If having lots of money can make you a terrible person, Hollywood has shown us the reverse can be true as well. In the following films, the characters decide to give up their money and material possessions in search for moral purity, enlightenment, and freedom from the trappings of a materialistic society. Here’s a list of movies showing how when you get rid of your money, you become a better person.
1. Into the Wild
While things don’t turn out particularly well for Chris McCandless, he did find what he thought was a sense of purpose in destroying his material possessions and giving his life savings to Oxfam after graduating from college in order to travel across North America without being weighed down by possessions. Based on a true story and the book written about it, Sean Penn’s film follows McCandless as he exuberantly and optimistically begins his journey to find happiness free from the corruption of modern civilization. He doesn’t tell his family that he’s going, though, leaving them desperate to find him during the couple years he traveled. But his dedication to living without identification or money or a home made him impossible to track. McCandless wrote about his journey in a journal, which was found along with his body in an abandoned bus in the wilderness of Alaska after he starved to death trying to survive on his own in the wild. The ending isn’t so happy, but at various times in his travels he met many kind people and had great experiences that wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t released himself from his material possessions.
2. Eat, Pray, Love
So writer Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t give up all of her money, but she does let her ex-husband take more than his share in their divorce just so she can get the whole thing over with and move on. She lets go of the idea that she needs to fight him for more cash and for their house and pitches the idea for a crazy book. What if she take a vacation around the world, traveling to Italy, India, and Bali to get over her divorce. She uses the funds from the book advance to learn about pleasure in Italy, prayer in India, and finally the surprise of finding love in Bali. Obviously we know the happy ending before the movie (or book) even starts, but Gilbert is able to find happiness after letting go of the need to get as much money as she thought she deserved in the divorce and just move on.
3. Fight Club
This cult classic is explicitly anti-materialistic, with Tyler Durden appearing to Jack to liberate him from his consumer-driven lifestyle. The scenes with a sleep-deprived Jack laying out all the Ikea furnishings in his apartment and how much they cost is cringe-inducing for how close to home it hits. Durden liberates Jack from his capitalist shackles, moves him into an abandoned house, and involves him in fight club, where men act out their rage and assert their masculinity through bare knuckles fights. Jack feels better almost instantly. No more insomnia, no more constant existential crisis, no more obsessive need to attend support groups for disease he doesn’t have. They even perform gleeful anti-capitalist pranks like stealing the fat from liposuction procedures to make fancy soap and sell it right back to the rich ladies who had the fat sucked out of them. For Jack, getting his nice condo blown up and meeting the renegade Tyler are the best things that have ever happened to him.
This is sort of a variation on Into the Wild, with a much happier ending. In the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed on her journey to hike over 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest trail in the wake of her divorce and struggles with heroin addiction after suffering the crippling loss of her mother’s death. A 26-year-old Strayed left her home and her husband after a period of drug use and rampant infidelity after her mother died. She decided to hike the Pacific Crest trail from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of Gods in Washington to cope with her troubles, getting rid of her worry about material possessions to focus on contemplation of the past and survival. She comes out the other side with her life completely changed, more understanding of her past, free from her self-destructive habits, and ready to start new because she did away with the old.
5. Love Story
In this 1970 tear-jerker, Ryan O’Neal’s character is a wealthy law student who gives up his inheritance and his family’s support when he falls in love with a middle-class girl his family disapproves of simply because she has less money than them. His family cuts him off completely when he announces that the couple plans to get married, but their love sees them through the hard times scraping together cash to pay for him to complete his law degree at Harvard. They get married and he finishes his education at the top of his class without any help from the family fortune. He never bothers to seek their assistance until his beloved becomes ill with cancer. There’s a sad ending to this one, but O’Neal’s character is happier overall in life for having forgone his family’s money in order to be with the woman he loved.