There are many wonderful films and videos available that plumb the depths of the psyche, whether they tell stories about what it is to be human, illustrate or embody an archetype, or show us something about the individuation process.
Here’s a list of films I’ve found captivating, along with those recommended by others interested in depth psychology. Please send recommendations of your personal favorites via email, using the form at the bottom of the page, or post them here.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Needing extra cash, two brothers conspire to pull off the perfect, victimless crime. No guns, no violence, no problem. But when an accomplice ignores the rules and crosses the line, his actions trigger a series of events in which no one is left unscathed. An excellent film depicting what happens when the shadow takes control.
The Color Purple (1985)
Written by Alice Walker, produced by Steven Spielberg. Possibly my favorite film of all time, it was a testimony to the modern American mindset that the people loved this film and Hollywood refused to give it an Oscar, though it was nominated 11 times; the nominations did not include one for Steven Spielberg’s directing. Beautiful and breathaking, it is a new classic about becoming whole. Follows the life of Celie Johnson, an African American young woman living in the early 1900s.
Enchanted April (1992)
About individuation and becoming conscious, a quite beautiful award-winning film. This slow-paced gem is about the civilizing influence of Italy on beleaguered Londoners both male and female, and has its own civilizing influence on the viewer. It’s almost like taking a little mini-trip to Italy, a gorgeously filmed enchantment. Four women rent an Italian chateau and try to come to grips with their lives and relationships, exploring the differences in their personalities (and personas), reassessing their goals, and examining their relationships in a sisterly fashion.
The Family Stone (2005)
I must have seen this movie ten times by now, and still love it. It’s funny, touching, real, and perfect for the holidays. The family Stone is awake and conscious; their honesty about their individual and familial quirks is refreshing. One rarely sees a film with such well-defined roles, such tenderness and love, and such a perfect depiction of neurotic suffering giving way to rebirth and wholeness. One of my favorite lines is when Ben tells Meredith, “The thing is, you have a freak flag; you just don’t fly it.” Perfect advice for every freak.
The 400 Blows (1959)
François Truffaut’s first film. One IMDb reviewer wrote, “This film is one of the greatest I have ever seen. It depicts some events in the life of Antoine Doinel, a young French boy who gets into a lot of trouble no matter what he does. [. . .] it is filmed with such an innocence that you can really feel some of the emotions that Antoine feels. I love the simple style of this film, and I think it adds to its charm. The story is can even be painful to watch as one sees all of the things that happen to Antoine. I think that the reason for the strong emotions embedded in this film is that it is semi-autobiographical.”
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Lars (Ryan Gosling) is an awkwardly shy young man in a small nothern town who finally brings the girl of his dreams to his brother and sister-in-law’s home. The only problem is that she’s not real–she’s a sex doll Lars ordered off the internet. But sex is not what Lars has in mind, but rather a deep, meaningful relationship with the new woman in his life. His sister-in-law is worried for him, his brother thinks he’s nuts, but eventually the entire town goes along with his delusion in support of this sweet-natured young man they’ve always loved.
Written and directed by Michelangelo Anonioni. A woman disappears during a Mediterranean boating trip. But during the search for the lost woman, her lover and her best friend become attracted to each other.
Mr. Brooks (2007)
Another film about the shadow, in which Kevin Costner plays the persona and William Hurt the shadow archetype masterfully. This film will creep you out; the shadow personified is a force to be reckoned with. Interesting, too, that the movie poster for Mr. Brooks and that for Persona (the Ingmar Bergman film, below) are so similar. Coincidence? I think not.
Ingmar Bergman, writer and director. Recommended by Lamberakis. An intriguing quote from one of the characters, Alma: “Is it really important not to lie, to speak so that everything rings true? Can one live without lying and quibbling and making excuses? Isn’t it better to be lazy and lax and deceitful? Perhaps you even improve by staying as you are. (No response) My words mean nothing to you. People like you can’t be reached. I wonder whether your madness isn’t the worst kind. You act healthy, act it so well that everyone believes you–everyone except me, because I know how rotten you are.”
A Room with a View (1985)
One of my favorite films about becoming conscious; not only visually perfect, but it feeds the soul. The musical score, too, is breathtaking. When Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr. Emerson and son George step in to remedy the situation. Once she is back in England, how will Lucy’s experiences in Tuscany affect her marriage plans to her humorless, stodgy fiancé Cecil? Will she follow through with the marriage, or follow her heart and her growing attraction to the spirited George?
Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Dustin Hoffman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. My favorite film of the past year, I’ve watched it several times over the past few months. Starring Everybody knows that your life is a story. But what if a story was your life? Harold Crick is your average IRS agent: monotonous, boring, and repetitive. But one day this all changes when Harold begins to hear an author inside his head narrating his life. The narrator it is extraordinarily accurate, and Harold recognizes the voice as an esteemed author he saw on TV. But when the narration reveals that he is going to die, Harold must find the author of the story, and ultimately his life, to convince her to change the ending of the story before it is too late.
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
Nominated for two Oscars and won several international awards, the film was written and directed by Luis Buñuel. From an IMDb reviewer, “Just after boarding a train, much to the surprise of his fellow passengers, a man pours a bucket of water over a young girl on the platform. Over the next few hours he explains (and we see in flashback) how he became obsessed by her–so much so that he failed to notice that she was played by two different actresses, representing different sides of her personality.”
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Recommended by Lamberakis, another Ingmar Bergman film. A young woman, Karin, has recently returned to the family island after spending some time in a mental hospital. On the island with her is her lonely brother and kind, but increasingly desperate husband (Max von Sydow). They are joined by Karin’s father (Gunnar Björnstrand), who is a world-traveling author who is estranged from his children. The film depicts how Karin’s grip on reality slowly slips away and how the bonds between the family members change as a result.
What the Bleep Do We Know? (2004)
An independent little sleeper, this film turned out to be one of the most interesting of 2004. It’s different, but if you can see it through, it will reward you. Recommended by the Jungian coterie I visited in December 2007.
The Wings of Desire (1987)
An angel tired of overseeing human activity becomes mortal and falls in love with a mortal; this is the real City of Angels film. Originally in German and set in Berlin before the wall fell, some viewers say it is one of the best films of all time. Directed by Wim Winders, the film has been nominated for and won numerous awards, including the Cannes Film Festival choice for Best Director. Recommended by Lee of Lee’s River.
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998)
Recommended to me by the Jungian coterie I visited in December 2007, this film is funny, quirky, and very much about the persona. In East L.A., con-man Gomez convinces four strangers to pool their money to buy a luminescent vanilla ice-cream-colored suit he has fallen in love with. He intends to split for El Paso, well-dressed. The first night, each gets the suit for an hour, and each is transformed: Dominguez with his guitar and voice charms women who dance in a parade through the plaza; Martinez’s shine gets his lovely neighbor’s attention; street poet Villanazul captures a crowd with his political and economic vision for the east side. The suit makes Gomez a better man, so he may not bolt; but then, what do they do with the last partner, the filthy ¡Vamanos!, whose juicy, taco-eating, wine-drinking habits could ruin the suit?