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Science Fiction Essay on Themes & Philosophical Questions in Sci-Fi Movies


Task: Write a science fiction essay addressing some of the most common topics and philosophical questions asked in sci-fi films? How are they being portrayed in the art of film (incl. film language)?


Storytelling through movies is an art. The current science fiction essay talks about this art of making sci-fi movies which is a philosophical philanthropy by movie directors. It can be said so because of their vision to portray what life could be to general public. In doing so, they uplift the goodness in people and the sinister plans that could give birth to chaos if science, medicine and technology are not handled with ethics and accountability. The sci-fi genre by itself takes the mind of the audience to a big picture level where the movie not only revolves a character rather the repercussions to be faced includes all on the planet. Mostly, it tackles issues of existential in nature, also metaphysical and epistemological issues mankind as a whole could face. The usual question around which sci-fi movie is created is a ‘what-if’ question. This allows a lot of speculation, creative imagination, conspiracy theories and plans being stoked at creative imagination level. This science fiction essay will cover the usual topics as well as the philosophical questions that arise in sci-fi movies. Also, the same would be disused in terms of arts of movies. For this, throughout the discussion various examples shall be cited, some which were from those discussed in class and the course material itself.

As quoted by various famous personalities, science fiction movies shows what the world can have but not aim at to prevent catastrophe. They show a possible disaster and the effects it could bring about. Some of the most common topics discussed in sci-fi movies are alien invasions, colonization on another planet, an apocalypse in making or after it, travelling to another space dimension or travelling in time and even artificial intelligence, medical breakthroughs and so on.

Similarly, the philosophical questions that are build around the aforementioned topics are – what will happen to mankind, what will the world go through if this happened? How will the planet look like if this happens, what could happen to the world if there is unchecked medical breakthroughs allowed to execute the commercial operations, the possible disasters if artificial intelligence creates a conscience of its own and so on. As is understood, science fictions movies weave a cautionary story for the viewers. They portray stories of greed or even corruptions, people functioning just for money or highly powerful people in society with lack of ethics. Gradually after success in these schemes, general population starts suffering and the movie portrays everything in a chain reaction how things get affected. There are movies such as The Hunger Games(2012) which portrays the same. In this movie as well there are different sectors which yield different raw material for The Capitol. The sectors have been reduced to labour camps where people do not even have sufficient to eat. In contrast they show The Capitol where after every few years, a competitions gets held where the districts through forceful lottery system give two contenders to compete in a death to match which is a televised programme, promoted as a ‘celebration’ of life but actually, is just source of entertainment for the elite and socially as well as financially strong people living at the Capitol with weird sense of fashion. The very first science fiction movie, The Trip to the Moon in 1902, also was an excellent example of thirst of knowledge and greed gone wrong where astronomers land on moon and even though they liked it in the beginning; they had chance encounters with alien elements they did not want to be involved with and how they escaped.

In 1960s, the most famous film of those times, 2001: A Space Odyssey would later influence so many more science fiction movies. The movie was an adaptation of the famous sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke’s short story. The movie was an exploration and finding out the mysterious reason of appearance of giant monolith on the lunar surface with the aid of a supercomputer H.A.L 9000. It was one of the smartest movies which revolved around the philosophy ‘what-if’. It showed a glimpse of further division after divide between animals and humans, the divide between man and the technology created by them. There is an exuberant presence of music, attention to details and expressions marking this as few of the classic sci-fi movies of all time. This movie also showcases the power of thinking and consciousness of man which is unmatched in universe and with powerful and painful decision making, man can make it back to balance again restoring faith and hope in audience. Another amazing movie which resembled the current COVID -19 situations to the closest order is the movie Contagion (2011). Uncannily, it showcased exactly what was the horror of mankind. IT actually showcased social distancing, mask culture, ‘do not touch anyone’, ‘cover your mouth’ and so on. It showed how a virus outbreak which went out of control destroyed lives of millions and millions of people globally. This movie captures so vividly the current global pandemic status and established the terms we hear these days such as ‘pandemic, W.H.O-World Health Organisation, masks, respiratory droplets, fomites and so on. The movie is one of the sci-fi movies which has in fact actualized in to reality. Sci-fi movie is so much about speculation and this movie showcases the global outbreak of virus so beautifully that audience can actually relate it so well with the Covid-19 situation and the deaths occurring in lacs of millions numbers.

Sci-fi movies also showcase that technology could also be the solution to the problems caused by it. In 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer brought about the idea that people could enter the world of computers and that they could somehow just plug into it. This is also so much closer to VR or virtual reality and AR or Augmented Reality. It made it possible to showcase so much before when internet was not even a common thing to use in 1984 that the line between real and virtual life got blurred. Excellent examples of this are Matrix. Infact, the movie comes closest to asking the exact epistemological question – how do we know that the world around us is actually real? Plato’s theory in book 7 of Plato’s Republic mentions that there is a more superior and higher existence than where we live, in this physical world. The conversation between Neo and Morpheus, where Neo asks what is the truth and Morpheus says that the world is just a cover pulled over people’s eyes to blind them to the truth and that they are just a slave, ‘born into the prison of their minds’ is a brilliant example of metaphorical parallel drawn in the movie towards philosophy through its language. There in distant future the world was in fact being run by computers and they were everywhere. There was no way they could be outrun. In fact, to defeat machine, characters in the movie plugged themselves into the world of computers to save the greater good. Pixar’s Wall-E also paints quite a hopeful picture through animation. It is a representation of Badiou’s philosophy. In the movie the world is just reduced to a scrapyard and there is no life’s existence after an ecological disaster. In this dump yard, roams around Wall-E who instills hope and smile in audience through his kindness and expressions even though he is a robot. Badiou upheld that reality was inconsistent and was also infinite. He discussed that there was no unity among things, there was no order and everything was random. In the movie Wall-E as well, the very opening scene shows chaos and infiniteness of the space, intergalactic stars and vastness where there was no order let on planet Earth. The language in the movie was minimal and reduced to just expressions.

As is understood the language in films is not just reduced to dialogues used. Rather, there are multiple manners using which the creator or the director attempts to communicate with the audience. There is the setting of the movie and the props used, the camera position, the lighting used, the background music, expressions on the characters, their body language, the hair, dressing, lip color, makeup, the substituent’s in the frame, everything talks about the mood and communicates to the audience and together build towards making the film a good philosophical offering. These themes in subtle ways always enhance the mood of the philosophical offering and increases audience liking or relating to the questions the director tries to express or invoke on thought processes of the audience. They influence how the audience would feel in a particular scene and communicates to them through subconscious mind creating images and relating them with what they may have seen in the past, in newspapers. For example a strong journalistic image and replayed in a similar manner in a scene would increase the audience’s acceptance of the scene as it would resonate with him knowing or identifying it with the real life scenario. The primary protagonist’s feelings or crisis scenario is also sometimes how the director would communicate with the audience or him reacting in a situation in exactly same way doing justice to the pent up feelings of the audience watching the movie. The change the protagonists go through is the journey essentially back to the hope and balance.

In the science fiction essay, there was discussion of various themes and philosophical questions present in sci-fi movies. Alongside, there was also discussion of how language is used in this art form and how it aids to influence customers feeling towards the film offering by subconscious and subtle communication used throughout various scenes. The essay discussed movies like Matrix, The Journey to the Moon, Contagion, The Hunger Games and Wall-E to discuss the various topics touched by sci-fi movies. It was found out the sci-fi movies were mostly built around a crisis and addressed a ‘what-if’ scenario. The scenario could be around time travel, medical breakthroughs, artificial intelligence, space expeditions, alien encounters or catastrophe on the planet. In sci-fi movies there is a journey the protagonist goes through which allows the audience to relate to the character or the scenario in question. The storyteller creates a crisis and the adjoining world around it and portrays how the catastrophe hits that world in a chain reaction. However, in science fiction movies, the setting is generally that of a distant futuristic time.


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