December 3, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Movies For and About Hard Times

I hesitate to open movies as a topic for discussion when a chunk of my audience is of the generation that thinks Pineapple Express is great cinema, but here’s the question.

What are some films “For and About Hard Times” that the IM audience should check out?

Economic hardship has been a theme for a lot of good stories, books, films and music. Just looking at our Netflix ques for now, what movies have depictions of or lessons about hard economic times?

I especially would like to hear about older movies with America’s Great Depression as the backdrop. Older movies are real treasures, and a lot of us just don’t know about them.

(Facing the Giants does not qualify. Thank you.)


  1. I think a great movie that gets very little recognition is “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”

    It’s about a methodist circuit preacher in North GA circa turn of the century. I just think it’s great.

    Anybody else like it?

  2. Christopher Lake says


    I think I understand where you are coming from, but there is a problem in evangelical Christianity that is the exact opposite of “dwelling on what is wrong.” Far too many Christians seem to want to just smile all the time and not even *think* about the fact that we do live in a fallen world.

    Life in a fallen world often does have pain, and there is a middle ground between not even facing that pain and then unhealthily dwelling on it. As I understand it, Christianity calls us to live in that “middle ground” in this life. Watching movies which deal with hard times is not necessarily dwelling on darkness and pain.

  3. I’m not a big Russell Crowe fan, but I have to second Cinderella Man.

    Also, Johnny Dangerously.

  4. Seabiscuit is a depression era story of a horse who had broken his leg, the owner, and the one-eyed jockey who were losers on their own, but as a team soared to victory.
    I also enjoyed Sounder.

  5. “Of Mice and Men” _ the ’39 version
    “To Kill a Mockingbird” – best movie all time any theme
    “Grapes of Wrath”

  6. Ky boy but not now says

    Geoff d
    “The Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood opened up with a scene of great poverty with Clint wallowing in the mud chasing pigs and his children living in destitute conditions.”

    Actually I thought it showed him as someone who had settled down. For the times he wasn’t bad off at all. A house, barn(?), livestock, land, money for a headstone, a horse (they cost real money back then), etc…

    Wallowing in the mud chasing pigs is what you got to do if you raised pigs. It just came with the territory.

  7. I’ll stand behind Cinderella Man, and I’d also throw out On The Waterfront with Marlon Brando. Cry, the Beloved Country was an alright movie, but a better book. And speaking of books, I’d also recommend reading What is the What by Dave Eggers.

  8. It’s been said twice at least here, but “Places In the Heart” and the amazing closing scene is all rooted right in the heart of Hard Times, USA; bookending that would be “The Trip To Bountiful.” Even teenagers start to get un-restless and attentive after the first half hour, Geraldine Page is that compelling as Carrie.

    And Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels,” where the root gag for “O Brother Where Art Thou” comes from — kind of a meta approach, but the realization at the end of the film is as heartfelt as Sturges could manage, and he was right up there with Capra. (I’m assuming the entire Capraiad for the purposes of this discussion, not just “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)

    My big puzzlement is whether or not “Miracle at Morgan’s Creek” applies . . . maybe, maybe not. And if you want to go full on rural, Ozark style, there’s “The Shepherd of the Hills,” which even gives you a touch of The Duke. Which reminds me, in closing, that “The Quiet Man” is not only a March 17 staple, but has much to say about pride in poverty and facing your inner demons. For church purposes, you’d probably get a warning on domestic violence/abuse grounds for affirming the movie which contains the line “Here’s a stick for which to beat the lovely lady,” although Sean does toss the branch aside unused very shortly after receiving it.

  9. Oh, sorry, and this one — “My Man Godfrey.” Again, screwball comedy that says more truth about poverty and striving and hope than any ABC documentary. Heart of the Great Depression, lots of the folk who don’t/didn’t/aren’t getting it (telling you part of how we got here in this mess, Mr. Madoff/Stanford/Thain, who would wander through the party at the opening just fine, without even a visit to the costuming department needed), and a taste of what a Hooverville might have been like and how (and how not) to reach out into one of ’em today.

  10. How Green was my Valley.

  11. These all had the Great Depression as the backdrop and are good movies:

    They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
    The Color Purple
    The Purple Rose of Cairo

  12. Empire of the Sun, directed by Stephen Spielberg. It’s at the same time heartbreaking and heroic, seeing a young Christian Bale live through the experience of being in a Japanese internment camp.

  13. Brassed Off. Very good – hard times in an English Cola mining time in the late 70’s during the big coal strike.

  14. To End All Wars
    Sutherland is an American, as are others in the film and they are going through some very difficult times in a Japanese Prisoner of war camp during WWII.

    Great Movie. Powerful Ending, and that is an understatement.

  15. Just watched “The Great Debaters” and I think it qualifies.

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says


    I think I understand where you are coming from, but there is a problem in evangelical Christianity that is the exact opposite of “dwelling on what is wrong.” Far too many Christians seem to want to just smile all the time and not even *think* about the fact that we do live in a fallen world. — Christopher Lake

    Somehow I don’t think that was what Larry Norman had in mind when he ended “Only Visiting This Planet” with “This World is Not My Home; I’m Just Passin’ Thru…”

    Nothing feels so phony as Shiny Happy Christians when everything hits the fan. All they end up projecting is smug indifference when your starving and/or hurting.

    Now for Depresson movies, anybody here seen the opening scenes (and constant undercurrent) of Pter Jackson’s version of King Kong?

  17. “The Godfather II”‘s historical sequences tell a good story about the rise of a young mafia don’s son from refugee to kingpin.

    “The Apostle” shows how a preacher on the run from killing his wife’s lover (who happens to be their church’s youth pastor) survives with nothing but what he can carry. He lives in a tent in the yard of a handicapped man, fixes cars, and works as a short-order cook while pastoring, evangelizing, and hosting a radio show.

    “Schindler’s List” has good characterizations of what people will do in order to survive.

    “The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains.”

    “A Scanner Darkly”: Spence, if you want to show a fictional movie about a fictional drug that depicts what real drugs will do to you, this is it.

    “Boyz in the Hood”: I thought Ice Cube’s final monologue, when he was heartbroken about all his dead friends and how his mother did not love him, as he predicted his own death, to walk back across the street dressed like a slob in slippers, kind of summed the lifestyle.

    “Office Space” encapsulates the rage against the machine most office workers feel. I suggested at a Christian’s New Year’s party that we watch it, b/c even if we wandered around in the party talking, no matter where the movie was, it would be showing a scene almost all of us could identify with.

  18. Totally add my Third to “Cinderella Man”– it really captures the gritty side of the Depression.

    How about:

    “Fried Green Tomatoes” (I know, I know, but it has its moments)

    “A Bridge Too Far” (parachuting into the middle of two SS Panzer Divisions definitely qualifies as Hard Times)

    “Flags of Our Fathers” (and its companion from the japanese side, “Letters from Iwo Jima”)

    and lastly:
    “Galaxy Quest” (seriously– who can’t identify with having to fight off giant Lobster aliens from outer space?) 😉

  19. “Wit” and “Shadowlands” – both incredible character studies of protagonists dealing with their entire worlds being upended. Both with redemptive endings. I can’t watch them without crying.

  20. If you want a grim and sad movie about the Depression, “Pennies from Heaven” is a good one.

  21. on 23 Feb 2009 at 1:45 pm
    Headless Unicorn Guy;

    You are assuming that I have not been poor, hungry, homeless and that I am smug about it. My life has been very hard. I would rather be around a happy person then person that dwells on what is wrong and complains all the time.

    Please to not assume that I am evangelical Christian. This is why I do not and will not ever again join a church.

    Please do not put people down because they do not feel they way you do, I don’t think that it is very christian like do you?

  22. Christopher Lake says


    I guess whether or not one prefers to be around “happy” people depends greatly on one’s understanding of the word “happy.” Living with a physical disability from birth, I have found, too often, that people who greatly emphasize being “happy” refuse to really think about painful realities of life and don’t seem to want to empathize with other peoples’ pain. However, I’m not saying that you are such a person.

    My life has been quite hard at times. In addition to having endured various losses, I have Cerebral Palsy, use a wheelchair, cannot drive, and am currently unemployed. I guess whether or not one prefers to be around “happy” people depends greatly on one’s understanding of the word “happy.”

    From a Christian perspective, A person can have a happiness in Christ and still be willing to watch movies and read books which deal with tough issues, such as economic hardship. I don’t understand why one’s willingness to watch such films or read such books *necessarily* means that one is dwelling on unhappiness.

  23. I vote for “Fried Green Tomatoes” (I was hoping I’d be the first to list it)

    Towanda, Baby!

    If you want a fairly good film. very suited for younger children, Feature Films for Families made one called “Split Infinity.”

    Really, it’s not bad, kind of “Back to the future” meets “The Waltons” (without any technology, though)

  24. Christopher Lake says

    Wow, I need to be more careful in editing my comments– I didn’t mean to have the same sentence in two paragraphs!

  25. This is off the subject of movies, but lately I’ve been watching reruns of “Little House on the Prairie,” and have been blown away. I had forgotten how deeply moving that show is. The episodes are often both tragic and uplifting. Very good viewing for these hard times, reminding us what really matters in life, and treating faith as something essential and respectable.

  26. Didn’t see anyone mention it, but I just watch Kit Kitteridge with my 5yo twins. Very good, more recent movie on the depiction of how folks easily fell on hard times. Foreclosures, soup kitchens, working for food. It explained who “hoboes” were in terms they could understand.

    Good family movie. Very relevant.

  27. I’ll third the “Purple Rose of Cairo”! A delightful movie. And it’s a fitting recommendation for helping us think about how he deal with hard times, particularly in the context of this thread.

  28. treebeard’s screen name reminded me of a couple of scenes:

    “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.”

    “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is how to use the time that is given to you.”

    and again:

    “I didn’t think it would end this way . . .

    “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One we must all take. The gray rain-curtain of this world falls back, and all changes to silver glass… And then you see it.”

    “What? Gandalf? … See what?”

    “White shores…and beyond…the far green country, under a swift sunrise.”

    “Well, that isn’t so bad.”

    “No… No, it isn’t.”

  29. One of the most powerful movie scenes I’ve ever seen is:

    Ky Boy, I knew what scene that was going to be before I clicked the link. It’s an incredibly chilling scene.

    (So are a lot of the comments on that link.)

  30. Zorba the Great, is a great film to show the highs and low and what collective madness can do a group. I highly recommend this forgotten movie. I think I will watch it once a year just as a reminder.