Since ancient times, human beings have asked themselves questions about who we are, why we exist, what the meaning of life is, how and why we feel, perceive, think and act and, in general, how the universe works and why it does so.
The visualization and reflection of these and other phenomena have generated different types of explanations , which over time have been elaborated and contrasted through different scientific disciplines. Not in vain is philosophy considered the mother of all sciences.
For this reason, philosophy today continues to be an exciting field of study that allows us to reflect on the origin of what we know today and to ask ourselves about the still unknown from different perspectives.
About twenty films with philosophical interpretations
In this article, 20 essential films for philosophy students will be presented due to the deep reflection on life and reality that can be made from them.
1. The Truman Show (Peter Weir)
This well-known film is part of the list of must-see films for philosophy students because of its subject matter and the reflection it allows on one’s own life. In this film we are told about the life of Truman, who from the moment of his birth participates without knowing it in a reality show in the city of Seaheaven, created specifically for the reality show. The whole life of the protagonist is being filmed and controlled by the reality show team .
Truman’s life seems calm and normal until he begins to realize that what is happening around him is scripted and prepared around him, with the other citizens being actors and he being the only totally real person in town, so he ends up trying to escape.
The film shows how the protagonist tries to find out who he is and why his world is the way it is. On a philosophical level, it can serve to reflect on who we are, how we act towards others and the level of control and vigilance we have over our own life and that of others.
2. Matrix (Lilly Wachawski and Lana Wachowski)
Another well-known and relatively recent film, Matrix is a particularly philosophical film that refers to the myth of Plato’s cave, by dealing with his argument that we live in a false reality programmed by machines. However, contrary to the myth of the cave, in Matrix reality is devastating, being the human being harvested as a plant and subjected through illusion .
This film reflects the doubt of what is real, and how this can be seen, being another philosophical theme the search for freedom and the capacity to choose. We also see the differentiation between the experienced world and the rational world typical of Plato.
3. Origin (Christopher Nolan)
The film Origen is set in a world where there are professionals with the ability to enter the dreams of others , accessing the subconscious of other people and working with them. The protagonist of the film is one of them, who is persecuted for his talent and for a painful past and because of this is unable to have a normal life.
One of the jobs they are offered to do ends badly, so they are lured into the job so that instead of getting information from a person’s subconscious, they introduce ideas into it. The story is complicated by the possibility of being trapped in the world of dreams, being difficult to discern when one is awake and when within the dream.
On a philosophical level one can ask oneself if one is really living or if what one is experiencing is only a dream, asking oneself what exactly reality is and whether it is really so important to know. Freedom of choice and other recurring philosophical themes such as human mentality, guilt, doubt, need for redemption and hope are also addressed.
4. Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa)
During this film we see how its protagonist, Kenji Watanabe, leads a monotonous life. He is not very active and empty, and he does not realize it until he is detected with cancer. From the moment she is diagnosed, she tries to find a meaning to her life and to the time she has left .
Philosophically, we encounter such relevant themes as death and the fear of it, loneliness, choice and the search for meaning in life.
5. The day Nietzsche cried (Pinchas Perry)
In this film we can see how the well-known philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has a high level of hopelessness , which is why he is prepared to make an appointment with the also renowned Dr. Breuer, a renowned professional of dynamic orientation and one of Freud’s masters. Initially the therapy seems to be unsuccessful, but over time it would help to improve his situation. In the same way the philosopher helped the doctor to cope with social pressures, and friendship developed between the two.
Melancholy, social pressure, despair and friendship are the prevailing themes in the film.
6. Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
Clockwork orange is another classic with great philosophical significance . During the course of the film we see a group of gang members led by Alex, the main character. Together they carry out various violent and criminal acts, committing rapes and brutal beatings until, during one of them, one of the people attacked dies and Alex is caught.
He is then subjected to aversive procedures to control and avoid his violent behaviour, and after treatment the young man gradually visualises the consequences of his actions, with the people he assaulted taking revenge on him.
From a philosophical point of view, the film allows us to reflect on the cruelty, violence and the desire to destroy others, as well as the consequences of one’s own actions. It also serves as a critique of different theoretical models, such as behaviorism.
As in other films and works by Kubrick, one can also visualize a critique of the progressive technologization of human activity, idiotizing the media to the masses and making them little aware of reality, as with Alex’s parents.
7. The seventh seal (Ingmar Bergman)
This film is set in the Middle Ages, at the time when Blovk, a Swedish knight who participated in the Crusades . At one point the knight meets death, which has come to seek him out. The knight proposes a game of chess, during which aspects of his life will be remembered and the fears, doubts and questions that he has been asking himself throughout his life will be reflected upon.
As in the case of the previous film, in this film we are made to think about death and boredom of life. It also talks about what living and dying, hedonism, love or innocence means.
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo (Woody Allen)
This film is about the sad story of a woman in the time of the Great Depression , using the cinema as a method of escape from sadness and a life that does not satisfy her. On one of the occasions when she goes to the cinema, one of the characters in the fiction takes notice of her and enters the real world through the screen, and soon after they start a romantic relationship on both sides of the screen. However, the producer of the film finds out about it and draws up a plan in order to return each one to his or her own world.
Again the theme of freedom of choice, the way of facing reality and the distinction between reality and fantasy are some of the philosophical elements seen in this film.
9. Lives Counted (Jill Sprecher)
This is a film divided into thirteen parts , in which five different people live their lives while trying to be happy and reflect on who they are, where they want to go and how they try to achieve it.
In this film, the search for happiness, hope and connectivity between people and phenomena is analysed.
10. Cartesius (Robert Rosellini)
It is a film centred on the figure of René Descartes. In it we see how throughout his life the thinker tried to justify reason as the basis of thought. The philosophical interest of this film lies in the visualization and deepening of the thoughts of the well-known philosopher, as well as the kind of life that led him to reflect in such a way.
11. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
Another work of great philosophical significance. During the film we see how the main character is in a permanent state of lucid dreaming as a consequence of an outrage . In this state he proceeds to reflect on different questions such as the meaning of life and the desire to live, even holding conversations with different thinkers of the story as he tries to resolve his doubts.
In this film, dreams, the meaning of life and thought are reflected from very different perspectives, visualizing diverse philosophical currents.
12. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
A cult work of science fiction, this film covers different historical periods , from prehistory to a future in which humanity is in the midst of space exploration.
One of the best known fragments is set in the future, in a space exploration to Jupiter in which a supercomputer seems to acquire consciousness, appearing doubt, fear and even murdering one of its crew members.
Evolution, intelligence and the development of technology, together with the existence of consciousness in humans and non-humans, are themes to be reflected upon after their visualization.
13. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
The film focuses on the O’Brien family’s eldest son, Jack, who throughout his life has seen his mother as tender and loving and his father as stern and serious. At the age of 19 Jack’s brother loses his life, which has serious effects on family life . Years later, an adult Jack begins to ask himself profound existential questions, reflecting on the influence that his family, environment and experiences have had on his life.
It can allow for reflection on thinking, the effects of interaction and socialization.
14. The possible lives of Mr. Nobody (Jaco Van Dormael)
A recent film that reflects the life of the last human mortal in a world where most human beings have left that condition thanks to the advances of science. On the verge of death, Mr. Nobody thinks, remembers and imagines a series of possible situations that could have come to life if he had decided on certain courses of action.
Freedom and choice, as well as love and the meaning of life, are themes on which the film allows us to reflect.
15. Blade Runner
One of the great classics of science fiction , in this film we see how society has evolved to create the replicants, robots initially thought of as slaves until they rebelled, a rebellion that resulted in their banishment. Many of these replicants return, ignoring some of them that are not human. The Blade Runners are a police team dedicated to destroying them, among which is the main character of the story..
Awareness, perception, inequality and rejection, misunderstanding and fear all come together in this film, and the themes are observable and subsequently debatable after viewing.
16. The Butterfly Effect (Eric Bress and Mackye Gruber)
This film stars Evan, a young man traumatized by painful events of the past . Through reading, the young man discovers a way to go back in time and change some of the events that marked his life, thus making the future different. However, fixing one of the events may have other consequences that are as or more painful than what originally happened.
Some of the philosophical issues addressed in this film are the passage of time, fate, action and choice, and remorse.
17. V for Vendetta (James McTeigue)
This film is about V, an extravagant and intellectual man who fights against the tyranny of the dystopian society in which he spends his life, seeking revenge through the destruction of the political system.
Corruption, politics and the search for freedom are themes present in the film.
18. The Fighting Club (David Fincher)
This film is about the life of an insomniac and empty young man , who after meeting a soap seller decides together with him to found a secret fight club, based on the thought that only pain makes life worth living and where members can vent their frustration.
This film can be used to reflect on the subject of pain, on the appreciation of life from different perspectives, on knowing and perceiving what is real, how we think and how all this affects our lives.
19. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)
What is the human being and from what point we can consider something alive or real are some of the themes that can be explored in this film.
The argument is based on David, a robot child created and programmed with the ability to love in a world where the only thing that makes humans and robots different from each other is their feelings. Despite his creation, people are not able to accept him, so the little robot will try to find the answer to who he is.
20. Mar adentro (Alejandro Amenábar)
The story told in this film, based on real events, tells the life of Ramón Sampedro and his search for euthanasia after decades of being bedridden due to an accident.
Freedom of choice, the right to life and to dispose of one’s own death and suffering are central themes of this film.