After Life (1998) — What if when we died, we went to a "waiting area" and had three days to choose one memory that we would keep for eternity? All else would be forgotten. Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda explores this intriguing premise in After Life. We meet a range of newly dead: some who easily choose a memory, others who struggle and some who don't choose. Despite my high hopes for this film, I found my finger on the fast forward button. Saved by excellent cinematography and a unique storyline, this film is sure to generate interesting discussion.
I Heart Huckabees (2004) — Metaphysical comedy that pokes fun at the nihilistic viewpoint of separation and meaninglessness and a wholistic viewpoint of interconnectedness. Its quirky style keeps it from being guilty of pretentiousness, yet handicaps the philosophical points. Top this with a ho-hum, humanistic ending that surmises we are all connected through our suffering and you end up with a philosophic disappointment. However, play the director commentary while viewing the film and you'll find some food for thought. David O. Russell expounds on examining our assumptions, having an open mind, the influence of Robert Thurman, Zen and Jesus Christ. To get a flavor of the philosophy behind the film, watch Charlie Rose lead a discussion of the film "I Heart Huckabees" with two of its stars, Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman and its director David O. Russell:
Peaceful Warrior (2006) — Nick Nolte plays the wisdom-spouting Socrates with ease in this adaptation of Dan Millman's best-seller The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. While I applaud the effort and the $14 million dollar gamble to make a film about ideas of substance, I give it two stars because I don't share Millman's philosophy. If you are a person who enjoys such tenets as, "The journey is what brings us happiness," then you will enjoy this film.
Scott Mechlowicz's portrayl of the young Dan Millman captures the arrogance and uncertainty of the college years. Young, strong, and chasing his dreams of being an Olympic gymnast, Millman is haunted with self-doubt which, among other things, has him walking into a garage at three in the morning where he meets a man he calls Socrates. Socrates reveals a world where people can teleport, read minds, be happy with nothing, and catch wrenches like Neo from the Matrix. Nolte's gravelly-voiced portrayal is so understated that we buy into these fantastical elements, and go along on Millman's rollercoaster ride of learning to live in the moment.
Socrates' three rules for living: 1. Life is a mystery; don't waste time trying to figure it out; 2. Keep a sense of humor, especially about yourself; 3. Know that nothing stays the same. If you accept tenet number one, then you'll probably like Millman's journey and enjoy this film.
Seconds (1966) — Rock Hudson cavorting in a wine vat with naked bohemians, Will Geer (that's right, Grandpa from The Waltons) as the creepy owner of a company that gives people a second chance at life — Seconds is a bit like a '60s counter-culture version of The Twilight Zone with a dash of film noir. A dead-to-the-world banker hears of a mysterious "company" that will give him a new life. With a faked death, plastic surgery, and a new identity, they transform him into Rock Hudson! Will changing the outer circumstances be enough to change the inner man?
Wit (2001) — Here we follow Emma Thompson as a scholarly English professor whose world ends in a hospital with stage four ovarian cancer. This is gritty momento mori: vomit, bone-aching pain, and morphine drips — made all the worse by our professor's lonely room. There's no entertainment in this film, its purpose is to make you think: how will you live your life and face your death?