How Film Makes Us Confront the Meaning of Our Existence

There is something about the medium of film that predisposes it to tackling weighty questions of existential meaning in a manner that prompts the viewer to undertake their own journey. Whether used to disconcerting or enlightening effect, it's incredible how films can make us contemplate the very meaning of our existence.

As Paul Bland examines in this excellent video essay, there's a certain style of filmmaking and group of filmmakers who drive straight to the core of the meaning of human existence, often leaving the question open for the audience to contemplate or simply using the very beauty of such ideas bigger than ourselves to stylize or propel the narrative forward. My personal favorite is "The Seventh Seal," Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film that tackles such issues with strikingly dark beauty:

"The Seventh Seal" is to me one of the best examples of this technique, as it uses these questions and desires to create very literal manifestations (the knights desire for an anthropomorphized god vs. that very form taken by death), examine the meaning of suffering, enhance the beauty of the stark style, and get to the very meat of these issues that form the basis of the entire story. It's definitely worth watching when you have the time. 

[via No Film School]

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Anonymous's picture

I would argue that the search for a meaning to our existence and other related subjects are intrinsic to humanity and we will be attracted to anything that raises the question with the promise of insight into the answers. As such, film rather than being more attractive as an aid, is a less acceptable alternative to personal interaction which is the only possible source for real progress. Its only advantage being an inability to argue beyond the first level. Film says X, we say Y, film cannot respond further, thereby allowing a casual observer to feel secure in his or her preconceptions. Further, film is counterproductive due to its ability to create false conditions that a viewer may be tempted to accept as fact.
The Bible, on the other hand, is definitely worth reading when you have the time. Of course you could argue it suffers from the same problems but you would be wrong. ;-)