John Huddles’s sci-fi thriller unintentionally succeeds in replicating the exact experience of playing “would you rather?” with a friend in a pub, as in it starts out with vague philosophical questions but ends up being utterly ridiculous. And just like the silly game, for the right viewers The Philosophers could be quite a fun watch, despite the sub-par film-making.
The film opens with a sweet love scene between Petra (Sophie Lowe) and James (Rhys Wakefield), shot with an awful Vaseline-like sheen that plagues the entire film’s cinematography. Petra and James meet on a philosophy course, which, for some reason, takes place in Indonesia – and yet most of the students are white. For the final class, their professor Mr Zimit (James D’Arcy) proposes some light role play: he devises an extreme situation where the students face an apocalyptic event and must decide who earns a place in the safety bunker. The sci-fi elements kick in as the film sets these thought experiments into motion and showcases various scenic Indonesian locations.
While the premise is interesting enough, and it is refreshing to see sci-fi elements used to visualise philosophical problems, The Philosophers, to be honest, is nonsense. Don’t expect to learn any actual philosophy here; these thought experiments favour randomised dramatic incidents over logical reasoning. The dialogue and the acting are also hilariously bad; at one point, a character says, with a straight face: “We need to get a pregnancy going as fast as we can.”
However, it’s difficult to write this movie off completely: there is some pleasure to be had in watching these students attempt to solve the different iterations of the experiment over and over, like advancing through the stages of a video game. Ultimately, you might have a good time, in that proverbial so-bad-it’s-good fashion.
The Philosophers is released on 24 May on digital platforms.
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