Learning Existentialism Through Film

You can learn about existentialism, which is a theory of philosophy, through film. Movies can help you understand philosophical views of the world.

The other day I watched two films. The first was a 1992 movie called, “The Crying Game”. Putting the plot of the film next to Sartre’s existential philosophy helps to explain some basic points of the theory.

Both films are highly interesting on their own without thinking about philosophical themes. But the two together give you an insight into the philosophy of the films.

The first is a story about an IRA “soldier” and his cell who capture a British soldier. Fergus, the IRA man, guards Jody, the soldier, and eventually is supposed to kill him. But he can’t and the soldier runs away only to be run down by a British armored car. Before this happens, The Brit tries to convince Fergus he can change his cold-hearted killer nature.

Jody asked Fergus if, after he is killed, will he look after his girlfriend in England. Fergus promises he would. In the end his nature is changed.

The film shows the existential view of freedom to choose and take responsibility for the choice. Fergus gave up his foundational beliefs and becomes a caring human being.

The film shows that our lives are the product of our choices and there are possibilities for transformation of our characters, they are not fixed!


The second film was “Lost in Translation”. The story of a man and a woman who meet and are at loose ends in their lives. They communicate about their situations to try to figure them out.

They both are attempting to escape their troubled situations. The man wants to escape his unhappy marriage and the woman wants to escape the uncertainty of her future.

The conclusion is: Escape isn’t an option, in fact, it’s not possible! You have to accept the fact that change will come from your actions. They both must make a choice in response to their present situations and then they must take full responsibility for their choices.

Films, like fiction, can make the transition to philosophical thinking easier and fun.

Also published on Medium.

6 thoughts on “Learning Existentialism Through Film

  1. Very true Dave. Darwin once said, (I think) that what contributes to the ‘survival’ of any species is our ability to adapt. As we get older, we fear change more, and yet it is only through meeting challenges and change itself that we can grow and evolve as people. I feel we must accept things as they are and then seek to find the narrow gate that leads to a change. Einstein also said, that a problem cannot be solved at the same level as it was created. We must rise above such things – I know, it sounds easier said then done!

  2. Dave, I try not to think about things I don’t want to think about. Thinking usually gets me in trouble. I had existentialism when I was younger but a doctor cured me and I haven’t had a relapse until now. I played the crying game and lost. I talk to myself but I don’t listen.
    Good piece Dave. You write, I read. It gives us something to do in our old age.

  3. To Tom,
    I hate to tell you this but existentialism is NOT a disease!!!
    You are a barrel of laughs.
    It helps coping with old age.
    Keep laughing!

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