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Movies that will help you reflect on your own mortality

Watching the movie "Living" in a drive-in movie theater

BAZA Production | Shutterstock | "Living" film still courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Cecilia Pigg - published on 10/03/23

The month leading up to All Souls' Day is a good time to take stock of our lives. These movies can help us pause and reflect on where we are going.

“Make sure you have someone spell check your profile for you when you create it. And put a variety of different photos up. Not just a couple of head shots, but pictures of you fishing, smiling with the boys, and playing guitar.” My husband rolled his eyes as I walked him through how to make a CatholicMatch profile — just in case I die unexpectedly before he does!

The two of us make a good pair because we balance each other in many ways. For instance, I probably reflect on my own death a little too often, while he tries not to think about his own death much at all.

Our taste in movies is another place where our differences come out. In my husband’s eyes, I only enjoy depressing, gritty dramas. In my eyes, he only likes silly comedies or nonstop action movies. That means movie night is always a challenge.

When we find a movie that we can both happily watch all the way through, it’s a cause for celebration.

Thoughtful ‘Living’

That happened a few months ago when we checked out Living, starring Bill Nighy, from the library. My husband chose it, guessing that I would find it interesting. He expected to watch it purely out of love for me without enjoying it much. But, as it turned out, Living captured both of our attention the whole way through. And it gave us food for thought and discussion as to what we are doing with our lives, and how we are choosing to live.

Living tells the story of a successful businessman who is getting on in years. One day he discovers that he only has a short time left to live. It is based on the film Ikiru, directed by Akira Kurosawa (which is on my list to watch next), and was also inspired by Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich.

The businessman in Living struggles with how to live his last bit of life. Should he quit his job and just vacation his time away? He realizes how shallow his relationships are, and how much he is missing even at work because he has ignored or brushed aside his coworkers and underlings so often. The film made me consider what takes the most precedence in my day, and also at who I might be ignoring along the way.

Films to prep for All Souls’ Day

There are a few other movies that make me pause and reflect on where I’m going in life. You might find them a good watch over the course of this month as we approach All Souls’ Day.

For a more lighthearted classic, try It’s a Wonderful Life. A Man Called Otto tells the story of a cantankerous older gentleman whose life gains meaning upon the arrival of new next-door neighbors. It is a remake of the Swedish film A Man Called Ove, which is also worth checking out. Departures(Japan) explores the life of a cellist who loses his job and finds a new one as an undertaker. Life Is Beautiful (Italy) tells the story of a family trying to survive a concentration camp with courage and creativity.

There are even films you can watch with your kids that touch on the same issues, such as A Dog of Flanders, Up, Charlotte’s Web, and Black Beauty.

Reflecting without obsessing

Reflecting on our own death shouldn’t be something we obsess about or consider in an all-consuming way. But we shouldn’t ignore its eventual imminence either. How are we living right now? Are there things about ourselves that we should work on, or relationships we should repair now, while we have the time?

As All Souls’ Day draws closer, I will take a walk in a nearby cemetery with my kids. We will pray for those buried there. I’ll also have a movie night featuring one of these movies, taking a moment to reflect on where I am and where I’m going.

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