Inspired by a recent development in my life--having a regular movie night at my house with a group of college guys--here is a list of the ten best films that have the theme of a father-son relationship. Perfect selection for next year's Father's Day.
10. Catch Me if You Can (2002): While mostly a story about the fantastic exploits of Frank Abagnale Jr., one must remember that he is a "junior" of the elder Abagnale, expertly portrayed by Christopher Walken. Most of Frank's illegal adventures stem from a desire for his father's approval, a motivation many of us have experienced.
9. Big Fish (2003): A man taking care of his estranged dying father begins to realize that his dad's tall tales are more than just myth--they're an expression of his identity, revealing deep love for his family. Filled with the right balance between imagination and reality, this is one of Tim Burton's most touching film.
8. Dear Zachary (2008): Like an emotional punch to the gut, this documentary is about the death of filmmaker Kurt Kuenne's close friend, Andrew Bagby. Bagby's accused murderer is his crazy ex-girlfriend, who reveals after Bagby's death that she is pregnant with his child. A celebration of the impact a single life can have on multitudes, as well as an angry call for justice. It's an emotional rollercoaster, but one well worth your time.
7. Finding Nemo (2003): An overprotective father (who also happens to be a clownfish), Marlin must undergo an epic adventure to save his son Nemo from becoming the next victim to an Australian dentist's daughter. One of my favorite Pixar films, the deep love of a father for his child transcends the animated underwater context to capture our hearts.
6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989): After the first two incredible Indiana Jones films, we get to meet the father who inspired Indy's adventures in archeology. And he's Sean Connery, no less! Harrison Ford and Connery's onscreen chemistry as the adventurous Jones duo is exemplary. Gotta love how he calls Indy "junior" throughout the film.
5. The Lion King (1994): When Mufasa returns from beyond the grave to speak words of hope to his guilt-ridden son, his words are filled with truth of a Biblical nature: "Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king." Even as an animated lion, Mufasa reveals a picture of a good father--strong but accessible, a leader willing to sacrifice all for his family.
4. The Road (2009): A man and a boy struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. They walk the road towards the coast, unsure of their fate but certain of their love for each other. The Road reveals how the flame of hope prevails in the darkest situations through the deep affection a father has for a son. One of my personal favorite films that stems from Cormac McCarthy's incredible novel.
3. The Son (2002): Olivier is a high school carpentry teacher with a secret. He's been following a troubled new apprentice like a moth to a flame. The audience is thrust into Oliver's life without any context or clarity. We don't know why he's acting the way he is, but we can be sure that the mystery will be revealed by the end. The Son moves along at a slow and contemplative pace, leading up to an emotional climax that will cause one to rethink all notions of what fatherhood truly means.
2. The Bicycle Thieves (1948): Antonio Ricci is a poor young father struggling to make a living in post-war Rome. He finds a job putting up posters around town, only to have his bicycle stolen by a brash thief. The rest of the film follows Antonio and his young son as they attempt to track down the bicycle. An Italian classic with some deep spiritual and moral insights.
1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): Nothing captures father-son relationships like a light saber duel ending with a hand getting cut off. Since this film is such a classic, I think we've lost how powerful of a moment it truly is for Luke to hear Vadar's paternal confession. To have one's own father whom you thought was dead turn out to be your mortal enemy is a Shakespearian-level emotional and moral dilemma. (Yeah, I just compared a Star Wars film to Shakespeare.) It would raise so many identity questions: Who am I if I am this man's son? Am I capable of becoming my father? If a father is a child's picture of deity, what does this say about God?
Honorable Mentions: The Barbarian Invasions, Life is Beautiful, The Godfather, Terminator 2
What's your favorite father/son film?