Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will pass soon and politicians will lift their draconian lockdowns and shelve their many other destructive economic interventions. In the meantime, here are twenty books, movies, TV shows, and video games with notably positive and/or philosophically valuable messages to help you pass the time, keep your mind active, and keep your spiritual fuel tank full.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Graveyard Book is a perfect example of Gaiman’s unique ability to wrap serious themes in lighthearted, feel-good charm. The book follows a young boy who is raised by ghosts (and one reformed vampire) in a graveyard after his family is murdered. Despite the subject matter, the book is never dark; its tone is unfailingly chipper. As the boy grows up, he gleans wisdom from his dead and often humorless mentors, but he never loses his sense of wonder and adventure.
Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind
Sword of Truth is an eleven-book fantasy series that extolls the virtues of reason, capitalism, and self-interest (and it’s the only work on this list explicitly inspired by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism). Although slightly preachy and redundant at times, its plots involving dragons, magic, and medieval politics are rapturously entertaining, largely because they are infused with broad themes of individualism.
The Complete Musashi: The Book of Five Rings and Other Works by Alexander Bennett
You probably don’t carry a sword for work. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the work of Miyamoto Musashi, the legendary 16th-century samurai and philosopher. His Book of Five Rings, in particular, is densely packed with valuable advice and strategies for mastering any field of endeavor. In this collection, Musashi historian Alexander Bennett has done a remarkable job of collecting and translating the samurai’s work.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo, one of the greatest Romantic novels of all time, tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a man betrayed and wrongly imprisoned by people he believed to be friends. He escapes from prison fourteen years later and assumes a secret identity in order to track down his betrayers, in the process learning the crucial difference between justice and vengeance.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This trilogy of young-adult novels is about a brash girl named Lyra who can’t stand being a child and wants to grow up. Her father is a renowned explorer and scientist who, unbeknownst to Lyra, is embroiled in a battle with the world’s dominant religious group over the fate of the universe. The books intelligently grapple with coming of age and with broader themes of individualism versus obedience to authority.
Movies and TV Shows
Ink, written and directed by Jamin Winans
Ink is an urban fantasy tale about parenthood, free will, and second chances. Emma, the daughter of high-earning salesman John, is threatened by supernatural forces, and in order to save her, John must overcome his alcoholism and grief over his wife’s death. Masterfully written, passionately acted, and beautifully filmed, its ultimately inspiring message belies its dark visuals.
The Martian, written by Drew Goddard and directed by Ridley Scott
The Martian is based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Andy Weir. Both the book and the movie tell the uplifting, action-packed tale of a brilliant astronaut stranded on Mars who must leverage his intelligence and creativity to survive for more than a year while he awaits rescue.
The Green Book, written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly; directed by Peter Farrelly
Based on a true story, The Green Book elevates the validity and importance of male friendship and intimacy. It follows an initially ignorant, racist, Italian American man who gradually questions his prejudices and develops an unlikely friendship with a black musician in the South in the 1960s.
But I’m a Cheerleader, written by Brian Wayne Peterson and directed by Jamie Babbit
But I’m a Cheerleader is an alternately heartwarming and hysterical romantic comedy about a teenaged lesbian learning to accept her sexuality after she’s sent to a “pray the gay away” camp. The camp is run by a strict headmistress and (of all people) RuPaul, who plays a closeted but otherwise typically flamboyant version of himself. The film’s theme transcends issues specific to sexuality and instead focuses on the universal importance of love, friendship, and honest introspection.
The Princess Bride, written by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner
Many books and movies in the fantasy genre treat love as little more than a convenient plot device. The Princess Bride explicitly questions this trend—often by breaking the fourth wall—and treats the subject with reverence, joy, and side-splitting humor in equal measure. There’s plenty of swashbuckling and action-oriented heroism, too.
The Mummy (1999), written and directed by Stephen Sommers
Speaking of swashbuckling and comedy, there’s plenty of both in the 1999 version of The Mummy. The basic plot has been done many times before, but the wisecracking characters who drive Sommers’s version are endearingly heroic, and the film has surprisingly well-developed subthemes about justice and the nature of evil.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin McDonagh
Throughout most of this film’s running time, it appears to be a pessimistic story about the most depressing aspects of human nature. However, it’s ultimately about the nearly limitless human capacity for hope, change, and self-improvement, even (and sometimes especially) from rock bottom. Frances McDormand’s masterful portrayal of a grief-stricken mother won her a well-deserved “Best Actress” Oscar in 2018.
Moonrise Kingdom, written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola; directed by Wes Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom is a quirky, clever, and touching story about the wonders of childhood ambition and creativity. Two twelve-year-olds who live on a small island awkwardly fall in love and decide to run away together, causing many problems for the adults in the community. Eventually, the kids learn to be more responsible, and some of the stodgy adults recall the value in seeing the world as children do, as a place of wonder and limitless potential.
Supernatural (seasons 1–5), created by Eric Kripke
Although it’s classified as a horror show, Supernatural first and foremost is about heroism. Two brothers drive a muscle car all over America, slay vampires and witches, and even dub themselves “Team Free Will” in a climactic battle against Lucifer himself (played by Mark Pellegrino). Despite the show’s premise, it’s funnier than it is dark, and it maturely deals with themes such as family bonds and morality.
There She Is!! by SamBakZa Animation
There She Is!! is an adorable and relentlessly cheerful twenty-five-minute musical flash film about the power of love and individualism to overcome widespread prejudice. The text and lyrics are almost entirely in Korean, but you needn’t speak the language to follow along. In fact, it’s best to disable the poorly translated English subtitles and to simply let the visuals and the music tell the story.
God of War (2018), written by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, and Cory Barlog; developed by Santa Monica Studios
Arguably one of the greatest video games of all time, God of War is a deeply emotional and uplifting tale of a father and son struggling to bond after the woman who held them together dies. Not only does it regularly tug at the heartstrings, it also dramatically highlights some of the ways in which careful thought and self-responsibility are essential to living a good life.
Final Fantasy X, written by Kazushige Nojima, Daisuke Watanabe, and Motomu Toriyama; developed by Squaresoft
Throughout one hundred-plus hours of game play, Final Fantasy X is laser focused on its central theme: the sovereignty of the individual. A young girl has spent her whole life believing that it is her duty to place the needs and wants of others before her own. Over time, her new friends help her to realize that her life belongs only to her—and that if she is to save the world from a grave threat, she can do so only as a thinking, free, self-interested woman.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, written by Hideo Kojima, Tomokazu Fukushima, and Shuyo Murata; developed by Konami
Set during the Cold War, Metal Gear Solid 3 follows a highly trained American operative tasked with rescuing an abducted nuclear physicist who is being forced to develop weapons for the USSR. The game leans heavily on the strength of its writing, which asks thought-provoking and poignant questions about the relationship between a soldier and his country, the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, and how one properly decides what values are worth dying for.
The Witness, written by Goeun Lee and Jonathan Blow; directed by Jonathan Blow
Inspired by the 1993 point-and-click classic Myst, The Witness is an ambitious puzzle-solving game that aims to tell a story using virtually no writing or dialogue. The results of that experiment are mixed; the main reason to play The Witness is the puzzles themselves. They’re ingeniously designed to make you consciously practice abstract conceptual thinking and presented in such a way that you can feel yourself getting smarter as you work them out.
A Story about My Uncle, developed by Gone North Games
A Story about My Uncle oozes an earnest kind of charm and delights in exploring the relationship between imagination and achievement. Players take on the role of a young boy who takes up a grappling hook and rocket boots and travels to wondrous locations in search of his missing uncle, a genius inventor.
I hope that at least some of these catch your attention and provide you with some much-needed soul fuel while you’re stuck indoors!
Click To Tweet