What lies beneath

Villain Bane in a scene from The Dark Knight Rises

Movies have a way of sticking with us. They form a sense of understanding for us and our world, and yes, even the most action-packed blockbuster movies have an underlying theme that when examined, reveal themselves to be core philosophical thought experiments dating back to Plato. So while you may think that you’re just watching an entertaining movie, you might be pondering big, heavy ideas that have been vexing humanity’s deepest thinkers for millennia. For instance…

The State of Nature and the Social Contract

The most common philosophical question that we see in movies is the thought of why the human race as a species adheres to social structure and what would happen should the structure fail. This is the basis of almost every post-apocalyptical movie there is. In most cases, the absence of this social treatise to not just kill someone and take everything they own is dealt with standard primal anarchy. Just watch the last Mad Max movie and you’ll see what I mean. The entire human population has degenerated into tribal warring clans, fighting over scarce resources and the right to dominate over the weak. There are no laws, leaving Max, a former law-bringer, scrambling to survive.

Seems completely alien to the world we live in, right? But millennia ago, this is the way human beings functioned; this is what Thomas Hobbes called The State of Nature. To get from that version of existence to the one we’re all familiar with, Hobbes speculated that those people must have agreed to what he called the social contract — you give up your right to drop an anvil on your neighbour and take his stuff, in exchange for things like personal safety and the expectation that people will follow a reasonable moral code.

Movies frequently make it a point to mention our willingness to not hammer someone for his property if we can get the assurance that we’ll be safe from other people’s wanting to hammer us. The heroes in the wildly popular movie The Avengers battle a villain who represents the social contract on steroids.

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Mon Pal
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Mon Pal

Mon Pal works as a freelancer in the advertising industry. He loves to write in his free time and discuss great films and comic books with anyone who’ll listen.