Undefended: Nature On Film

Spring has lately arrived. A young man’s fancy turns to love. What films best capture the natural beauty of the world? This week, five films that do well to show us God’s grandeur. Also, in addition to the title, supply a single line as to your appreciation of each entered film.

Remy Wilkins:

Days of Heaven emeritus.

  1. Gravity (2013): The earth is central and centrally beautiful and is connected to love and its pull is mighty.
  2. Creation (2009): This tale of Darwin losing his fight with God shows him marvel at the world’s beauty and and shrink at its terrors.
  3. Gerry (2002): Hardscrabbled beauty marred by the dummies trudging through it.
  4. Summer Hours (2009): Not just nature, but the nature of things is what is considered in this film about the passing of time.
  5. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003): the story of a Buddhist monk aptly vernal since Buddha itself means “to awaken”.

Timothy Lawrence:

  1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick): An obvious choice, perhaps, but one that cannot be overlooked; Malick scours the beauty of nature for clues to the nature of God.
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick): Kubrick infuses the grand vistas of space and earth with a potent sense of the numinous, juxtaposing man’s seeming insignificance with his longing for transcendence.
  3. Once Upon A Time In The West (Sergio Leone): The harsh, stark beauty of the Wild West is more than a backdrop here; the landscape becomes a mythic character in itself.
  4. All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor): Chandor uses the sea to encapsulate all of human life in the face of mortality, placing moments of sheer terror side by side with moments of quiet beauty.
  5. Fargo (Joel & Ethan Coen): The beautiful, all-encompassing whiteness of the snowbound Midwest becomes a symbol of the unshakable primacy of good, ultimately immune to the stupidity of evil men.

James Banks:

  1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone) – One of the few movies which has a sense of space as well as place
  2. Happy People: A Year in the Tiga (Werner Herzog) – A beautiful portrait
  3. Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg) – Yes, it is a fictional film in a fictional location. Nonetheless, the message that it conveys—that the sublimity of nature is contingent on humanity’s inability to control it—is as applicable to the real world as the fictional theme park of the title.
  4. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann) – If you watch the movie so that you won’t have to read the book for that American Lit paper, you will most likely fail; nonetheless, the movie stays true to Fenimore Cooper’s theme of the vanishing wilderness and, as the Hudson forests of the narrative have largely been replaced by forests of Sheldon Silvers, one cannot but mourn the loss.
  5. The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard) – The consolation of companionship, even on a treeless island.

Justin Spencer

  1. A River Runs Through It: A sacramental vision of nature, it is a place to find God and experience grace.
  2. The New World: Uses the natural world, and Pocahontas’ experience of it, as a gorgeous, moving, Edenic symbol.
  3. Song of the Sea: A beautiful depiction of nature as a “thin space,” a place where earthly and spiritual realities weave in and out of each other.
  4. Ken Burns’ The National Parks: An American cannot watch it and remain unthankful for the vast natural beauties that lie a few hours drive, at most, from them. “Everybody needs beauty…places the play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” – John Muir
  5. The Horse Whisperer: Montana is beautiful.

Joshua Gibbs:

  1. Kurosawa’s Dreams: Nature as disorienting fantasy.
  2. Papillon: Beauty and terror in desolate nature; empty space as “God’s country.”
  3. Pride and Prejudice (2005): The endless green lawns are oceans which render the estates islands. When Elizabeth marches from one door to the next, she walks on water.
  4. The Fall: Nature as fairy tale.
  5. Into The West: Nature as a proper setting for a child’s adventure.
Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books, collects records and jogs to work. He and his wife have two children, both of whom have seven names. He tweets at @joshgibbs and blogs for the CiRCE Institute.

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