Cinema is an eloquent form of art. Since ages, it has played an instrumental role in portraying and foretelling the stories of mankind. It has picked up several themes: existentialism being one of them.
Existentialism has been an area of curiosity since mid-20th century among artists, painters, writers and filmmakers. Although the roots of existentialism goes back to 19th century, where Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche began to explore the meaning and worth of human life in changing times.
In the late 1950s, French filmmakers inspired by existentialist stream of philosophy made films that threw light on a man’s quest for a deeper meaning in life.
Soon, existential cinema was a genre of its own and filmmakers dived into the abyss of human existence elucidating stories that made one introspect and reflect. Think and act.
1) The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Seventh Seal talks about idealism, human faith and the understanding behind spiritual enlightenment. Philosophically, its a brilliant film with two intertwined stories projecting the uncertainties of life using powerful analogies.
It breaks the concept of religious sentiments and tries to make one understand that, ultimately, the self has to offer the meaning to life.
“I want knowledge! Not faith, not assumptions, but knowledge. I want God to stretch out His hand, uncover His face and speak to me.” ~ The Seventh Seal.
2) The Passenger (1975)
Michelangelo Antonioni’s, “The Passenger” is a thought-provoking masterpiece that delves into the theory of past and present in context to identity and escapism. The story line embraces the irony of life in a positive light. Keeping this in focus, the movie revolves around the metaphor ‘Irony’.
It’s about a journey of a man called David Locke who is craving freedom from ironic circumstances. He finds himself standing on the various threshold of life and its epiphanies. The movie throws a great amount of light on existential angst.
3) The Truman Show (1998)
“The Truman Show” makes a poignant differentiation between illusion and reality. Nothing can be more dangerous for a man who has started believing in his own ignorance and mistakes.
The protagonist, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) takes us on his journey of skepticism forcing us to think and question our own beliefs/reality formed by the society we live in. By the end of the film, one gradually introspects the self with a different perspective.
4) Modern times (1936)
Modern Times by Charles Chaplin is an influential critique of the social structure and class division in our society. Due to a refrained social structure, one seldom is allowed to discreetly slip into the world of his own imagination and dreams.
The movie ponders upon Nietzsche’s philosophy of good vs bad life. Modern times displays how social structures and class positioning have become parameters to gauge goodness of life over time. Clearly, existential crisis that is drilled into your brain deliberately is not an existential crisis.
Ikiru is a movie that deals with a bureaucrat’s struggle to come to terms with his impending death. He has less than a year to live and in introspection, he realizes his mundane existence where he never bothered to live the way he would have wished to.
He never took a step to unravel himself and decided to do something worthwhile before his life ends. The movie is a journey of those philosophical vs. practical arguments, which we often deal with.
6) Winter light (1963)
Winter light is a story of a pastor who is in a state of despair as he deals with existential crisis and Christianity. He can’t make sense of the random world and struggles with his faith.
The movie focuses on understanding various textures of emotions in times of crisis. A bad experience, however, is a good lesson.
7) Lord of the flies (1963)
Lord of the flies reflects Locke and Hobbes’s existential philosophy of life. In a lifetime, several times we find ourselves standing on the verge of good and evil. The movie gives an interesting insight into understanding the inherent nature of human kind using influential symbolism.
8) Wings of Desire (1987)
“Wings of Desire” is a surreal representation of what it takes to be a human being. An angel descends upon earth and explores the existence of humans on earth. The angel is enthralled by the genuine human love and wishes to experience the same.
The movie has strikingly articulated thoughts about existentialism.
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream? Isn’t what I see, hear, and smell just the mirage of a world before the world? Does evil actually exist, and are there people who are really evil? How can it be that I, who am I, wasn’t before I was, and that sometime I, the one I am, no longer will be the one I am?
9) Slacker (1991)
Slacker is an intriguing movie exploring existential philosophy and the ephemeral circulation of ideas in society. It shows the way of life of overactive minds in a passive lifestyle that follow existential dilemmas.
It projects that section of people who were largely known as dreamers, misfits and misguided generation during the 1990s.
It wasn’t easy to blind or brainwash slackers as they completely out ruled the false beliefs and logics of selfish authorities like the Government. The movie brings up the challenges of being a part of such stream of consciousness.
10) Waking life (2001)
After ‘Slacker,’ the same director Rickard Linklater, released “Waking Life” ten years later. The movie is considered a sequel to Slacker. It talks about dreaming, lucid dreaming and reality mystically.
The movie showcases an interesting perspective to human existence, laying emphasis on understanding coincidences and the meaning of connections, as everything is connected to everything else.
On really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion. – Waking Life