The premise for this article is based upon the book, “Movies and the Meaning of Life: Philosophers Take on Hollywood,” by Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul J. Tudico. The book poses certain philosophical and theological questions in regards to certain films; specifically after each chapter there are specific questions asked in regards to the material. This is simply my attempt at providing my personal thoughts and answers. Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe not. Either way, I recommend reading the book and/or viewing the films in question before reading this, as each question is better put into context after reading the chapter in its entirety. Still, if you’ve seen the “film in question,” don’t hesitate to attempt to answer these questions on your own. (Questions are in bold; my answers in regular font.)
Film in Question: “The Truman Show”
Christof believes we would rather live in a safe cell than seek freedom in the unknown world. Do you agree or disagree?
Disagree. Safety is illusion. Even if Truman was physically safe in Christof’s world, his life wasn’t real. Once/if that façade collapsed, his mental state could be extremely damaged and the social interactions he experienced after that could be detrimental, as he’s not used to living in an imperfect world. Truman, however, handled it better than I would have. The bottom line is that Christof is in no position to make that decision for someone, no matter what the consequences.
In what ways is Christof like God? In what ways is he different? Is there an analogy between Truman’s rebellion against Christof and our own possible relation to some cosmic design or purpose?
Christof controls fate/destiny/existence in Truman’s life, from his marriage to the weather outside. He’s not God, however, because fate/destiny/existence depend highly on an individual’s choices, and all of Truman’s choices were inevitably made for him. Even if there is a “cosmic design,” we can at the very least hope to change our path by shaking up the dice and hoping our outcome changes; we have free will to want change and go after it. In addition, Christof is certainly not “of Christ,” but rather a false illusion of what Christ represents, while Truman isn’t a “true man” until he rebels in the end; it is in man’s nature to rebel, although certainly in modern times it’s easier to conform.
Can a life be meaningful if it’s fake or counterfeit? Can “you” be real, while the life you are living is not?
No. You can exist tangibly, living and breathing, and maybe that’s enough for some people, but the observed is ultimately affected by the observer. Whether you like it or not, you subconsciously, at minimum, become an element of this “fake” world, and your “real” self would ultimately change, if not disappear completely, at the hands of the world around you. If you consider being “alive” to be engaging in the world around you, you’re essentially going to obtain fake and counterfeit qualities if that’s all you’re surrounded with.
Film in Question: “Contact”
Should we approach all aspects of our lives with Ellie’s skepticism? Moral beliefs? Political beliefs? Religious, Scientific?
Yes- although it’s hard and rarely are people that brave; people should use it especially in regards to moral beliefs; religion and politics can easily be disputed; science either is or it isn’t.
By including hard-to-dispute evidence of Ellie’s ET encounter (the eighteen hours of static,) has director Robert Zemeckis made our experience of the movie more, or less meaningful? Would having to wrestle with doubt about the reality within the film be a more meaningful, provoking, and fitting way to end Ellie’s story?
Including the evidence gave credibility to her character and as a scientist that something did occur. If the scene never happened, we might lop Ellie in with all the other fanatics an abductees in the movie, which would make the director’s aim to be anti-science. In addition, if we never knew whether Ellie saw what she saw, it would bring into question whether or not what we experience is actually real, and this could perhaps positively demolish once and for all, all debates between science and religion. It might also make life seem bleaker, that not even a scientific experiment can render any concrete answers or results.- Also, the fact that she saw her father and childhood memories could make us assume that it was all a hallucination from her head, OR it could give us hope that if ET’s exist, they’ll take the form of pleasant memories/persons in our lives, OR maybe she didn’t contact aliens, but spirits, and therefore other “life-forms” in space aren’t aliens, but spirits of the dead.
Some people have claimed that science has its own area of expertise and explanation, while religion occupies another. Neither account can give us the entire view of the nature of the universe. Do you think the movie supports such a position?
Yes- neither area knows the answers- perhaps as a race we’re not supposed to.
Film in Question: “Waking Life”
Is there a way of proving you’re awake rather than having a vivid, detailed dream about being awake?
Not technically, since we can’t prove whether reality is or isn’t an illusion. Some say if you pinch yourself and feel it than you’re awake, not to mention using common sense (if you’re flying in your dream.) Still, some dreams feel more “real” than reality.
Do you believe that human life is always a matter of chance, or is life governed by some divine plan (providence)? If the latter, can you still account for human choice and free will?
Both- chance and luck play a large role in relation to the choices we make- often it isn’t the choice itself but where we end up in a certain place and time as a result of that choice. You can argue we have free will, which we do to an extent, but overall where we are now can be traced back through the thousands of choices we made previous that resulted in us being where we are now. If you believe in past lives, one could also argue that we have free will in this life, but when it comes to one’s life cycles, we do have a grand destiny or mission as to why we’re here, and therefore what we do in each lifetime will result how we come into the world and what we come into the world as, in our next life.
Do you believe that, at the deepest levels of the unconscious, we are all interconnected, as parts of some universal-cosmic mind or spirit? If so, how could we possibly prove or demonstrate that? If not, how could we disprove it?
Yes- we all have lives on repeat, and in each life we experience fragments of this universal mind- The catch is that we never remember the important stuff at birth- instead we’re shaped by values taught to us by family/friends. Often it takes a near-death experience or death itself to make us realize it. It can’t be proven but I feel certain people with deep intuition can sense it better than others.
Film in Question: “Fight Club”
How would you characterize the psychological relationship between Ed Norton & Brad Pitt’s character?
Pitt was dominant, Norton submissive. Pitt was the part of Norton’s psych that he always kept repressed- the man he always wanted to be but never had the guts to be. Pitt is the one steering and therefore Norton initially feels secure since Pitt is the one taking all the risk.
Is there a hero in “Fight Club”? If so, who plays it (Norton or Pitt)? Why? What makes a hero?
A hero is someone who makes sacrifices for others or for the greater good in general. Pitt would then be the hero for trying to make a change in the world and a change in the lives of many men- however, he came from Norton’s subconscious, so technically all these ideas of change came from Norton himself; Pitt was simply a mechanism to release these ideas without fear. Without Pitt, Norton seems like he might crumble, but in the end Norton has the guts to attempt to kill Pitt (and therefore himself,) saving Marla and taking responsibility for his actions. So I’d say Norton is the hero in the end, as he didn’t choose to hide behind the persona of Pitt.
Film in Question: “Being John Malkovich”
If you had the chance to inhabit someone else for fifteen minutes, whom would you choose and why? Would it be any different, morally speaking, from spying on a person through a window? Why or why not?
I would choose someone I consider an enemy or someone who’s deceived and hurt me; I’d want to know what it feels like to be in their head, and what makes them feel superior to others. If you’ve been spied on or manipulated by this person, you shouldn’t feel guilty morally speaking; it all depends on the person you’re choosing to inhabit.
Would you want to live forever? Is Captain Mertin irrational? Is he morally evil?
If I could inhabit a different body and still maintain my inner self, yes, or maybe. But I wouldn’t want to live this life forever. Mertin is not irrational or evil, but selfish in his reasons why he wants to live forever; namely, he desires a woman (lust) vs. say, changing the world or even falling in love. He’s also selfish in not recognizing his abuse of Malkovich’s mind and body as “his” vessel.
What role does Elijah the chimp play in the movie? What does the movie say about the inner lives of animals? How could we go about figuring out whether chimps have souls?
He’s like a son, especially to Lotte, and represents how while animals can respond to love and react like humans in some situations (Elijah letting Lotte out of the cage,) animals perhaps don’t belong in cages and don’t view freedom as being someone’s controlled pet (just as Lotte doesn’t enjoy being caged by Craig.) The film suggests that human beings are all animals on the inside, as seen within Lotte & Craig’s animalistic urges towards Maxine, however, it also suggests that animals have it easier, as they don’t have the “curse” of evolved consciousness that human beings do. Since chimps hold so much in common with humans, one could make a safe assumption that they feel grief and sadness to the same length humans do, and this element of compassion an acknowledgment for personal loss could definitely equate to them having a soul.
Film in Question: “Boys Don’t Cry”
Why is it significant that Tom and John raped Brandon (as opposed to just beating and/or killing him?)
They raped Brandon as a sign of power and dominance; through their penetration, they were showing, or rather “proving” to Brandon that he was biologically a woman, and therefore could never possess Lana like a man could. They also probably felt torn in their conscience of initially beating Brandon because they knew she was biologically a woman, an in society, the typical standard of doing harm to a woman is in the form of abuse/rape. (Although they ended up murdering her later…which proves that their “method” of breaking down Brandon didn’t help them distinguish his identity, but rather made him more ambiguous to them, and therefore more of a danger to their territorial control.)
Brandon at times concedes that he has brought the wrath of Tom and John down upon himself. In these moments, he seems to be admitting that he has done something wrong during his time in Falls City. Has he? What?
No- But perhaps he should have been more prepared to face adversary; the world, especially Nebraska of all places, was not ready to be comfortable with something they didn’t understand, and discomfort breeds hate.
Film in Question: “Momento”
Is it possible to have a personal identity without having a past that one can consciously remember? Conversely, is it possible to have a personal identity without having a future that one can consciously anticipate? Finally, it is possible to have a personal identity if one’s conscious awareness is restricted to the present moment alone?
If you believe you’re defined by your past, as most would, than no, it wouldn’t be possible, but this also depends on whether or not you have reliable people around that have witnessed your past (then again, if you don’t remember your past, you probably wouldn’t remember who these people are.) It’d be easier to have a personal identity with lack of hope for the future; as seen in the film, there are ways to try and remember/remind yourself of who you are, and this influences future decisions. Being in the present moment requires losing the “self,” and so while people without memory loss struggle to do this, someone who has bad or impaired memory would easily have the ability to lose their personal identity in the moment. In the short story “Momento Mori,” John Nolan perhaps describes this more accurately in the sections where he’s narrating Earl’s actions (Earl is Leonard’s character in the movie.) He describes him as waking up, looking at the ceiling, reading the note on the ceiling, smoking a cigarette, brushing his teeth, etc. until his memory runs out and he has to start over. In this way, Earl is “living in the moment,” although certainly he has no other choice.
Is it possible to find meaning in life without having a past that one can consciously remember? Conversely, is it possible to find meaning in life without having a future that one can consciously anticipate? Finally is it possible to find meaning in life if one’s conscious awareness is restricted to the present moment alone?
Typically we derive meaning of life from a set of choices, circumstances, or experiences that have helped us learn and grow over time. If one can’t have a past to remember or future to anticipate, meaning of life would then transform to be “meaning of the moment,” and perhaps for Leonard, the meaning of life would be transformed into the goal of solving the puzzle of his wife’s murder.
Some philosophers have observed that there is an important connection between memory and personal liability. More specifically, they have argued that one cannot be held liable for that which is entirely absent from one’s memory. Is this theory of personal liability a good one? Why or why not?
Yes, because how can a person, even someone who’d be willing to admit wrongdoings, admit to them when they don’t know of them or don’t remember them? If someone is accused of something, and someone has valid proof, then it’d be clear that person is accountable. But it’s necessary to understand how a person can forget or even not be aware of an event happening, and the sad part is that a string of factors play into this (intoxication, former/latter drug use, childhood abuse/memories or neglected memories, previous traumatic experience- And of course the most important but underrated of them all- That someone can wake up a different person each day, quite literally, and when you mix a dash of mental illness in the mix, some people can be several selves in the course of a day.)
Film in Question: “Crimes and Misdemeanors”
How are the issues about morality in this film connected to questions about the existence of God and the value and meaning of life?
The film depicts a “good” man, representing truth, being deceived and robbed of hope and happiness, and a “bad” man getting away with murder but ending up happy (as well as a suicide done by someone that only seems optimistic about life, when he’s dead.) All of these situations reflect that morality depends on our belief in God and if there is no God (or if one believes this,) they ultimately are not held accountable, while those who may believe in God, still suffer (like the blind Rabbi.)
Would life lack meaning if some evil actions were never punished or if some good actions were left unrewarded?
Good actions are left unrewarded everyday- most people do “good” in hopes of getting the reward of heaven in the afterlife (or perhaps, anything but “hell.”) But if evil isn’t punished, that might equate to evil not being evil at all, and therefore the standards of good/evil wouldn’t exist. However, we don’t know what happens to “evil” people after they die, so we can only hope that evil will be eventually punished. So yes, life would lack meaning, but more so if evil wasn’t punished.
Do you think that the only thing that keeps most of us from acting like Judah is the belief that God is watching us?
Some may, but personally I feel most people don’t act like Judah because they have a conscience and they know they’d feel guilty about something- hence they could “hide” from God but not themselves. Also, many probably wouldn’t commit the crime in fear of being caught.
Is there any good reason to believe that being overly intellectual, like the professor, or too idealistic, like Cliff, will only cause us to be unhappy?
If the outcomes to our good deeds mirror those of the characters mentioned, than yes. But the key is balance in idealism and realism- and also where our priorities lie. Some in Cliff’s position might be angry about not getting the girl or getting fired, but others might look at his situation differently- Halley essentially betrayed Cliff, and her own beliefs, marrying a man she supposedly despised, while perhaps Cliff was better off not working for a company that rather broadcast a documentary of lies rather than the truth.
Film in Question: “Shadowlands”
Is the Problem of Evil especially a problem for people who believe in the existence of God? Do you think theism is able to answer it?
Yes, because if you don’t believe in God, you have no one to blame or no one to seek for hope and help. If you’re an atheist, by default you simply accept evil things that happen, perhaps as a result of humans being naturally evil or the result of the absence of God. Having faith and believing in something may not be able to prevent or answer the Problem of Evil, but it may strengthen your faith in God as certain tragedies make us ask ourselves questions about our faith, even doubting it, and it’s through these experiences that we discover where our true beliefs lie. Questioning is always better than accepting.
Can appeals to free will and a need for moral growth satisfactorily explain all the evils in the world? Why or why not?
Not if we were perfect beings who didn’t sin- But we’re imperfect, so perhaps sin is necessary (an inevitable) for us to learn an eventually be redeemed.
Do you think there’s a relationship between love and suffering? What’s the difference between suffering and pain?
Yes- Pain is something we can feel ourselves, and through others; suffering is more extreme, internal, and something we must experience firsthand. Suffering makes us grow and allows room for love, cause to truly love someone does not equate to sex, passion or lust, but to having compassion for someone’s pain, being able to share their suffering, and before reaching this point with someone else we must be able to get through our own internal pain and suffering.
Some people think the goal of life is happiness. Does the movie suggest that this view is mistaken?
Yes- the film suggests, even over happiness, should be our willingness to embrace pain an experience suffering. This pain is what will help us grow and be able to eventually allow true happiness and change into our lives.
Film in Question: “Chasing Amy”
Does a meaningful life have to be a morally good life? Is it possible to separate out questions of meaning from moral issues?
I feel morals are a product of societal ideals, so one can live a life of meaning even if their morals differ from others. However, the opposite would be true if your inner morals are not reflected by you as an individual. Experiences we have may not be moral in the eyes of others, and even looking back we may wish that we made different choices, but it’s these experiences that make us learn and therefore give our lives meaning.
Many thinkers have claimed that a morality grounded in God would make morality objective. In what sense is this true? Does this just present us with one more moral viewpoint?
It’s another moral viewpoint, because what God perceives to be “moral” is still a matter of beliefs; it can’t be proven. If people believe in morality grounded in God, that would mean they themselves are in no position to judge others because God is the final and only judge. If they believe something is morally wrong because they believe God finds it morally wrong, they are taking on the role of God and are still passing judgment. So believing morality is grounded in God would only remain an objective view if the person is willing to not pass judgment, and this is rare.
What does the movie say about our ability to choose whom we fall in love with?
It’s a matter of timing. We can’t choose, it just happens. In the film, a heterosexual man falls for a lesbian and a lesbian falls for a heterosexual man. Therefore love doesn’t have “standards,” despite what society tells us.
Film in Question: “American Beauty”
What does the movie say about our responsibility for our own happiness? Is our happiness completely with our control?
We are ultimately responsible, but more so for learning to appreciate the situation we find ourselves in, instead of the choices that led up to this situation. Our environment, childhood, upbringing and overall social experiences may ultimately shape us and place us, for better or worse, into the situation we find ourselves currently. But like Lester, it is possible to see, or perhaps transform, an ugly situation or moment into something beautiful and full of truth. If we can take time to abandon our societal “roles,” and in this sense, be free of control, we then might be able to find happiness in moments and places we wouldn’t expect.
Film in Question: “The Shawshank Redemption”
“Shawshank” presents Andy as a character who gives hope to others. What are some ways that Andy receives hope from others, and that they contribute to his actions? How does this complicate the message of the film?
He sees how other inmates escape through means of alcohol, movies, posters, smokes, but generally through claiming a higher status of identity in prison than that which they had in life as free men. Andy enjoys hearing stories of who the inmates once were and what they were passionate about. He uses their plots of escape to devise his actual escape. This complicates the message of the film, because it makes us question whether or not Andy is truly an exceptional person, and therefore it’d be unrealistic for other inmates to do what he did, or if what Andy did was something all the inmates were capable of, but chose not to do out of fear or because they preferred the quick fix or instant escape of smuggled booze and celebrity posters.
Are there ways of being for others that do not give hope or freedom? Can you name some examples in the film of how characters are for others, in ways that deprive them of their identity, rather than restoring it? What, in your view, distinguishes hopeful ways of being for others from these more destructive ways of being for others?
Red is the guy all inmates turn to for illegal goods. Although he’s providing a service, he’s essentially extinguishing his old identity (even just as, say, a harmonica player,) in order to become a more important, useful man in prison. He’s using this new identity not just to get by, but to erase his past and be somebody among the nobodies in Shawshank. When someone, like Red (or say, a drug dealer,) is associated with the things he has, sells or the services he provides, he becomes nothing but that service in the eyes of others and his identity becomes merged with what he does and not necessarily what he’s passionate about or his inner character. Andy, however, chooses to listen and dig deeper into what the inmates miss that truly define their humanity. He uses objects and moments (beer, harmonica, music, books) to restore the humanity that exists in the inmates vs. using objects to replace his old identity and build a new one. Red’s goods may temporarily soothe the men, but none of them will forget Andy’s daring moments of bravery, especially his escape in itself.
While the film is about faith, hope and love (or friendship,) it is often critical of religion. Given this, what do you take to be its message about where we can find faith and hope?
Of all places in the universe where one can believe God doesn’t exist, the prison would be it. We can find faith and hope for ourselves in patience and the restoration of hope in others. While the film doesn’t depict this, surely what kept Andy digging day after day, taking a huge risk, was that one day, he’d be a free man. He didn’t have faith in God or the justice system to give him freedom that was rightfully his, so he used what he had at his disposal to ensure that he made others happy, which perhaps made him feel justified and gave him hope in his own escape. We gain hope for ourselves when we see hope restored in others- In this sense, Andy was not a product of the prison like many of the inmates, rather he transformed the prison into his own project and playground.
Film in Question: “Kill Bill: Volumes 1& 2”
What’s the difference between a criminal trial and an act of revenge? Are they mutually exclusive responses to an event? Can revenge be considered among the purposes of a criminal trial?
Revenge is personal- a trial is based upon the moral beliefs of twelve random members of society. A criminal trial is not revenge, as it gives a criminal punishment that may or may not be equal to the crime they committed (in the eyes of the victim.)
Gandhi has famously claimed that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” What did he mean? Was he right?
Yes- Revenge is an endless cycle if carried out (such as in “Romeo & Juliet,” when the feud between two families results in unnecessary bloodshed.)
What is the difference between revenge and resentment? Which is more dangerous in the long term?
Many think about revenge but rarely carry it out, so resentment is more dangerous because, hidden over time, it breeds hate and this hate can consume your life, not to mention lead to impulsive revenge, which may not lead to any justice whatsoever. However, revenge is a more personal, desirable action that, if we lived in a lawless society, would serve as the perfect means of getting rid of resentment.
How does one psychologically overcome the desire for revenge? Is forgiveness the only way to forgo the vindictive passions, or are there other, perhaps less morally ambitious ways to do so?
Hope for karmic retribution, or at the very least, imagining the different scenarios of revenge in your head. Try thinking of ways to better and prepare yourself for the moment the opportunity for revenge may fall in your lap rather than seeking it out yourself. If this happens, by that time you may have forgiven your enemies, or at the very least, may not care enough about the former situation to put forth the effort.
Film in Question: “Pleasantville”
What would it be like to live in a world without challenges, where every goal you set for yourself would be easy to achieve? Would you want to live in such a world?
No- Goals that are worth achieving take work, and no one would excel or stand out, therefore no one would realize their true potential or passion, not to mention new advances in that particular field would not be made on a universal level.
How do you decide on the goals that you pursue in life? How do you decide what goals are worth pursuing?
It has to be both realistic and a challenge- goals that will provide me insight or experience into an unknown subject or a subject I fear. This way, even if I don’t meet my goal as expected, I can still say I learned something new in the process. Still, it must be something realistically attainable, as too often people set goals that can’t be reached, and therefore set themselves up for failure that could’ve been avoided.
Consider the following claim: “Those who rebel against society are still letting society define them.” Do you agree?
It depends- To be like Jennifer in the movie, rebelling just for the sake of rebelling or being “cool,” is different than rebelling when your rebellion consists of something you’re passionate about and believe in, and just so happens to go against what society expects of you. Take Chris McCandless- he didn’t rebel simply to be different or to represent the symbol of a rebel, but because he was on a personal quest to find insight and meaning in his life, and he believed this could only be found in nature, “in the wild.”
Film in Question: “Spiderman 1 & 2”
Is a hero really happier than a successful villain?
In context of society and not the world of super-heroes, it depends on the circumstances. Most people don’t choose to commit evil acts because the acts are evil, but rather they commit them as a result or projection of their past, or because, in their eyes, it is justified and therefore “good.” If a villain has no conscience and feels no guilt, he may maintain a sense of happiness, so far as he doesn’t get caught and isn’t punished. A hero, no matter what the context, often has to sacrifice more of himself for the greater good- and if a hero does this because he knows it’s right vs. because he’s playing the role of “good guy,” then he’d be the happier man.
Is there a limit to what others can expect from a person’s talents and abilities? Isn’t there a part of a person’s life that is distinctively their own?
Yes- But blame will always be placed on the person who excels or has a special talent an ability, and doesn’t use it or use it in the way society wants them to.
Film in Question: “Minority Report”
What do you think is meant by the Pre-crime slogan “that which makes us safe is that which makes us free”? Is there anything dissatisfying about that kind of freedom? Are there any other conditions we require in order to be free except safety?
It means that, to the organization, freedom equates to not having fear of death. It’s dissatisfying, for one, because it paints a picture of law enforcement/predestination as something natural and protecting, when typically anything or anyone in the position of power/control is usually corrupt and running separate agendas. To truly be free, one can’t fear death, and therefore safety and freedom don’t have to be mutually exclusive; to be free, one has to consider the evils of the world.
Some thinkers have claimed that freedom is possible inside a solitary confinement cell and even at gunpoint. How is this possible?
In a cell with virtually no contact with the outside world, one is forced to reevaluate their lives, and their beliefs, or lack thereof, in some higher force or purpose. In a cell by yourself, there is no beauty of nature or social contact to remind you of your humanity; God seems non-existent. Being held at gunpoint, obviously nothing else is going to matter than that split second where you might live or die. Freedom can therefore be found in either situation, because both “free” your mind by reminding you of what’s important and how short life is; moreover, both situations warn you “momento mori,” or “be mindful of death.” In suffering and in release of fear of death, we are free, but often it takes such trauma or such an experience to open one’s eyes and put them on this path.
Film in Question: “Pulp Fiction”
How do the ethical perspectives of Jules and Vincent differ? Can you think of specific examples?
They both hold different moral ground in regards to their beliefs and spirituality. Jules sees something like a foot massage as insignificant while Vincent feels it equates to the act of sex; Jules sees the event of dodging flying bullets as a divine intervention while Vincent sees it as sheer luck. Vincent seems to pay attention to the details an idiosyncrasies, while Jules seems to take into account the big picture.
Some people believe that relativism is better because it encourages toleration of others’ beliefs; however, some claim relativism is bad because “all is permitted.” Which do you think is right?
It depends on whether you’re the outside observer or the person taking part in such actions. If you’re observing a character in the movie who follows tenets of relativism, you might either accept that they’re criminals or drug dealers because they commit “good” deeds as well, or you might be confused as to whether this “good” behavior still excuses them for actions we would typically consider morally wrong, like murder. If you’re the person taking part in such actions, I personally feel it’s important to hold a “relative” truth rather than no truth at all; that is, living by your own truths and morals because they’re important to YOU, rather than, say, Jules and Vincent committing murder but not reflecting their personal truths and feelings of importance towards loyalty and friendship- If they didn’t hold such values, we would perhaps view Jules and Vincent, and most of the movie’s characters, as typical, heartless and devoid of substance.
Can life be valuable even though it lacks meaning?
In some regards, yes. For example, in the film Vincent’s spiritual appetite seems non-existent, yet he takes pleasure in the little things, such as the differences between burgers in America and Amsterdam- He may not believe in God or a grand purpose, but throughout the movie it appears he enjoys his life, and therefore to him it has meaning (Although it’s questionable if this theory relates to Vincent’s being killed in the end vs. Jules.)
Can meaning or morality be subjective or grounded in human experience without implying nihilism?
Yes- Human experience may lead to sin, which by default is equated with immorality, but (as I personally feel was depicted in the film,) even the most nihilistic of people may play a role in the grand scheme; in the end of the film, all the characters were somehow connected, and although predetermined fate isn’t always a popular notion, it still does not equate to nihilism. In addition, all the characters have their “moral” flaws but also a moral code, and while it may deviate from that of the average citizen, it doesn’t suggest that nothing matters if we leave morality open to interpretation, but rather, the only thing that matters is sticking by our convictions, no matter how much they deviate from the norm.
Film in Question: “Groundhog Day”
How would you describe or explain Phil and his behavior through the course of the movie?
He is a typical, unhappy, cynical man who lives his life in hopes of a better tomorrow. As the film progresses, and he realizes there is no tomorrow for him except Groundhog Day, he at first is frustrated and confused, tries to escape, then decides to take advantage of it (picking up women, driving wildly,) then tries to use it as a system (achieving a goal by picking up bits of needed information each day,) then becomes self-destructive, and finally he learns to get creative day by day, embracing each moment instead of ignoring it.
How different is Phil’s situation from ours?
Not at all different. We live routine lives like Phil, except perhaps weeks blend into months (in other words, the passage of time during our “routine” lives goes faster.) We often become grumpy and miserable as a result.
Suppose on your deathbed someone were to ask you: “Would you do it all over again?” If you answered “yes,” wouldn’t this tell us all we needed to know about the meaningfulness of your life?
Yes, because it’d be such a rare response. So many people have regrets that don’t even touch the surface of underlying purpose and individuality that we can all attain. If we say “no,” we keep repeating the cycle until we get it right. The question is, what happens when or if we do achieve our full “potential” in this life? Will we keep repeating that then-fulfilled life in a cycle of happy lives, do we start over, or is that when heaven’s gates open?
Questions reprinted by permission of Open Court Publishing Company, a division of Carus Publishing Company, from Movies and the Meaning of Life: Philosopher’s Take on Hollywood by Kimberly A. Blessing and Paul J. Tudico, (c) 2005 by Carus Publishing Company.