Inspired in part by the Pope’s Year of Mercy, the Arts & Faith film-writers group chose mercy as this year’s theme. A biography of St Vincent de Paul topped the list comprising films from Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, Russia, Europe and the US.
- Stephen Greydanus/Crux
Perhaps the most important thing a movie can do,” the film critic Roger Ebert once wrote, is to “take us outside our personal box of time and space, and invite us to empathise with those of other times, places, races, creeds, classes, and prospects.”
“I believe,” he added, that “empathy is the most essential quality of civilisation.”
Empathy is, indeed, foundational not only to civilisation, but to any sort of community or society, to any knowledge of others, and even - according to St Edith Stein, whose doctoral dissertation was on empathy - to true knowledge of oneself.
Empathy is not identical to mercy, but the two are fundamentally linked (a reality noted more than once by Pope Francis during this Jubilee Year of Mercy).
If movies can invite us to empathy, they can also invite us to mercy. Of course some movies do the opposite, just as some movies, far from promoting empathy, reinforce tribalisms and prejudices of all kinds. Among the most enduring Hollywood genres, after all, is the revenge story, which is the antithesis of mercy.
Which brings me to the newly released Arts & Faith Top 25 Films on Mercy.
Arts & Faith is billed as “a perpetually unfolding conversation that began in 1999, where anyone can participate for free.” The forum is sponsored by Image journal, which is based at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian university affiliated with the Free Methodist Church.
While Arts & Faith is not a Christian community per se - participants include sceptics and unbelievers as well as Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and others - Christian belief is an important part of its history and culture, and continues to shape the discussions hosted at A&F.
Photo: A scene from the 1947 film Monsieur Vincent, about the life of St Vincent De Paul, which won an Academy Award for best foreign language film, and was recently ranked the best film of all time on the theme of mercy.