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An Overview of Existentialism Theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3742 words Published: 8th Sep 2017

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In a clearer sense “Existentialism” is a 20th century philosophy that is examined the idea of existence and of the way people found themselves existing in the world. The idea is that people as individuals exist first and then each person spends their existence varying their understanding of that their life’s nature or essence was meant to be.

In a simpler term, existentialism is a philosophical thinking that a person might experience when worried with finding their self and what the meaning of life may be through, life choices, free will, and the undertaking of personal responsibility. The principle is that we as humans are searching to discover who and what we are throughout life, as we make choices based on experiences, attitude, and sometimes beliefs. What is more individual choices becoming distinctive without the need of a detached form of truth. An existentialist might consider that a person ought to be required to decide and be accountable for their own existence without the assistance of other things such as laws, cultural rules, or rituals.

Existentialism takes thought of the basic notions:

  • Human free will
  • Human nature is chosen through life choices
  • A person is best when struggling against their individual nature, fighting for life
  • Decisions are not without stress and consequences
  • There are things that are not rational
  • Personal responsibility and discipline is crucial
  • Society is unnatural and its traditional religious and secular rules are arbitrary
  • Worldly desire is futile

Existentialism can mostly be described in a multiplicity of perceptions and really there can’t be one given answer as to what it really is, but still it does not embrace any of the idea:

  • wealth, pleasure, or honor make the good life
  • social values and structure control the individual
  • accept what is and that is enough in life
  • science can and will make everything better
  • people are basically good but ruined by society or external forces
  • “I want my way, now!” or “It is not my fault!” mentality

(All About…, n.d.)

There is a varied diversity of philosophical thinking, religious beliefs, and political ideas that make up what existentialism is, so there is no general agreement in a subjective set of beliefs and ideals. Since beliefs vary, each gets that the individual’s best freedom is what’s important for people within a society.

Existentialism’s Influence on Humanity

Existentialistic beliefs came at a time where in society there was a sense of hopelessness following World War II and the Great Depression. There was an essence of confidence in people whose life that was devastated by events of World War I and its tragedies. This depression had been voiced by existential philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Sartre well in to the 70’s and has remained on to this day as a common way of thoughtfulness and reasoning.

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With freedom to decide one’s desired belief and lifestyle, an existentialist could a very of things from being a “religious moralist, agnostic relativist, or an amoral atheist.” With Kierkegaard being a religious philosopher, Sartre an atheist and Nietzsche an anti-Christian. Being credited for their workings and literatures on existentialism. With Sartre being noticed for taking the philosophy to global attention in the 20th century era. With a philosophy work based on a lecture called “Existentialism is a Humanism” he gave in Paris, 1945. Then a well-liked starting point for debates on Existentialist views, his work has been criticized by some philosophers. Even Sartre later disapproved of some of the views he stated and had regression over its publication.

Each basically agrees that human life cannot be fully complete and completely pleasing since due to misery and past or current suffering that occurred when reflecting on ones lack of power, control and perfection over their lives. While they did approve on that life is not always satisfying, it nevertheless has a meaning. The hunt and journey one takes for find their true self and true personal meaning in life. The arbitrary act when someone or society attempts to insist or demand that their rules or beliefs are to be closely accepted and observed. Existentialists trusted that this destroyed individuality and makes a person become what the people in power desired, (similar to Michel Foucault on docile bodies) thus dehumanizing them and reducing them to being an object. A person’s decision is the important factor when taking into account what is to be trusted rather than religious or cultural rules.


  • All About… (n.d.). Existentialism. [online] Available at: http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/existentialism.htm [Accessed 10 Jan. 2017].
  • Burnham, D. and Papandreopoulos, G. (n.d.). Existentialism. [online] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/existent/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2017].
  • CrashCourse, (2016). Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaDvRdLMkHs [Accessed 9 Jan. 2017].
  • Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish. 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Sartre, J. (1948). Existentialism and Humanism. 1st ed. London: Methuen.

Slow cinema is a cinematography style which stems from the artist film genre and which involves conveying a sense of a designed slowness to its viewer. Films in this genre often involves a lot of resistance to the use of movement and sometimes emotions, the absence of “causality” and focus on realism, such as, silent in a car. (ÇaÄŸlayan, 2014) This affect is normally achieved through the practice of using long takes, minimalist acting, slow or inexistent movements of the camera, and sparse editing along with unconventional music.

Slow cinema came from the slow movement which encouraged a social change toward slowing down one’s life pace. It apparently began in the year 1986 with Carlo Petrini’s protest against an opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. This eventually sparked the creation of what was called the “slow food movement.” And over time, this had established into sub cultures in other areas, like “slow cities,” “slow fashion” and of course “slow cinema.” The “slow” moniker has successively been related to a range of activities and parts of culture, especially in a world that now release on things being so fast, such as “action movies” and “fast food.”

I happened to then look for books and even thesis’s relating to slow cinema, being delighted to read “The Multisensory Film Experience” a book that argues that it is the “experience” one feels from the viewing of film that is inherently multisensory and not the medium, contained a great deal of significances to materials and elements that is also appropriate for use in Slow Cinema, or that comes specially from slow films. The book even discusses Slow Cinema, which hadn’t shocked me at all. With the help of its supporting video so to help get a better understanding of how these techniques would work, it claims that the multisensory experience in viewing a film can be felt mainly in ones with little to no dialogue. Films which have permitted time for its viewer’s experience and films which are often seriously concerned with “beauty” or the appreciation of “beauty” in its cinematics be in colourful landscapes or thoughtfulness of subject framing. That is not to say that other genres of films created don’t create or give this experience. It is simply more challenging to identify with blockbuster styled action movie as multisensory experience rather than as a product which uses image and sound extremely, nevertheless that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Particularly, Antunes states that “By using non-verbal communication and the senses, these films capture the interest of various audiences. The experiential appeal of these films is universal.” (Antunes, 2016:7).

The point that it is the “experiential” aspect is universal describes to me why there seems to be a relatively sizable group of people fascinated by slow cinema based films, and when asked why they are attracted to it, it seems that they may all feel the same way. Surely to different degrees, nonetheless it’s constantly about the individual’s own experiential characteristic towards the films, not about how they feel towards the actress looks, or how staggering the use of movie cuts occurred. There is a feeling that lies within these individual’s own identity in a way, who appreciate slow cinema, and I believe that me reading Antunes’ book is a very good start to discovering this “feeling”, the same way with discovering the feeling relating to Existentialism.

Although the video above isn’t a fair comparison it is to gain an understanding of the major scenes of slow cinema verses Hollywood blockbusters might entail. Different genres give a different experience especially when it comes to the use of cinematic framing and even acting. The viewers are there to experience the film in a different light.

To me the experience you acquire from viewing slow cinema is subjective and generally individual; so, I can’t prove anything or write a neutral scientific review backed up with facts I can only show you the style and methods it uses in hope that you can experience it in a similar way to me. But film viewing isn’t fact, it’s experience. It always has been and it will always will be, be it that we’re discussing films of from the popular mainstream releases or to niche art house cinema.


  • Antunes, L. (2016). The Multisensory Film Experience. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Antunes, L. (2016). The Multisensory Film Experience: A Cognitive Model of Experiential Film Aesthetics (Luis R. Antunes, 2016, Intellect Books). Available at: https://vimeo.com/166639673 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2017].
  • Alayan, O. (2014). SCREENING BOREDOM: The History and Aesthetics of Slow Cinema. Ph.D. University of Kent.
  • JoBlo Movie Trailers, (2014). Night Moves Official Movie Clip #1 (2014) Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning HD. [image] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU96c-uEWxc [Accessed 5 Jan. 2017].
  • Keene, S. (2015). Slow Cinema vs Hollywood. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-YTt8zfCOw [Accessed 5 Jan. 2017].

Existentialism being a catch-all word used for those philosophers who consider the nature of the human condition as the crucial philosophical problem and who share the opinion that this problem is best tackled through what is called “ontology.”

With existentialism being a philosophical theory that a person is an unrestricted being who have power over their own choices and actions. Existentialists believe that people should not limit their individual’s life or actions and that limitations constrain a person’s free-will and the growth of that person’s real potential.

To get a better understanding existentialism, it was important for me to look into examples of existential situations, activities and questions. It was also fun to look into how the media industry use of this theory is done and which movies and directors were famous for their use of existentialism.

Common Existential Actions

  • Taking charge for your own actions.
  • Deciding your career based on what you think is the most significant way to spend your future.
  • Living your life without concern on following all if any of commonly-held religious or social beliefs
  • Trusting in yourself that as educator you are offering a positive and critical role in the growing of your students.
  • And more “extreme” behaviors such as releasing all of your belongings and going on some sort of self-journey.

Existential Questions

To get an understanding of how existentialism view life, here are instances where existential questions may come into play:

  • Who am I?
  • What is my real purpose or identity?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the meaning of existence?
  • What is my greater purpose?
  • What is death? And what happens when to a person when they die?
  • Is there a god? And if there is a god, what is the nature of god?

Existential Crisis Examples

An existential crisis is when a major changes relating to life or tragedy happens and causes us to start questioning our real identity. Such as:

  • Being in education you entire life and have become so used to the routine however when you’ve come towards the end you not entirely sure which path you want to continue with.
  • You fall in love and want to live with that person forever. Then you discover that person does not feel the same way.
  • You identify yourself as an athlete and have a promising career. Then you have a severe injury and your career is over. At that point, you would have an existential crisis because you have defined yourself as an athlete.
  • If you are raised to believe that God rewards good people and punishes bad people, you may have a problem coping with injustice or cruel acts inflicted by bad people on good people.
  • You see yourself as a parent so when the children leave the home, you are faced with a crisis in how you perceive yourself.
  • You are a soldier and you have been told that you will be considered a hero by people you are trying to help. Then you find out that they hate you.

Existentialism x Media

  • Monty Python dealt with existentialism in their 1983 film “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”
  • Alice in Wonderland – Alice wishes she hadn’t come there but it was her decision and no one else’s.
  • In Natasha Bedingfield’s song, “Unwritten” where in the lyrics she explain that no one else can take the blame since it was a person decision out of their own free will to do it. “Feel the rain on your skin, No one else can feel it for you, Only you can let it in… No one else, no one else”
  • In the movie “Stranger than Fiction” – the character Professor Hilbert implies that Harold can do whatever pleases him, even if it just means eating nothing but pancakes. This is to point out that he should go out and live his life.
  • The movie “I Heart Huckabees.” In this movie a character uses a blanket to represent the universe and that each part of the blanket is a person or thing.
  • Theatre of the Absurd has roots in existentialism as shown in “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, where characters discuss their lives while waiting for Godot.
  • In Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” , people are left in a room and they think it is hell but no one arrives to torture them. They soon see that they really there to torment one another but instead they converse about each other’s lives.

Directors of Existentialist Films

Some movie directors are well-known for their existentialist films such as:

  • Christopher Nolan
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • Woody Allen
  • Wes Anderson
  • Jean-Luc Godard
  • Charlie Kaufman

These are all different examples that can help gain a better understanding of what existentialism is and how it has been used in the media, both in film and music, also who is known for using elements of this theory in the process of their creative process.


  • Burnham, D. and Papandreopoulos, G. (n.d.). Existentialism. [online] Iep.utm.edu. Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/existent/ [Accessed 4 Jan. 2017].
  • CrashCourse, (2016). Existentialism: Crash Course Philosophy #16. [image] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaDvRdLMkHs [Accessed 4 Jan. 2017].
  • YourDictionary. (n.d.). Examples of Existentialism. [online] Available at: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-existentialism.html [Accessed 4 Jan. 2017].

With my idea following the styling of slow cinema, its meaning even more importance is put on the use of cinematic and well as how the characters are framed in order for the viewers to get the emotions and feelings of the character without having to use dialog, so i began researching how best to do this has I have loved the work of Tom Campbell.

There are many different techniques to express emotions on screen, from obviously expressing it with dialog to tapping into the use psychological effects related to colour. But framing shots in specific ways can also be really effective at communicating a character’s emotional and mental state.

Though it might seem like a bit of a puzzling idea, of communicating feelings through visuals however it is relatively straightforward. There are a number of elements in filmmaking that do the job, and filmmakers, like Steve McQueen, Frank Darabont and Alfonso Cuarón combined them to produce some of the most effectively moving and emotional scenes in cinematics.

From watching the video by Simon Cade DSLRguide, one of the main pieces of information that was just briefly touched upon, is that storytelling with the use of cinematography is basically the art of visually portraying some sort of change. If your characters happen to go through an important change during the script, let your cinematographic selections reveal that change. Let’s say that a character starts out, terrified, shy or timid of the world around him. You could start off with framings that minimizes the character’s size while accentuating and increasing the situation around him. The use of “Wide-angled” lenses are great for this purpose as they capture more of what’s in view. Then, as the narrative develops and the character becomes self-confident, your framings and lens choice should begin to develop with that change. Instead of using wide-angles, you choose a longer focal length that separate the character from their foreground and background, and frame them so that they are equal or even larger in the frame as the other characters around them.

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The other important insight from watching this video shows is that with cinematography, none of these “rules” are set in stone. As we’ve seen from many other experimental pieces and even TV shows, rules are meant to be broken, and in fact, many filmmakers overlooked these conventions in their own work such as cinematographer Tom Campbell on Mr. Robot. The essential thing is that you make knowledgeable use of cinematic choices based on what’s happening in the story and what your character is undergoing emotionally.

James Manning discusses a bit on how the producers of the award-winning TV show Mr. Robot uses framing, namely quadrant framing, to communicate the social anxiety and distrust experienced by its protagonist, and we me taking inspiration from the show on how to frame my characters to help show they’re emotions on scene without having to using dialog.

As we have seen there are numerous different recognised concepts about composition and storytelling with just cinematics, that looks to enlighten us on how a character’s placing within a frame affects the audience’s understanding of the scene. The general view of the “Rule of Thirds” states the frame is split into horizontal and vertical guide lines that create a multi-quadrant grid, the crossings of them then serves as the focal point for anything of significant to the image such as faces and objects.

There are many ways to play around with this perception such as placing the things of main importance at a crossing, but you can also communicate different things by placing your subject inside a certain quadrant. An example by, how the creators’ placing Elliot in the bottom left quadrant gives the feeling of how he is isolated, and even untrusting of what is around him. The reason for this stems from the relationship between “positive space” and “negative space” with negative space being the space that surrounds a subject, while positive space is usually the subject itself. If a character, which is conventionally the focal point of the framing, simply takes a small portion of the frame, the negative space enhances and becomes much more noticeable and even consuming, which can result in provoking emotions such as isolation, loneliness, suspicion, distrust and powerlessness.


  • CineFix, (2016). 3 Brilliant Moments in the Visuals of Emotion. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDFTFFA0LtE [Accessed 3 Jan. 2017].
  • DSLRguide, (2015). Composition + Framing – Storytelling with Cinematography. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfIanZimZR8 [Accessed 3 Jan. 2017].
  • Manning, J. (2016). Mr Robot: Unconventional Framing (Video Essay). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se6ftrRd5KM [Accessed 3 Jan. 2017].


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