whitman).
posted by bluebird at 8:21 AM on November 22, 2016

I'm here to recommend, as always, Cloud Atlas.

Do yourself a favor and do not read the synopsis! It has an almost 3 HR run time, I cried for almost the whole 3 hrs. The film has 3 directors, so as prep you can watch the Wachowski's The Matrix, and Tom Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run. Tom Tykwer also wrote the score for Cloud Atlas, some of the music is actually part of the plot, and it's very moving!

You can also read the novel the film is based on by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas. Then your mind will be totally blown, because although the film closely follows the story in the novel, it really doesn't. You will marvel at how the directors teased one from the other.

If you do watch it, memail me and I'll share my opinions on why this film was so reviled when it came out. I saw it in LA, and people hated it. Like, I suspect I lost a few acquaintances and professional relationships over it. By maybe 2014 or 2015 it dawned on me what had happened with the film and why they saw it differently. Some of the stunt makeup was a little clunky, but in every other way the film was intricate and perfect. It was beautiful. It made me love actors I usually hate on screen, someone who usually rides on his charm was definitely robbed of a Supporting Actor Oscar nom or win for the film, and the most emotionally devastating line in the film is delivered by an industry unknown.

I hope you enjoy it.
posted by jbenben at 8:47 AM on November 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I saw Harold & Maude for the first time when I was 19. It changed everything I believed about the world. 33 years later and it is still transformative every time I watch it. Probably approaching 100 viewings by this point.
posted by hworth at 9:01 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

William Finnegan's Barbarian Days of Surfing had a profound effect on me in that it lead me to investigate river surfing, which has been a fulfilling hobby of mine for the past 6 months or so. See here (self link) if you want more details on the surfing part. It also gave me a fair bit of wanderlust.

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain had a big impact in how I view risk in the backcountry.

Mr. Money Moustache (not a book, but a website) changed how I look at money and work and the prospect of early retirement.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:09 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Razor's Edge is one of my favorite novels, which I reread periodically (there are movies based on it, but I don't know anything about them). It is about a World War I pilot searching for meaning in his life.
posted by FencingGal at 9:09 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend the Italian four-part mini-series, released here in the US as a feature film, The Best of Youth. I felt changed after I watched it, in ways I can't quite articulate.
posted by holborne at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2016

posted by Mizu at 9:49 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


- Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu, a collection of short sci-fi stories (he's currently a writer on Westworld if you're enjoying that). If you like his short stories you could try How to Survive in a Science Fictional Universe, which is novel-length and more involved

- Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link - incredible genre-mashing short stories (though the first is from a YA collection and I didn't connect to it, the rest of them were a-mazing)

- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - A dying pastor reflects on his life in a letter to his son.


- Enlightened - Reflective and beautiful series about what happens when a struggling woman finds "enlightenment" and the problems that arise from trying to make that fit into her real life and corporate job. Heartbreaking and funny.

- Les Revenants - French horror-drama set in town in which the dead suddenly return to their houses and relatives, upending their families lives. Make sure to watch the French one and not the crappy english-language remake that was widely panned!

- Let the Right One In - Swedish film about a bullied 12yr old boy who finds love and revenge through a young vampire who moves into his neighbourhood
posted by everydayanewday at 9:54 AM on November 22, 2016

When I was in college, Bertrand Tavernier's movie Un Semaine de Vacances (A Week's Vacation) was released. It's about a woman who takes a week off of her job (teaching) to kind of just hang out in her neighborhood and get her head together. It's almost impossible to find, but here's a site that appears to allow you to download it in rar files.

It was very important to me, because I had already started the habit of going on short vacations alone and spending time alone, which has only become more important to me over time. Although I only saw it once (I only just found that rar site I linked above after years of trying to find it to purchase), I have never forgotten it.

The Barbarian Invasions touched me in a way that I can't really explain but has remained close to my heart since it was released. This is actually something you can purchase. It's about the last days of a dying man, surrounded by the people he loves. It is funny at times, heartbreaking at times, but always very true, I find.

Code Unknown, a film by Michael Haneke, is about how our lives touch other people's and how each of our actions is important. It's like Crash if Crash were actually a good thoughtful film without gimmicks. For me, it is a film that I watch when I think I don't matter or nothing I do has any effect.
posted by janey47 at 10:06 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has recommended it yet: Hamilton (original Broadway Cast Recording).

It is a superb work of art; educational, instructive, funny, emotional, devastating, and amazing. Due to its lyrical and narrative denseness, it gets better with repeated listenings. And don't be shy about looking up lyrics to follow along with. (Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda even contributed notes to the Genius entry for it.)

Listen to it when you can give it your full attention, and it will give you much more back. I've listened dozens of times, and it still makes me laugh and cry and get chills.

Another musical recommendation (which I'd be surprised if you haven't yet seen) is the Jonathan Demme directed concert film Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. Don't worry about understanding the meaning behind every song or lyric (certainly many of the lyrics are abstract and nonsensical anyway); the overall emotional impact is of celebration and unbounded joy. You might find yourself unable to sit still (or stay seated at all) during parts of it.
posted by The Deej at 11:43 AM on November 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Movies by Andrei Tarkovsky made a very deep impression on me when I was young; suggesting to me that my understanding of reality and human behavior was as yet very incomplete, and that there is a mystery to our existence which it's worth having some awe or respect towards:




in particular.

Previously on metafilter.

Reading The Analects of Confucius a little later cut through the confusion of my arts-and-philosophy based education to indicate much more clearly than it had what culture, social life and human aspirations are about at the core. Still have not exhausted the book or even figured out a way to live equal to way it has to say.
posted by bertran at 12:21 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think Forest Gump really helped me grow fond of the up-and-down quiet humdrum rhythm of life/human history.

I am not sure if it would still have the same effect on me now, but I read (and loved) the Harry Potter series in my formative teenage years. It really shaped my atttitudes and expectations about friendship, love, work ethic, bravery, and kindness.

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon made me feel empathetic and in touch with nostalgia, shame, and melancholia. It also made me think about privilege, talent, and resilience.

I found the Before Midnight trilogy to be very mesmerizing and subtle. I found the movie to be very absorbing, as though I had by osmosis learned what love was supposed to feel like, and could no longer settle for any less.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell also gave me butterflies and made me feel awkward and confused (it was equal parts wonderful and embarrassing). I was impressed by how it respected its teenage characters and by the raw realism of the book. I can't explain it any better - read it!!

I also loved Jane Eyre, the Biography of Marie Curie (written by her daughter, Eve Curie), and . Both were a bit gothic, frustrating, and full of hardship, but I loved every page.

Oh yes and have you read Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed? I felt much wiser after reading it. It taught me a lot about empathy and transcendence. It seemed to weave beauty out of difficult, ugly situations, and I found it scary but warmly reassuring at the same time.

I think I might be feeling a bit envious of your emotional development week! It sounds like it would be such a fun and eye-opening experience. Maybe you could write a blog about it and share it here!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 12:24 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have been changed by the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and the movie Shadowlands, particularly the concept (relating to loss) that "the pain I feel now is the happiness I had before."
posted by slidell at 2:14 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, check out Godspeed You! Black Emperor, such as the song "Storm" if you don't know it yet.
posted by slidell at 2:17 PM on November 22, 2016

Shake Sugaree, played by Elizabeth Cotten, sung by her 12-year-old granddaughter.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:36 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A Prayer for Owen Meany
posted by heavenknows at 2:52 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and in particular I would strongly recommend seeing them live if that becomes possible. They don't tour all that often, sadly. They have a lot of live recordings available and I highly recommend picking a few and giving them a listen.

I was a casual fan until they came through town in February and I saw them live. It was a singular experience. I've never been in a more respectful and attentive crowd. I didn't see a single phone in the air the whole time, and it wasn't because the band asked people not to. The band didn't say anything at all. They came out, picked up their instruments, and played. When they were done, they left the stage. The band was not lit at all, and there were two screens behind the band on which were projected films to accompany the music.

Sounds pretentious, right? I thought it might be, too, but that's now how it felt. It was an all-encompassing experience.
posted by curiousgene at 3:30 PM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've also returned to some of the roots reggae I used to listen to. Lots of moral koans in there. "The things people refuse are the things they should use." Etc.
posted by slidell at 3:49 PM on November 22, 2016

Cindy Bullen's album "Between Heaven and Earth." The album centers around the death of her 11-year-old daughter, Jessie. Although that sounds depressing -- and it is a very emotional album -- it ends with hope for the living. Her voice and the guitar are incredible. It's just profoundly moving and ultimately all about healing.
posted by Ostara at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Solaris was a life-changing experience for me. Not the novel by Lem or the Tarkovsky film, though both are justly revered by many. I mean the Soderbergh film.

It was hated by many, but it worked for me. It worked well enough that I walked out of the theater seriously shaken.

I don't want to give too much away, but I will ask: if the people you love most were lost and could only be remade with what you, personally, know of them...would they still be the people you love?

It made me recalculate my understanding of every single person I have met, as well as their understanding of me.
posted by Caxton1476 at 7:56 PM on November 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

The last very intense emotional experience invoked in me by a piece of media or fiction was "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara.

I finished it in a six-hour pure binge read and basically had tears down my face the entire last three hours.

It was life changing in that I haven't had that strong an emotional gut-level response to fiction since I was a kid and it was so reassuring to feel that again.
posted by hepta at 8:08 PM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Last year, I was in a precarious position at work. Then I read Buster Benson's article "Live Like A Hydra".

For some reason, it's message resonated with me like few other things have ever resonated in my life. I was no longer afraid to make mistakes, as long as I had a good reason for taking the risk that caused the mistake. It made me more confident and more willing to do the things I wanted and do my job the way I wanted to do it.

I went from a bad mid year review to the best year end review I've ever had.
posted by reenum at 9:36 PM on November 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar - maybe not life-changing, but profound.
posted by atinna at 10:30 PM on November 22, 2016

Nthing Gilead. As Ze Frank said, you can hear yourself breathe when you read it. It's magnificent.

The Brothers Karamazov changed my life, legitimately. The story about the onion and Grushenka still makes me cry.

My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan got me obsessed with literary journalism and South Africa, equally. It's a wonderful book and kind of an amazing snapshot into how close South Africa was to complete civil war.

And JM Coetzee's Disgrace is beautiful and heart-breaking and wrestles with what it means to forgive after a great tragedy.

Those four books will change your life if you let them. But if you choose one, read Brothers Karamazov. It is tough to start, but Alyosha is an amazing character and represented me in so many different ways...or maybe just who I wanted to be. And Grushenka and the onion. It always comes back to those onions.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:02 AM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Every time I need to ground myself I wind up coming back to the Dark Tower novels by Stephen King. Maybe they're pop culture shlock, but when I need to put my back up against something, they're always there. Roland and his gunslingers always remind me what's important, give me courage, and have a rip-roaring adventure besides. Garth Ennis' Preacher and Mike Carey's Lucifer manage to do the same. Something about long odds and force of will, maybe.
posted by dogheart at 12:48 AM on November 23, 2016

I've always found Babette's Feast to be really moving. A woman fleeing the French Revolution finds refuge in a tiny community in Denmark. She lives as a housekeeper with two spinster sisters. And then she finds a way to give back to the whole community.

It's a lovely bittersweet story of art, and love, and choices. I need to go watch it now, even though it always makes me cry.
posted by Archer25 at 6:58 AM on November 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate
posted by 4ster at 2:47 PM on November 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I tear up every time I read Under the Graying Sea, a short story by Jonathan Sherwood. That link is to an MP3 of it on the author's own web site; here is a text version.
posted by MoTLD at 6:12 PM on November 24, 2016

I just (as in last night) finished Passage by Connie Willis, and it felt like a complete revelation. Every bit of it was profound to me.

Bettye Lavette singing Pick up my Pieces
the Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee
Leonard Cohen singing Famous Blue Raincoat
Josh Ritter singing Homecoming
Patty Griffin, anything, always, but perhaps especially her albums Mil Besos and Downtown Church, and the song "Go Wherever You Wanna Go"
Mason Jennings singing Patti and Robert

(I have so many more!!)

The aforementioned Passage by Connie Willis
This Great Unknowing by Denise Levertov
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
It and Under the Dome by Stephen King
Too Scared to Cry by Lenore Terry
I Am Here by Thich Naht Hahn
Cloud Nine by Carol Churchill
Any of Samuel Beckett's plays
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
posted by fairlynearlyready at 8:52 AM on November 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Both Restoration, a movie with Meg Ryan and Robert Downey Junior, and a book called, Confessions Of A Pagan Nun, helped me come to terms with suffering. I did a lot of suffering in the first 2/3rds of my life, and both of these works helped me to understand what parts of my suffering I could change and how to go about changing. They were both huge influences in my life.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:35 PM on November 28, 2016

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