John Huddle’s drama has its thinking cap on, and while it falters occasionally. It succeeds in being a refreshing story that allows ideas and thoughts to shine. The Philosophers surprises with just how good it is.
At an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia, on the last day of class, 20 students from around the world are manipulated by their idiosyncratic philosophy teacher, Mr Zimit (James D’Arcy), into conducting a final thought experiment before they can graduate. Using the tools of logic alone, they must work out who among them is valuable enough to the future of humanity to merit a slot inside a specialised bunker. That only has room for 10. During an atomic apocalypse, the rest must stay behind… doomed to be vapourised by the blasts.
There is an awful lot to like about The Philosophers, and while it doesn’t always stick the landing on some of its choices due to the heavy-handed nature of John Huddle’s script. It is a film that has snuck under the radar as it was initially released in 2013. How and why it did is a mystery as this is a piece that slowly reels you in with a simple enough yet thought-provoking premise that you may have encountered before in your life.
By giving us the scenario of learning the roles and history of each of the 20 students. We are also picking who we would stay with and whether it checks with the class. The film’s strength is giving us multiple scenarios that continually evolve each time to become a bit more complex. Add in a teacher who endeavours to get his point across to two students, and we have an intriguing story.
The Philosophers both shines and struggles when it delves into the hypothetical world. When we see the timelines of each scenario break out, we are left wondering if Mr Zimit said the things he did to his class. Especially so in the second scenario, where sexual assault is concerned. Such questions raise the quandary of why students would remain in the room when a teacher says that. This also comes to pass when we see specific actions from characters in those moments. We rarely break away to see the class’s reaction as their theory of how the scenario plays out. The vividness of these situations is purely for the audiences’ help, and though creative and entertaining due to what it brings, it raises the question of why we see them.
Could we have had an alternate version where we watch the class detail and argue their points about what would happen as Zimit reveals new problems like a heightened real life Dungeon and Dragons? Most certainly, but would it have been as effective? That is the true question. The Philosophers is the type of film that could easily have worked as a play and an interesting story if we have focused just on the classroom the entire time. The Philosophers, in truth, could have worked in either setting, though the film is almost entirely set in that room would have made it a fascinating piece of cinema.
Though, if it did stay in the classroom, we would have missed out on all of those wonderfully gorgeous locations that you can tell had director John Huddles and his cinematographer John Radel rubbing their hands with glee. They provide their audience with some stunning imagery as our class runs through 8th Century Hindu temples, beautiful tropical islands, and a stunning yet ominous volcanic plain in Indonesia. When you have these types of locations at your feet, well, you can’t blame them for wanting to make sure the story stayed outside as much as possible in these hypothetical field trips.
The Philosophers is a drama that asks questions and lets you try and figure it out for yourself. However, the answers are never too far out of reach. The intentions are always rather obvious (except for one theory within a theory in the final scene, which is comedically entertaining). As mentioned, we are presented moments to sit and think; what would you do in those scenarios and pick the same? It is the old dinner table question, and one many people may have encountered in school, college or university. The film is an entertaining film and not one that should be swept aside; it is a shock that it took me eight years to find it.
This may be a sidetrack, but I watched the trailer for this film, and it doesn’t do the film justice at all and. In fact, hurts the film a great deal as it sells what should be a film that has you sit and ponder into a thriller – A film that deserves a watch.
The Philosophers is available now on digital platforms.
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