My Top “Systems” Movies

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If you read my blog with any frequency you know that a main theme of my reflections is where congregational/family systems theory and spiritual leadership intersect. Since I began pursuing this realm of study and inquiry about five years ago, there have been several movies that embody many of the key concepts of systems theory.  If you find some of these ideas intriguing I invite you to watch some or all of the movies below, but with an intentional awareness of how these dynamics are reflected in the movie.

Most movies will reflect a concept or two because of the nature of story and drama and how human relationships work in community. But there’s about seven movies that I think powerfully and effectively demonstrate many of the key systems’ dynamics. As I don’t see that many movies, this is limited to movies that I have actually seen. The key dynamics I’m referring to are concepts like scapegoating, anxiety manifested in the community and social order of things, leaders either being exposed for a failure of nerve or demonstrating differentiated leadership, and the presence of peacemongers among others.Here they are in descending order from #7 to #1…

7.  In Good CompanyThis might not be a classic systems movie, but the dynamics around “Teddy K.” and the call to “Synergy” have some of the same elements for sure.  There’s one scene in particular that has an “emperor’s new clothes” type of feel and the main character speaks out, putting his neck on the line.  The company reflects an anxious working environment that is all about preserving a sense of happiness and positivity without any capacity for dissent or uniqueness.  It takes a leader who is secure with himself to finally call things for what they are.   And of course everyone distances from him.

6. BraveheartIt’s easy to focus on the battle scenes and the portrayed heroism of the protagonist. Yet much of the story and drama is driven by anxious leaders faced with opportunities to demonstrate some nerve. Most have seen this one so I won’t belabor the point.

5.  Dead Poet’s SocietyA great movie, but a classic illustration of how power politics and insecure leadership seeks to preserve itself through controling others and silencing any expression of the creative voice. This movie speaks to some of what I was drawn to systems theory – because it helps us understand the forces at work that seek to stomp out the human voice and creative spirit.  This movie shows how insecure and undifferentiated leadership can actually lead to abusive culture making.  It also shows the power of a differentiated change agent who seeks to give people a voice – which of course threatens those in power.

4. 13 DaysThis is one of my favorite films of all-time, documenting the Cuban-Missile crisis and the behind the scenes leadership dynamics. It’s hard to imagine a more anxious system or setting than this, but the strengths of this movie highlight how systemic anxiety and the temptations of self-preservation seek to coerce the will and moral compass of the leader. It’s a great illustration of a leader and a leadership team fighting these forces at work to achieve higher purposes that mere self-preservation and control.

3. Horton Hears a WhoA cartoon – are you serious? Yes. This movie was brilliant as it relates to portraying the various concepts of family and congregational systems in action. It even shows many of the dynamics simultaneously in two different contexts: Horton’s world in the jungle and the Mayor of Whoville’s world on the ‘speck.’ Anxiety, differentiation, scapegoating, blameshifting, silencing, control, and other elements are captured in multiple ways. You can check out my previous thoughts in the posts below.

Horton and Systems Related Posts:

The Gospel According to Horton

The Happy Button

Systems and Horton

2. Batman: The Dark KnightBecause the posts below are fairly recent I won’t belabor the point here either, but this is another fantastic portrayal of systems dynamics. Anxiety in society and scapegoating especially.Dark Knight and Systems ThinkingBecause We Have to Chase HimBecause He Can Take It

1. Harry Potter: The Order of the PhoenixThis might surprise you that I’m going harry potter on you.  But from a systems standpoint this is just a great movie.  It’s got it all – systemic anxiety, leadership paranoia, the challenge of self-definition and self-regulation in the face of anxiety and power politics, blameshifting, scapegoating, silencing dissent through rules and regulations, delusional denial about any painful or negative realities.

I rented this a while ago and then had to go buy it because of how much systems theory is captured by the plot and relationships of the characters.  Seriously, if I taught a class on congregational systems I would use this movie to introduce people to these concepts in a fun way.  It illustrates these things very well and I highly recommend watching this with a systems view in mind.

I’ll include the trailer here for those that haven’t scene it.  Actually some of the above dynamics can even by observed in the trailer.  Feel free to share thoughts if you do watch one of these movies or maybe we can cross paths at some point and talk about them a little more in depth.  Of course, if there’s a movie I haven’t listed that you think really does the job in capturing systems theory – let me know!


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