It’s the time of year for getting together over the holidays with friends and family; a time to reconnect and reminisce; a time for sharing the love; and a time for giving. In a day and age where we are incredibly disconnected, these instances of being together with each other might be more important than ever.
Amidst all the choices, what will you get your loved ones this year? For those book and movie lovers like myself, here are a few suggestions from this year’s releases. And if you’re looking closely, you’ll see that connection (or the lack of) is a common theme throughout these offerings.
“Leave No Trace”: Based on a true story, this movie (rated PG for thematic material throughout) follows a single father and his teenage daughter as they live completely off the grid, surviving in the cold, wet forests of the Pacific Northwest. As we learn, the veteran father, Will, has had a hard time re-adjusting to civilian life because of PTSD and depression. Connecting with people is something he now seems incapable of doing.
His idyllic existence with his daughter is brought to a halt when they are discovered by authorities, put into social services, and forced to re-integrate. For Will, escaping back to the woods seems like the only viable option, but for his daughter things get complicated when she gets a taste of normal life.
“First Reformed”: Do you like slow movies? Do you cherish ambiguous endings? If so, this movie (Rated R for some disturbing violent images) might be for you. In it, director Paul Schrader (screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”) paints the portrait of a depressed minister, Reverend Toller, trying dutifully to serve his small, dying church. His ministry is essentially supported by local megachurch Abundant Life, a fact he is both grateful and annoyed by.
When a young, pregnant parishioner enters the church, Toller’s life is upended after he is introduced to the woman’s husband, a depressed radical environmentalist who doesn’t want to bring new life into a world that will be virtually uninhabitable due to climate change. Through this encounter Toller further wrestles with faith and doubt as he tries to speak truth to power as well as stave off his own growing despair and isolation. So not exactly Hallmark fare, but for the patient/thoughtful viewer, there are rewards to be had.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: Another solid offering is this Fred Rogers documentary (rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language). The film gives a behind-the-scenes look at the man who created the children’s television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Through interviews and archival footage we get to spend some time in the mind of someone who had a platform and used it to share a message of the dignity and worth of each person, particularly as it regards connecting with children.
And lest we put Rogers on too high a pedestal, I am reminded of the radical kindness shown by Christ himself, who, time and again reminded people to love God and love their neighbor. Indeed, this was a message Mr. Rogers wholly embraced.
Gay Girl, Good God: Writer, speaker, and artist Jackie Hill Perry does not mince words, and her first book is a shining testament to that fact. In it she recounts her life growing up as a girl who was same-sex attracted. Her journey into womanhood was fraught with pain as she endured fatherlessness as well as gender confusion, porn addiction, and the heartache of sinful choices. Then Jesus broke through and changed her heart. On the heels of that changed heart, she found that her desires also began to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. This candid and empathetic memoir is a great witness to the power of the gospel in a person’s life.
Virgil Wander: With his latest novel, renowned author Leif Enger has given us his newest story in a decade. And if you’re interested in the author’s work, the best place to start would be with his incredible debut novel, Peace Like a River. In his latest offering, Enger’s titular Virgil owns a modest movie theater in a small, Midwestern town and leads a quiet, uneventful life. One night while driving, his car careens off an icy road and ends up in a freezing lake. He survives, but his language and memory are not what they used to be. Upon recovery, Virgil enters a new world, starting over in some ways, as he interacts with the quirky, endearing residents of Greenstone, Minn.
No One Ever Asked: Lastly, this is a recent work of fiction by Katie Ganshert that I’ve been inspired by. I most appreciate the subtlety with which she writes as she tells an honest and redemptive tale, but never gets preachy. The story looks at the lives of three very different women trying to navigate a changing school district. A small Missouri town explodes when a low-income school loses its accreditation, and students from that school are bussed into a more affluent, suburban school. Politics, social classes, and racial tensions collide in this tough but moving story. And in the end, it’s the beautiful little moments of grace that ultimately tie these characters together, giving them tools to fight their own prejudice and experience true connection.
These are just a few suggestions from all of this year’s great offerings. Movies and books are great ways to learn about various cultures and be challenged by the themes woven throughout each plot. They also provide a way to connect, whether it’s through watching a movie together, reading a book out loud, or discussing how each one interacts with a Christian worldview. So, grab a book, turn on a movie, and enjoy your family and friends this Christmas.