If you are new to animism and want to learn more about it, what better way than through pop culture? Movies/stories with animist themes can help explain a lot in an entertaining way in a short period of time. So, here are my picks. This isn’t an exhaustive list or even a list of the “best of.” It’s just a place to get started that hopefully inspires thought.
This work of fiction is based in the early 16th century of Mayan culture. A man’s idyllic lifestyle is brutally disrupted by a violent invading force. Jaguar Paw is taken as a human sacrifice and has to figure out how to save himself, then find and rescue his pregnant wife and child. Can he elude the most powerful warriors of the Mayan kingdom?
Australian actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in this movie set in the World War II. It highlights the prejudice, oppression, and discrimination that native Australians faced in their own country. There are glimpses of tribal life mixed in with the modern world that illustrate the clash to coexist.
The Book of Life (2014)
Manolo is a Mexican boy who struggles between duty and his own desires. This animated film takes the viewer to three worlds where Manolo has to face his fears.
Chac: The Rain God (1974)
A Mayan village is threatened with drought. Their shaman fails to find a solution, so they go searching elsewhere in hopes that a mountain man can help save their crops and ultimately their lives. This man recalls the ancient ways and agrees to do a rain bringing ceremony.
This animated film focuses on a Mexican boy, Miguel. He isn’t allowed to indulge in music, but doesn’t know why. He explores the world of the dead and finds out more than he bargained for.
The Dead Lands (2014)
A Maori son of a chief has his tribe wiped out through an act of treachery. Customs demand that he avenge the slain so that their souls can move on in peace.
Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
Loosely based on actual events, this movie looks at the last Amazon shaman from his tribe who comes face to face with two different scientists at two different times who are searching for a healing plant. The film speaks to colonialism, religion, humanity, Nature, genocide, and magic.
The Emerald Forest (1985)
An American engineer brings his family to the Brazilian rainforest where he’s working. His son goes missing, and dad spends the next ten years searching for him. When the two finally reunite, dad tries to rescue him and all sorts of questions of values arise. (This is based on a true story).
Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Robin Williams and Tim Curry make this a timeless, animated favorite. In the last rainforest, Fern Gully, lives a society of fairies. They are peaceful creatures who protect nature. Humans have come back to Fern Gully, and they brought a huge machine with them known as the leveler. The leveler chops down and processes trees and threatens to unleash Hexxus, an evil force who was locked inside the trees. Who will win the battle of the forest?
Parents of an autistic boy cross Mongolia in search of help from a shaman. This is the true story of their adventures.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
The world is not in balance in this anime film. A distant conflict between industry and nature has wounded one of the gods of the forest, which is then killed by a sentry boy as it rampages into farmland he guards. The evil controlling it transfers to him, beginning a slow takeover, and he must journey to the origin of the conflict to find a way to cure himself and incidentally, as he will learn, to try to restore balance.
Serpent and the Rainbow (2003)
Animism isn’t all good fairies and helping ancestors. Serpent and the Rainbow is based on the true life adventures of a Harvard anthropologist who goes to Haiti searching for a drug that brings the dead back to life. Instead he finds voodoo, magick, zombies, curses, and blood rites.
This drama focuses on two very different lives of Lakota brothers. One is a law abiding policeman. The other is an unrepentant drunk. It’s a realistic look at modern choices for people on the reservation today that may illuminate real life struggles for animist peoples.
Spirited Away (2001)
Anime fans will know this one as it won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. While moving to a new house, Chihiro’s family stops to explore an abandoned village and her parents become trapped in another world. Can Chihiro survive and save them?
This film highlights the beauty of Bedouin culture as Hussein patiently teaches his brother, Theeb. the nuances of nomadic life: tracking, hunting, finding water and the duty of Dakheel. The images are heightened by the natural, intimate relationship between Hussein and Theeb,
This story features strange recurring themes about supernatural beings, spirits, Buddhist philosophy, karma, and reincarnation. It focuses on a Thai man who is dying of kidney failure. It’s plotless and focuses on the felt sense rather than logic. It’s not for everyone, but may just move you with its simplicity and glimpses into the animist world.
When Two World Collide (2016)
This documentary shows protesters fighting to save the Amazon rainforest in Peru from devastation.
None of these movies are strictly “animistic.” However you can see how animist themes pop up and work within the fabric of the characters lives. Like any other culture, animists aren’t always good or simple. Which are your favorites?