Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly). A bizarre sci-fi film about time travel, hypnosis, cellar doors, and a large creepy bunny named Frank, Donnie Darko has amassed a cult following due to its ambitious narrative and breakout performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. A brooding and lonely teenager, Donnie (Gyllenhaal) attempts to navigate the tragedies of his life by following the leadings of his invisible friend, Frank, a man in a bunny costume from another time/dimension. Darko offered a dark but sympathetic look at the underground world of teenage depression, anxiety, existential longing, and brokenness.
It Follows (2015, David Robert Mitchell). A creepy and original horror film, the “it” of It Follows is, at once, the consequences from our sexual actions, the lingering wounds of our past, and the impending certainty of death. What I appreciate about It Follows and filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s previous film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, is its portrayal of teenagers and youth culture in America. The adults and authorities don’t seem to be fully present in the film, and that’s certainly intentional. I think Mitchell’s films capture the systemic abandonment of youth by adults in our culture. Much like the abandoned and tottering Detroit homes, the era of the 1950s suburban nuclear family is crumbling and antiquated.
The Spectacular Now (2013, James Pondsolt). Sutter (Miles Teller) is a charismatic high school senior who has built the reputation for being the life of the party. He plays hard, works little, and drinks often. His lack of ambition for the future and desire to live for the moment are the embodiment of the teenage spirit, the “spectacular now” of the present. When he feels drawn to Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a quiet and intelligent girl with hopes for the future, he’s ultimately confronted with the vapidity of his lifestyle and the potential future (or lack thereof) it holds. Honest, contemplative, charming, and insightful, The Spectacular Now could be considered a version of Ecclesiastes set in the life of a suburban America teen.
What youth ministry films would you add? Share in the comments!