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Theory of Knowledge Filmography

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TOK at the movies

This lens is largely an excuse to rave about the movies we like! And it just may be that some of our observations (and obsessions!) will inspire you to watch a particular movie or simply to use it as a resource for one of your presentations or essays. Whatever the case, just enjoy and have fun!

We haven't ranked the movies, but this is something you might want to comment on...

If you like this page, visit other resources for TOK collated by

The Matrix - Red pill or blue pill?

Watch this clip before you read's TOK review of the film...

Red pill or blue pill?  Click on the picture to see the clip...

Red pill or blue pill? Click on the picture to see the clip...

'The Matrix' and Knowledge

Has to be one of the top TOK movies! Perhaps the best place to start is the iconic 'red pill/blue pill' moment when Neo is given the choice to 'wake up' to the truth of human existence. From a TOK perspective, the episode exemplifies the nature of PERCEPTION and how this can be manipulated as a means of ultimate mind control. Philosophically also, the episode resonates with Plato's 'allegory of the cave' - the idea that there exist two worlds, the real and the shadow world, and humanity largely lives enslaved in the shadow world and can never get beyond this to know what is real. Except, of course, if you take the red pill (in Neo's case) or if you become a mathematician/philosopher King (in Plato's case).So one of the important Knowledge Questions asked within the story is: "How do we KNOW what is real?" Morpheus' answer is fascinating and raises all sort of issues about personal identity and knowledge...

The Matrix - What is real?

Here's a response to this big knowledge question from the film itself...

All things Matrix @ Amazon

Some classic resources to develop your grasp of 'The Matrix' and its relevance to all things KNOWLEDGE...

If the spinning top stops spinning...

If the spinning top stops spinning...

'Inception' and Knowledge

A great movie to explore the ideas of memory and imagination at work alongside perception. A central assumption in this movie is that we can influence and shape the architecture of a person’s dream so that he can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. This blurring of the line opens a mental space in the dreamer’s mind which the dream infiltrators of the story can inhabit and begin to plant an idea of their choice – plant it in such a way as to make the person feel and think that they came up with it themselves. This is what is meant by ‘inception’. So the main theme of the film is power and control – the art of manipulating knowledge through imagination and memory. One key motif in the film is that the dream infiltrators, so that they don’t get lost in limbo between dream and reality, each possess a memento (usually a physical object) which grounds them in reality – if they come across this object, they know they’re out of the dream world. Cobb’s (the main character) object is a spinning wheel which he spins at certain moments: if it continues to spin, he knows he’s still in a dream; if it stops spinning, he knows he’s in the real world. In a strange twist at the end of the film, Cobb is finally allowed to return from his exile to the US to see his children. He spins the wheel and the film fades without us seeing if it has stopped or not. So the Knowledge Question at the heart of the story is: How does imagination/memory help us to know the difference between true/false beliefs world? Ideas, or beliefs, once allowed into the mind are, as Cobb says in the following clip, like parasites: tough to get out once they take hold...

Inception - Truth or illusion - how do we know the difference?

Here's one response from the film itself to this big knowledge question...

All things Inception @ Amazon

Some superb resources to help you get to grips with the movie 'Inception' and KNOWLEDGE...

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli

'The Book of Eli' and Knowledge

A post-apocalyptic movie which, on one level, explores the issue of MEMORY in a society which has forgotten some kinds of knowledge like the ritual of eating together. On another level, the main character is carrying the last copy of a book of the Bible (all of which were burned after the War that caused the destruction of society) and is carrying it West. In one scene, he explains how he came to find the Book after hearing a voice calling him to investigate a pile of rubble left after an explosion during a battle. Having found the book amongst the debris, the voice told him that his mission was to carry it West and that he'd be protected until he completed the mission. Along the way, he meets some nasty folks, who work for a man desperate to get hold of the Book for the power of its words and with whom he gets into all sorts of fights, some of which are set up to suggest that he's some kind of guardian angel who can't be physically killed.

Of course, we're supposed to suspend our disbelief, but to what purpose? To explore the emotional springs of FAITH as a justification for religious knowledge and LANGUAGE as a means of power and control over people.

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The Book of Eli - What is faith?

Here's a clip from the film which addresses this important knowledge question...

All things Book of Eli @ Amazon

'The Final Cut' (2004) with Robin Williams

'The Final Cut' (2004) with Robin Williams

'The Final Cut' and Knowledge

Imagine that you have a video chip implant which continuously records the daily events of your life from birth until the day you die. It records EVERYTHING - from the mundane and ridiculously monotonous such as your visits to the washroom to the heights of ecstasy such as your first sexual experience and beyond. When you die, the chip is removed and handed to a 'Cutter' whose job it is to study the (hopefully) millions of hours of footage and filter these down to the essence of who you are and to play this final 2-3 minute clip to your nearest and dearest at your 'rememory' or memorial ceremony. How does the 'Cutter' know what to filter out? What are the moral implications of knowing that every moment of your life are being recorded for posterity? Not the most exciting film, but there's an element of murder mystery with some tension regarding the ethics of celebrating the life of a man suspected of child abuse...and, of course, the TOK element: to what extent is memory reliable? One answer to this is that memory is essentially NOT like a video recorder - storing the exact images of every life experience which you can replay at will, whenever and wherever. In fact, not only do we filter out many of the immediate sensations and thoughts of the immediate moment of experience, but each time we reflect on it or recount it to others, we very subtly and slightly change the details so that the remembrance of the event is NEVER exactly how we experienced it. In the film, the main character, Alan Hackman, not only embodies this idea in his work, but also lives it: he believes that as a young child he killed a friend of his during a dare in a rundown warehouse. He continues to live with the guilt throughout his life - the twist in the story borders on a phenomenon known as 'false memory'...

The Final Cut - What gives meaning to our lives?

All things Final cut @ Amazon


'The Oxford Murders' and Knowledge

A perfect movie for lovers of Mathematics (the book of the same title is good too). The opening scene is a fascinating anecdote about how Wittgenstein wrote ideas for the Tractatus in a notebook while being fired upon from all directions during the First World War. This is, however, just a prelude to the knowledge question which the philosopher addressed: how can we know the truth? Imagine the irony of the moment as he sat there in the horror of battle.

As the opening speech explains, Wittgenstein framed his approach to this KQ through the language and logic of mathematics, hoping to find an answer that would yield the same certainty and absolute rigorous knowledge of mathematical reason. Of course, he failed to find an answer, hence the famous last lines of the 'Tractatus':

"Wherof one cannot speak; thereof one must remain silent."

This has a range of implications: is truth, ultimately, unknowable? Are we condemned to relativism? Can we think without words?

After the war, Wittgenstein gave away his fortune and became an elementary school teacher...

The Oxford Murders - Can we know the truth?

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All things The Oxford Murders @ Amazon

'Star Trek: Into Darkness' - The Prime Directive

Watch this clip before you read ibtoktutor's review of the film...

How do emotion and logic play a part in this action scene?


Star Trek and Knowledge

We admit it - we are confirmed trekkies! And even though we prefer the cast of the original series, we still love to watch the newer versions. Let's think about the new Star Trek film 'Into Darkness': in the action packed opening, Spock is stranded in the heart of a volcano which is about to explode; Kirk and the ship are bound by the Prime Directive not to reveal themselves to the indigenous population, not to mention the fact that the ship and crew might also be annihilated in the volcanic explosion. What happens? Spock, consistent with his Vulcan LOGIC, argues that the Captain must stick to the Federation rules of the Prime Directive; Kirk only has one EMOTION: to save the life of a friend. In a last desperate plea, Spock presents his now famous line to shore up his argument: ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few’. What happens? Of course, Kirk breaks every protocol and goes with his ‘gut feeling’ and rescues Spock. Why ‘of course’? Well it makes for good drama – what would a Star Trek movie be without Spock? Exactly! All the Star Trek movies can be viewed as the playing out of this tension between Kirk and Spock; emotion and reason. Even the character of Spock, half human and half Vulcan, embodies the tension which, in the new movie, is turned on its head when Spock finally indulges his need to avenge Kirk’s death...Sorry to spoil the fun for those of your who haven’t seen it! Nevertheless, sometimes, it seems emotion and intuition win the day and override the logical reasoning step-by-step process you might ordinarily go through. Why? Largely because it saves TIME and could save LIVES. In a life or death situation, where survival is the only consideration, are you going to reason through the ethical principles you’ve learned and debated over the years? Are you always going to follow protocol or are you going to take a risk and follow your intuition? This dilemma is, in fact, a neat reworking of the older Star Trek film (see below), in which Spock's logic wins over emotion and ends in Spock's demise...

'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' - To what extent should the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Here's another clip from an older Star Trek movie which addresses this important ethical knowledge question...

Does logic win out over emotion in the end?

All things Star Trek on Amazon

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