Desert Island Pics: 5 Films that shaped me

Alexandros Theodoropoulos talks through the 5 films that shaped him

Alexandros Theodoropoulos
10th September 2020
Terrence Malick, 'The Tree of Life' - The Culturium

Cinema should not only influence our daily lives but mould our comprehension of the world around us and our place within it. Cinema is not an imaginary planet with extraordinary creatures, tales, and visual effects, it's what you can find on the other side of the fence, and even this can change one's mindset.

As a matter of fact, my mindset, throughout the years, was shaped by a number of great films, five of which I am presenting below:

  1. The Tree of Life (2011)

This philosophical movie made by philosopher and director Terrence Malick (Badlands) and starring Brad Pitt (Moneyball) and Sean Penn (Mystic River), causes a deep incision into the philosophical perception of life and our planet through the eyes of a young boy growing up in 1950's Texas. The film reflects the acceptance of death and the loss of innocence that all people experience in the transformation from childhood to adulthood, an era when all of us try to understand our world better and identify the purpose of living.

Problems between family members and especially the age gap between parents and children remain at the front stage in most of the scenes to show how the world evolves and changes from one generation to the next. This film condemns the simplistic and superficial approach to life and favours the in-depth philosophical search of the origins of life, the implications, and the unpredictable future.

2. The Hours (2002)

In the cinematic adaptation of Michael Cunningham's 1999 novel The Hours, which won the Pulitzer Prize, Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), and Julianne Moore (Still Alice), directed by Stephen Daldry (The Reader), reflect three different stories in three different eras and places, all united by one of the most successful books of well-known British writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman).

Woolf's book "Mrs Dalloway" (1925) was written in a time when the famous writer had started to lose her sanity that eventually ended up in her infamous river suicide in 1941. Half of the movie is based on the true story of Virginia Woolf and the other half on her book's aftermath affecting subsequent generations of women. In 1950's Los Angeles and 2001 New York City, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) respectively, as engaged with and influenced by Woolf's novel, attempt to change their lives forever in the pursuit of happiness.

The Hours as a movie, walk the line of an undefined and unexplored human nature as three different stories in three different times intertwine and overlap in a canvas of death, love, redemption, and forgiveness. It forces you to look life in the face and to ask robust questions firstly to yourself and then to others.

3. Dead Poets Society (1989)

"No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. Poetry is what we stay alive for". These famous lines that guided a whole generation back in 1989 when the movie was released, are nowadays considered as some of the most influential quotes in the history of cinema.

In a strict and rigid US college, a newly appointed and unconventional teacher, John Keating (Robin Williams), struggles with and disapproves of the school's old fashioned and boring approaches to education. He builds a unique relationship with a number of students by motivating and showing them the way to pursue their life aspirations regardless of the mundane world sustained by an anachronistic education system.

It is important that the film's themes and motifs are understood by every teacher and student simultaneously. Dead Poets Society, if seen as an unusual suggestion to a future reformation of education systems, attempts to replace the old beliefs of a utilitarian education which leads to a utilitarian world with an artistic, cultural, and philosophical education which will result in a mentally healthier world. Seize the day!

4. Schindler's List (1993)

One of the best drama films of all time and a true WWII story, Schindler's list presents the story of a businessman and member of the Nazi party, Oscar Shindler (Liam Neeson), who after experiencing the unprecedented atrocities of Nazi Germany against the Jewish population, decided to spend his fortune and buy the lives of more than 1000 Jewish people to work in his factory, preventing their deaths in the Holocaust.

The film that won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Steven Spielberg, is a reminder of the most painful page in the book of human history. The crimes against mankind committed by the Nazis will and should not be forgotten. Books, stories, and films like this, portray in a raw, historic, and clear manner the worst period of human history, in order to prevent future generations aligning with ideologies that are turned against our common humanity.

The film forces the audience into a vivid observation of raw war crimes through its scenes in the streets of Nazi-occupied territories and concentration camps. The movie's realistic approach to war depicted in the big screen is balanced out with Schindler's character and his regrets as he tries to save as many innocent lives as he can. It leaves all of us with mixed emotions but above all, with a desire to ensure that no such thing will happen again in this world.

5. Magnolia (1999)

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), this epic and unique mosaic of interrelated characters creates a miniature of our daily lives and society. Personal problems that intersect, personal aspirations, and fulfillment of dreams as opposed to pragmatic standards and realistic difficulties, optimism versus pessimism, and the fight with our inner self are some of the most noteworthy themes of this film.

The film is made deliberately in such a way that the audience attempts, in vain, to link the stories coherently together. The reason for that lies in the film's reflection of the complex and incomprehensible world that we live in where constant bitterness almost always surpasses fragmented happiness. Adopting a heightened melodrama evident throughout the film, stories of sadness, depression, forgiveness, and redemption call us to feel compassionate with the innumerable characters. Being in their position, where one day you might stand, would you see the glass half-full or half-empty?

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