The study of metaphysics has almost 25 centuries of existence, when Aristotle wrote a book called “Metaphysical” about causation, form, matter and existence. According to the Greek philosopher, metaphysics isn’t just about transcendence, but in this list we will mainly focus on this subject: what’s beyond physical and material.
For that reason, it’s important to know the differences between transcendence and philosophical or poetic films. That changes everything.
The tangible is often challenged by artists, but it’s not always easy to put something transcendent and remote in culture products. Maybe Pink Floyd and John Donne are laughing about this, but, trust me, metaphysics is not for everyone. Some special touch is needed to reach the insensible. Cinema has this ability to wander into the absent and the unknown and these 15 films are great examples of that.
Writer’s Note: Metaphysics is very subjective and there’s not a tight definition for it. Its meaning is so variable, making a list about it is always an ungrateful mission. Not least because the transcendence level always depends on the viewer and that makes this list more personal than regular lists on Taste of Cinema.
15. Youth without Youth (2007)
This film is far from perfection, but it offers a new Coppola facet in cinema: the metaphysical. Between flashbacks and memories, ancient dialects and conversion on deathbed, this is the story of a man that abandons his wife to concentrate on an important work about origins and languages. Later, she turns out to be very important in his big work.
“In metaphysical controversies, empirical proofs lose their value, but wouldn’t you enjoy receiving a few fresh roses picked from the garden?” This quote could sum up “Youth without Youth” in short words. Thanks to Mircea Eliade’s novel, Francis Ford Coppola decided to return to direction ten years after “The Rainmaker”. While some applauded, others were very disappointed. Honestly, I’m glad he did it.
Metaphysical quote: “No form, no feeling, no thought, no choice, no consciousness. Gone! Gone! Gone beyond, completely gone.”
14. The Fountain (2006)
“The Fountain” is a film about eternal life with biblical and Mayan background. The story is divided in past, present and future, going from a Mayan tale to a space traveler narrative. Darren Aronofsky deals with the skepticism of a science man and the idea of death as an act of recreation. Mainly on the future part, we have a perfect sense of transcendence and lightness thanks to the special effects made by using micro-photography of chemical reactions on tiny petri dishes instead of CGI.
The film embraced a huge mysticism. The tree of life clashes with the immaterial three of knowledge during the entire story, while the characters work as the personification of those trees: Tom is the tree of knowledge and Izzi is the tree of life, Tom’s tree of life. Very underrated, this is a must-see that transcends life as we know it.
Metaphysical quote: “All these years. All these memories. There’s been you. You pulled me through time.”
13. Paprika (2006)
Satoshi Kon is a name to join close to others such as Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata or Mamoru Oshii. In terms of dreaming, “Paprika” makes “Inception” look like a catnap. For those who think animation is for children, the Japanese filmmaker brings a complex plot, full of twists between reality and fantasy, dream characters (free of stereotypes) and mature topics. The film has some psychological questions about today, such as the danger of internet alienation and the manifestation of reality in dreams.
“Paprika” is very Freudian in the way it deals with subconscious and technology gadgets related with that part of the brain. Unlike most “dreaming films”, “Paprika” doesn’t explain the whole thing and, unlike Disney animations, it doesn’t have a conventional narrative. If you are starving for something “different” and challenging, this film will be a great treat.
Metaphysical quote: “Are we awake?”
12. Enter the Void (2009)
In short, “Enter the Void” is a bad trip. The third film of Gaspar Noé isn’t as majestic as “Irreversible”, but it has the same dirtiness and some of the provocative elements of Noé. This is the story of a drug dealer who is killed in Tokyo and seeks for resurrection through his soul. The use of first-person POV turns everything personal and mystical.
Everything controversial has a big chance to be in this film: gay sex, drug use, gore, shocking accidents, sperm and dying fetus. It’s a feast. The film is quite slow with lots of flashbacks and visual effects, what helps you get into the mind of a drug addict. Without the abuse of special effects and surrealistic scenes, “Enter the Void” can transport us to another place full of weird sensations. Metaphysic ones.
Metaphysical quote: “Basically, when you die your spirit leaves your body. Actually, at first you can see all your life, like reflected in a magic mirror. Then you start floating like a ghost. You can see anything happening around you, you can hear everything but you can’t communicate. Then you see lights, lights of all different colors, these lights are the doors that pull you into other planes of existence, but most people actually like this world so much, that they don’t want to be taken away, so the whole thing turns into a bad trip and the only way out is to get reincarnated”.
11. I Origins (2014)
Mike Cahill’s name could be here also because of “Another Earth”, but “I Origins” fits best here. The film tells the story of Ian Gray, a molecular biologist who is researching the evolution of the human eye to prove that eyes have evolved. Years after, a scan of his son’s iris match with another’s person eyes. An idea of reincarnation is equated.
Suddenly, Ian Gray’s science ideas collapse because of religion dogmas, while he faces pain and platonic love in his personal life. Michael Pitt is perfect in the way he’s very convincing as a skeptical man who progressively believes in the mysteries of transcendence and reincarnation. The metaphysical connection between Ian (Michael Pitt) and the beautiful Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) is worthy of a modern classic.
Metaphysical quote: “You know we could be looking forever and find nothing.”
10. Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
Music is often difficult to put into simple words. When music is metaphysical and made by gods, it’s even harder to verbalize. Alan Parker accepted the challenge and translated the complex sounds of Pink Floyd (Roger Waters helped a lot) to a very special motion picture. The story is about “Pink”, a rock singer, who is sick of music business and surrenders to apathy and loneliness.
Working as a giant music video, “Pink Floyd – The Wall” is a haunting film of senses deeply influenced by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. The film is a great complement to the album. To Sum it up, the 1979’s classic album is the metaphysical element of the film.
Metaphysical quote: “Is there anybody out there?”
9. Waking Life (2001)
For many, Richard Linklater is an underrated filmmaker. If that’s true, this film is certainly one of the reasons why he should be more appreciated. The film dives in a thematic of dreams, searching for existential answers and discussing the meaning of universe with many dreamed characters. “Waking Life” is the most intellectual dream you will ever have.
Linklater has a background of literature, music and cinema and uses some quotes to keep the discussion interesting. The film is like a big dinner with refined and wise friends and all of them are hypnotized, sleeping and having a bad trip.
Metaphysical quote: “The worst mistake that you can make is to think you’re alive when really you’re asleep in life’s waiting room.”