When it comes to revealing the beauty and mystery of the existence and the universe, movies hold a secret key to unlock cryptic answers. As a unique art form that deals with space and time, cinema has been exploring the haunting question of “Who am I?” for more than 100 years. Almost all the master filmmakers who took this path ended up in one abstract and intangible phenomenon that can be represented with the generic term, “spirituality.” Masters like Andrei Tarkovsky, Theo Angelopoulos, Béla Tarr, and Ingmar Bergman elevated their movies into deep meditations on humanity and its myriad spiritual ways of interacting with the universe. With all that said, here’s the list of really good spiritual movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now:
‘Layla M.’ is a Dutch movie that reveals a terrifying face of religion and spirituality. The plot follows 18-year-old Layla, a Dutch girl with Moroccan descent, who is irritated by the Islamophobia prevailing in the society. As an extreme response to the religious apartheid of the society, she marries a radical Islamist and moves to Syria with him. But her Utopian preoccupations about radical Islam soon turn upside down as she finds it extremely hard to adjust to the patriarchal value system that governs the society. Nora El Koussour plays the titular character of Layla in the movie. The film is directed by Mijke de Jong. ‘Layla M’ was the official entry of the Netherlands for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards.
‘Come Sunday’ is a Netflix movie based on a part of the life of American Christian minister and former pastor Carlton Pearson. The plot follows the historic journey of Bishop Carlton Pearson who was a celebrity in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Christian communities. But when he took a wild turn towards the idea of “inclusion” and started preaching there is no hell, his own church declared him as a pariah. Despite the emotional and social ostracization, the Bishop continued preaching his message that “the hell is what humans create for themselves on earth, heaven is for all.”
Born in into the Pentecostal family and having preached the gospel for more than four decades, the new message was a revelation for Pearson. He was also known as a phenomenal orator and disciple of the late Oral Roberts, who is considered as the pioneer of televangelism. The ’90s witnessed Pearson’s meteoric rise to stardom. But in the early 2000s, he shook the foundations of his faith with the negation of hell. ‘Come Sunday’ focuses on Pearson’s rejection of Hell and the events that unfolded after that rather than chronicling the entire life of the controversial figure. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays the central character of Carlton Pearson. The movie is directed by Joshua Marston from a screenplay written by Marcus Hinchey. The other cast includes Martin Sheen, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, Danny Glover, and Lakeith Stanfield.
11. The Matrix (1999)
‘The Matrix‘ is a landmark movie that allows the viewers to watch it from several vantage points. One of the most interesting and challenging readings of the movie is to watch it from a spiritual dimension. The sci-fi action thriller hides a treasure trove of references from literature, religion, mythology, science, and technology. The movie puts forward the eternal questions of existence and identity against a backdrop of a futuristic society of machines. ‘The Matrix’ also underlines the fact that the greatest gift of mankind is consciousness. The movie is directed by the Wachowski sisters Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski. The cast includes Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano.
10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ is a hilarious take on spirituality and faith. The plot is a parody of the legend of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail and its consequent events. Set in 932 AD, King Arthur and Patsy, a musical Spamalot, comb through Britain in search of men to join the Knights of the Round Table. But when God appears to them on the way and asks Arthur to find the Holy Grail, their mission turns on its head. Made by the iconic British comedy troupe Monty Python, the movie is considered as one the best comedies ever made. The cast members include John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam. ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ is directed by Gilliam and Jones.
9. Life of Brian (1979)
British comedy group Monty Python’s comedy movie ‘Life of Brian’ is a walk on the tightrope between religious satire and blasphemy. The plot follows the titular character Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman) who is born on the same day as Jesus Christ! When the young Jewish man is mistaken for Jesus, the swap triggers a series of hilarious events. The movie is from the popular Monthy Python members Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. ‘Life of Brian’ is directed by Terry Jones. In a THR report, the movie has been described as “a wacky, good-natured satire, carrying much more of a whimsical and friendly air than a sacrilegious flavour.”
8. PK (2014)
At times, it takes an outsider to raise questions about the status quo we are living in. In the Indian satire movie ‘PK,’ an alien, who is stranded on Earth after a crash landing, starts asking questions about things we believe as universal norms and rigid customs. The movie is a terrific portrayal of spirituality and religion as two institutions complimenting each other while cashing in on people’s vulnerabilities. The alien, PK, provokes the establishment with his innocent questions about religion, spirituality, beliefs, customs, laws, and many more. People even mistake him for god! He is beaten to a pulp, makes unlikely friends and finds even love, but no answers for his questions. ‘PK’ is Indian cinema at its absurdist and satirical best. Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, the movie features Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma in the lead roles. ‘PK’ became one of the biggest hits of Indian cinema and garnered rave reviews from Indian and international critics.
7. Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (2013)
‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. I‘ is the first part of director Lars von Trier’s controversial carnal epic. The movie explores the blurred lines separating sexual addiction and sexual desires. The plot follows the self-proclaimed nymphomaniac Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) who narrates her diverse experiences to the middle-aged reclusive bachelor Seligman (played by Stellan Skarsgård). Spirituality, or the lack of it, has been a recurring theme in almost all Lars von Trier movies; they’re two sides of the human condition. And in this case, clearly, it’s the lack of spirituality that von Trier explores. ‘Nymphomaniac’ digs deep into Joe’s psyche to find the source of her sexual addiction and negative feelings about herself. She gets an intense listener in Seligman to contemplate on her problems of sexual desire. The unlikely pair share one thing in common: “loneliness as a constant companion“, as Joe admits herself in the movie.
6. The Fifth Element (1997)
Luc Besson’s sci-fi extravaganza ‘The Fifth Element’ is a multilayered narrative of various issues that have been haunting humanity from the beginning of civilization. Set in the year 2259, the plot follows Korben Dallas (played by Bruce Willis), a Special Forces dropout and a taxi driver who crosses paths with Leeloo (played by Milla Jovovich), a red-haired supreme being.
Meanwhile, an expanding black ball is approaching Earth at an alarming velocity. According to a priest (played by Ian Holm), only the five elements can save humanity from the catastrophe. The first four elements are earth, wind, fire, and water and the mysterious fifth element is the supreme being Leeloo. She teams up with the taxi driver in her mission to save humanity from being wiped out from the face of Earth. Gary Oldman plays the role of a greedy industrialist in the movie. The supreme being stands tall above big guns and explosions in the movie as a reminder of our spiritual connection with mother Earth.
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5. IO (2019)
The Netflix film ‘IO’ is a meditative walk through themes like the fate of humanity, existence, identity, and our spiritual connection to Earth. The plot is set on a futuristic Earth destroyed by the greed of mankind. People are fleeing the planet which is not inhabitable anymore. The new human hotspot is Jupiter’s moon IO and the space beyond it. But some people stay behind, determined to fix Earth and make it glow like a blue diamond again.
Sam, who is a young scientist and daughter of a pro-Earth activist, decides to stay behind. Though she has a plan to save Earth, staying behind is dangerous because the atmosphere is running out of Oxygen. The key to Sam’s destiny is in the title of the movie, ‘IO,’ which stands for the mortal lover of Zeus and the mother of Hercules in mythology. ‘IO’ puts forward the complex connection between women, earth, fertility, and the phenomenon of “birth.” The movie, which stars Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie and Danny Huston in the lead roles, is directed by Jonathan Helpert.
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4. The Master (2012)
Director Paul Thomas Anderson digs deep into the origins of religion in the movie, ‘The Master.’ The plot follows Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix) a World War II veteran who struggles to fit into the world after the horrible war experiences. When he reached the borderline of insanity and sanity, Quell encounters Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is an author and founder of ‘the Cause,’ a new religion. Quell is attracted to the ideas of Dodd and becomes a part of the Cause. He finds his spiritual master in Dodd. Though he becomes a part of the collective, Freddie maintains a turbulent relationship with his master. Sometimes, he acts like a devoted follower and on some occasions, he erupts and questions everything taught by Dodd. Eventually, the members of the Cause start to fear and suspect Freddie. The movie leads us to crucial issues like enlightenment through a master’s guidance. Amy Adams also plays an important role in the film.
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3. Boyhood (2014)
‘Boyhood‘ is a deep meditation on the magical process of growing up and its various manifestations like birth, ageing and death. The plot follows Mason Evans Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) from the age of six to eighteen. ‘Boyhood’ takes us back to our childhood memories, as it underlines the fact that we tend to revisit our roots and primal experiences at an older age. The painful process of growing up into an adult consists of the struggle to adjust with change and the helplessness of children when events they cannot control change everything. This is where the film displays minor elements of spirituality. Patricia Arquette plays Mason’s mother and Ethan Hawke is cast in the role of his father. The movie was filmed for a long schedule of 12 years with the same actors. ‘Boyhood’ is written and directed by Richard Linklater. It garnered rave reviews from critics, who hailed it as a modern masterpiece.
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2. The Lobster (2015)
‘The Lobster‘ is a moving exploration of how society treats individuals who rebel against the norms. It also meditates about the inability of mankind to establish spiritual connections with fellow human beings and nature. The plot is set in a dystopian city where single individuals are sent to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a mate within forty-five days. Those who fail are transformed into a beast of their choice and set free into the mysterious forest called The Woods. ‘The Lobster’ is written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz play the lead roles of David and the Shortsighted Woman, respectively.
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1. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
‘A Clockwork Orange‘ is a modern masterpiece by the great Stanley Kubrick. The movie is a deep contemplation of themes like choices we make in life and spiritual freedom. The plot follows the sadist gang-leader Alex who goes on a violent spree of rape, assaults, torture, theft, and murder in a dystopian setting. He leads the gang called “Droogs,” who are loyal to their leader as long as he excels in the art of sadistic torture. On the other hand, Alex is also an art connoisseur who likes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He is eventually set up by the state and induced into a new rehabilitating program. Alex painstakingly goes through a series of experiments including electro-shock therapy, unknown chemicals and forceful exposure to violent film scenes. He comes out of the program as a deconstructed individual who is poles apart from the original Alex we saw at the beginning of the movie.
Kubrick raises the crucial crisis of choosing between the chaos of natural evil and the order of forced goodness. Adapted from the novel by Anthony Burgess, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is an incredibly exciting piece of cinema in which Kubrick dares to address humanity’s centuries-old dilemma of spiritual existence of individual against the collective physical reality of the society. The movie spawned out several divisive reviews and interpretations with its complex character arc and cryptic ending.
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