Sometimes the head-on approach does not work. Sometimes a more subtle approach to a topic will be more penetrating. That is particularly true for spiritual topics. Art in general, and cinema in particular, allows us to get familiar with ideas without having to think too seriously about them. And that is so efficient! You won’t get many people to read an esoteric treatise. But you can get lots of people to watch an action movie with a spiritual message. Granted, most people may totally miss the deep message buried into the story, but at least it will have planted the seeds for a future familiarity with a given topic…
Film has been a very prolific medium to help the spread of spiritual ideas. But beware, because many movies contain spiritual nuggets that go far beyond fiction. Many movies—especially since the 2010s—feature some very advanced technologies, extra-terrestrial races and plots off-planet that may one day be viewed with a very different eye… So here we go: here’s the list of my favourite movies with a spiritual overtone, in no particular order.
⚑ SPOILER ALERT—I won't tell everything about the movies but may touch on key features, so if you want to keep the surprise you may want to skip reading.
I guess everyone has at least remotely heard about Star Wars. It became so popular that it is now part of mainstream culture. The first movie now called Episode 4: A New Hope was released in 1977. In case you get confused, there’s been 3 trilogies released—i.e. 9 episodes!—over the span of 42 years which is quite remarkable.
In the order of the story timeline (but not the year when they were released), the nine Star Wars movies or episodes are:
What I love about Star Wars is that it allows us to dream because the first thing you see in each episode is an opening credit starting with the now famous ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away’. So somehow you give yourself permission to step outside of the conventional world from the 1st minute. But what’s so special about Star Wars is that although it has a deep sci-fi foundation, it is also extremely spiritual. The Force is the Holy Ghost of the Christians in disguise, the Jedis are some kind of Knights Templar who are monks but also fight for their ideals. They have spiritual powers including telekinesis. It talks about politics, corruption, oppression, liberation, rebellion. It follows characters on their spiritual journey of awakening, facing their deepest fears and fulfilling their destiny.
So overall Star Wars talks a lot about spirituality without ever talking about God! Which means it can’t upset the Church for example and that was a very smart move from George Lucas. There are iconic characters such as Yoda embodying the archetype of the wise old man who guides others on their journey. It has a lot of wisdom built into each episode. Yet there’s enough action going on so that it never gets too philosophical. It also introduces straight on extraterrestrial races because it is set into a galaxy where many planets and races collaborate—and sometimes fight too.
Here’s an extract from the original episode A New Hope.
Doctor Strange is one of those mainstream movies—as part of the Marvel franchise—that has a deep spiritual overtone. It talks about a man on a spiritual journey. It can’t get more cliché than this: Steven Strange travels to Nepal and meets a spiritual master who can help him healing his hands after a traumatic car accident. His life as he knows it is over, and as he falls deeper into depression he allows himself to try anything including what he would have never considered before… It’s the story of man who’s lost everything and achieves a remarkable transformation and rebirth. Doctor Strange talks about a multi-dimensional universe, the control of the mind over matter, astro-projection and the control of time.
A young athlete sees his life transformed after an accident. He meets guides on his journey of recovery but what he has to heal, more than his body, is his mind. The movie is slow paced, very subtle at times and is really sharing some universal wisdom. It talks about the power of the mind, facing the ego and finding a balance in one’s emotions & thoughts in order to achieve anything conceivable. You may wonder at the end: may his mysterious teacher just have been a figment of his imagination?
Avatar is visually very impressive and takes you very far from Earth on planet Pandora, where a human base has been settled in order to mine a rare and precious ore. The issue they face is that the planet is inhabited by a native species called the Na’vi that resists their invasion; in parallel, scientists are trying to establish communications. The intrigue is set on another planet but what we are seeing is a transposition of some of Earth’s familiar issues into a new context: the extermination of native races, the destruction of natural habitat for the sake of money, the hegemony of profit over life and the fanaticism of military forces blindly pursuing an agenda. The message is one of insurrection against oppression, ending unnecessary violence and living in harmony together.
On the spiritual side, Avatar talks about oneness of races across the universe, the importance of connection with nature, the collective efforts of a species acting together instead of each individual for their own profit, and the spiritual traditions of a race that is about to be obliterated by another race—the humans—that uses scientific knowledge for domination. It’s really packed with a lot of spiritual food but here’s in my opinion the most important message: the ability for a sentient being to operate a body remotely with full sensorial immersion and experience life on multiple levels… isn’t that by any chance what a soul can do with a human body?
This follows the original Tron movie from 1982 but you don’t need to have watched it to understand the plot. Tron Legacy talks about the creation of an entire universe using computers and how a programmer has transferred his consciousness into his own program to experience it… Except that he got himself trapped and while he was originally adored as a god, a rebellion occurred and he now has to hide. This movie is visually very pleasant and has a fast-paced techno music contributing to its unique identity. Jeff Bridges excels at portraying a character that has become a wise—yet placid—man who will have to redeem control over his creation to save his son. It explores the themes of creation, virtual reality and the rite of passage of a boy to become a man while finding peace with his past.
The Wachowskis directors rose to prominence with that movie. The Matrix was like nothing that had ever been seen before. Those who watched it in theatres in the late 90s will tell you that it really was a phenomenon. It introduced visual techniques such as a particular slow motion effect called bullet time. It was packed with action and the plot was very original. We follow a character called Neo who lives in a world apparently normal (just like ‘our world’) but meets a team of rebels led by the mysterious Morpheus. Neo will get on a journey of discovery and follow the ‘white rabbit’ in order to find the truth about the world in which he lives. He will eventually find the answers to his questions although his entire reality will collapse and he will have to find a new way to live. The Matrix touches on the concept of virtual reality and the now popular question: ‘How do we know that we live in the base reality and that we are not living in a computer simulation?’.
My favourite quote:
‘Welcome to the real world’
That movie is really original. It got so popular that they made a series running in the 90s with several spin-offs. One mysterious artefact recovered in Egypt allows inter-planetary travel via an energy vortex (the ‘stargate’). It will take explorers on the other side to an unknown planet. It reveals the existence of extraterrestrial beings and talks about their role in human history: humans were slaves for these beings and adored them as gods. But they are false gods because they just happened to be sentient beings like humans with more advanced technology who were seeking domination. This narrative is linked to the ‘theory of ancient astronauts’.
Interstellar is one of those movies so profound and rich that you may want to watch it several times to fully understand it. It talks about space exploration, the looming destruction of humanity that has ravaged its ecosystem, the hope for seeding a new planet with a human colony, and a theme very dear to director Christopher Nolan: time. It’s a very realistic movie that shows you the practical implications of interstellar travel and the fact that time does not flow at the same speed depending on your surroundings in space, and in particular the proximity of supermassive objects like black hole (linked to Einstein’s theory of relativity). It deals with time paradox, gravity, and also introduces the theme of an advanced non-physical species that comes to help humanity; they exist in a fifth-dimensional realm that humans cannot perceive.
A few profound quotes from the movie:
“Time is relative, okay? It can stretch and it can squeeze, but… it can’t run backwards. Just can’t. The only thing that can move across dimensions, like time, is gravity.”
“Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it.”
“‘They’ are beings of five dimensions. To them, time might be another physical dimension. To them… the past might be a canyon that they can climb into and the future… a mountain they can climb up. But to us, it’s not.”
Many Disney movies have spiritual connotations in general, but I picked Frozen because it touches on interesting themes while being a cartoon.
Princess Elsa is born different with magical powers and she is traumatised by an incident in her youth involving her young sister. She lives with that burden and keeps the secret about her powers for many years till one day she bursts and decides to let it go (which is also the name of a song in the movie). She fully accepts her powers of telekinesis (manifestation in the physical world with the power of thoughts alone) and shapes an entire snow palace in a memorable scene.
In her exile she finally finds her true self and heals. Later she re-appears to restore her status of queen. That’s the beautiful tale of a spiritual journey of self-discovery and awakening. And a big lesson about female empowerment too.
Yet another film by the Wachowskis, Jupiter Ascending is visually entertaining and with a very original story. We follow a young woman who lives a modest life but will discover she is very special and has a life mission to fulfil that goes way beyond Earth. She finds out about the existence of many extraterrestrial races (including some reptilian races), the ignorance of most earthlings about such matters, the place of Earth in an intergalactic fight for power and the fact that living beings can be harvested for their energy.
Arrival is unlike the typical alien invasions movies. It follows a team of scientists tasked with exploring alien ships that have landed on Earth. A linguist is asked to decipher a language used by these aliens in order to understand them. As she gets familiar with them, she finds the way her brain works and perceives reality especially time is being transformed. That’s an interesting movie if you like themes such as time and how the language we use impacts our interpretation of the world.
This movie did not meet its audience but has a very interesting plot and is visually appealing. We follow a man who finds himself transported to Mars via a device he recovered from a strange being. He finds himself in the middle of a planetary war and will side with several extraterrestrial beings while learning to master his skills in this new environment. John Carter suggests that religion can arise from the control of an advanced race of extraterrestrial beings that interferes with a planet’s affairs in order to fulfil some hidden agenda. They operate in the shadow but are ever present.
Another film by the Wachowskis, Cloud Atlas is one of those movies really hard to classify. It has multiple concurrent stories running across different timelines but yet tells you something very important about how the actions of men across history are connected.
A Disney movie primarily addressed to children and teenagers, it talks about the multi-dimensional reality of the universe, the travel between dimensions and the existence of a dark force that seeks to control and deceive beings across the multiverse.
French Director Luc Besson offers a very original movie that in the late 90s was popular due to its special effects. The story is set in the 23rd century and brings together a lot of spiritual elements along with a typical sci-fi and space opera genre. It touches on: Egyptian artefacts, an evil force that knows no boundaries, the corruption of men to serve darkness, the future of humanity in highly populated cities with an ultra-technological environment, the blindness of military and their trust in technology. The fate of Earth will depend on the fulfilment of an old prophecy and using a secret weapon: the 5th Element.
Another movie by Luc Besson, it is based on the French science fiction comics series ‘Valérian and Laureline’. This movie has stunning visual effects and takes you on a journey on many different planets. The opening scene is very impressive and features an extra-terrestrial humanoid race that lives peacefully and in harmony with nature on a secluded planet. That race has advanced spiritual knowledge that will be revealed throughout the movie. It also shows a practical example of what invisible and hidden dimensions can be and how technology can allow to see them.
This movie has shaken me to the core when I’ve watched it. Not because it’s an horror movie—it’s not—but because its story is deep and beautiful. There’s something about the plot that seemed so convincing for my subconscious. Not so much the dramas of people living through an end-of-time period, but the realisation that the Sun, our star, has got such a tremendous power over our lives.
This movie is definitely one of my favourite movies and from discussions around me, I’ve realised all too often that most people had never heard about it! A hidden gem, for sure. Plus Nicolas Cage with his spiritual aura is a very good choice for the main character.
Oh Dark City is an interesting one! This neo-noir science fiction film features aliens, telekinesis (the ability is referred to as ‘tuning’ in the movie) and the possibility to control human consciousness at the top level and enslave people while they are totally unaware of the deception! A pure delight to watch and useful reminder in the days of coronavirus. By the way the telekinesis powers of the characters are shown as waves emanating from their third eye chakra—what a good representation!