Personal responsibility is not the primary motivation for creating most Hollywood films, profit is. But a few times per decade, a film will emerge from the popcorn crop that has a strong theme of responsibility. These films can cross all genres, from drama to comedy, from sci-fi to horror.
Schindler’s List (1993) is Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winner based on the true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Polish Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by bribing Nazi officials.
The most moving aspect of the film is Schindler’s regret that he didn’t save more: “This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. I could have gotten one more person … and I didn’t!”
High Noon (1952) earned Gary Cooper a Best Actor Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself after the townspeople he has protected for so long turn their backs on him. His reason for risking his life to save the town? “I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.”
Jaws (1975) frightened millions of moviegoers out of swimming in the ocean. Roy Scheider stars as Police Chief Brody, who tries to protect beachgoers from a giant great white shark by closing the beach, only to be overruled by the town council and mayor:
Mayor Vaughn: “Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars. Now, if the people can’t swim here, they’ll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Long Island…”
Brody: “That doesn’t mean we have to serve them up as smí¶rgí¥sbord!”
Spider-Man (2002) spawned two sequels and stars Tobey Maguire as nerdy Peter Parker who gains superhero powers after being bit by a genetically-altered spider. Best quotes:
“Not everyone is meant to make a difference. But for me, the choice to lead an ordinary life is no longer an option.”
“Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-man.”
Bruce Almighty (2003) Stars Jim Carrey as a down-on-his-luck TV reporter who complains that God isn’t doing his job. God, played by — who else? — Morgan Freeman, grants him his powers to see if he can do a better job, but subbing for the Almighty gives Bruce a new perspective on power — and miracles.
God: “A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her son to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says ‘no’ to drugs and ‘yes’ to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. What they don’t realize is they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) is a based on the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials at which judges who served during the Nazi regime are put on trial. The stellar cast includes Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift, and the film is a complex meditation on personal responsibility.
Ernst Janning (Lancaster): “Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it. You must believe it!”
Judge Dan Haywood (Tracy): “Herr Janning, it ‘came to that’ the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
Image Credit:Oscar J. Baeza