Why do you go to the movies? For many people it is for sheer enjoyment or to escape for a few hours from life’s pressures. One of the things I most enjoy in life is learning something significant about truth and reality. Therefore I like watching films that make me think about the deep questions of life.
Looking to the new year I want to recommend two films for people like me who want to think about the deeper issues of life and history. The great philosopher Aristotle said that human beings were made to reflect about life and that the pursuit of reflection is part of finding unique fulfillment and satisfaction as humans.
Since I am a passionate student of history, one of the films listed here is based upon a true story and centers on the Second World War, which I view as one of the most important events in humankind’s history.
Both of these films contain language and violence that some may find objectionable. So, for the most part, these are films for adult viewers. Please use your own discretion in selecting which thought-provoking movies you view in 2017.
This BBC/HBO television film (2001; rated R) depicts the historical meeting and personal psychology of 15 leading Nazis who meet at the 1942 Wannsee Conference in Germany to plan the Holocaust. In the meeting, the brutal SS Nazi leaders Reinhard Heydrich (played by Kenneth Branagh) and Adolf Eichmann (played by Stanley Tucci) charm, entice, argue, bully, and threaten the other officials to accept Adolf Hitler’s wishes to exterminate the Jews in what is called the final solution.
As the Nazis plan the details of the Holocaust at a beautiful lakeside villa in Wannsee they often sound like corporate members carrying out a mundane business meeting. The way they casually talk about carrying out mass murder makes the film truly gripping. Branagh’s dramatic depiction of Heydrich is chilling and earned him an Emmy for Best Actor. Tucci’s performance as Eichmann, Heydrich’s faithful right-hand man in planning genocide, brought him a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor.
This film provokes the question of how a single meeting of 15 leaders lasting two hours could subsequently result in the murder of 11 million people, 6 million of them being Jews and 2 million of those Jews being children. Yet history testifies that some big government conspiracy theories can become catastrophically true.
2. The Matrix
Actor Keanu Reeves plays the role of Neo in this provocative film (1999; rated R) that serves to speculate about the very nature of reality and man’s ability to perceive and apprehend it. A computer programmer and hacker, Neo encounters an enigmatic man named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) who challenges Neo’s cosmic understanding of truth and reality. Neo goes on to embrace an almost messianic role in seeking ultimate reality over deception and battles a malevolent artificial intelligence.
The film combines a number of philosophical and religious worldview ideas. Central to the movie is the haunting idea that humans see merely shadows and illusions—an artificial reality—whereas true reality is starkly different. Moreover, the film raises the thorny question of whether humans would really want to know the truth if it were presented to them, or if they would prefer to remain in a comfortably numb state of illusion.
The movie certainly has a healthy dose of peculiar religious mysticism and advanced science fiction. But the film provokes the viewer to ask the genuine philosophical-religious question about whether truth and reality are indeed as they appear.
So again, remember that Aristotle said that what makes humans distinct is our ability to think reflectively. In this new year, I encourage you to make a resolution to watch some movies that will make you think.
Reflections: Your Turn
What thinking movies would you add to this new year’s list?