During Lent we usually cut back on 'screen time', which means no computer (play) time for the boys during the week and no DVDs unless they are religious.
Over the years we've collected a nice library of religiously-themed movies which our family enjoys watching at this time year. Some are undoubtedly better than others, but we have some variety and even the more cheesy Hollywood productions can evoke thought and some good conversation.
Among those we've watched already this Lent are Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and The Scarlet and the Black.
Jesus of Nazareth is usually the first one we go to soon after Ash Wednesday. We've been watching it for years with the kids and they know it so well it is not uncommon to hear one of them humming one of the various themes in the musical score (usually it's Herod's Theme for whatever reason!) There are parts of this 6-hour film that we all feel are a little over-done, especially the scenes of the Blessed Virgin at the Nativity, as well as the treatment of her reaction at the foot of the Cross. But overall it is well-done. It is enjoyable to watch the multitude of big-name stars in their various rolls, and in keeping a respectful atmosphere for viewing, it is always an exercise in resisting temptation to not breathe in Darth Vader style when James Earl Jones makes his appearance as one of the three Wise Men.
The Passion of the Christ is usually our choice for the evening of Good Friday, and it might be again this year, but we have watched it once already. If Zeffirelli's Blessed Virgin is over-dramatic for our taste, Mel Gibson's is very much to our liking. She is portrayed beautifully throughout in such a way that the viewer knows that Our Lady believed and lived accordingly Simon's prophecy of her in the temple: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce..." Heart-wrenching.
Gregory Peck is very good as Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty in The Scarlet and the Black. This is an exciting adaptation of the true story of Msgr. O'Flaherty's work in the Catholic resistance to Naziism during the German occupation of Rome under Col. Herbert Kappler in WWII. A favorite of our boys, I'll not give away the ending, but it is worth watching.
Our latest movie that we are in the middle of watching is Becket, starring Peter O'Toole as King Henry II and Richard Burton as future martyr and saint, Thomas à Becket. This one is new to us this year and we are enjoying the story of the roguish Henry II and the increasingly more virtuous Becket. We all look forward to finishing it this evening. It is so important that as Catholics we know and commune with the saints and what an entertaining way to learn a little about them, even if just enough to do more serious reading of their lives later on. On a side note, it was most pleasing to this mom's ears to hear her sons make the responses in Latin during the scene in which the sacred liturgy is intoned by the newly consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.
Other religious film watching may include A Man for All Seasons with Paul Scofield as Thomas More. This will be fitting considering our youngest will take this saint's name at his Confirmation in May. We also have other perrennial favorites including Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Robe and the more recent For Greater Glory, about the Cristeros war in Mexico in the earlier part of the 20th century. I would also like to add to our collection The Song of Bernadette, about St. Bernadette of Lourdes.
Lent is an especially good time to turn off the electronics and screens, and we certainly don't watch every movie every year. Indeed we've spent, and plan to spend more screen-free evenings chatting together, playing board games and just enjoying each other's company. But on those nights when we do watch something, it's nice to have religious choices in our library.
I'm sure there are other good movie choices out there. If you have any good religious film recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the combox.
Our Lord grant you a Blessed Lent!