American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)
Lester Burnham rejects his stagnant lifestyle and attempts to rediscover his energy and happiness.
Allan Cooperstein Ph.D runs a private practice in Philedelphia.
“This is a multilayered examination of the paradox of social conformity – the loss of self and the need to be unique. It’s laden with societal stereotypes, with Kevin Spacey as the focal point. He commits to a beautiful, inappropriate and often deeply affecting exploration to find happiness. The issue here is the conflict of conforming to societal ideals versus seeking one’s own authenticity and happiness; the fulfilment comes when we see Spacey’s daughter find love and her inner self.”
Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)
A tough but gifted working-class kid learns to trust others and come to terms with his abilities.
Robert P. Stanford MAPC, MA uses movies in his work with groups of African-American high school students in Chicago.
“Behavioural issues in my group range from truancy to overt criminality. But these behaviours are manifestations of underlying anger, fear, rejection, and hopelessness. Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting deals with many of these issues. It was important that I used Matt Damon because many of these students believe that only African-Americans in low income families suffer from these existential issues.”
It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
A man contemplating suicide is shown the affect his absence would have on his friends and relatives.
“Capra’s film presents a version of the mistaken belief that “the grass is greener.” George Bailey, embittered and wanting to end his life, is shown his home town as it would be if he were never born. With each encounter, he sees the consequences of his not having existed - a pharmacist’s alcoholism, his vibrant wife’s dowdy future as a librarian. It becomes too much and he comes to realise his worth, his value and the impact he’s had on so many lives.”
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)
Convicted of killing his wife, Andy Dufresne must rely on friendship and hope to survive the harsh conditions of his imprisonment.
“In a prison, individuality is non-existent. The film represents the enduring spirit of the human who will not allow conditions to destroy him or the gifts he may bring to others. Andy is an introversive, intelligent man who refuses to be devalued into non-existence, a non-judgmental representation of human spirit blooming in the most unlikely of places.”
The Wizard Of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
A tornado transports Dorothy from her Kansas home to the land of Oz, where she must find the great Wizard in order to get home.
Michael Kalm M.D. is the author of The Healing Movie Book.
“People will often berate themselves because they can’t do everything right. They can’t balance all the demands to be a great parent and spouse, have a great career, and take care of their health and ageing parents. I use the scene in The Wizard Of Oz where Dorothy unveils the “great and terrible Oz” and tells him he’s a “bad man”. He replies, “Oh no, dear. I’m just a bad wizard…”. That’s a wonderful reminder and demonstration of how important it is to accept our humanity, our lack of perfection.”
Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
A young farmboy on a desert planet fulfils his destiny by joining a rebellion against the evil galactic Empire.
“A universal, epic adventure. Luke Skywalker’s fight against the Empire depicts the eternal, ubiquitous struggle between good and evil, freedom and dominance. Through the order of the Jedi the film explores the human senses and what lies beyond, whether between worlds and civilizations or within a single individual.”
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
A terminally ill civil servant uses his last weeks to push through approval for a local playground.
Sara Fasja Ph.D runs workshops on self-knowledge at Instituto Mexicano de la Pareja.
“I use movies for group therapy. One of my favourite films for working with a room of patients is Kurosawa’s Ikiru. Although it’s not for everybody, the main issue raised by the film is consciousness of the parts of life that have been “unlived” and the importance of just enjoying life as it happens.”
ET (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
A young boy in suburban America discovers and befriends an alien creature, helping him to find a way back to his home planet.
“A story illustrating the universality of love and its importance in all relationships, not only between the sexes but all people and, in this case, even different species and worlds. The film tells us that misunderstandings may occur but, with effort, each individual can attain knowledge of the other.”
The Break-Up (Peyton Reed, 2006)
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston are locked into a relationship of manipulation and mind-games.
Michael Lee Powell M.S., LPC, NCC is a child and family counsellor based at the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center.
“Most relationship movies in America end up with a happy ending. Yet The Break-Up leaves the viewer guessing as to what happens in the future. Both characters use revenge and passive-aggressiveness (then just aggressiveness) to prove their points after they decide to break up, hoping they can get each another to change – which rarely works.”
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
Ten years after they met by chance, a couple are reunited for one evening in Paris.
Birgit Wolz Ph.D MFT. Author of E-Motion Picture Magic: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Healing and Transformation.
“Before Sunset recognizes the obstacles that can be involved with love while showing two characters slowly realizing its preciousness and sanctity. It’s an excellent movie to support the work with clients who fear vulnerability and intimacy. Jesse and Celine are finally able to stop playing protective games, reveal their deeper truths and plunge into the bottomless depth of their souls.”
Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998)
“Sliding Doors is a favorite in my Cinema Alchemy groups and workshops. The main theme in our explorations circles around the insight that sometimes when the worst happens, it sets us on a better path than the one we were on - even when we have no idea there is a better alternative. When I introduce this movie in conjunction with reflective exercises, workshop participants often develop more patience and acceptance with the ups and downs in their lives.”