Existential & Psychological Movie Recommendations


Film, as with many of the arts, often reflects many existential themes. This page, which was developed following several request for such a list, offers suggestions of movies which reflect existential and psychological themes. The information about the movies is brief to not give away anything which would impact the enjoyment of the movie.

See also What is an Existential Movie?

Other Movie Pages:
Postmodernism & the Movies | Diversity Issues & the Movies | Psychology & the Movies Resources


 

I Heart Huckabees is a wonderful existential movie. It combines humor with a good look at existential issues. One of the more impressive features is that it addresses existential issues in all their complexities. It manages to address both extremes of the existential movement -- the nihilistic view & the optimistic view -- while still bringing a balanced perspective. Also addresses many spiritual issues and issues related to postmodernism. Definitely highly recommended.

The movie comes in double DVD format (above) with additional features or single DVD format (below).

Added 2005

 

Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality is the quintessential existential documentary of its time. While not a movie intended for entertainment like many of the rest on this list, it is well worth watching. It is based largely on the work of Ernest Becker and Terror Management Theory. It's a movie to make you think and feel.

Added 2005

 

Ordinary People is a brilliant movie which won Robert Redford an Oscar in his debute as a director. Dr. Burger, the therapist in the movie, certainly has a bit of an existential flair in his approach. This is one of the best portrayals of the healing process as experienced through emotion in movie history.

Added 2005

The Crossing Guard examines different ways people approach grieving and reconciliation. The movie is brilliantly acted and directed with a cast that includes Jack Nicholason, Angelica Houston, Robin Wright-Penn, and Sean Penn (director).

Added 2005

 

Crash is an incredible movie addressing diversity issues with many existential themes. This movie will make you think, feel, and reflect.

Added 2005

Charlotte Sometimes is worth watching for the way the actors and actresses deal with their emotions. With little emotional expression, there is a continual strong emotional presence in the movie. A great illustration of non-verbal communication and relational processes. Be sure to get in DVD format as there are some great bonus features which are very relevant.

Added 2005

 

Pieces of April is a strangely wonderful film. From perfect blend of Johnny Cashish music and Alternative folk music to the marvelous acting, this movie is strong all the way around. It contains some great family dynamics and relational issues. Highly recommended.

Added 2005

 

Off the Map is a great story packed with existential and other psychological themes. The story is about a family living rather isolated in northern New Mexico. The father is suffering from his first really difficult experience of depression. An IRS agent comes to visit them for an audit and ends up falling in love with New Mexico and finding himself for the first time. It's definitely worth tracking down to see.

Added March, 2006

 

Wit is an excellent movie about a woman facing a diagnosis of cancer. The issue is explored in an interesting, artful manner. Wit, humor, and poetry are all interwoven in this movie making it well worth watching. Possible death becomes a lead in to many other existential issues. Also some interesting sides on patient care.

Added November 2006

 

My Life Without Me explores one woman's journey after finding out she is going to die soon. It's a classic existential theme, but an uncommon approach to this existential issue.

Added November 2006

 

What the Bleep do We Know? (What the #$%& Do We Know?) will be released soon. It is amazing that a movie which addresses issues such as quantum physics could become this popular. This is an important film and one that is of the most highly recommended. I'm amazed with how many people came out of this movie and called me leaving the movie theater saying 'You've got to go see this movie -- you'll love it.'

Added 2005

 

Garden State is a movie filled with powerful metaphors about the human experience. Be sure to not just pay attention to the existential themes in the surface of the story (which are still great), but also pay attention to the underlying metaphors. One of the great messages of this movie is the alternative perspective on mental health which is often not seen in the popular media. So often movie help indoctrinate us in the medical model and shallow solutions to life's issues, but that is not what you'll find in this movie.

Added 2005

13 Conversations about One Thing taps into many issues about perspective and context. The movie examines how one event becomes inter-related and life changing in many people's lives.

Added 2005

 

Broken Flowers is a unique film starring Bill Murray as an aging Don Juan character revisiting part of his past.

Added March, 2006

American History X is a classic movie about racism, hate, anger, and reconciliation. This is a difficult movie to watch, but one that is important to see.

Added 2005

Dark City, as the name suggests, is a dark film. It explores questions of what makes us human and free will. A great philosophical blend of existential and postmodern issues.

Added 2005

Grand Canyon is another thoughtful movie. The title and theme of the Grand Canyon keeps pulling the viewer back to the theme of existence and how small we are when placed in the context of the universe. This smallness is explored in the vantage point of several characters.

Added 2005

 

An Unfinished Life deals with many themes of human limitation and redemption. As with most Robert Redford flims (and Morgan Freeman movies), it is superbly acted and embues good depth.

Added March, 2007

 

Once Were Warriors is a powerful film dealing with issues of resilience, redemption, meaning, and finitude. Due to the violence and portrayal of domestic violence, this is not always an easy film to watch. However, the violence illustrates a realness contributing the feelings and experience of being trapped and limited. While Jake remains trapped in the destiny of his violence and anger, the rest of the family find redemption and freedom from the cycle of violence in their warrior lineage. It is not the warriors who are violent and destructive, but the ones who do know know themselves.

Added November, 2006

 

I never heard of Tiptoes before sitting down to watch it. It turned out to be one of the best movie surprises I've had in a long time. This deals with diversity issues ("little people" or "dwarfs"), identity issues, relationships, and emotions.

Added March, 2006

Gun Shy is a comedy, one of few that appear on this list. However, it is worth watching for several reasons, including some very humorous group therapy processes.

Added 2005

Antwone Fischer is a story of healing. Denzel Washington plays the role of a therapist working with Antwone Fischer (Derek Luke), who is initially resistant to therapy. Through time the relationships grows. The movie does an excellent job of portraying many dynamics of therapy. Also a good portrayal of some racial issues.

Added 2005

 

The Joy Luck Club looks at issues of identify, relationship, and meaning. In particular, mother-daughter relationships and the impact of the acculturation process. The movie includes some very powerful dialogue.

Added 2005

 

The Story of Us is a great movie about relationships and reconciliation. It also demonstrates many of the stereotypes about therapists in a few of the scenes which are quite humorous. A good movie for looking at relationship dynamics.

Added 2005

 

Shadowlands is a wonderful movie about the life of C.S. Lewis. The movie focuses primarily on his relationship with his wife, including his dealing with her illness and death. This movie does not get into much of the theology he is famous for, but does an excellent job at dealing with some difficult theological and existential issues.

Added 2005

 

The Secret Lives of Dentists deals with a variety of relationship and emotional issues. On the emotional side, themes of anger and sadness are blended with repression and avoidance. In the relationship, the movie explores how relationship conflict impacts various levels of family relationships.

Added April, 2006

 

Ikiru is a classic existential movie about a man who recently learned he is dying. The movie chronicles his approach to handle his impending death. The movie is a Japanese movie from 1952 with American subtitles. A particularly impressive movie for its time and still very thought provoking today.

Added 2005

The Matrix is a new classic that provides great illustrations of postmodernism. The first in the trilogy, issues of awareness are consistent through the movie.

Added 2005

The Matrix Reloaded is the second movie in the trilogy. The philosophical undertones shift to issues of free will and determinism.

Added 2005

The Matrix Revolutions is the third in the trilogy deals with many issues of human potential.

Added 2005

The Matrix Trilogy may appear a bit out of place in this list of movies dominated dramas and less well-known movies. However, despite much of the audience being drawn for the action and special effects, there are powerful philosophical undercurrents to the movies. Each movie builds off previous philosophical questions, making it best watch them in sequence.

Added 2005

 

A Day Without A Mexican deals most directly with issues of culture and diversity; however, the existential themes are also strong. It's humorous in places, yet thought provoking. Worth watching for a variety of reasons.

Added 2005

The Daytrippers is a movie in which the best dialogues are often hidden in unexpected places. During a trip to confront an unfaithful spouse, a family goes through many relational discoveries, conflicts, and changes.

Added 2005

Maze is an unusual movie dealing with issues of psychopathology and meaning. Rob Morrow plays an artist suffering with Tourette's disease which interferes with many of his relationships. There are some great portrayals of the struggles people with this disorder go through.

Added 2005

Lovely and Amazing is a story of a family of women struggling with relationship issues and issues of meaning. Examines many of contemporary culture's myths of meaning.

Added 2005

Life as a House uses the metaphor perfectly. This movie deals with issues of death, meaning, and relationship.

Added 2005

Monster's Ball deals with issues of meaning, relationship, grief, and healing in a cross-cultural context. In particular, it focuses on intergenerational issues of racism and and interracial dating.

Added 2005

Love Actually is a British comedy with loads of great relational issues.

Added 2005

House of Sand and Fog is another movie which integrates cultural issues with issues of meaning, family, honor, and relationship. This movie is brilliantly acted.

Added 2005

John Q is another Denzel Washington movie. While there area many areas this movie could have explored to give it much greater depth, it still is a good movie with many existential issues.

Added 2005

 

In the Time of the Butterflies is a story of passion and idealism in a time and a culture which did not allow for these. This movie, too, deals with many issues of culture and family dynamics.

Added 2005

Requim for a Dream deal with issues of addiction and despair. It can be a bit bizarre and difficult to watch at times, but deals with important issues well.

Added 2005

The Tic Code is the story of a young boy with Tourette's disorder and how he learns to deal with his symptoms. Important relationships issues get addressed along the way.

Added 2005

American Beauty is another one of the more popular movies on this list. For those who haven't seen this, it is worth watching. It is a very entertaining film in addition to being powerful.

Added 2005

A Beautiful Mind is story about a brilliant man struggling with mental illness. Presents a different perspective on mental illness.

Added 2005

Barber Shop is another rare comedy on this list, but this is a great movie. There are issues of meaning and relationship throughout the movie.

Added 2005

 

Barber Shop 2 is not as good as the first, but still a good movie that also deals with issues of meaning and relationship.

Added 2005

Being John Malkovich is a movie in which you really need to look below the surface to appreciate -- otherwise it will be just another bizarre movie.

Added 2005

 

Sliding Doors is an nice movie about how the little things in life can completely change everything. A good movie to start some conversations.

Added 2005

The Shawshank Redemption deal with issues of freedom, meaning, and healing. A very powerful movie.

Added 2005

Patch Adams is a movie many in our field and the health field could learn a great deal from. Many good lessons about treating people as real people. Also a good comedy.

Added 2005

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of the first movies to exam mental health issues. Many issues about the nature of mental illness, confinement, and the treatment of people is part of this movie.

Added 2005

 

Girl Interrupted, much in the line with the above two movies, deals with mental illness and the treatment of the mentally ill.

Added 2005

Disturbing Behavior is a movie that explores the consequences of seeking perfection. Becker would be proud in the portrayal -- seeking perfection leads to evil.

Added 2005

 

Pleasantville also deals with perfection, but in a more humorous way. Still some good questions about the issues.

Added 2005

Hope Floats is one of the more light-hearted movies on this list. Still a very good movie about healing, grieving, and relationship.

Added 2005

Good Will Hunting continues a run of popular movies that has some great therapy, relationship, and meaning issues.

Added 2005

As Good as it Gets is an excellent portrayal of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Jack Nicholason was one of several excellent acting jobs in this movie. Many good relationship issues also arise in this movie.

Added 2005

 

Pollack did not impress me initially, but somehow I could not get the movie from my mind after watching it. The more I thought about it the more I was impressed. It is the story of Jackson Pollack, an artist who struggled with relationships and alcoholism. There is one scene toward the end which shows a powerful view of relationships -- see if you can spot it.

Added 2005

 

Sylvia is the story of poet Sylvia Plath. Brilliant portrayed by Gwenth Paltrow, this is a great movie of a woman's struggle with pain, sorrow, and death. If you a fan of Plath poetry, this is a sure thing. However, even if she is not your style of poetry, this is an excellent viewing.

Added 2005

 

The Passion of Ayn Rand is based on the real life of Ayn Rand. It could be argued that Rand attempted to turn objectivism into a religion. The movement associated with her is quite amazing and scary. Just try a couple of web searches for her name. This movie shows the troubling side of her life in her pursuit for meaning and truth.

Added 2005

Identity is an interesting exploration of the issue of responsibility and mental illness. Also contains an interesting mistake regarding the person playing the psychologist.

Added 2005

Tully is one of the few movies set in the midwest. It is an excellent portrayal of family dynamics through a crisis situation.

Added 2005

The Truman Show is a popular movie which explores what it means to be human.

Added 2005

 

Control Room -- Okay, this one is a bit of a more controversial film to include, but even if you don't agree with some of the points of the movie, it is a good one to watch and discuss with other thoughtful people.

Added 2005

 

Bowling for Columbine is another controversial film to include here, especially after Michael Moore's follow up movie. But regardless of what you think of Fahrenheit 911, this movie is very powerful and has some great thought provoking information. It's sad that so many people may never watch this film because of Moore's controversial political views and actions. This is a film to watch critically, but also to think about and discuss. As with dialogue, the purpose is not always to agree, but to see what can emerge from critically thinking about different viewpoints. Watch, enjoy, think.

Added 2005

 

Gattaca is a movie with many relevant moral and ethical issues for our time. Similar to Pleasantville and Disturbing Behavior, it also deals with the high cost of seeking perfection.

Added 2005

 

The Spitfire Grill is a great movie dealing with friendship, redemption, and our perceptions. The line "I thought I knew Percy" is one that many therapists could do well to listen to closely.

Added 2005

 

Interview with a Vampire may seem another odd movie, but the dialogue in this movie is done quite well. There has been a consistent draw to this movie among many intellectuals and artists. There are many ontological issues explored in this movie that could be processed for many hours afterwards.

Added 2005

 

Deconstructing Harry: Not long ago I received an Email asking why there were no Woody Allen movies on this list. Immediately, I wonder the same question. I love Woody Allen movies and most, if not all, reflect existential themes and nearly all involve some portrayal of therapy. While it would fit to recommend any Woody Allen films on this list, Deconstructing Harry is one of the best in terms of existential themes. A search for meaning and connection emerge as themes in this movie, in Allen's typically quirky fashion.

Added April, 2006

 

Anything Else is another classy, intelligent Woody Allen film. Jason Biggs is a natural for Woody Allen's humor and does a great job in this movie. While he is very different in ways, he fits smoothly into a role as Allen as a mentor in this movie. As with most Woody Allen movies, the search for meaning and connection are evident in this movie.

Added April, 2006

 

Hollywood Ending is filled with psychological comedy. Woody Allen's typical neurotic character suffers from blindness due to a conversion disorder. Issues pertaining to meaning are the most prominent existential theme in this movie.

Added April, 2006

 

Wilber (Wants to Kill Himself) is a quirky, dark comedy with existential themes. The humor is more of a British humor and more subtle than the typical laugh-out-loud comedy. Issues of death, suicide, love, and relationship all emerge in places throughout the movie. Even though the movie has won many film festival awards, it is not a film everyone would enjoy.

Added April, 2006

Movies and Mental Illness -- Okay, this is a book, not a movie. But it is a books about psychological movies, so it was included on the list.

Added 2005

 
   
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