The 18 Best Philosophical Movies of All Time
10. Barton Fink (1991, The Coen Brothers)
Directed and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, the brothers who made remarkable films such as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men and Blood Simple, they use film as a visual medium to tell Barton Fink’s story that strongly depicts his life consumed by pride of his art which gets destroyed as soon as he enters the Hollywood playground.
The film portrayed Fink as an impotent intellectual man who sells himself out while telling himself he is doing the right thing. Sometimes we don’t know we are in the midst of a seduction by the fascism of daily life. Thus this movie largely presents itself as a metaphor for heaven and hell.
11. The Addiction (1995, Abel Ferrara)
Kathleen, a college philosophy grad, wanders around New York City. One night she was ambushed by a female vampire, who also challenged Kathleen to beg for her life by saying, “Tell me to go away. Don’t plead with me; just tell me to go away, like you mean it.”
However, Kathleen wanted to get bitten and infected. She wanted to be a vampire. Now with her new lifestyle, being both sick and traumatized, she now craves human blood and wanders around the city. She begins to consciously ask questions about the importance of humanity.
She has thoughts such as philosophy has no purpose, that the histories of mankind are nothing more than a mask to hide human weakness and chaos. The civilization that we know of is nothing but a pile of unburied dead bodies built upon the deceased bodies consumed by war. Abel Ferrara created one of the most entertaining, edgy and interesting moral films, which also happens to be a vampire movie.
12. The Truman Show (1998, Peter Weir)
The Truman Show stars Jim Carrey as the main character. Everything about Truman is fake. His relationships, work, and his life was displayed for millions of TV viewers. What is real? This film is a reference to the thoughts of the great philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, Schopenhaur to Plato.
The Truman Show is an exceedingly disturbing movie, monitored by at least 5,000 cameras, broadcasting straight to the audience, available 24/7. It is as if we are the God who created Mr. Truman, watching him, following him and everything else he does, and unfortunately he doesn’t even know that he is the main cogwheel of his own world. This brings us to the topic, should God be allowed to be immoral or should he be bound by morality and ethics?
This is a psychological experiment for the audience to decide and debate. This also lures the audience into the capability of asking the question, do we have to obey his commandments heedlessly or do we ignore and exercise our own judgments? Then if we do ignore and exercise our own law, are we being wrongful? Will there be consequences for those actions? It is a sophisticated film but it gives the audience a ride to be the judge of social behavioral for this adventure.
13. The Matrix (1999, The Wachowskis)
Keanu Reeves is well-known for the role of Neo in The Matrix. He plays a computer programmer by day and a hacker by night. Neo’s life changes after receiving an enigmatic message on his computer when he begins searching for a man named Morpheus. Meeting this ambiguous man, eventually Neo learns that reality is actually very different from what he and most other people perceive it to be.
This movie contains a great deal of religious and philosophical theories, which have been brought up by many philosophers, and it is still being viewed and studied today in the academic world. Plato’s idea of what we see in this world is a mere shadow of what truly exists, and that we have not seen what the world really is via our eyes. W.E.B. Dubois’ concepts of the double consciousness are being discussed, along with Descartes’ ability to think for oneself.
So, what is reality? Bear in mind there are no malicious forces deceiving us about the nature of reality. It is about our senses and thoughts, which deceive us. By providing a limited amount of message on what we have, it could alter or change our perception of reality based upon the variance that was given. From that information we will probably end up constructing models of the world. Our brain is pretty petrifying, isn’t it?
14. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)
Christopher Nolan’s feature film Memento is an adaptation of a short story by Jonathan Nolan, “Memento Mori.”. Memento is a thought-provoking neo-noir psychological thriller film told in reverse and challenging in itself just to watch due to its non-linear, backwards narrative structure.
Nolan wants his audience to be part of Leonard’s life. Hence we are witnessing everything from an amnesia sufferer and ex-insurance investigator whom also investigated the brutal and cold-blooded rape and murder of his wife in a burglary, which caused him the amnesia due to a blow to his skull.
This movie visits the memory, perception, grief, self-deception and revenge of human a behavior, which talks about the importance of the body, being a self, a practical sense of time. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher, asked once, “A dog believes his master is at the door. But can he also believe his master will come the day after tomorrow?” This is definitely an ambiguous film and it is disturbing, as the movie ends, “Is this the end of Leonard or is there going to be another Memento?”
15. Waking Life (2001, Richard Linklater)
If you remember A Scanner Darkly, then you are in for another bizarre rotoscope animation technique movie. Director Richard Linklater takes us on an extraordinary journey about a nameless man who finds himself trapped in a series of continuous dreams. Linklater also wants the audience to challenge themselves to combine their rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of their dreams, as if it’s an inception, but not exactly like Inception by Nolan.
However, the film is about an expression of a personal philosophy. It’s mainly about Linklater’s influences from his friends and thoughts, as if we are on his boat and he’s the captain of it, guiding us into his perceptive world. Interweaving within his voice, the plot of this movie is about Wiley Wiggins, who travels through various stages of dreams.
You may want to watch this film multiple times due to its high intensity and the details of the dream sequences, which brings about a new phase of concepts and ideas. This movie leaps into a lot of philosophies: Buddhism, existentialists and more. Keep in mind every scene in this movie has its own message and every time you watch it you gain a new perspective.
16. I Heart Huckabees (2004, David O’Russell)
This is a movie about existentialism and the meaning of life, and stars Jason Schwartzman, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law and Lily Tomlin. I Heart Huckabees examines the philosophical debates between individualism and the inner connection of an individual toward the environment, idealism and success. But hold on, we are not done yet.
The movie is also littered with references to an array of philosophical and artistic ideas, from Sartre to Freudian to surrealism, though David O’Russell admitted that this movie was predominantly influenced by Zen Buddhism when he encountered Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Robert Thurman. So where do we stand here, which philosophy really holds the movie?
Infinite thoughts versus pain and suffering in life, although at the end Albert discovers that something else precedes them, which he realizes he can reverse the psychology of his thoughts about his archenemy by looking at the person as one who is suffering and looking for meaning just as he is. This is to the point that one understands being one of compassion, which answers Zen Buddhism.
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)
Directed by Michel Gondry, Eternal Sunshine is a romantic comedy drama movie starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. It’s written by Charlie Kauffman, who’s behind breathtaking films such as Adaptation, Synecdoche, New York and Being John Malkovich. The couple undergoes anomalous procedures to erase each other’s memories after a fight only to find out they have been into this point of life before.
It’s deep, personal, and rich, yet fragile when things go wrong. Michel Gondry cleverly explores the memory, relationships, loss and the connections between these two souls. This film is one of the best films to have the right blend of romance, originality and surrealism.
18. The Fountain (2006, Darren Aronofsky)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the man behind films such as Black Swan, PI, and Requiem for Dreams, The Fountain is a movie about spirituality and immortality, life and death, abiding love, the tree of life and the fountain of youth. This is quite a complex story and eventually holds up well over time.
Hugh Jackman plays Tommy, who is doing an experimental surgery on monkeys, hoping to find a cure for his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). In between that story, another story emerges, in which Hugh is a Spanish conquistador who is sent by Rachel to find the biblical Tree of Life whose sap brings immortality.
Then in another story it places Hugh as an astronaut floating in space with The Tree of Life. He believes Izzi is part of the tree and once he reaches Xibalba Nebula, seen by the Mayans as an underworld, he will be reunited with her.
Scientist, warrior and an explorer, all three stories bring together Hugh Jackman’s character, who refuses to see death as anything but an enemy he must defeat. In each story he misses the love that was set in front of him but he pushes away and insists on trying to achieve miracles.
Honorable Mentions: The Stranger by Luchino Visconti, Inception by Christopher Nolan, A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick, Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky, Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, Lake of Fire by Tony Kaye, Cartesius by Roberto Rossellini, The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont and 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet.
Author Bio: Vinnoth Ira Krish is a Filmmaker and Raconteur for Opsoclo Films & Cinema 48. Currently residing in Lincoln, NE making documentaries for Vision Maker Media and NET Nebraska. Just like any other moviegoer, he watch movies, writes stories and wields stories for his audience. You can find him at twitter: https://twitter.com/IraOpsoclo.
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