Philosophical Issues and Film

Narrative cinema has often drawn on the subject matter of philosophy, giving rise in a thousand different ways to the great questions we human beings ask ourselves about the meaning of life, destiny, etc.. Stories and characters often reflect narrative structures that are present in the masterpieces of universal literature, recreating situations and experiences that the audience can recognize and make their own through the expressive power of the audiovisual medium. We could say that they make feelings, thoughts, ideas and dreams visible, and speak to the imagination and the emotions with great persuasive power.

Philosophers like Eugenio Trias and Edgar Morin have felt attracted to film as a means of interpreting the world and the human being of our times, expressing as it does a combination of visual arts and connecting so-called popular or mass culture with "high culture": there are "film versions" based on the plots of Shakespearean tragedies or with symbolic structures similar to the great epics of Homer. Good cinema, like a "dream factory", peoples the imaginarium of contemporary societies with new myths, or rather adaptations of the timeless myths, by recreating the same old stories and telling them in the languages of today.

 

A Beautiful Mind

Una mente maravillosa

Release year: 2001
Duration: 135 minutes
Movie category: Biography, Drama
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)

Production Companies:
Universal Pictures
DreamWorks SKG
Imagine Entertainment

Cast:
Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Jason Gray-Stanford, Judd Hirsch, Austin Pendleton, Vivien Cardone, Jillie Simon, Victor Steinbach, Tanya Clarke

 

This movie is a hymn to the power of the human Will. Every man from the moment of his birth has this power within him. But, it is up to him how he trains it and how he increases it during his lifetime.

In eastern philosophy, difficulties of life are considered to be "trials" that life puts in front of us in order to fight and to become stronger. To succeed, we need "Will Power". All the great personalities (artists, scientists, politicians), all who opened new horizons to the world used Will power to overcome the obstacles of torpidity that one's environment puts in front of him.

This skill is what differentiates people. That's why nothing is equally difficult for everybody. Every man has his limits to the use his Will power (the higher the limit the bigger the strength needed). Jesus Christ said that a man has the strength to move mountains once he has the will to do so.

If one looks at everyday life, we find examples of heroism and strength. We can see handicapped people with no hands, able to draw. We can see people with obvious physical deficiencies gain distinctions in sports or other cultural activities.

In ancient times, this was taught through myths. Hercules, Theseus, Jason (in Greek mythology) were prominent models of human Will (regardless of their virtues). In these examples, there is no ambiguity that the main obstacle is the mind.

Our mind usually puts obstacle within us. The Mind can present a small hill as a huge mountain. It is very important to be able to control his mind; and not to allow it to fly around and disorient himself.

In India, a monkey symbolizes this mind; he likes to climb and jump from one tree to another. He likes change and dislikes steady ideas. Today, in the information age (not knowledge age), in the opinion age (not judgement age), in the age of fast changing images, the monkey is highly satisfied. But the loser is man himself, who is very easily disoriented and manipulated.

When the mind is "out of control", psychoses and illnesses appear like schizophrenia.

In this movie, the protagonist finds the way and strength to an inner battle. Being a mathematics genius, it is gradually revealed that he suffers from schizophrenia. Although he is a genius, how can he fight his mind that shows him things as real; that are not? People that he knows for years, people he grew up with, studied with and had fun with are just his imagination.

How easy is it for someone to accept that? The easiest and less painful thing is to build a story of persecution by those who want to shatter this fake reality. This would drive him deeper into madness.

Suddenly, he has an inspiration. He realises that the people in his imagination do not get older. Although he has known them for years, they remain, as they were the first day he met them.

The fact that time does not influence them, guides him to truth and is a way to fight against them. But it is different realising the flaw than being able to fight against it.

The more you try to oppose it, the bigger it becomes!

After struggling, the hero finds a solution. He tries not to feed these thoughts; not to fight against them, but to ignore them. These thought were born and there is no power to kill them, he has to let them dissolve through time by themselves. He does not deal with them; he carries them in everything he does. He is scared but goes on with this fear in his life. The thought forms are still there but they do not possess him.

He manages with his Will to change his perspective of life. He uses something more powerful than his everyday mind and this was a heroic act on its own.

Just like Theseus, he managed with the Ariadna's hint to escape from the labyrinth of his mind. He indeed, had a "beautiful mind" ...

Avatar

Avatar

Release year: 2009
Duration: 162 minutes  
Movie category: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Director: James Cameron
Writers:  James Cameron
Main actors:  Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver

In a future not so far away, people discover a new planet, Pandora. This planet contains a mineral which people use as fuel. The People try first to civilize the "savage indigenous people" and when that fails, they use the force of weapons to conquer. Science is their ally, providing them with powerful weapons. Scientists will also create genetic hybrids, using human DNA. In this way, they create identical bodies of the "savages" (these are called "avatars"), which are much bigger than humans, blue skinned and adjusted to the planet's atmosphere where no man can live without an oxygen mask. Hence, a scientist becomes a small god because he can put man's conscience into an avatar, and feel and live, whatever his avatar feels and lives. It is like putting a soul directly into a body.

 There is a complicated plot as the man sent as a spy falls in love with the planet’s nature and its people. He embraces their customs and traditions and is initiated to their rituals. He realizes that their respect for Mother-Nature, their faith and everything around them (is based on borrowed energy that they have to preserve and use wisely) is what makes their lives happy and meaningful. Little by little he gets to know a very different world that he couldn't even imagine or understand, and realizes that barbarians and uncivilized people are not the ones that lack of technology; but those who have lost their values trying to have bigger profits.

The movie points out current issues. Our history is full of "savage tribes" conquered for profit and exploitation. Conquest is justified differently from time to time (we either conquer to expand Christianity or apply democracy) but the method is always the same and varies according to the technology level of each era. The way to hell, one says, is paved by good intentions; and sometimes the fanaticism and faith in our own values makes us incapable of realizing other aspects of reality. How righteous can a man or a whole civilization be when he cannot understand another aspect of reality? Can there be truth if there is no justice? Can there be love? Can there be wisdom? Probably not!

The only thing that can keep man away from fanaticism and terrorism is wisdom accompanied by understanding. Man has to learn, try to know, to be global, and to be a holistic human being. Wisdom also provides the ability to choose, and therefore to be free (this is a hero flying on the back of the dragon) and is dangerous for defense mechanisms and conservatism.

Avatars in Hinduism are the divine incarnations of superior beings of which the uttermost are (Gods) on earth. For example Vishnu, Siva, Ganesh are considered to have descended to earth in forms of Avatars, Jesus Christ and Mohammed are considered by Hindus as Avatars.

This happens when a deity uses a specific personality to transmit a message.
For eastern religions, the concept of an Avatar is the superior utterances of an enlightened being, untied to the wheel of incarnation. Therefore an avatar is totally free to choose and conscientiously enslaves him-self to matter to teach love to all.

The movie’s hero represents the emissary here; but as he is not an enlightened being and his purpose is not virtuous, he is taught by the "savages" and cannot teach them.

We cannot disregard that the hero is handicapped. But despite his limited physical strength, he is psychologically strong; which is important because his inner values and abilities transform him into a warrior of light. The trials he undergoes (as seen in traditional civilizations eg. Indians) are there to bring out his esoteric strengths and virtues. This is how to understand ‘flying on the dragon’ as a trial that only the very capable can manage.

There are many Red Indian's traditions in the movie. Similar stories are in other movies as well ("Dancing with the wolves", "The last of the Mohicans" etc). Perhaps today more than ever, there is an urgent need for an ecological consciousness that these traditional civilizations respected.

This is clearly stated in the reply of the Seattle Indian’s Chief in 1855 to the American President when he requested to buy their land. Some phrases from this letter are quite similar with the movie's plot.


".... Everything on this land is sacred for my people
..... The tree’s juice contains the memories of people with red skin. We are part of this land and this land is part of ourselves.
..... Rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst
..... Air is valuable for people with red skin because everything shares it: animals, people, trees. Air shares its spirit with all life that it preserves. Everything that affects earth also affects earth's children.
... When people spit on the ground, they spit on themselves. It was not man that weaved the net of life; he is just one of its threads. All actions of man that affect the net, affects himself as well.
.... Everything is connected to each other as blood line connects the members of a family"

At the end of the film, there is an impressive cooperation of all of nature, to drive the invaders away - people that destroy everything for their own profit. Great Mother Earth realizes the "indigenous people’s” worries and reacts.

The faith in Great Mother or Mother Earth as a matriarchal archetype is found in mythologies all over the world. The archetype of the Great Mother is seen even in the Neolithic era; represented by fertility figurines, representing different forms purity, fertility and wisdom. In the movie the Great Mother is called "Eywa". But Eywa does not handle man's problems; this is not because of lack of love or concern. As the hero's indigenous female friend tells him, Eywa is not on anyone's side; she is the mother of all creatures even the ones that hurt her. What she has to do is to maintain balance. She is the factor that regulates the rhythm of life-energy.

The most sacred place on the Planet is the sacred tree that bears the memories of all ancestors. In many civilizations, we find the "tree of life". According to Mircea Eliade, the tree symbolizes the regenerating universe, the wellspring of life, the sacredness of the world, and its fertility; it is the tree of Life and Immortality, the tree of Destiny, the tree of Knowledge and many others. In Scandinavian cultures, we find Yggdrasil, the giant tree of the World that connects the nine worlds of Scandinavian Cosmology. In the Jewish Kabbalah, the tree of Life is found in its Cosmology. For the Turkish tradition and other civilizations of Southern Siberia, the Universe consists of 3 zones: the upper world (sky), the middle world (earth) and the lower world (underworld) which are connected through a tree that they call rich birch or iron poplar. The souls of children and animals rest on its branches. This cosmic tree determines, organizes and connects the 3 worlds. The upper branches shade the residency of the sky God and its roots go deep into the underworld. These people believed that shamans travel between the Upper World and the Underworld by climbing on this tree. We should also recall the biblical tree of Knowledge with its precious fruits.

The tree in this movie is the tree of prayers which bears the ancestors' memories and through which their voices are heard. It is the presence of Eywa and it is not a coincidence that it sounds like "Eva" which in Hebrew means "life".

Beyond symbolisms, we have to realize its relation to reality. We may consider this movie to be a kind of artistic protest of the director against the destruction of one of the earth's biggest "lungs", the Amazonian forest. It is true that the Indians of the Amazon went through the destruction of their land, the uprooting of trees and deforestation. For these people, this was not a mere encroachment but an uprooting from the source of their lives. This has been happening for years and it is only lately that the protests against destruction have increased. Everyday, more and more people realize what the Indian chief expressed through this poetic words coming directly from his soul:

"...... because we don't know what will happen when all buffalos are exterminated, when all horses are tamed, when the most secret places in woods will have man's smell and when the view towards the green hills will be obstructed from many wires that are talking. Where is the thick forest? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone."

So life stops and survival starts.

 

 

Blade Runner

Blade Runner

Blade Runner is a US science fiction movie, directed by Ridley Scott, premiered in 1982 and based loosely on Philip K. Dick's novel: Do androids dream of electric sheep? (1968).

It has become a science fiction classic with two Academy Award nominations. It is a favourite among cinema lovers and academics and quickly earned cult status.

The cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel and Joanna Cassidy. Main designer Syd Mead; score composed by Vangelis.

Plot: The movie takes place in Los Angeles, November 2019. The film describes a future in which ’beings’ produced through genetic engineering — called replicants — are used to carry out dangerous jobs or are slaves for colonies far from planet Earth. These replicants are manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation to be ‘more human than human’ — especially the ‘Nexus-6’ models which resemble humans physically. They have greater strength and agility, but lack emotions and empathy. Replicants were banned from planet Earth after a bloody mutiny. A special police force — the Blade Runners — was created to hunt down and kill (or ‘retire’ as they say in the film) runaway replicants residing on Earth. When a particularly brutal and skilled group of replicants that wreaks havoc in Los Angeles is detected, Deckard (Harrison Ford) reluctantly agrees to use ‘the old Blade Runner magic’.

The Film's interest:

Blade Runner has been widely acclaimed as a modern classic because of the way it addresses themes and issues relevant to the 21st century, and for its special effects. It has been praised as one of the most influential films of all time, because its originality serves as a visual post-modern landmark, through its vivid depiction of a decadent future. It raises critical themes such as religion, philosophy and the ethical questions around genetic engineering, all within the context of a classic Greek drama.

It criticizes the unbridled power of trans-national corporations, the ubiquity of a police state's power over individuals, the idea of genetic programming, environmental control, and the creation and treatment of animals as mere objects. This mythical film can be summed up in the last words of the replicant: "Where do we come from, where are we going?"

According to sociologist David Lyon, “the setting in Blade Runner is that of urban decadence: abandoned buildings which were once majestic (interpreted by postmodern theorists as symbols of a fallen modernity), crammed, cosmopolitan streets, never-ending street markets, trash that has not been picked up and a constant grey drizzle. [...] Without a doubt, progress is in ruins. [...] Greek and Roman pillars, Chinese dragons and Egyptian pyramids melt with enormous Coca-Cola and Pan Am neon signs. [...] The main picture is that of decadence, of breakup and of a chaotic mixture of styles. What makes Blade Runner post-modern? [...] For one, ‘reality’ itself is disputed. The replicants want to be real people, but the test of reality is a photographic image, a created identity. This is a way of looking at post-modernity: a debate on reality. The world of sound scientific data and a history with purpose is a legacy from the European Enlightenment. Is it nothing more than a yearning?” (LYON, D., Postmodernity, cit., p. 12-13).

This film was preserved in the United States National Film Registry in 1993 and is frequently used in university lectures. Its lines and soundtrack have made it the most cited film of the 20th Century. The last sentence uttered by the replicant Roy Batty before he dies is a key moment:

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Original Title

Wo hu cang long

Year

2000

Running Time

119 min.

 

 

Directed by

Ang Lee

Screenplay by

Hui-Ling Wang, James Schamus, Kuo Jung Tsai. (Novel by Du Lu Wang)

Music

Tan Dun

Cinematography

Peter Pau

Starring

Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Sihung Lung, Pei-pei Cheng, Fazeng Li, Xian Gao, Yan Hai, Deming Wang

Produced by

Co-production Taiwan-China-Hong Kong-USA; Sony Pictures Classics

Awards

2000: 4 Academy Awards: Best foreign language film. 10 Nominations
2000: 2 Golden Globes: Best director for foreign language film. 3 nominations
2000: 4 BAFTA Awards, including David Lean for best direction. 14 nominations.
2000: National Board of Review: Best foreign language film
2000: New York Film Critics Circle: Best Cinematography
2000: 2 awards Toronto International Film Festival: Best director (Ang Lee), Best picture.

 Tigre y dragon

In two hours, this film presents the core of the mysterious Chinese culture. It is not another martial arts movie. We can say that it is a myth because it contains archetypal symbols.

Let us start with the title. The tiger and the dragon are important and profoundly meaningful Chinese symbols. The dragon, a sort of winged snake vomiting fire, is the most sacred solar symbol with a beneficial power. It represents the spirit. The dragon also represents the occult knowledge and the wisdom that is the real power. The tiger is the opposite. It symbolizes the matter power, the chthonic. It is a lunar symbol and is someone who can see in the darkness.

Both express the fundamental symbol in China, the Ying Yang. The circle divided in two parts, one black another white containing the opposite of each other. Through this conflict, the eternal circle of creation continues. The masculine and feminine principle, the birth of destruction, war and peace.

Ancient Chinese thought that such a conflict exists in every human being. Every one must balance these two elements through his/her own inner struggle. The Chinese also use martial arts to achieve this effort. Western people only understand the external form of these martial arts (with some exceptions).

Chinese believe that, “if someone killed thousands of enemies but did not conquer himself, the struggle is worthless”. This can be seen in the movie. The effort to perfect the inner self is not related to the apparently perfect body movements. We observe that evil can utilize this technique but fails to reach the essence. It is, the path to reach the essence always goes through Virtue. This path is not easy. Whoever follows this path leaves behind “the small pleasures” of the “small man”. It is a path of solitude. Heroic but difficult. The two main characters followed this path for several years. Now, they can have a teacher and carry a sword. The sword is always a symbol of a spiritual element.

At the beginning of the movie, the main character is tired of his searching. He thinks that by surrendering the sword he will find peace. But the problems begin later. This decision brings a chain. We cannot deny our own Dharma, it is, we cannot leave the path once started although it was dedicated to his master (same as Mumbai). Otherwise, a high price has to be paid.

This film has several teachings. At a certain point someone said, ‘The things that we touch don’t last, nothing can be kept in this world. Only when we renounce them, we understand the true reality.” This is the teaching of detachment, a fundamental teaching in the oriental philosophy and religion. What we perceive through our senses is an illusion and we suffer because what we believe is true and everlasting is just temporary.
Everything is born to die later. The disciple needs a teacher to search for what is beyond material forms.

In Oriental philosophy the virtues in the disciple’s path are: a) dedication to the teacher and the search, b) Research (internal and external truth), and, c) Service (the offering with actions) Also, it is important to understand that the soul is genderless, a good or bad warrior can be a male or a female. What counts is the soul.

Keep in mind the words at the end of the movie: “A loyal heart makes wishes come true”. So, to stick to the end is what makes a hero-warrior. Remember that the longest road starts under our feet, as long as we are willing to walk.

This desire is hidden in the heart as it was in the heart of the little protagonist who refused to accept her fate planned by others. She wanted a more intensive life than that of her own personality. She wanted to live the magic of her search. Her new power made her behave selfishly. She did it only once. This way the balance is broken and the Myth needs something drastic to continue. She will end on evil’s side or she will offer herself in sacrifice. She chose sacrifice so… she got wings.

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