Five Quiet Movies that Speak Spiritual Volumes

Josh Larsen

For many North American Christians of an evangelical persuasion, silence isn’t exactly golden.

Consider this, from Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Solitude and Silence: “I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed, and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today. It is much easier to talk about it and read about it than to actually become quiet. We are a very busy, wordy, and heady faith tradition.”

If that sounds familiar—and it certainly does to me—one way to encourage a posture of spiritual stillness is to watch movies that model something similar. I’ve listed five below. Each, in its own way, offers what Haley Barton claims we are starved for: “. . . quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.”

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Judy Blume’s quintessential coming-of-age book received the big-screen treatment in 2023 from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. In dramatizing the earnest prayer life of an 11-year-old girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) who is dealing with a family move, the onset of puberty, and the role of religion in her life, the movie recognizes an uncomfortable truth: sometimes God seems distant. Yet that may be because, like Margaret, we’re expecting God to speak in a booming baritone, rather than the “still, small voice” that came to Elijah on the mountaintop. When Margaret flees a boisterous family debate about religion to work out her own thoughts over a pad of paper in her room—the peaceful dark broken only by the soft glow of her desk lamp—Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. inspires us to seek serenity, making space for God to speak in ways we might not expect.


Bambi is most remembered for its loudest moment: the gunshot that kills Bambi’s mother. Yet surrounding that tragedy (perhaps the ur-death of Disney’s animated films) are many scenes of pastoral tranquility. I think especially of the sequence in which Bambi, resting with his mother among some brambles, notices a drop of rain splash onto a nearby leaf. More drops fall, matched with light plinks on the soundtrack, until a trickling stream gathers, which the camera follows with a musical lilt. True, a noisy storm arrives, causing Bambi to shudder, but eventually it subsides and the sun begins to leak through the dissipating clouds. Stillness descends on the woods, leaving Bambi and his mother in hushed contemplation. By this point, Bambi has become more than an animated children’s movie. It’s an echo of this encouragement from Christian mystic Julian of Norwich: “All will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well.”


A meditative movie poem from director Kogonada (After Yang), Columbus follows a pair of strangers (Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho) who meet while wandering among the architectural wonders of Columbus, Ind., a relatively small city that is nevertheless a mecca for modernist design. Here’s Joel Mayward, writing about the film for Think Christian: “Columbus is inviting us to expand and deepen our interests, to take the time to truly look closer and examine the lines, colors, and spaces in our immediate context. If we would pause to ponder our environments, perhaps we might see them as sacred spaces, full of potential for encounters with each other and with the divine.” How rarely do we take such pauses in our harried, modern lives? How much richer would we be—relationally and spiritually—if we took care to behold the world and others in this way?

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

A feature-length film from 2021 based on a series of stop-motion shorts, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On centers on a talking seashell with one googly eye and, well, shoes. Made and offered with a gentle spirit, the movie feels like an oasis in a cultural landscape rife with strife. Some days we need a winsome little shell demonstrating how he rolls around the house inside a tennis ball. Every day we need a reminder of God’s quiet, ever-present grace in our fractious world, which is something I experience whenever I watch this movie’s final moments (spoiler ahead). As Marcel stands on a windowsill, with a soft breeze fluttering in and curtains gently floating about, he says that hearing the wind echo through his shell makes him feel like he’s a small but crucial part of the world’s beauty. Add Marcel the Shell with Shoes On to the biblical parables about the kingdom of God, in which great things come about through the humble and small.

The Straight Story

Director David Lynch, a master of dark and disturbing mysteries like Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, offered something different in 1991 with The Straight Story, a based-on-fact drama about an elderly Iowa man (Richard Farnsworth) who drives a riding lawn mower 240 miles to visit his ailing, estranged brother in Wisconsin. Once Alvin embarks on his journey, depicted by Lynch with recurring images of long country roads and the slow spinning of the mower’s 5-mph wheels, he assumes a monk-like routine of riding and resting. Yet Alvin is no hermit. Along the way he makes room for others, such as the runaway teenager who shares his fire one night.

Like Columbus, The Straight Story instructs us in the spiritual value of quiet observation and meditation. In his book Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton shares words that could apply to Alvin: “For the monk searches not only his own heart: he plunges deep into the heart of that world of which he remains a part although he seems to have ‘left’ it. In reality the monk abandons the world only in order to listen more intently to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from its inner depth.” Following in the path of Alvin’s slowly rolling lawnmower, may we too let our quiet pauses inward inspire us to move outward—refreshed and ready to better serve God and the world.


At Think Christian, we encourage careful cultural discernment. We recognize and respect that many Christians choose not to engage with pop culture that contains particular content, such as abuse, sex, violence, alcohol or drug use, or that employs the use of coarse language. To that end, we suggest visiting Common Sense Media for detailed information regarding the content of the particular pieces of pop culture discussed in this article.

Topics: Movies