Let’s face it – adversity will be faced by us all at some point. Many times through our lives, unfortunately. One of the many powers of film is that it can sometimes help us deal with such misfortune. Watching the story of someone facing the odds and overcoming all obstacles thrown at them, be they physical or emotional, can give us strength and hope. Film can be an outstanding source of inspiration in this aspect. Here are some excellent examples of cinematic trials and tribulations (all rated PG-13 or G) which highlight the triumph of the human spirit and the unbreakable resolution spawned when catastrophe befalls us.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008, Mark Herman)
When young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), only one thing can come between their friendship – hundreds of feet of electrified fence. See, Bruno’s father is an SS Commandant and Shmuel is Jewish. What follows is an extremely powerful, gripping, and emotionally devastating story as these innocent children are introduced to the true horrors of the world during one of the darkest periods of history. Tough to watch at times, but worth sticking through. May be a bit too heavy a subject to tackle for youngsters, though not quite as intense as, say, Schindler’s List or The Pianist. However, this might be an appropriate inauguration into the very delicate subject of the Holocaust for pre-teens. Based on the novel by John Boyne.
Empire of the Sun (1987, Steven Spielberg)
From the autobiographical novel by J.G. Ballard comes another film (one of my personal favorites) set during the days of World War II. This time about a young English boy (played by Christian Bale, in an incredible performance in one of his earliest roles) who is separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. Lost, confused, scared, with almost no means, and against almost insurmountable odds, he somehow manages to survive only on his wit and inextinguishable courage. May leave you spiritually drained by the end, but this is an amazing and extraordinary cinematic journey unlike any other. Amazingly directed and acted all-around.
The Indian in the Cupboard (1995, Frank Oz)
Much lighter fare than the first two recommendations, based on the book by Lynne Reid Banks, with a script by Melissa Mathison (The Black Stallion, E.T.) - this story centers on a young boy named Omri (Hal Scardino) who’s given an old wooden cupboard for his birthday, which he later discovers has the ability to bring his toys to life. Most notably the titular Native American, whom he soon realizes is much more than just a toy, as he begins teaching him many valuable lessons about life. A moving and magical little film about growing up which may not quite measure up to the book (how many movie adaptations do?), but it’s still a charming tale told with wonder and imagination.
A Little Princess (1995, Alfonso Cuarón)
Absolutely beautifully-filmed adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett book (previously adapted in 1939 starring Shirley Temple), directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Young Sara (Liesel Matthews) is forced to relocate to a boarding school in New York City during the days of World War I. The school is run by an extremely stern headmistress who seems intent on breaking Sara’s spirit and stifling her creativity and imagination. But Sara’s challenges are only beginning. A sweet, wonderful, gorgeous-looking film with an important message. Almost imperative viewing for young girls.
The Secret of Kells (2009, Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey)
Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) voices Brendan, a young boy whose medieval village, Kells, is constantly under attack by Vikings. After a mysterious illuminator named Aidan arrives, a new adventure presents itself to Brendan as he sets out to find and retrieve all the special materials required to to finish an ancient (though incomplete) book which just might have the power to save the village of Kells. Sadly overlooked and under-appreciated animated wonder co-directed by Tomm Moore (whose Song of the Sea also comes highly recommended), with fantastic animation (similar in style to Richard William’s ill-fated The Thief and the Cobbler) and astonishingly ingenious storytelling. A feast for the eyes and the imagination.
Author James Ferace lives in Gales Ferry.
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