The mercurial matrimony of Gnostic philosophy and sci-fi movies continues to mature. It’s more of a Promethean honeymoon perhaps, with recent love-children being Mother! and Blade Runner 2049, or stream-friendly content hits such as Westworld and Altered Carbon.
This nuptial makes perfect sense when one briefly looks at the parallels of gnostic lore and sci-fi (or speculative fiction for non-futuristic landscapes):
- Sci-fi tends to focus on dystopias. Gnosticism assumes all of reality and the human mind are a sprawling dystopia.
- Sci-fi deals with alternative realities, often within one umbrella reality. Gnosticism posits a layered universe with programmed levels of reality.
- Sci-fi explores the ideas of technology and transhumanism. Gnosticism warned 2000 years ago about spiritual tech that could evolve humans into either demonic or angelic beings (often without personal consent).
We’ve dealt with Gnostic-themed movies in the past, including Coraline, Fight Club, and Mother! A while back, I wrote an article about terrible Gnostic films that was balanced with an IMBD list of some of the finest ones in history.
Both listicles overlook some of the best overlooked Gnostic films, though, some that don’t appear in any listicle in the blogosphere or entertainment sites.
So, the next time you’re fingering the remote to find on Netflix enlightening heretical cinema — or just good filmmaking — here is a list of overlooked Gnostic films (with scant spoilers and in no particular order):
The Nines (2007)
I use clips from this movie in the podcast because it’s so blatantly Gnostic. The Nines stars (then) rather-unknown Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, and Hope Davis — and it barely made a dent at the box office.
The movie has Reynolds’ protagonist playing different characters in three different chapters, each overlapping and evolving with one mission of uncovering an overarching truth about the truth of his reality.
In the last chapter, Reynolds plays a video game designer that realizes he might be creating more than just virtual universes. The other characters in the movie work to either assist or impede the protagonist in waking up to his authentic identity, something far greater than perhaps a human trapped in an elaborate illusion (and find out the forces is behind the ruse).
The Nines is a call for our awakening in any of the incarnations of our souls, as well as understanding that there is often an apocalyptic price once we lift the veils of Maya.
As with The Nines, this is an independent film with fantasy elements, but Ink possesses a vibe that is a mixture of Terry Gilliam and David Lynch.
The plot involves the tortured Ink, a monstrous being that can move between the material and immaterial realms. He drifts in both dimensions that are a continual battle for human souls between the Storytellers (inducers of good dreams to restore individuals) and Incubi (inducers of nightmares to keep people in ignorance).
To gain relief from his existence, Ink steals the soul of a young girl named Emma, basically leaving her in a coma, so he can offer it to the archonic Incubi (as they can offer “perfection” in their effort to make a completely-mechanistic universe). What happens next is an adventure through strata of reality, witnessing Ink and the Sophianic Emma begin to bond while they encounter supernal entities and their intrigues. This relationship is mirrored in the material world, for the movie takes an “as above, so below” Hermetic sensibility.
Will Ink give the Incubi Emma’s soul in exchange for a Demiurge status? Will the Storytellers stop Ink and provide him with a better vision of the cosmos?
Regardless Ink is undoubtedly a powerful allegory on each of is trying not to sell our souls to the Machine in our daily struggles.
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Trying to explain a David Lynch film is as hard as trying to explain many of the byzantine Gnostic texts like The Secret Book of John or The Nature of the Archons. Meta, surreal, and dreamlike come to mind. But Mulholland Drive is genuinely a Gnostic treatise, in both theme and vibe.
The film concerns an aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts), newly arrived in Los Angeles, who meets and befriends an amnesiac woman (Laura Harring) hiding in an apartment which belongs to Betty’s aunt. The story includes several other seemingly unrelated vignettes that eventually interlock — as well as some surreal and darkly comedic scenes and images that relate to the cryptic narrative.
Underneath this mystery-drama plot, though, are the Gnostic notions of false realities, the lost Divine Feminine trapped in the World of Forms, and the machinations of the Demiurge (as with Twin Peaks, played by Michael J. Anderson).
For a complete breakdown on the Gnosticism of Mulholland Drive, check our interview with Eric Wilson.
The Others (2001)
This gothic-horror/psychological film can be almost as surreal as Mulholland Drive. But at its core, it’s more Valentinian as the “fog” or “error” theologies of The Gospel of Truth permeate the awareness of characters who must overcome them up to transcend their doomed existences.
In short, Grace Stewart (played by Nicole Kidman) resides in a remote country house in the Channel Islands in the aftermath of World War II. She lives with her two young children, Anne and Nicholas, who have an uncommon disease characterized by photosensitivity. Yes, the theme of being unable to see the light within a foggy setting is already very Gnostic.
Then come visitations, dreams, and visions, revealing to Stewart that both reality and her own identity are as counterfeit as Milli Vanilli. However, a special kind of knowledge (Gnosis) allows the protagonist the ability to transcend both life and death to holy apotheosis.
We deal with the Gnosticism of The Others in our interview with Fryderyk Kwiatkowski.
The End of Evangelion (1997)
The film is actually the ending of a cult and controversial Japanese anime series, Neon Genesis Evangelion. On the surface, the film may seem like a traditional “super robot” fare — but essentially it’s a mecha deconstruction paired with intense Gnostic/Kabbalistic narratives. I mean, the plot centers on humanity battling angels for the very existence of sublunary reality, even offering a novel approach to the relationship between Adam and Lilith. And you’ve got plenty of teen angst and nasty geopolitical plots to boot.
The End of Evangelion is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the visual medium, its disturbing but touching imagery often appearing at the corners of my Gnosis when ego veils are lifted. I won’t go into the plot details (and I suggest watching the television series beforehand) — but picture a time machine getting CG Jung and Philip K. Dick together to collaborate in envisioning the Apocalypse. And both perhaps being on a bit of acid or Hindu soma.
An interrupted Gnostic millennium
The marriage of Gnostic philosophy to sci-fi movies should continue to bloom. Beyond the video content mentioned, we’ve seen this wedlock deliver of late impactful films like Inception, Oblivion, Snowpiercer, The Lego Movie, and Lucy. And let’s not forget the continued interest in Philip K. Dick for visual mediums, Electric Dreams and The Man in the High Castle being the most recent.
Having said that, it appears the initial Gnostic surge in cinema happened at the turn of the century with such groundbreaking classics like The Matrix, Pleasantville, Dark City, eXistenZ, The Truman Show, Gattaca, and (the very underrated) Thirteenth Floor.
And then things went rather quiet on the Gnostic film front for a decade or so.
Was there an esoteric millennial fever that manifested in Hollywood in the late 20th century? Was humanity going through an internet-led awakening, later suppressed by the post-9/11 gush of both New Atheism and religious fundamentalism?
I don’t know the answer. Regardless, it’s good to see that the Gnostic impulse is becoming more prevalent in visual entertainment, just in time considering this society of ubiquitous fake news, fake gods, fake love, and fake information.
Maybe Gnosticism is moving beyond being a perfect fit for sci-fi movies. Considering the parallels listed at the beginning of the post, maybe Gnosticism just jives well with our culture at large.
Fiction has become fact, as always, but Gnosis has become a survival guide in modern times or on social media.
Did I miss some? I’m sure. Please let me know overlooked Gnostic movies in the comments (I’m looking at you, Zardoz fans).
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