Seven Great Humanist Films

Did you enjoy the last issue’s Humanist Anthems for your iPod Playlist? Thanks to you HNN readers for suggesting other songs to add to this growing list of humanist-themed music. In this week’s issue, we tackle movies—which films best capture our humanist hearts? We narrow the list down to seven great humanist movies that address themes such as love, compassion, intellect, and religion.

1. Shawshank Redemption: Based on a short story by Stephen King, Shawshank Redemption tells the tale of Andy Dufresne, a successful young banker imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit. As Andy comes to terms with prison life while serving under and the piously criminal Warden Norton­­­, he discovers an inner strength of greater magnitude than Shawshank’s concrete walls.

“Remember Red, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”

2. The Crucible: The adaptation of Arthur Miller’s famous McCarthy-era play of the same title recounts a small town’s journey into the Salem witch trials, where religion, power, and coercion swell into a frenzied and tragic fever pitch.

“I am but God’s finger, John. If he would condemn Elizabeth, she will be condemned.”

3. Inherit the Wind: Written in response to the McCarthy hearings, Inherit the Wind in based on the court transcript of 1925’s famous “Scope monkey trials.” A teacher espousing Darwin’s theory of evolution is prosecuted by a fundamentalist politician and defended by a passionate lawyer before the wide eyes of a courtroom.

“In a child’s power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “amens” and “holy holies” and “hosannas.” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters.

4. Jesus Camp: This harrowing documentary explores the inner workings of an Evangelical Christian day camp in the Midwest. The staff, the ministers, the parents, and their children are shadowed by a film crew as the youth-oriented Evangelical machine is revealed.

“I can go into a playground of kids that don’t know anything about Christianity, lead them to the Lord in a matter of, just no time at all, and just moments later they can be seeing visions and hearing the voice of God, because they’re so open. They are so usable in Christianity.”

5. Waking Life: This animated film follows a young man as he wanders from subconscious state to subconscious state, debating the greatest questions of life with the philosophical and peculiar characters he meets along the way.

“Resistance is not futile, we’re gonna win this thing, humankind is too good, we’re not a bunch of under-achievers! We’re gonna stand up, and we’re gonna be human beings. We’re going to get fired up about the real things, the things that matter! Creativity, and the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit.”

6. The Invention of Lying:  An original comedy starring The Office’s Ricky Gervais (also an atheist), the film spoofs religion, fame, and the lies we tell each other—and ourselves—to  make it through the day.

“Today I stumbled upon something that no man has ever stumbled upon before. They’ll write about me in history books for generations to come. And yet, moments ago, it was unfathomable not only to myself but to mankind as a whole. It’s hard to describe but it was as easy as…how do I explain this? I said something that wasn’t!”

7. Annie Hall: Woody Allen, one of the country’s most famous skeptics, recalls his most recent failed relationship, interwoven with comical debate and intellectual rumination.

“I was thrown out of N.Y.U. my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

What are your favorite humanist movies? Think we missed a great movie on our list? Add your comments below!