Films that teach us about the meaning of life

January 30, 2014
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Movies teach us about life. They are the most modern form of storytelling and it is through stories that we learn. We learn through the experiences of fictional characters and become better people. Simply, movies assist in teaching us about right and wrong, about justice and injustice. They reveal absolute truths about the human condition and provide insight into our nature. There are many life lessons to be learned through film, so here’s just a few:

The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Breakfast Club, the quintessential coming-of-age film follows five high school students Claire (a princess), John Bender (a burnout), Brian (a nerd), Andy (a jock) and Allison (a basket case) each on Saturday detention. Throughout the day they discuss what put them in detention and how they regret what they did to get there, the pressures of their home lives and learn that despite being different, they all have the same fears and insecurities. They remind the assistant principal Mr Vernon of the simple truth that everyone is different and there’s more to people than what you see. Something we should all be reminded of from time to time.

Life lesson: Appearance isn’t everything. Deep down, we’re probably not so different from those we judge.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film about Ferris Bueller, his friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane. Ferris convinces Cameron to steal his dad’s Ferrari, skip school and spend the day in Chicago to take in the city’s cultural riches. When it comes time to go home, Cameron has a break down and inadvertently sends the Ferrari off a small cliff. Regardless of this, Cameron gains self-confidence and insists that he’ll take the blame himself, despite being afraid of his father.

Life lesson: Taking time out from the everyday will help put things into perspective.

Yes Man (2008)

Yes Man follows a man named Carl who, after his wife leaves him, disconnects from his friends and becomes somewhat of a recluse. An old friend of his takes him to a seminar to meet with a man named Terrance who is a famous motivational speaker. Carl makes a promise to Terrance that he will say “yes” to every opportunity that comes his way and because of this promise Carl begins to enjoy life. He falls in love, travels and even saves someone else’s life.

Life Lesson: Be open to all opportunities and experiences, you never know where they might lead.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a film about two con-artists, Lawrence and Freddy, who compete against each other to dupe a woman name Janet out of $50,000. The winner gets to mark the French Riviera as their territory to prey on rich tourists, while the other must leave and never return. It’s revealed that Janet is in fact the infamous con artist known as the Jackal and it’s her who takes the boys for $50,000.

Life lesson: Never assume you are the smartest person in the room and be taken for a fool.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane recounts the life of Charles Foster Kane who was a wealthy newspaper publisher. We learn about his life through a reporter who sets out to learn about Kane’s life and the meaning behind his last word, “rosebud”. Turns out, Kane was raised in poverty and Rosebud was the name of the sled he had as a child. Throughout his life Kane was searching for the happiness he never has when he was younger.

Life lesson: All the money in the world can’t buy true happiness.

Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru (“To Live”) is a Japanese film about Kanji Watanabe, a bureaucrat who has spent his life in an office. After being diagnosed with stomach cancer a painful truth dawns on him: he hasn’t accomplished anything of meaning. Watanabe meets Toyo, a woman whose lust for life inspires him. He dedicates the remainder of his time working towards turning a cesspool into a children’s playground. There’s a moment at the end of the film where Watanabe is sitting on a swing in the park. At peace with himself he sings as snow begins to fall. A hauntingly beautiful scene.

Life lesson: You only live once, life is precious and it’s never too late to start your pursuit of happiness.

Before Sunrise (1995)

Before Sunrise is set in Vienna. It follows two strangers: American travellers Jesse and Celine. Jesse persuades Celine to jump off the train and spend the night wandering around the city before Jesse leaves the next morning. She agrees and the two spend the night talking about life, love and existentialism, deepening their attraction to one another. As morning comes the two decide not to exchange any details and agree to meet in six months’ time.

Life lesson: Spontaneity can lead to remarkable and fulfilling situations.

Clerks (1994)

Clerks is a film about a day in the life of Quick Stop employees, Dante and Randal. Dante is unsatisfied with his job, while Randal is perfectly content. Throughout the day Dante deals with difficult customers and Randal’s shenanigans until he finally reaches his breaking point. He argues with Randal stating that he’s “not even supposed to be here today” to which Randal replies that nobody forced him to be there and that he came of his own volition. The two make peace and Dante finishes his shift with a new perspective.

Life lesson: Don’t play the blame game. Take control over your life and if you want change try your hardest to make it happen.

Michael Di Biasi

Michael Di Biasi is currently studying at JMC Academy.

Photo: Nick Marot, The University of Sydney

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