Directed by: John Huddles
Written by: John Huddles
Starring: James D'Arcy, Sophie Lowe, Rhys Wakefield
The Philosophers (or After the Dark) is brimming with philosophical ideas. Writer-director John Huddles projects his thoughts on the celluloid and takes us into his world through a session inside a classroom. The teacher is Mr. Zimit (James D'Arcy), and his twenty students include Petra (Sophie Lowe) and her boyfriend James (Rhys Wakefield), Chips (Daryl Sabara), Jack (Freddie Stroma), Bonnie (Katie Findlay), Georgina (Bonnie Wright giving a major Harry Potter-nostalgia rush), etc. It’s the last day of school, and Zimit decides to send the students off with a bitter taste via a series of fictional apocalyptic cases. All the scenarios have a bunker with limited capacity, so the ineffectual individuals are filtered out from the group - survival of the fittest, or you could also say shelter for the fittest.
It’s curious how the “invented” world in The Philosophers looks more real and lived-in than the actual one. Huddles chooses to tint the real world with yellowish color, which makes the sunshine fall like magical rays, painting it like something out of a fairy tale. Maybe the fact that all the grittiness happens in the “other” world might be the reason behind this stylistic choice. While the role of every student is openly disclosed, Zimit’s part is hidden from the students and the viewers. Though if you are one of those people who pay close attention to whatever is happening on the screen, you might be able to unmask the twists before they are eventually revealed. In one of the scenes, the camera confirmed my suspicion regarding one of the romances by just pointing itself toward one of the characters in the film. And this was supposed to be a surprise for the end, I think.
That’s the thing about The Philosophers. You don’t need to be a philosophy expert to figure out what’s going on inside the minds of the people or the film. Everything floats on the surface. Every trick falls out of the sleeves provided you know where to look on the screen. That does not mean that the film is bad or boring. I liked the unfolding of all the hypothetical scenes. But I also wondered how more effective the film could have been if it had solely focused on the apocalyptic setting and used the survival of the fittest element to delve into human psychology. Because, in the end, the hard decisions the students (or rather one or two of them) make don’t accumulate or change their views on their surroundings. The exercise seems fun and challenging, but it never becomes cerebral or emotional, for that matter.
But then, I suspect The Philosophers was not meant to be mentally stimulating, the evidence of which can be traced back to the opening shot of the film. The very first frame shows James and Petra kissing. This might very well be the film’s way of indicating that what you are about to receive deals with the matter of heart, not the brain. In that case, a title like The Lovers seems more logical than the one it has been given (it should be noted that the title The Philosophers is at least closer to the story than its alternative After the Dark). You go in with a sharp brain; you come out with a beating heart. Whether it’s a fair deal or not is something I will leave for you to determine.
On digital 24 May 2021