There’s a type of film that is scarier than any in the horror genre: those that explore the deeper aspects of life and bring to the forefront those thoughts pushed to the back of minds in the middle of the night. Some movies are so powerful they can even incite an existential crisis. However, a brief existential crisis can be somewhat soothing, and bring one to a renewed perspective on life at the other end.
Films such as these can be divided into two categories: life-affirming, or straight-up nihilistic. It’s a slight gamble on what feelings they may induce, and unique to the viewer. There are many films that explore these themes of life, death, and meaning; here are those selected by Reddit users as the most triggering in this regard.
Redditors have a lot to say about Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Starring Kirsten Dunst as bride-to-be Justine and Charlotte Gainsberg as her sister Claire, the film explores their already strained relationship as they discover another planet is about to collide with Earth. The pair and their families have different responses to the approaching Armageddon. For example, Justine, previously wracked with deep depression, finds the event to be a cause for joy.
Redditor TMartin42 shares that the film left them wandering around aimlessly asking themself, “what’s the point?” The art film can definitely leave one feeling empty. AlosSVS adds that “this movie does a very good job of stripping away any self-worth, reason or meaning for existence,” for those that are into that kind of thing.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
Charlie Kaufman’s Directorial Debut, Synecdoche, New York, certainly had an effect on people, not least on legendary critic Roger Ebert, who named it the best film of the decade. Redditors also rate it for its existential-inducing qualities: AjenoMervellies notes that the “notion of controlling every aspect of your life to the point where you don’t actually take part in it” really resonated with him.
The film concerns celebrated theater director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who struggles to get his new avant-garde play off the ground as he navigates a depressing and complicated personal life. The lines between reality and fiction are blurred as he rapidly ages and his health mysteriously deteriorates in this post-modern masterpiece.
A Ghost Story (2017)
In David Lowry’s third film, Casey Affleck’s “C” returns from the dead as a white-sheeted ghost to comfort his bereft wife: Rooney Mara’s “M.” A quiet exploration of grief, regret, and one’s legacy, A Ghost Story is as deep as Lowry’s other projects such, as The Green Knight. Redditor true97 comments: “I have never seen something that made me feel so utterly depressed in a good way before,” adding that it’s one of their favorite movies of all time.
It’s certainly existential, as the film reflects on the enormity of existence and a world that is lacking in oneself, and how those that we leave behind will move on – something that one never sees – probably.
It’s Such A Beautiful Day (2012)
It’s Such A Beautiful Day is an experimental animated film by Don Herzfeld. An overwhelming watch both visually and in the subject matter, Redditor sirsteven says, “this movie tipped the scales and plunged me into a ~4 month depression.” However, its existential elements had a different effect on bugsbee and said, “See this film had the opposite effect on me. I can’t put it into words but basically it really made me appreciate life.”
The film follows stick figure Bill, as he pieces together his broken psyche and explores what it means to be alive in three chapters: “Everything Will Be Ok,” “I Am So Proud Of You,” and “It’s Such A Beautiful Day. ” Each was released separately as a short film to much critical acclaim, and this is a feature-length edit of all three. Blending zany humor with serious philosophical realizations, it’s definitely a trip.
Enter The Void (2009)
A heavy ride of life, death, and rebirth, Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void got existential Redditors talking. The film begins with the death of drug dealer Oscar in Japan, and then his journey to resurrect himself to take care of his sister; all accompanied by mind-blowing trippy visuals. Noe termed the film a ‘psychedelic melodrama’.
Redditor nick12684 had such an experience when watching that they “had to stop the movie about 45 minutes in to take a break and collect myself.” The film is often filmed in a first-person viewpoint, as Oscar’s soul floats over cities and observes his family from the afterlife. It’s no wonder that it got a little overwhelming for some.
First Reformed (2017)
Starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried in Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader’s directorial debut, First Reformed is spell binding. Hawke is searing as small-town pastor Ernst dealing with a crisis of faith after the death of his son during the Iraq war. He’s shaken after an encounter with a militant environmental activist, who believes that his wife should terminate her pregnancy as the child will grow up in a world ravaged by climate change.
Usually, existential films usually take some contemplation after watching to set in their effect, however, theraineydaze says that “First Reformed almost gave me a panic attack in the theater.” The film is certainly depressing, as it shows Ernst at odds with their beliefs of God’s creation, in a world where the center cannot hold.
Children Of Men (2006)
A bleach watch; Children Of Men is Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of the dystopian 1992 novel by PD James. In a world where all women are mysteriously infertile and have been for over twenty years, it shows hopeless humanity living out their days as the last in existence. Society and government have turned into chaos, as terrorist organizations are ravaging the UK. Clive Owens’s Theo is a reluctant hero, as he finds himself transporting a somehow pregnant woman to a mysterious sanctuary.
The film shows how quickly humans would turn on one another in a crisis and has a distinct gloomy and foreboding vibe. Redditor strikecore picks the film as the one to give them an existential crisis, highlighting the “soulless, apathetic atmosphere that people live in; the banality of life.”
Christoper Nolan’s epic cerebral space movie, Interstellar has a lot to induce existential crises aplenty. Taking place on a dying earth, Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper is on a mission to save humanity and find a hospitable planet. The crew ends up lost in space, with no earth to go back to; knowing that they are their last chance.
Exploring the nature of existence, the vastness of space, human’s evolutionary urge to survive, and the forces that bind relationships together; all to a bounding soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Redditor 21tcook said the mind-bending movie made them “think about how big our universe is and how we’re just a tiny part in it.” Heavy stuff.
Waking Life (2001)
In a rotoscoped dreamscape, a man meanders through various environments, from living rooms to in the back of taxis, he often observes but sometimes takes part in the many philosophical discussions that make up Waking Life. Featuring musings on free will, lucid dreaming, post-humanity, existentialism, and the meaning of life, the film feels like what it is to suffer an existential crisis.
The heady film also features the two characters from Linklater’s before Trilogy, Jesse and Celine, in a post-coital discussion about those 10 minutes of brain activity after the death of the body. A since-deleted Reddit user chose the film as it led them down a month-long spiral. They add, “I love it, but can’t really watch it again.”
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)
The second Charlie Kaufman written film on this list, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind used to be chosen a multitude of times to be one to induce an existential crisis. The film centers on Jim Carrey’s Joel, as he discovers that his impulsive girlfriend (Kate Winslet’s Clementine) has utilized a new technology that allows one to erase all memories of a person from the brain. As revenge, he decides to do the same. However, he decides he’d rather live with the bittersweet memories than get rid altogether and attempts to beat the process. Flashing back to significant moments in their relationship, the film brings questions like; is a moment forgotten still a moment lived?
Redditor Clint129 says that it gave them an existential crisis in the way that it “makes you wish you could appreciate all those mundane things you take for granted.” It does have a more optimistic tone than the others on this list – ending an existential crisis binge with this film might be wise.
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