For many people, myself included, good films and TV series are a gateway to philosophy. The medium provides a unique forum for discussing what we often take for granted. Science fiction is the most common genre for such exploration, but more “everyday” films also find ways to ask the big question. Accordingly, I have curated a list of classic must-sees for any prospective philosophy student.
The Truman Show
This Jim Carrey classic tells the story of Truman, a man whose life, unbeknownst to him, is broadcasted as the world’s most popular TV show. So what happens when Truman begins to realise that his world actually revolves around him? The Truman Show provokes questions about the limits of our knowledge and how it affects our life, in addition to existential questions. This film is guaranteed to be mentioned in either a lecture or a seminar!
12 Monkeys may be a bit of a hidden gem. Directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Bruce Willis, this film tells the tale of a dystopian future in which a man-made virus has devastated the world and what is left of mankind has retreated underground. A convict is sent back in time to discover the cause of the virus. Anything virus-related feels apt these days, but 12 Monkeys requires you to get on-board with both time travel, time loops, and whether our actions are truly free.
Parasite depicts a working class-family’s gradual infiltration of a rich family in Seoul. This Oscar-winning film is cinematically impressive, and magnificently captures director Bong Joon Ho’s stark analysis of class struggle in our contemporary world. Parasite appeals especially to students interested in political philosophy, but is really a must-see for anyone interested in film.
A Christopher Nolan blockbuster that plays with our conception of both time and space, in which a dystopic future prompts the need to travel through a wormhole to save humanity. Inception is naturally a highly recommended Nolan-classic, but Interstellar speaks even more to an intellectual audience by addressing important questions about the nature of time and human agency.
Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell, the animated original from 1995, is a true anime classic that even anime-sceptics will enjoy. In a future where nearly all humans have cybernetic parts, we follow Major Motoko Kusanagi and the special police division Section 9 in their effort to chase down a cyber hacker that hacks into people’s cybernetic brains. The result is action-packed (one scene was actually later copied in The Matrix) but deeply reflective of what it means to be human, and what happens to our identities when we merge with technology. The sequel, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, boasts even more philosophical depth and is also highly recommended. The original Japanese audio is imperative.
The Matrix hardly needs an introduction as it has become a vast cultural reference point, but just to be safe, it tells the story of computer programmer and hacker Neo who discovers that his life is not what he thought it was. This results in one of the greatest action and sci-fi films of all time, that also draws upon both Plato and Descartes for a solid philosophical foundation. As with The Truman Show, The Matrix will certainly be mentioned in a philosophy lecture or seminar.
The mysterious death of her boyfriend leads computer engineer Lily to investigate the development division in her company. Many other films and series flirt with the idea of freedom and determinism, but Devs directly addresses the question, and how technology impact our understanding of it. The result is thorough and intriguing, and explores a central part of ethics and its foundation.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Possibly the greatest anime series of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Evangelion for short, has rightly earned its cult status among the philosophically inclined and anime-fans alike. Don’t let the 90’s animation put you off – it is truly fantastic. Disguised as a mecha-anime, Shinji is requited to pilot a mega-robot to fight against “Angels” from above that regularly come down to earth and attempt to destroy it. The action is entertaining, but as the series develop we gain further insight into the characters’ mental health struggles and how their thoughts reflect the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Eventually, the series reveals an essentially Hegelian project and shifts completely from the external to the internal. The ending is notoriously elusive, so I suggest you pair it with the accompanying film, The End of Evangelion, as this gives you a different perspective on the same events. And please do watch it in the original Japanese – you will not regret it!
To explore the King’s Philosophy Department page, click here
To read Iona’s blog post, ‘A day in the life of a Philosophy student’, click here
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