Explaining Earth to Extraterrestrials Using Five Films

Wunderkind film writer Sam Fragoso from Duke & the Movies has cooked up a doozie of a blogathon this week. This is the task at hand:

Extraterrestrial forces land on Earth. Unknowing of our planet and society, you can pick five films from the history of cinema that represent humanity. What titles would you choose and why?

It’s a really unique concept. At its heart, the blogathon is about boiling down all of humanity and civilized history into five films. As a human, I feel that I’m uniquely qualified to select five films of my own, each for specific reasons.

Odds are good- better than average- that as an adult, you’ll look wistfully back on your childhood and realize that you never had it as good as you did during those years. If I were trying to explain human existence to aliens, it’d be mandatory to include a film that looks at childhood. Ideally, such a film would include the wonder that a child feels in their first experiences. It would also include innocence and naïveté. And the perfect selection would also juxtapose children against adult morality, to accentuate child-like qualities. There are a lot of films that come close, but none fit the bill as well for me as The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). Six year old Ana believes that her very own celluloid monster, Frankenstein, has come to life in Franco-era Spain. But she isn’t afraid. She’s fascinated, misguided, and naïve, mistaking a thief for the beast. It’s the perfect film to illustrate what childhood is all about.

Adulthood and employment follow childhood (and puberty, but hey- I only have five films that I can show). Even the best jobs can wear a person down. Performing the same tasks again and again for years can be a mind-numbing task. Even those who don’t experience a mental collapse must frantically work to stay ahead of the technological curve, mastering all of the constantly changing machinery that helps them ply their craft. The absurdity of the situation is enough to make you laugh. And everything I wrote perfectly describes one movie- Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). That’s my second selection.

If nothing else, we’re on this earth to propagate the species. This aspect of human existence alone encapsulates so much about our experiences. It can be wonderful, it can be amusing, it can be stressful when it’s not happening, and it can be outlandish. It’s also one of the best damned ways to pass the time. People will do some insane and hilarious things when sexuality is on the line. The film that best captures the varied experiences of adult sexuality is Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972).

Explaining human existence to aliens is no easy task. Humans haven’t even mastered explaining it to other humans. And I’m down to just two films to explain mankind to extraterrestrials, with two very important themes left. The first is religion, a social institution that constantly evolves through mankind’s definitions. Frankly, without any frame of reference for faith, religious behavior would look completely irrational and bizarre to an alien. Yet it’s a widely accepted part of life. And it’s been such a colossal motivator for human behavior throughout time. People suppress behavior deemed immoral lest they be labeled as heretics. As it turns out, one film in particular delves deeply into the definitions of heresy through the years, as well as the bizarre behavior (without the framework of faith) that religion can inspire. That film is Luis Buñuel’s The Milky Way (1969), my fourth selection.     

Death is a natural, irrefutable fact of life. The afterlife has inspired mankind’s curiosity through almost all of recorded history. No other film deals with death with as much brutal honesty as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). Antonius Block’s furious soul-searching is amazingly universal. To punctuate the universality of the experience, Bergman’s reaper harvests artists and warriors (crusaders in this case), husbands and wives, the young and the old, the faithless and the faithful. Just like taxes, nobody escapes death. Therefore, my fifth and final film is Bergman’s masterpiece.


Filed under Foreign Film, French Film, Ingmar Bergman, Movies, Spanish Movies, Swedish Film

28 responses to “Explaining Earth to Extraterrestrials Using Five Films

  1. Ooh nice Sir John. I got the email from Sam, but unfortunately just didn’t have the knowledge or brain power to think up any results. You have done a doozy here.

    Nice one matey

    • Well, of course you don’t have the brain for it right now. You just had a long weekend and bank holiday. I wouldn’t want to use my brain after that, either.

  2. The only one here I’ve seen is The Seventh Seal, though I still feel I can approve of the other selections. I’ve been wanting to see Buñuel’s The Milky Way for ages, it’s probably the only big film from him I have left. And I’m seeing Modern Times this week as part of my classic Hollywood movie marathon (which was inspired partially by you, and will be lasting the whole month).

    • I’m thinking you’ll really enjoy all of these on some level, Tyler. I didn’t realize it until I was writing about Spirit of the Beehive, but Pan’s Labyrinth really draws a lot of inspiration from it.

      Modern Times is classic Chaplin, and the Woody Allen movie is my favorite Woody Allen movie. I found The Milky Way extraordinarily challenging the first time I saw it because I wasn’t raised Catholic. It took some research, and I like it more and more each time I watch it. But it took some work, something I know you won’t mind.

  3. Craig

    Some quality cohices there. Will have to check out SOTBH and The Milky Way.

    Don’t know what five films I would show, but I had to pick one to explain humans in less than two hours I’d go for Annie Hall.

    • Even though I struggle with Annie Hall, it was a finalist for the film to include for sexuality. I probably would’ve re-named that category “relationships” since it’s more broad.

  4. Great post and great choices. But if I had just one movie to explain humanity to extraterrestrials, it would be Linda Blair’s Roller Boogie.

    • Haha… well done, Dave. I’m going to have to watch that now. I had no clue that even existed.

      I toyed with the idea of making my fifth category “Nunsploitation”.

  5. Great selection! Interesting because not everything is the obvious choice! I might try to pen down my 5 choices later today and postpone my review of tomorrow morning…

  6. Um. “AirBud” Hello??!!

  7. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    You are really overthinking this. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey covers Death and Religion. Bill and Ted even play Battleship, Connect 4, etc. with Death in a tribute to Ingmar Bergman. For employment, who can’t relate to Office Space in some way? I think you can really break down employment by decade. Modern Times focuses too much on manufacturing–the U.S. outsources that now; that can be the 1940s selection. I would like to introduce the first scene of Idiocracy to the Sex category.

  8. Really inspired choices here, especially the fantastic Modern Times. Never heard of The Milky Way, but I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for it after reading your description. Sounds right up my alley.

    • It took me a second viewing and a lot of reading about it to truly “get” The Milky Way… but I wasn’t raised Catholic. I think if you have a devout religious background (especially Catholic), it clicks better. So I hear.

  9. Sam Fragoso

    I’ve never cared for “Everything You’ve Always Wanted To Know about Sex …” — the rest of your choices seem inspired and personal. What an amazing ray of unique movies.

    Thanks for the artwork and of course, participating.

  10. Pingback: Duke & The Movies :: Representing Humanity

  11. I love how you categorised the films! ‘Childhood’ as a category and the movie you picked to represent it is fantastic. I picked ‘Stand By Me’ to somewhat represent childhood.

    • I came so very close to choosing Stand By Me. That closing line about not having friends like he did when he was 12 is incredibly poignant.

  12. Nice touch breaking things down to different categories. The aliens surely appreciate that, John 🙂

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