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8 Unconventional spiritual films you can stream with a library card


IAC Films | Rialto Pictures | Erato Films | Music Box Films

Matthew Becklo - published on 05/06/20

Kanopy, a free streaming service that's only available through libraries and universities, offers many classics and independent films you won't find on Netflix.

Those in quarantine scraping the bottom of their Netflix lists or mindlessly shuffling through Amazon Prime might want to look into Kanopy—a free, under-the-radar streaming service with lots of indie films and documentaries to explore. The catch is that Kanopy is only available through libraries and universities—so if your library or school doesn’t offer it, you might be out of luck. If it does, though, you have instant, free access to an impressive collection of films that rivals the Criterion Channel in its depth and sophistication, ranging from classics like The Great Dictator to more recent indie films like The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a haunting story of self-deception and self-discovery.

Among its many titles are also some darker and more unconventional spiritual films that wrestle with the realities of struggle, suffering, and evil—films that people of faith, or those just beginning to explore a life of faith, may find instructive in these difficult times.

The Seventh Seal

While undoubtedly a dark film confronting questions of death and meaning—in the midst of the plague, appropriately enough—Andrew Petripin recently made a convincing case that The Seventh Seal is ultimately a depiction of the faith, hope, and love we all yearn for. (Bergman’s 1957 classic falls on the Vatican’s list of great films, and Kanopy also features several other films from the list, including Chaplin’s classic Modern Times, Tarkovsky’s religiously tinged The Sacrifice, Fellini’s bawdy and bizarre 8 1/2, De Sica’s neorealist Bicycle Thieves, and another masterful Bergman film, Wild Strawberries.)

Into Great Silence

This must-watch documentary, an immersive and captivating journey into the daily life of a monastery strictly committed to silence, has one of the greatest trailer hooks in history: “In 1984 director Philip Gröning asked the Order of the Carthusians for permission to film them. He was told that it was too soon … Sixteen years later came a call from the ‘Grand Chartreuse’ monastery. The time had come.”

Dead Man Walking

Based on the true story of Sister Helen Prejean’s ministering to death row inmates and advocacy for the elimination of the death penalty, Dead Man Walking is an unflinching confrontation with Dostoevsky’s dictum: that love in action is a dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.


This Oscar-nominated Polish film tells the story of Anna, a pious young novice in the religious life whose identity and vocation are challenged by her relationship with her agnostic aunt.

The Innocents

This dark 2016 French film is based on the true story of Benedictine nuns who were attacked and raped by Soviet soldiers—and the communist Red Cross doctor who clandestinely went to their convent to help the nuns who had become pregnant. While the subject matter is difficult and grim, and understandably shows a great wrestling with faith (“Faith is 24 hours of doubt and one minute of hope,” one sister remarks), Les Innocentes depicts the nuns with dignity and their religious life with awe, and ends on a hopeful note.

Under the Sun of Satan

Sous le soleil de Satan (Under the Sun of Satan), based on a book of the same name by Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos, has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. But this experimental adaptation from the atheist filmmaker Maurice Pialat (who also stars in the film as an older priest) is not for the faint of heart. Like Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (another book by Bernanos), it is a story of spiritual crisis and a confrontation with suffering and evil, but one that, right up to its final frames, is extremely desolate and unnerving.

Lady Bird

While not a “spiritual film,” Bishop Barron pointed out that Lady Bird is a film about the “strange and surprising breakthrough of grace,” one inspired by writer-director Greta Gerwig’s own experience in Catholic school and the lessons it inspired.

Brighton Rock

This 1948 British noir stars a young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie, a callous gangster who becomes involved with an innocent girl. Based on Catholic writer Graham Greene’s novel, the closing scene quotes one of the great lines in all of literature: “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”

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