Five great movies on work

By Gideon Strauss

Since I teach on faith and work I am always looking for movies to do a good job of portraying work, that offer thought-provoking examples of people at work, or that raise big questions with regard to the meaning and structure of work. The following five movies on work are among my all-time favorites. I would love to hear additional suggestions!

1. Buck

Buck

A documentary on the man whose work with horses inspired the movie The Horse Whisperer, Buck is a beautiful true story of someone who suffered profoundly as a child, and out of that crucible emerged with a deep compassion that inspires the way in which he starts new horses and coaches others in the training of their animals. The portrayal of Buck Brannaman’s work is by no means a romanticization: to do his work he has to be on the road, away from his family, for months of the year, there is physical danger involved in the work, and every so often he encounters a horse owner or a horse so broken that even his awe-inspiring skill cannot make things better. Story guru Bobette Buster calls Buck one of the best movies she has seen of any kind. As I watched Buck for the first time, I thought to myself, “Here is someone who knows how to let horses truly be horses” – along the lines of Richard Mouw’s exhortation in “On Letting Chickens Strut Their Stuff” to “honor the divine purposes in our dealings with the non-human creation.”

2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro

Jiro Ono, may be the world’s greatest sushi chef. Jiro Dreams of Sushi celebrates the astounding dedication to craft that has allowed Jiro to win three Michelin stars for his 10-seat, sushi-only, Tokyo subway station restaurant. Jiro exemplifies the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell or the 10-minute rule proposed by Daniel Coyle: true craft requires years of deep, deliberate practice, motivated by great commitment.

3. Rivers and Tides

Rivers and Tides

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist whose medium is time: he makes works with natural elements that can be as ephemeral as thrown snow or as enduring as a stone cairn. Rivers and Tides document his work, and gives him an opportunity to reflect on that work. Goldsworthy in his treatment of his materials reminds me of Neal Plantinga’s description of wisdom: “Wisdom is, broadly speaking, the knowledge of God’s world and the knack of fitting oneself into it. The wise person knows creation. He knows its boundaries and limits, understands its laws and rhythms, discerns its times and seasons, respects its great dynamics. He understands that creation possesses its own integrity and significance quite apart from his claim on it, and quite apart from any possibility that creation will make him happy. The wise person gives in to creation, and he gives in to God, and he does the first because he does the second. He knows that the earth is the Lord’s, and so the fullness thereof. He knows that wisdom itself is the Lord’s. He knows some of the deep grains and textures of the world because he knows some of the ways and habits of its maker.”

4. Note By Note

Note By Note

Where Buck, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Rivers and Tides are about the work of individuals (while showing them in the social settings of their work), Note by Note: The Making of the Steinway L1037 is about the collaborative work of an ensemble of artisans, each of whom considers their own contribution to be crucial. Telling the story of a particular piano from the sourcing of its wood to its selection for a concert performance, Note by Note shows the social character of work like few movies I’ve ever seen. I would love to see a similar documentary about the manufacturing of a Toyota automobile or a Vermeer machine!

5. The Big Kahuna

The Big Kahuna

The Big Kahuna is the only non-documentary movie in this list. It is also the movie on this list that explicitly addresses the relationship between faith and work, contrasting the sincere naïveté of a young Christian with the attitudes of two older colleagues in the context of a career-critical assignment. What is the relationship between our deepest commitments and our everyday work? How do we express our most sincere convictions in a context of conflicting values? How does work shape our character, and our sense of community, and how does our character and sense of community find expression in our work?

I have enjoyed these movies over many years, and many repeated viewings, and have learned much from the movies themselves and from the conversations they prompted with friends, students, and colleagues. I would love to hear from you about your responses to these movies, or about other movies on work that have enriched your own thinking about and practices of work.

Gideon Strauss is the executive director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

3 Comments

  1. October 4, 2013  1:56 PM by Jordan Ballor Reply

    I would recommend Hugo (based on book The Invention of Hugo Cabret). I am looking forward to checking these five out.

  2. October 9, 2013  7:59 AM by Mark Olivito Reply

    Good picks! If you'd like motivational, I like "Remember the Titans"

  3. May 27, 2014  10:03 PM by Bob Robinson Reply

    I enjoyed "Waste Land," about a photographer using his gift to bring restoration to a group of garbage pickers in the world's largest garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

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