There are a variety of reasons to watch movies and every good film leads or pushes us in a certain direction, whether it be emotional or intellectual, or towards sorrow or joy.
Some films inspire, creating a belief in ourselves or some external idea. Such films lift us up or motivate us towards some specific action or feeling. The ten films discussed below have that inspirational power.
By now, the story, musical score, and outcome of Best Picture Academy Award winner Rocky are familiar to most movie enthusiasts. Nonetheless, this film retains its power to move and inspire more than forty years after its release.
Through a variety of circumstances, a journeyman boxer named Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) gets a shot at the heavyweight boxing championship of the world against the reigning champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The fight should be a mismatch, a joke.
Rocky has no business being in the same ring with this other fighter. Trained by the wise old Mickey (the great Burgess Meredith) Rocky commits himself totally to what is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The music in the film is uplifting and the training scenes are motivational in their intensity and authenticity. The fight itself is a close fought war between two courageous men who are prepared to place everything on the line.
In the end, the outcome reveals a reality, rather than a predictable Hollywood fantasy. What is most inspiring about the film is not an unlikely victory, which doesn’t occur, but the willingness of Rocky to make the journey and give his all in a truly noble effort.
2. Life of Pi
Let’s begin with the obvious. Life of Pi is visually inspiring and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films of the 21st century. It was justifiably awarded Oscars for Cinematography and Visual Effects for those efforts.
Directed by Ang Lee, it tells the story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma as young Pi), who leaves India with his family in search of a better life in Canada. Zookeepers, the family load their animals on a freighter and begin their voyage.
During the journey the ship sinks, leaving Pi as the only human on a lifeboat he shares with a few surviving animals, including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. What ensues is a harrowing yet uplifting journey of survival, as Pi must confront the tiger, starvation, the weather, and most significantly, himself. Pi honestly believes he will die at sea, yet never surrenders his will to survive.
Eventually, Pi lands on a desert island, where Richard Parker disappears into the jungle before Pi is rescued. Interviewed by a journalist, adult Pi (Irrfan Khan), relates his tale while also suggesting some basic ideas about human nature and our will and ability to overcome. Life of Pi is an epic tale of survival and perseverance, as Pi overcomes seemingly impossible circumstances to continue living.
3. Good Will Hunting
While telling multiple stories, Good Will Hunting is really about the relationship between troubled genius Will (Matt Damon) and his equally but differently troubled therapist Sean (Robin Williams). Will is a mathematical genius of virtually unprecedented ability, but rather than viewing it as a gift, he considers his ability a curse.
Attempting to harness the ability of the young man, a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) sets up a meeting with his old college roommate, the therapist Sean. These two men are badly damaged yet develop a relationship that over time allows them both to heal and move forward in their lives.
The movie inspires on several levels. First, the raw, almost unmatched genius of Will gives us a glimpse into the power of human potential. Second, the transformative power of the relationship between Sean and Will provides hope that any personal demon can be overcome.
Robin Williams is phenomenal as Sean and was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work. As with Insomnia, One Hour Photo, and other roles, Williams displays dramatic acting ability that exceeds anything he did in comedy. Good Will Hunting is an uplifting story about characters who struggle greatly yet are ultimately redeemed.
4. The Shawshank Redemption
Sentenced to life in prison for murders he didn’t commit, it seems Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is finished. Once inside, he meets and befriends Red (Morgan Freeman). Red teaches Andy about the inside and Andy teaches Red about hope, a scarce commodity within those grey walls.
Despite continued brutality from the guards, other inmates and the warden, Andy never loses his hope or humanity. In fact, he initiates several projects which improve the lives of the prisoners and he also aids the guards with financial matters.
Over time, he wins respect and admiration, yet is still wrongfully imprisoned. Once information is revealed that could prove his innocence, the warden turns a blind eye, seemingly dooming Andy.
However, a long standing and meticulously detailed plan has been established, allowing Andy to escape his wrongful imprisonment while simultaneously implicating the real criminals within the prison system. His old friend Red is eventually paroled and embarks on a journey to reunite with his friend Andy, now lively freely by the ocean.
The final scene shows the reunion of these two men who after much hardship have finally found liberation. A film of true emotional power, The Shawshank Redemption never fails to inspire even after repeated views.
5. Cast Away
Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a Fed Ex engineer whose life is suddenly and irrevocably altered by a plane crash. Alone on an isolated desert island, he must learn an entire new way of living if he hopes to survive.
With rescue unlikely, he learns to adapt to his island environment, developing skills that were unknown and unnecessary in his previous life. Life is precarious, and in one harrowing scene, he must summon the courage to remove his own infected tooth.
Eventually, he develops a plan for escape, and despite repeated failure, he continues to persevere until he eventually escapes the waves that encircle his tiny island. Once returned to the modern world, he discovers that nothing is how it was when he left. Undeterred, he once again adapts, finding the inner strength to begin the next part of his journey.
Cast Away is indeed an inspiring tale of survival set against seemingly impossible odds, with one man finding the will and resolve to continue while most would undoubtedly surrender. Hanks was deservedly nominated for an Oscar in the role and the film delivers an inspirational message about adaptability and our overwhelming will to live.