It’s often the first website I check in the morning. It’s often the last one I look at before I cut the cord for the night.

Letterboxd — a flourishing online community of casual movie fans, professional film critics, and cinephiles of all stripes — has become my favorite place to go for cinema-specific insights, surprises, challenges, and laughs.

I’ve discovered so many great films there in the last decade, and I’ve made a lot of new friends too. I’m going to start sharing some of my favorites from time to time here, and I’ll kick it off with one of my favorite Letterboxd voices.

Introducing… Glen Grunau!

I’ve been impressed with Glen Grunau‘s attention to — and appreciation of — poetic and profound films, films that ask viewers to rise to a challenge in order to come away with insights instead of just feelings.

Grunau is, in his own words, “a recent semi-retired mental health therapist” who is “appreciating the extra space in his life to watch movies.” He tells me he has come to find that close attention to movies can become a “spiritual practice” — an idea I wholeheartedly embrace. 

And now he has worked with friends from an Abbotsford community called SoulStream to compose a list of 100+ Contemplative Movies.

The SoulStream community has a mission “to nurture contemplative experience with Christ leading to inner freedom and loving service.”

It’s a remarkable, dynamic list full of films that I love and others I look forward to discovering.

What is a “contemplative film”?

Grunau gives us a variety of ways to explore that question. He finds it “important to acknowledge here that no matter how we may define a contemplative film, it is ultimately the posture of the viewer that will result in a contemplative movie encounter. Yet it also seems that there are some films that more readily support a contemplative viewing experience than others.”

He offers detailed descriptions of four criteria from Mubi: plotlessness, wordlessness, slowness, and alienation.

Uh-oh. Not the first four words that spring to your mind when you’re scrolling for something to watch?

Look closer. Grunau’s reflections here strike me as a path to finding wisdom through art. These are the kinds of challenges that will distinguish rich, rewarding experiences at the movies from the comforts of the easy and familiar.

He concludes with this: “We invite you into a relationship with contemplative cinema. Try out some of these films. Alone or with others. And if you happen to experience one of these films in a particularly transformative way, reach out and tell someone.”

You can see for yourself why I enjoy Grunau’s notes on movies at Letterboxd by reading this perspective (republished with Grunau’s permission) on Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old that he posted on November 11.

Grunau on They Shall Not Grow Old:

What these oral historians were able to capture from WWI veterans to accompany the actual video footage of this great war was impressive. The full range of opinions and recollections of this war were represented.

Some waxed eloquent as they nostalgically recalled the bravado and the glory of enlisting at age 15 and 16 and then recalling “quiet” days on the battlefield as if they were enjoying a mere campout with their buddies.

Others coloured their memories with black humour of dead and wounded bodies, one recalling putting a pipe in the mouth of a wounded German soldier with internal organs hanging out, before shooting him dead.

But in the final analysis, the general consensus was that there seemed to be no clear benefit to a futile war in which 1 million British Empire soldiers had been killed.

One important element that seemed mostly missing from this encapsulation of war was the immense toll of mental trauma that must surely have been suffered by the hundreds of thousands of survivors on both sides of this war. Perhaps a representation of an era when men needed to show a brave face rather than confess any emotional vulnerability.

This morning as we watched the Canada Remembrance Day services in Ottawa, I was touched by the army chaplain as he called all of us to remember those soldiers who had lost all hope and could not find a way through their despair, ultimately taking their own lives. This is what war does to men.

On our national news this evening, veteran Dan Taylor was interviewed. His father fought in WWII and his grandfather was killed in WWI. When asked what he most remembered on this national memorial day, this was his tearful response:

The tears. Thousands of tears. In my lifetime, standing with the troops and seeing civilians crying, soldiers crying, just like I’m doing. It’s too emotional! 

Perhaps if we fully face into the dehumanizing, emotionally devastating impact of war on those whom our shortsighted and oh so “bold” and “courageous” politicians send off to die on the battlefields, we might just do a little more caring . . . and possibly avoid such devastating wars in the future.

Today I honour my Uncle Henry, a Canadian soldier who was killed on the battlefield in WWII, tragically as a victim of “friendly” fire.