This past week Lindi and I have been on a movie kick. We went to our favorite local video store, Westside Video (we are deeply biased since we started it in 1984 and owned it for 14 years), with nothing in particular in mind and perused the shelves for something that looked interesting. I’m amazed at how the three films we selected were linked thematically in ways I was unprepared for.

I’ve picked up and placed back on the shelf–many times–the Adam Sandler film, Reign Over Me, which also stars Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Liv Tyler. This time I picked it up and brought it home. Two old friends who fell out of touch are reunited after a tragedy strikes one of them. At its core Reign Over Me is about people who have lost their bearings helping each other find “what matters” again.

The Peaceful Warrior stars Nick Nolte and is based on the bestselling novel by Dan Millman. An arrogant and talented gymnast has a chance to make the Olympics but you can just feel that his attitude is going to prove his undoing. He has nightmares that wake him up in a sweat in the middle of the night. He meets an old man who teaches him what really matters in life (there’s that “what matters” theme again).

The third film in this week’s “synchronicity trilogy” was Into the Wild. Directed by Sean Penn, and based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, it’s the story of a young man who rejects the privilege–and disfunction–of his wealthy family with a goal of making his way to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness. He first believes one can find “what matters” alone but eventually comes to realize that what truly matters is found in relationship with others.

And that’s the point of my writing about these films. At their core all three are about the importance of relationships and about the variety of paths available to us in seeking “what matters.” Their common theme runs through The Secret, A New Earth, Notes from the Universe, and other books that are having such a powerful influence on me–and many others–these days.

On the surface, my book, Inheriting the Trade, is about the slave trade, the hidden history of the United States, and the impact that legacy of slavery continues to have on all of us today. Just beneath the surface it is really a story about relationships. It uses the lens of race and racism to focus on deeply damaged relationships in need of repair.

This is a human story we all know quite well. I offer you three movie recommendations that tell this human story quite well.