Because 2008 was a pretty lackluster year at the movies and because award season has kicked into high gear, I have been thinking about some of my favorite moments in film– more specifically, my favorite haunting moments. No, I’m not talking about haunting as in “scary,” but rather in the way that great Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor referenced the concept . Her perspective on the power of a story to haunt refers to a moment in a story that is at once completely true and yet surprising in the way it gives the audience a glimpse of insight into the human condition. In other words, it’s that scene in the movie that you can’t get out of your head days later because of the way it’s making you think and feel something new.
So here is the first half of my list of haunting moments in film. I’ll post some more as we get closer to the Oscars, but for now feel free to tell me about your choices in the comment box!
“Glory'”: The Whipping
Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of a wrongly accused soldier in the first black military regiment in the Civil War. It isn’t an easy scene to watch, but the gamut of emotions that both Washington and Matthew Broderick–who plays the regiment leader–express without saying a word create a porwoerful statement about preudice and misunderstandings.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”: The Step of Faith
This scene is the most lighthearted of my choices on the list, but Indiana’s fateful step into thin air only to find solid ground underneath his feet after all, is certainly the best visual of faith from a modern movie.
“The Mission”: The Cliffs
The twenty minutes before this scene are also completely riveting, but Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a slave trader trying to achieve forgiveness by carrying a heavy sack as he futilely attempts to climb up a steep cliff over and over again is my favorite movie portrait of our need for grace.
“The Verdict”:The Summation
This speech is one of the great pieces of movie writing of the last 25 years and Paul Newman as a down and out attorney who has no reason to believe he will win his case gives the speech understated power, creating an anthem for justice that will long be remembered.
“To Kill A Mockingbird’: The Interrogation of Mayella
Yes, most people would point to Atticus Finch’s exit from the courtroom after losing the trial as the movie’s most memorable moment, but as haunting moments go, it’s Atticus’s gentle yet sharp questioning of Mayella Ewell that uncovers the truth that is all the more heartbreaking because we know it will not change the verdict for poor Tom Robinson<.