Hi friends! If you follow me on social media, listen to my podcast, or even if you've just checked out my website, you probably get by now how passionate I am about self-discovery and about finding new ways to explore and get to know ourselves. If you know me in real life, you probably also know how much I love movies. And maybe you’ve even heard me share my belief about how watching films and shows, reading books, and listening to podcasts are actually great self-discovery tools. So today, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my personal favorite movies for self-discovery, and how I use films as an opportunity to better get to know myself.
So first, how are movies self-discovery tools? Now, I get a little deep with this, so bear with me.
I personally believe that each of us, as humans, exist as mirrors on this earth, and we are constantly reflecting off of one another. Of course, I believe that we are all unique and that we all have special gifts to share with the world - that’s part of why we’re here, to share our gifts and make our contributions to humanity as a whole. But I also believe that we are all one. We are all made of the same magic. We are all connected. And in many ways, we as humans are more similar than we are different.
When I say that we exist as mirrors, I mean that oftentimes what we see in other people, is simply a reflection of ourselves. The things that our eyes and our minds are drawn to stick out for a reason. Sometimes we are drawn to the qualities in others that we actually possess ourselves, even if we don’t recognize it. Other times, we are drawn to things that we need to work on or things that are meant to teach us some kind of lesson. These things can come across as inspiring or as irritating. Both are important and worth paying attention to.
The practice is in noticing when these feelings come up. Notice what you are drawn to in others. Notice what inspires you. Notice what irritates you. For me, movies are the perfect space for this. Because you can absolutely practice this in your real life, too. It just gets a little complicated when you are face to face with real humans, because you can’t pause and whip out your journal and start to explore and dig deep into your psyche when you are in a social situation, right? But when you are at home watching a movie, you can absolutely make a ritual out of it. You can transform into a self-investigator. Gathering clues and making connections. Getting closer and closer to the real you.
Feel free to get nerdy with it, if you like. You can totally pause the film every time you notice something about a character that draws you in for one reason or another to jot it down in your journal. You can elaborate on each point then, or you can wait until the movie is over to go through your whole list and start to dive into how these qualities connect to you and your life. Ask yourself: what does this have to do with me? Why does this inspire me so much? Why does this annoy me so much?
Or, you can just keep these concepts in mind as you watch. Sometimes, it’s less about a list of qualities, and more just about an overall feeling. Sometimes you just watch a movie that feels like you, right? You can’t really explain it. It’s just a movie that somehow brings you closer to yourself. Maybe you journal on that. On what you think that means or explore how the movie makes you feel. Or maybe you just sit with that feeling. Maybe you try to seek out other movies that make you feel that way. And then you have something to come back to when you are feeling lost or disconnected.
I do want to say real quick that I am aware that sometimes we use movies and shows and a consistent stream of content as a way to escape. Now, sometimes escape is necessary. Sometimes, it’s okay to completely tune out from the world and escape into fantasy. To give yourself a break. To give yourself permission to do nothing. I’m never going to demonize that. But there’s also a point where that escaping can cross over into unhealthy territory. It can kind of take over and get in the way of taking care of yourself. So keep that in mind and be aware of your intention. You’re the only one who knows what your individual boundaries are on that. But aside from that, I just really believe in the magic of movies and shows. There’s always a possibility of overdoing something, but I think that there is so much good that comes from this particular art form.
Movies are a wonderful learning experience for us as humans. We are able to see and experience the world through so many different lenses. We learn about different cultures, different kinds of people, different places -- all from the comfort of our own home. Of course, it’s important to remember that we are viewing all of this from one particular point of view and that it’s also a good idea to actually go out into the world to experience LIFE. But, you get the point. Movies are a kind of portal.
Previously, I've talked about how I believe that creativity in general can be a portal to a higher realm, if you will. How, for each of us, when we set aside the expectations and validations of others, creative expression is the key to opening a portal to our highest self. To the divine that lives within each of us. To our greatest potential and most perfect truth. With movies, and other forms of art, we are gifted the opportunity to travel through someone else’s portal. We are able to receive messages and insight from the filmmaker’s highest self. So in a way, movies are full of divine wisdom. At least, I believe so.
We are drawn to the things about life that have a specific meaning for us. That’s our intuition in action. We may watch a film and see things and feel things that no one else sees or feels. Maybe that’s because those messages were captured in this art for us. Hear me out. We were drawn to watch this movie. We were drawn to notice that particular thing. It’s not a coincidence. I believe that in many ways, art (in all of its forms) is a direct connection to the Universe. As creators, we are often channeling the divine through our creative expression. So as the viewers or consumers of this art, we are receiving this message. The message from the Universe or the divine channelled through the filmmaker, through the artist, into the film, for us to receive when we watch. And again, we may all receive different messages. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
And listen - if this is all too much for you, I get it. If you don’t vibe with any of this, if it’s way too out there or weird of a concept for you, that’s totally fine. No matter what you believe, though, films are an invaluable tool to better understand the world and yourself, they are fun to watch and a great way to pass the time - you can absolutely leave it at that.
One last disclaimer before we get into the movies… I’m not at all saying that every time you watch a movie you need to turn it into a self-discovery or self-development practice. Not at alllll. Movies have many purposes, but a big one is definitely entertainment. So, please. Watch all the movies that bring you joy, and let that be enough. I just want to show how films can also be a tool, if you want them to be, to better get to know yourself.
Okay. So let’s dive into some of my favorite movies, in no particular order!
I’m gonna give a brief synopsis for each along with a hint of why these movies are important to me. But I’m not going to go too deep into that because, for one, it’s a bit personal. Two, it shifts for me as I change and grow through my life. And three, it may be completely different for you. So I’m sharing these movies as an example of how this process works (and to encourage you to watch some dope films), but you’re going to have to discover on your own which movies would be on your list.
1. Garden State
This movie means a lot to me. Written by, directed by, and starring Zach Braff alongside Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard. This movie is about a dude coming back to his home town for a funeral, and kind of rediscovering himself as an individual that is separate from his past and his family. It’s a beautiful film - funny, uplifting, romantic - and it really allows you to think about the importance of being yourself, doing what’s best for you, and in finding people who support that self and that path. I love this movie.
2. Lost in Translation
Another favorite film of all time. Maybe in my top three. Written and directed by the phenomenal Sofia Coppola and starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, I truly cannot get enough of this movie. Based in Japan, it’s about two tourists who cross paths and make a bit of an unlikely friendship while each working through their own sort of identity crisis. I always connect so deeply to Scarlett’s character and always leave the film feeling warm and inspired. Sofia is also just a master at her craft, and I adore everything she creates.
3. Donnie Darko
This movie is a bit darker than the first two. It’s science fiction meets psychological thriller, but for me, it never feels super heavy. There’s definitely some comedy and an uplifting strange energy. Starring the most adorable young Jake Gyllenhaal and many others you’ll recognize, the movie follows a high school kid who is experiencing some weird shit and is looking for meaning in it all. Relatable, right? But if you’re looking to walk away from a film with more clarity, then this may not be the one for you. Because most have no idea what this movie is about. But it definitely expands your mind and gives you the opportunity to look at time and space, and your relationship to it, in a new way. And it also makes you consider how you treat people. At the very least, it’s a great movie with a dope soundtrack, and one that I come back to often.
4. V for Vendetta
The first time I watched this film, I was surprised by how much I felt connected to it. It’s a dystopian political thriller starring Natalie Portman, and the story is about a vigilante who performs terrorist actions against a fascist government and Natalie Portman’s character kind of gets caught up in the mission of this anarchist. This movie always gets me thinking about the grey areas in life, outside of the black and the white that we are so often presented with as the truth. Natalie Portman’s character inspires me to dig deep within to discover what it is that I truly believe in and what I want to stand up and fight for.
5. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Ah, this movie is like a warm cup of tea. This film was adapted from Truman Capote’s novella and stars the fabulous Audrey Hepburn. It’s about a young, New York socialite, enjoying her life in the city. She meets someone new and strikes up a beautiful friendship that becomes complicated by her past. I love the reinvention aspect of Audrey’s character, going to a new city and recreating her life in a way that feels more true to her. I just love this movie. It’s one I always come back to when I am feeling a desire for comfort. Truthfully though, Audrey Hepburn is one of those actors that always brings me back to myself. Just something about her that connects deeply for me.
6. Good Will Hunting Ugh, this movie. Gets me every time. Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, directed by Gus Van Sant, and starring Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Minnie Driver. Good Will Hunting follows the story of a young, troubled janitor from the south side of Boston who is discovered as a genius and as part of his sentence for an assault charge, he begins working with a therapist who eventually guides him to better understand himself, his relationships, and his life path. This movie always inspires me to go for my biggest dreams, even when it’s hard. Even when I have to step away from the life I’ve always known. It’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, you will probably cry, but you will probably love it.
This movie inspires me on so many levels. It is a French film, so yes, there are subtitles. Starring Audrey Tautou and based in Paris, it’s a romantic comedy that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It follows the story of our main character Amélie, who is a very imaginative, introspective woman, and we are gifted with the ability to see the world as she sees it. With so much beauty and love and kindness and romance. It is such an uplifting movie that reminds me of the beauty of the world, that reminds me of the magic and importance of kindness. It always inspires me to be myself and to create, and basically, it just makes me feel seen.
8. The Royal Tenenbaums This is one of those movies that I can’t quite explain the effect it has over me. Honestly, most of Wes Anderson movies have a similar effect, so I suggest checking out literally anything he has ever made. But for some reason, this is a film in particular that I am always finding myself pulling off the shelf. So, written and directed by Wes Anderson, co-written by Owen Wilson, and starring a bunch of people: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, and more. The story follows a dysfunctional family who is brought back together under one roof for a multitude of reasons and chaos ensues. Wes Anderson has such a way of creating beauty and humor in the simplest things, and his style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, so he always inspires me creatively with his films. But his characters are also just so beautiful, and again I can’t really explain why, but his films, especially this one, always bring me back to better understanding myself.
9. Before Sunrise Trilogy
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight were all written and directed by Richard Linklater, who is another favorite filmmaker of mine. His work is always so grounded in reality, swimming with beautiful dialogue, and just shining a light on the ordinary in a way that feels extraordinary. This trilogy in particular follows the love story of two strangers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who meet on a train to Vienna. It’s a lot of walking and talking. There’s not a lot of action or drama - in a way, it feels like you are just getting a glimpse of two real people living their lives. It doesn’t feel like a movie. The deep conversations and the romantic aesthetic just really pull me in and remind me of the magic of simplicity. His films always inspire me to write and to read and to appreciate the intricacies of being human.
10. 500 Days of Summer Another romantic comedy, this is a film I watched over and over when I was in college. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, this movie follows the joining, the loving and the falling apart of this relationship between our two main characters. And after it ends, Joseph’s character spends all of his time analyzing every moment they spent together to see what went wrong. I relate to this because I too am a hopeless romantic who has found myself a victim to my expectations over and over again in terms of love, causing me to doubt myself and my worth. This movie does such a good job of showing expectation vs. reality, and showing the beauty of both, reminding me to surrender to what is and allow what is meant for me to come. To stop grasping onto the things that are not meant for me. It’s just weird enough, and also, another dope soundtrack.
So, that’s my list! Now... I want to share a few others, a few honorary mentions, that aren’t necessarily specific to me, but they are great films to watch when you are seeking inspiration to explore, learn, or create.
First: Anything by Christopher Nolan that bends the mind and allows you to see the world and the Universe from a new perspective, such as Interstellar and Inception.
Secondly: Anything by David Lynch. His films are so strange and almost nonsensical, that it allows you to create your own meaning, which I think is a really beautiful thing. And he always inspires me to be creative with absolutely no limitations.
And lastly: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Almost Famous are movies that were next in line to be added to my list, but I wanted to keep it to ten. I couldn’t resist mentioning them, though, as these are both incredible films and absolutely worth watching and exploring for so many reasons.
Okay, I’m stopping there because I just love movies so much, and I could go on listing forever lol. I know I’m probably missing some great ones, but I feel pretty good about those I’ve shared. I hope you find some kind of inspiration here to expand your practices and to dissolve the boundaries a bit around what you consider self-discovery. Getting to know yourself is personal. Obviously. So, it’s up to you how you go about it. Just know that these rituals and practices don’t need to look like all the self-care you see on social media. That stuff is great, too. But be creative with your own rituals and mold them to fit your own life. Find the things that bring you joy, and use those things as tools to get closer and closer to YOU. To your truest, most authentic self. To your greatest potential. This work is hard - learning about all parts of yourself. So incorporate as much ease and joy as possible to support you along the way. For me, films are an all-time favorite self-discovery ritual that I will never tire of.
Maybe you’ll find that you feel the same way. At the very least, now you have some incredible movies to go watch. So grab yourself some snacks, and get to exploring. If you have any movies you’d like to share with me, any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @nicol.eliz. Thank you so much for reading, and I’ll talk to you soon! All my love.