Five Films That Address Social Issues

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There are only a handful of films produced over the years that have the power to challenge and even change our perceptions on various issues. From racism to war, and from consumerism to conventional education, the five films listed below are not simply great works of art, but also great pieces of social commentary.

American History X

This 1998 drama explores the lives of two brothers, Derek and Danny Vinyard. Two brothers who just so happen to be white supremacists living in Venice Beach, California. After Derek is convicted of a brutal racially driven murder, he spends a few years in prison where the viewers witness his transformation from impressionable teenager to a self-reflecting young man. The conflict? Will his brother follow in the same footsteps in his absence, or can Derek save him from falling into the same traps that hatred offered?

The film addresses modern day racism, the prison industrial complex, and cyclical violence in one of the most heart breaking and raw portrayals ever produced in Hollywood.

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Saving Private Ryan

Many war films throughout the years have depicted the glories of battle. Whether it is romanticizing the fight against oppression and tyranny, or achieving victory in the face of despair. Steven Spielberg’s film strips away the aesthetics (as well as the score) and shows war for what it really is – Hell. From the get-go, the film is a nonstop barrage of violent imagery that holds nothing back. Young men dying slow and painful deaths, crying out for their mothers is just one example of the brutality that war, and one that is not shown in war films as much as it should be.

Aside from the ugliness of war that it portrays, it also humanizes the soldier in the form of main characters Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon). The film reveals that while soldiers are the ones who pay the ultimate price, they have the same fears and ambitions as the rest of us.

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Sicario

FBI agent Kate Macer descends into the gritty dealings of the CIA and the various drug cartels that plague Mexico in the 2015 crime-thriller. 

While the plot focuses on Macer and her issues reconciling with powers that are beyond her control, it also exposes corruption within various governments and agencies. But the real message behind it all is that on the ground, the people are still suffering and will continue to suffer, regardless of what the various entities are doing elsewhere.

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Fight Club

Based off of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name, this movie is just about everything but fighting. The film follows an unnamed narrator and his newfound colleague, Tyler Durden. Trapped in a world of unquestionable consumerism and materialism, Tyler Durden shows the narrator that the current zeitgeist goes against our human nature, and he wants to change that in the most explosive way possible.   

Essentially, the movie challenges the viewer’s perception on what matters in their life. Are we working jobs we hate to buy things we don’t need? Are we living the life we want to live, or are we living lives we are told we should be living? Questions like these are asked throughout the movie, with the answers being up to the viewers at the end.   

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Good Will Hunting

This screenplay debut by Matt Damon and Ben Afleck tackle the idea of education versus wisdom. Will Hunting, a young genius, was simply born on the wrong side of town and never had the opportunity to harness his knowledge and therefore able to put it into good use. That is until an MIT professor discovers his talent, and where psychologist Sean Maguire (played by the late Robin Williams) decides not to take him under his wing, but to listen to Will and offer him insight.  

While the film tackles the idea that you do not need to attend college to in order to be smart, it also let’s us know that being smart is not everything. What’s more important than intelligence? According to this story: Emotional intelligence, friendships, but most of all – love.

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