Origin Story

Hi, I’m Jake. I’m a 28 year-old Catholic and I love my faith. I also love movies. Do you mind if I recommend some movies for you to watch? Oh yeah, this may affect my recommendations: I’m a filmmaker. I’m guessing right now you probably would like some exposition, or rather an origin story.

One day, I was out playing hide and seek with my neighborhood friend around my parents’ huge estate and I suddenly fell down a well. It took me a second, but I realized I was surrounded by a plethora of bats. I was scared at first… Wait… Whoops, wrong origin story.

Jake Kelly

While in High School, I was doing martial arts and a friend of mine, a fellow martial arts student, wanted to film a monthly show instructing people in our community on martial arts. At that time, I just liked movies. I thought they were cool and just a lot of fun. But this was a turning point for me: this time in my life, turning on a camera to tell a story became something interesting and cool.

I ended up spending three of my years in high school working in the TV Production department producing shows and working with cameras. It was so much fun that I decided to go to college for it. I first went to the University of Memphis to do this, but after two years I decided that I wanted a more thorough education and planned to transfer to another college. On my 20th birthday, a few months before I decided to become Catholic, I was given a book about the top 21 Catholic Colleges in the U.S. That’s when I first learned about John Paul the Great Catholic University in California, the first Catholic film school. Long story short, I decided to get my degree at JP Catholic. I was able to grow greatly in my Catholic faith as well as my experience and knowledge in filmmaking.

Over the past twelve years, from high school until now, I’ve learned a ton about media, film, and storytelling. I’ve worked with telling stories in different mediums: commercials, documentaries, short stories, TV pilots, etc. I’ve seen the work that goes into film projects. I know how much my fellow artists labor over their stories and their themes and their camera angles. And a whole lot more.

My perspective on movies has changed quite a bit after studying them over the years. In this blog post, I want to recommend some movies to you as a Catholic filmmaker. First, I need to underline the fact that this list of movies is for adults. Most of the films are either PG-13 or R, meaning that most have adult content. Unlike some other lists, I don’t plan on talking about the top ten films that are highly Catholic (or Christian) as well as beautifully made, like The Passion of the Christ, The Ten Commandments, I Confess, etc. I actually believe that these are great films in and of themselves. And I believe that all movies made by Christians should be. They need to have great stories with great production quality and ask great questions about life. Yet, in this post, I just want to talk about some of my favorite films, ten to be exact, and why I think you may need to put them in your Netflix queue, order them on Amazon, or rent them at your local library.

“Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world,” said St. John Paul II in his letter to artists all over the world in 1999. “It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.” As a Catholic, I can and do love movies. Other than just enjoying great stories, watching beautiful moving pictures, being captivated by enchanting music, or being amazed by insane visual effects, movies have the ability to give us so much more. They are stories that give us insight into our human experience. They can motivate us and shape us. They can cause us to question our lives and our actions, however monotonous they can seem at times. They can even allow us to contemplate our faith, “things that are not seen but hoped for” (HEB 11:1). I hope to persuade you that the movies listed below can help you get there. They are not impeccable films but they do deliver something great for us. Ultimately, I believe they have a lot to give us in the areas of truth, beauty, and goodness.

This is a four-part series. With this introduction, I will talk about two movies. Next post, I will talk about three more. Then, three more after that. I will conclude, the fourth week, by listing the final two of the ten films and give a wrap-up for the series.

Just a quick note: IMDb.com has content information on most films. If you are worried about certain content, check for the movie on their webpage. Under the “Storyline” category, there is a “Parents Guide”. Click on “view content advisory”.

Let’s begin…


1. The Shawshank Redemption

“Remember Red: hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Shawshank Redemption 1Already a well-known film and at the top of many people’s favorite’s list (according to IMDb), The Shawshank Redemption is about an accountant who is wrongfully accused of killing his wife and sent to prison for a life-time sentence. Seen as just another new prisoner to everyone at Shawshank, Andy Dufresne slowly starts to alter everything and everyone at Shawshank: from doing taxes for the guards, to managing to win beer for his fellow inmates, to even building a library in the prison. However, when his chance to be proven innocent comes around, the prison administration may have other plans for him.

Other than just being a really great story, there are many things that I love about The Shawshank Redemption. Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is a very lovable character that continues to surprise people by his wisdom, generosity, and determination. Red, a fellow inmate played by Morgan Freeman, is narrating the story and he continues to put everything that is happening in these colorful and poetic phrases that make us contemplate each moment in great detail. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Andy first tries to help a prison guard with his advice and is almost killed for speaking up. The guard was overheard saying that he was to inherit $35,000 from a dead relative and was worried about losing a good percentage of it to the government. After the guard agrees to Andy’s help, the bold prisoner asks, as payment, that his fellow inmates who are tarring the roof of a warehouse with him receive a few rounds of beer. Early the next morning with beer in hand Red describes the event in detail: “We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation.”

The Shawshank Redemption can be a tough movie to watch at times. Since this movie takes place in a prison, that’s what we hear and see; we are in prison with men who have killed, stolen, and done many other greatly immoral and disgraceful things. And some of those men continue to further lose their dignity while in prison. This movie has that type of content, so it’s not for everyone. However, The Shawshank Redemption causes me to think about hope, friendship, and beauty in a new and fresh perspective. I like how Andy Dufresne seems to be sent to Shawshank as some type of prophet to reawaken hope in the inmates who deeply question their ability to live again after their time in prison. Red even mentions that hope is a “dangerous” thing for an inmate to believe in. Andy also awakens their hearts and minds to beauty.

My favorite scene is probably when Andy, after getting approval to build a library and receiving a donation of books and other materials, finds a record of an old opera recording. He puts the music in a record player. As he hears it for the first time, he just sits in awe of the beauty that he hears. Suddenly, he notices that the guard watching him is away and the intercom for the prison is nearby. He then locks the doors surrounding him. He turns on the intercom and puts the microphone next to the record speaker. The scene cuts to a field full of prisoners working and they suddenly all stop, turn their heads, and just listen. It’s like seeing someone hear music for the first time. They didn’t know it existed or how someone could even create something so beautiful. Andy just sits back in a chair, puts his feet on top of the desk, and enjoys the moment. He even turns the volume up on the record player when he his threatened by the warden from behind one of the locked doors.

“In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption” (Letter to Artists). The Shawshank Redemption is a very fitting title for this movie. Andy is not just trying to find redemption for himself. Like Jesus, he’s fighting for the redemption of his new friends at Shawshank.

2. Saving Mr. Banks

“I know what he’s going to do to her. She’ll be cavorting, and twinkling, careening towards a happy ending like a kamikaze.”

Saving Mr. BanksIn the 1960s, Walt Disney was finally able to move forward with turning the kid’s book classic “Mary Poppins” into a feature-length film. For 20 years he was stuck in a feud trying to get the rights to the story from the author of the book, Ms. P.L. Travers. In Saving Mr. Banks, you start with Mr. Disney finally getting Travers to visit him in California so that she can see the script and be involved in the film, thereby getting her approval of Disney’s interpretation of the book. You will soon learn the story behind Mary Poppins and why the author created her. She is more than just a fun nanny that shows up suddenly to deliver children from boredom at home.

Saving Mr. Banks discloses the great story behind an old Disney classic that many people have seen but probably don’t know the history behind. It is a very fun movie that delivers great laughs while at the same time wading through the difficult history of the author’s past. I think you will find yourself enchanted by the story, laughing at the stubborn and strange P.L. Travers, grieving with her as she remembers her family past, and finally, hopefully, understanding why she didn’t want to give up the rights to her story in the first place. In time, you’ll learn that “Mary Poppins is family,” as Ms. Travers likes to say.

One of my favorite parts of the film, more like reoccurring parts, is that the chauffeur for Ms. Travers, Ralph, keeps insisting that there is a connection between her being in Los Angeles and there being sunny weather in Los Angeles at the same time. As Travers has a very critical and no non-sense personality at this point in the film, she always scoffs at this correlation. Even though he is just trying to say something nice about her, she can never amuse this idea of his. Like with Ralph, Travers doesn’t really warm-up to other people who are working on Disney’s adaptation and their creativity in helping tell the story. After hearing that the status of the weather is important to Ralph, she drops her guard and becomes vulnerable to him. Although the sunny weather is not really important to her, it means a lot to Ralph and his daughter. It helps them. I enjoy the altercations between Travers and Ralph because, even though he doesn’t say a lot, he kind of slowly peels back the layers of Ms. Travers. Her relationship with Ralph ultimately helps her to open up to other people behind Disney’s adaptation.

“This world…in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration!” (Letter to Artists). I know you’ll enjoy Saving Mr. Banks. And when you are finished, be ready, you’re going to want to watch Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.

Click HERE for Part Two!