I'm always revising my film courses and would like to hear about any suggestions about films that explore the "meaning of life" or good essays that analyze films along these lines.
By "meaning of life" I'm thinking on many levels:
1) Following Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari I believe that the ultimate philosophical question is "how might we live?" and I am particularly interested in any attempt to think about this as an open-ended question. A key in their philosophy--and mine--is the idea of possibilities, so I am also fascinated, and worried about, those that seek to erase all difference through instituting their response as "the answer" that erases all other possibilities. These are movies that move us on a deep level causing us to ask questions that go to the root of what it means to be alive and "conscious" in this world... (for a great summary of this check out Todd May's intro to his book Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction)
2) What is needed in order to better our lives on a collective struggle level... I'm thinking of Matewan or Iron Jawed Angels that remind us of how many people put their lives on the line in order to ensure their lives would finally have meaning (especially in the sense of creating real social change)... what was their inspiration and what was their sense of the meaning of life? How did they forever change the meaning of our lives?
3) On a much more individual level I would even think of the simple struggles we face each day in which we are faced with what the "meaning of life" is for each of us on a personal level. Perhaps a movie like Whale Rider or Schizopolis?
4) Deep spiritual questions of course are a part this as well... Contact, with its combination of science and spirtuality through a character that doubts, is a good example of this type of movie, or more philosophically driven searches, like I Heart Huckabees and Waking Life. I think it is important that we not be afraid to ask those big religious questions and face our existential dilemmas--whether we are believers or doubters.
5) Following Doug Mann I'm also thinking about the potential of cinematic visions of alternate realities that cause us to question what is the "meaning of life."