Films are not only meant to entertain us, they are also meant to make us think. How the plot should have been, how we felt about a beloved character dying, how intricate the images were, or how a particular theme made us smile. Sci-Fi movies can have some pretty introspective themes for viewers to receive. Especially when it comes to themes about our humanity. Oftentimes, science fiction is set in another time or space, but fully reflects our own lives and questions: What are we doing here? Who are we? What makes this life a reality? Here are five great movies that will make you question your humanity. Be prepared for mind fucks and tears.
Her (2013) takes place in the future where a professional writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who writes letters for people who aren’t personable purchases a new computer that talks back to him, named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). They fall in love. Now as strange as this film’s plot may sound, it makes us question where our humanity is going in response to artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of technology. It’ll make you think “Oh, cool, this is what our future will be like,” and “Oh, no, this is what our future will be like,” at the same time. Will there come a point in time where we, as humans, will only find comfort in an AI voice more so than a human’s voice? Or even human contact? Will it be a bad thing if that ends up being the case?
Powder (1995) is considered more of a fantasy film than a sci-fi film, but I believe it fits the category perfectly. It’s about a young albino man named Jeremy “Powder” Reed (Sean Patrick Flanery), who has a brain that contains a powerful electromagnetic charge. This charge allows him to read the thoughts of people around him and causes objects to move, especially when he is emotional.
As viewers of Powder’s abilities, we are forced to reflect on our own preconceived notions of others as well as empathy –or really, our lack of empathy. We begin to question how people live, what they’re going through, where they’ve been, and even how our actions affect others, whether they are humans or animals. This is what makes the film so powerful.
As we and other characters in the movie realize the true nature of Powder’s abilities, we also begin to question how we would interact with him… with someone who can know everything we and others are feeling and thinking. How do we treat someone who knows about the state of living on this temporary realm of a planet a lot better than everyone else?
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) stars Jim Carey and Kate Winslet, who play a couple that undergo memory erasure technology to forget one another after a break up. However, after Carey’s character, Joel, realizes the importance of remembering his love for her, they both go on a journey through his memories, trying to evade the process by trying to hide in different areas of time, only to see them slowly erase. Not only can we see how fluid time is, but we can also question what’s worth remembering. Is it a humane act to try to forget who hurt us, or is it an inhumane one? How would you feel if someone used your memories to their personal advantage? Is our technology beginning to erase what it is to be human? I won’t spoil anything, because you’ll have to watch those movies to answer those questions yourself.
4. Cloud Atlas
The use of yellowface in Cloud Atlas (2012) is completely inexcusable. Therefore, as viewers, we have to consume content critically. Although there are obvious flaws with this movie in that regard, there are also successful areas of this sci-fi movie that touch on the fluidity of time, and whether or not humanity can handle the test of time. Are we all connected somehow through our past, present, and future? How far can ignorance being bliss truly go on for us as a species? Are we created for a purpose, or for another person’s gain? What is the point of our existence or interactions with others when some can interpret it as an inevitable doom? Does history repeat itself more so in positive ways, or negative ways?
5. Star Wars Episode VI-Return of the Jedi
Another debatable film on whether it counts as fantasy or sci fi as an epic space opera is Star Wars Episode VI-Return of the Jedi (1983). I highlight this particular one in the Star Wars series not only because it’s my favorite, but because it emphasizes how Good and Evil isn’t necessarily binary, it’s a total gray area. The young Jedi Luke (Mark Hamill), doesn’t want to harm his father, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) (if you don’t know this spoiler by now, this movie has been around for years, you should know by now), because he still senses good in him despite his villainous ways. It makes us question our humanity in regards to how far would we go for those we love, even when they aren’t the people they once were? Is it worth it?
I didn’t want to put conventional films on this list that people would have expected (e.g. The Matrix or Robocop). It wouldn’t have been that fun of a list to write, and you would be watching movies of a similar story line over and over again. These films will make you cry, make you think critically, and even place you in a mind fuck in regards to how humanity may or may not work. If you don’t believe, check these films out for yourself!