Philosophy in sci-fi films

Gattaca Poster

Some of you may know that I am a sci-fi buff. I enjoy sci-fi in all forms be it novels, comicbook / graphic novels, TV series, films or even computer / video games.

Sadly sci-fi stuff are often not that great, and not to mention very rare. So looking for a good sci-fi fix is quite difficult. There are a few sci-fi films which I enjoy both from a story (action) perspective as well as a from a philosophical perspective. Most of the time sci-fis are not action driven (except for the Star Wars types), but mainly philosophically driven.

Take Gattaca (1997) for instance: this is a story about a dystopian future whereby society is structured into castes of genetically perfect people and those who were born from natural conception & reproduction (“faith love”). This questions our need for perfections in our present day society.

In addition to this, the film also asks the question about human courage, dreams and overcoming imperfections. Very important questions I believe. Why do we all limit ourselves to the physical and superficial shell that we live in, as opposed to letting our mind, dreams, belief and spirit guide and drive us beyond our physical limits? This is an excellent film to boost spirits.

Blade Runner film poster

Then there is the Ridley Scott directed Blade Runner (1982) which explores the meaning of being human in the context of a future where cyborgs (artificial people) are almost indistinguishable from real humans apart from their physical strength and delibrately limited lifespan. In Blade Runner, the cyborgs -or replicants- emote feelings of love, hate, anger, fear and all very human feelings. Their anger is most directed to their human creators for dictating their 4 year lifespan. On the other side, these replicants question the heartless of their human creators for creating them with all these feelings (some do not even know they are replicants), yet deem them appropriate to be terminated / extinguished. So the question is what really makes us humans? The film was based on Phillip K Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?“. Blade Runner was not a box office success in its time but since then has garnered an important and influential (also visionary) status in the sci-fi & film world.

The theme of humanity also runs through other films such as Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” and “Bicentennial Man (1999)” starring Robin Williams and based on Isaac Asimov’s novella of the same title. These two films explored the classic story of Pinnochio about the robots’ (in these cases) quests to be more human and loved as a human being. The impact of these films were not that major given that the themes centred around love & (in)animate human creations which has been done several times over. The difference in Blade Runner was that Blade Runner explored a wider range of human emotions and even questions our own humanity. Still, the likes of AI and Bicentennial Man still poses a very interesting question about love and life.

Another twist to computers / robots achieving scentience is in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was famous for the malfunctioning computer HAL 9000 which decided it was important to kill the human beings in order to protect itself and fulfill its mission directives.

Then there are other types of sci-fi that explores the meaning of life and reality. Films such as Dark City and The Thirteenth Floor (1999) (Rotten Tomato reviews) and to a very small extent, The Truman Show (not sci-fi, though) goes to ask the question whether our lives are a stage show or the real thing (existentialism). These are interesting concepts and allows science to fuse with religion. What is there after the end of our lives? Another film that does this unashamedly is The Matrix trilogy which is littered with religious ideas and terminology. The appeal of these films is that it really asks us the question of what lies beyond the Matrix? The scene in the first Matrix film that explains the reason for deja vu (the cat scene) still gives me goosebumps.

Minority Report movie poster

Another concept most often explored in sci-fi is the idea that humankind cannot help from destroying itself. This was the main theme driving the 2004 film I, Robot starring Will Smith. Are we humans incapable of maintaining peace? Certainly in the current early 2000s period this seems to be the case. Even with Asimov’s famed Laws of Robotics, the robots in I, Robot managed to rationalise that for the protection of the greater human race, robots would need to kill a few bad eggs to restore a utopian peace. Are these the same rules that some of the world’s government use in the name of greater peace?

Another aspect of sci-fi films is questioning human moralities such as in “The Island” featuring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson and The Steven Spielberg directed “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise. In The Island, the question is asked about the morality of genetic sciences – which is very much a contemporary issue. In Minority Report the subject of crime prevention is explored to point of asking if somebody is guilty before the crime itself is committed?

As ever, sci-fi is all about philosophical questions that we face everyday. And this is the appeal, in my view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.