Weekly DVD/Video Picks

The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C. S. Lewis (2004)

Freud and C.S. Lewis were both haunted all their lives by a deep yearning that Freud called sehnsucht and Lewis called joy.

Freud saw in human desire the basis for projection and illusion, but Lewis argued that, like other innate human desires, this longing must have a real object — if not in this life, then in some other. The Question of God is based on Armand Nicholi's Harvard Medical School course comparing and contrasting Freud's and Lewis's views of religion (Nicholi also has a book on the same subject).

The PBS documentary blends biographical surveys of the men's intellectual journeys, panel discussions of believers and unbelievers, expert interviews (watch for Peter Kreeft) and dramatic readings with actors portraying the two thinkers. Even at four hours, The Question of God only scratches the surface of Nicholi's book. The biographical sketches offer a fine introduction to the philosophical pilgrimages of these two men, but the panel discussions are a mixed bag, with too much vague spiritual gas hardly representative of either man.

Taken as a whole, though, The Question of God offers thought-provoking fodder for conversation and debate. Available at ShopPBS.com or from online booksellers.

Content advisory: Frank exploration of belief and unbelief. Mature viewing.

The Sacrifice (1986)

The Sacrifice is a plea to mankind from Andrei Tarkovsky, cinematic poet laureate of the Russian soul. He's asking if we can abandon our self-destructive course and redis-cover our capacity for self-sacrifice. The film's theme is complicated by the joining of two originally separate story ideas, one involving a holocaust offered in satisfaction of a vow to God, the other borrowed from a pagan fertility-cult ritual. What does this juxtaposition of images mean?

One writer has suggested that Tarkovsky offers contradictory supernatural elements to deflect attention from supernatural particulars and emphasize the protagonist's self-sacrifice.

Perhaps the conflicting supernatural approaches suggest the depth and desperation of our longing for God. So grievous is the wound of original sin that, once we finally face up to it, we may try anything and everything— even conflicting therapies — to heal it. One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the “Religion” category.

Content advisory: A sequence involving nonmarital sex in a pagan-magical context (no nudity); murky philosophical musings. Mature viewing. Subtitles.

Andrei Rublev (1986)

In Eastern spirituality, icons are sometimes called “windows into heaven.” Even when they depict earthly events, their stylized approach is meant to evoke transcendent realities. Transcendence in art is both the subject and the method of Andrei Tarkovsky's haunting, challenging Andrei Rublev, which takes as its point of departure the life of Russia's greatest iconographer, the 15th-century painter Andrei Rublev.

Neither biography nor historiography, Rublev is a collection of loosely related episodes touching on crises of faith, brutality and chaos, and finally the response of the artist and believer. Black and white cinematography suggests the starkness of Andrei's moral crisis until the climactic full-color footage of Rublev's actual work. One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the “Religion” category.

Content advisory: Shadowy nudity in a depiction of a pagan fertility rite; some brutal violence involving people and animals, including battlefield violence; an extremely strong obscenity. Mature viewing. Subtitles.