Every movie has the ability to affect its viewer in a unique way.
From films of wonder and excitement to fear or sorrow, each will ultimately have a prevailing message, but some go above and beyond the realms of entertainment. They want to challenge the audience. Perhaps now more than ever, our gaze needs to widen. We need to question, really question, what we’re watching and what it tells us about every aspect of society.
Directors such as David Lynch or Terrence Malick have mastered this; the art of the unanswered question and looking beyond the obvious. To this end, some films can summon such profound questions that they change the way you perceive life as you once knew it, and alter your perception of the world. While great prose can be so moving, films are a visual feast for the senses and can touch the soul in an entirely different manner. Below are six unique movies which do just that and should be watched at least once.
The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life divided critics but remains Terrence Malick’s most ambitious, visual film and one that transcends. We follow Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) who finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life and his place in the universe. It is a film awestruck by life wanting answers to the most pivotal of questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is our real purpose in the world? Malick doesn’t pretend to have these answers but challenges the audience to ask themselves the same in the most beautiful of ways.
In Her, we meet Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix), a solitary, introverted man who purchases the new OS1, the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system. He soon is introduced to Samantha (played by Scarlett Johansson), the charming female voice of his operating system, and finds himself drawn to her romantically. The issues in the film parallel that of our technology-obsessed culture. Theodore becomes so infatuated with Samatha that he begins to lose touch with not just reality, but genuine human interaction; he craves it less and less as the movie progresses. The film depicts how technology can propel us to a life of loneliness and isolation, serving as a reminder to cherish the relationships we have outside of the digital world.
Fight Club attempts to teach the viewer many lessons, the first of which is the emptiness that exists within consumerism and material things and that of using these as a substitute for validation and real happiness. It’s also a film that questions our attachment to identity – are we really who we believe ourselves to be? And how does that reflect how others see us? I came away from the film questioning my own aspirations in life and you will too. This one is a far better film than the book on which it’s based.
Dead Poet’s Society
Dead Poets Society is Robin Williams at his best. This movie will make you question the social and political norms and constraints that define your life. At its simplest, it encourages you to dream, never to be lazy in the pursuit of your ambitions, and keep on doing so regardless of the challenges you might face along the way.
12 Years a Slave
Based on Solomon Northup’s memoirs of being born a free man then sold into slavery in 1841, this Steve McQueen drama is brutal and unflinching in its depiction of slavery. Detailing the darkest recesses of 19th-century America, it’s not an easy watch, and nor should it be. To watch it is to be changed. Right there on the screen is our reminder of what must never be endured again.
Life is Beautiful
The premise of Life is Beautiful may be dark, but its overall message is one of hope. A father tries to shelter his son and family from the horrors of WWII and in doing so, the viewer is shown the power of optimism and perception during the darkest of times. It’s a film that is beautifully crafted.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
For anyone that wishes a relationship had never come to be in their life, this film will change that perception. Watch Joel and Clementine fall in love, watch them fight before they erase each other from their memories completely. Joel thinks that this will save him from the hurt and pain he feels, but ultimately, he feels the most distraught at losing the memories (both good and bad) forever. One can never learn from their mistakes if they don’t even remember them, and this is presented so movingly in the film. If everything is taken away, how will you find the moments worth living for?