Deep Thoughts on the Big Screen: 5 Philosophical Movies

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For the last two months, I have been facilitating a weekly discussion in pop culture and philosophy at the Longmont Senior Center. For the first half of the two-hour session, we watch clips from movies and TV shows, taking in poignant examples of the day’s topic. We might be talking about the nature of love or beauty, about epistemology or ethics. In two months, we have watched well over 100 clips, everything from Casablanca to Doctor Who.

Star Trek‘s Commander Data has been particularly helpful in prompting discussion of the human condition. Luke Skywalker and Yoda helped us to talk about free will and determinism. Scenes like this one from Witness, directed by Peter Weir, helped us to examine the good and bad in community. We have created our own community, a community of inquiry. At the Grey Havens Group, we do the same thing at our discussion group meetings.

We call these sessions Geek Philosophy. We held our first discussion at one of our monthly Inklingsiana meetings. Last spring, we hosted a multi-generational Geek Philosophy session at our Real Myth Symposium. We watched clips from science fiction-fantasy movies and TV shows then had what turned out to be an extremely heartening discussion about personal mortality and the mortality of our species. This month, we discussed the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Masks.” Next month, on November 12, we will be hosting a Star Wars and philosophy discussion so that we are prepared to fully appreciate The Force Awakens in December.

Tolkien believed that experiencing the ordinary in the extraordinary context of what he called a Fairy-story can cause us to shake free from the grip of “appropriation,” the tendency to see things as trite or insignificant just because we have gotten used to them. This is what Geek Philosophy is all about so, in the spirit of our community of inquiry, here is a list of my Top Five Philosophical Movies. These are the films that, at least for a while, helped me to see that there is no such thing as the ordinary.

Badgaladriel’s Top Five Philosophical Movies

(Beware of spoilers when clicking on links.)

  1. Groundhog Day, written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, directed by Harold Ramis (1993), “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
  2. The Truman Show, written by Andrew Niccol, directed by Peter Weir (1998), “We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.”
  3. Blade Runner, written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peeples, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, directed by Ridley Scott (1982), “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”
  4. Never Let Me Go, written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, directed by Mark Romanek (2010), “You have to know who you are, and what you are. It’s the only way to lead decent lives.”
  5. Pleasantville, written and directed by Gary Ross (1998), “No, David. Nobody’s happy in a poodle skirt and a sweater set.”

What movies would make your list? What TV episodes have gotten you thinking over the years?

We hope you will join us for our next discussion. What might be the most exciting Geek Philosophy session is coming to you this winter! “Mythos and Logos: A Multi-Generational Philosophy Panel” will feature members of our young adult group, Grey Havens YA, in profound conversation with the senior adults of the Longmont Senior Center, January 20 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.. The topic will be “personal identity.” How do we see ourselves at seventeen or at seventy? What can we learn from each other and from the stories we love? For more information or to register, call 303-651-8411.

Four generations of D&D Gamers

Less than two weeks ago, The Grey Havens Group and The Grey Havens YA held a Symposium in Niwot Colorado, at the Left Hand Grange. It was an exciting weekend filled with scholarly and nerdy program points for all tastes and ages. We could listen to deep and interesting lectures on myth and fantastic literature, take a creative workshop, listen to beautiful music, look at beautiful art, partake in geeky philosophical thought experiments or listen to writers give tips on the writing process, and much much more.

But one of my favorite parts of this wonderful weekend was the D&D roundtable, and not just because I love D&D and gaming in general, but because I could witness first hand, on this April Saturday how that love of creative gaming interaction has been somehow culturally passed down over several generations by now.

I knew from the very beginning that the roundtable would have too little time to truly be able to cover all the topics and discussions points that a thematic angle on Tolkien, D&D and Pop culture invites to, we only had 45 minutes after all, but this was a tryout for a more thorough discussion in the future, which hopefully would be covered by a podcast. If enough people showed up that is.

I had invited some friends to the discussion as “insider experts” and figured if there would only be a tiny show of hands, we could at least have a friendly intimate little table, nerding out on games and campaigns. To my surprise, more than 30 people showed up, to the point where they didn’t fit around the actual roundtable, but hung out along the walls of the room, listening in. Unprepared as I was for the turnout of this rather modest program point experiment, I realized that there was no way we could discuss all that I had prepared, but I was still very excited about this unexpected turn of events. Here we were, so many generations of nerds with the same hobbies and passions in the same room!

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Even though time was scarce, I still opted for asking everybody to say something about themselves and their love for Tolkien, D&D and gaming. The answers were all so very interesting, everybody had their own unique path to fantasy and rpg…and yet, there were similarities all across decades of generational time. To get away from annoying siblings, to understand what a relative or friend was all about, to escape hard situations or enrich what was dull, to engage in that which is beyond our mundane borders.

For every story I was more and more wowed. And if anybody thought the older would stereotypically teach the younger and leave it at that, it needs to be said that older gamers learned just as much from the glimpses of the minds of the younger as the other way around.

And yet, we could just scratch the surface, it was clear that this roundtable discussion needed to have a follow-up later. One of the kids asked the table how he could reassure his parents that this was a great hobby to have, and those around the table remembering old scary misinformation about roleplaying games in times past, gave their thoughts on that. One suggestion was to involve the parents in a mini-game, with a creative story and some moral dilemmas to solve. This is done in camps around the world nowadays anyway, and it’s a great way to swiftly make engaged parents understand what it’s all about. Showing is always better than telling.

A young man, that is sometimes called “High King Peter” and sometimes is referred to as “The Nerdy Balrog” talked passionately about game systems, and I regretted that there wasn’t time to put him in a room with some friends of mine and just let them dive further into it. Our author friend Stant Litores regretted that he hadn’t gotten to explore D&D when he grew up and wanted to make up for that now. A grandmother was interested because of her grandson’s passion for it. Scott talked about strategy, Devon and John talked about Dungeon mastering, Sin talked about how to approach gaming modules that can seem overwhelming, my friends Alithea, Kat and Angie talked about character creation. Much was said in a short time, and much we didn’t have time to discuss at all. There was a Magic playing teacher there, that I would have loved to hear more from, as well as hearing so much more on various details and topics from the whole table. But that is for another time.

For me, the perfect conclusion to this fascinating roundtable came on Sunday, when my friends Sin and Alithea came back for our second Symposium day. Sin brought with her an original 3rd Ed. D&D box, complete with dice and all and wanted to give it to Kelly Cowling, Grey Havens founder and one of the two in charge of the Grey Havens YA. She wanted to donate this little piece of gaming regalia to the YA future gaming group. Well, Kelly wasn’t around right then, to get the box, but High King Peter was there and we asked him to take care of this 15 year old piece of game history and give it to Kelly later. He solemnly took it and nodded, “I can do that”, he said.
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ETA: photo taken by Roger Echo Hawk

Millions of Star Trek Fans Can’t Be All Wrong!

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(Image Source) 

Yesterday, we listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen during the three-hour drive home from telling some wonderful librarians about our young adult fandom group, Grey Havens YA, and our relationship with Longmont Public Library. I was in the passenger’s seat so I decided to look up novelist Nick Hornby’s essay on Springsteen. It contains this thought about works like Springsteen songs and Hornby novels that are condemned by critics because of their popularity: “…sometimes it’s hard to remember that a lot of people liking what you do doesn’t necessarily mean that what you do is of no value whatsoever. Indeed, sometimes it might even suggest the opposite.”

At Grey Havens YA, we know that being loved by many does not make something trivial. The things is to love what you love but also engage with it critically. As geeks and nerds, that is what we do. We can love art celebrated by millions, like Star Trek, and art that is so obscure you probably haven’t heard of it. What do you think?

You can hear directly from the young members of Grey Havens YA about how they engage with fan culture at the Real Myth and Mithril Symposium. in Niwot, Colorado on April 25-26. Register today!