Examples of Existentialism

Updated November 6, 2020

Existentialism is a philosophical theory that people are free agents who have control over their choices and actions. Existentialists believe that society should not restrict an individual's life or actions and that these restrictions inhibit free will and the development of that person's potential.

To understand existentialism it is important to look at examples of existential actions, questions and situations. It is also fun to look at the movie world to see which movies and directors were famous for their use of existentialism.

Common Existential Actions

  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Living your life without regard to commonly-held religious or social beliefs
  • Believing as an educator that that being a teacher is a providing a beneficial and critical role in the growth of students
  • Selling all of your belongings and riding a bike across the U.S. to earn money for autism.
  • Determining your career choice based on what you think is an important way to spend your future.

Questions Can Be Existential

To get a better grasp of how existentialism looks at life, here are examples of existential questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What is my real nature or identity?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What is the meaning of existence?
  • What is my greater purpose?
  • What is death?
  • What happens when I die?
  • Is there a god?
  • If there is a god, what is the nature of god?

Existential Crisis Examples

When there is a tragedy or major life change, sometimes we start questions our real identity. This is called an existential crisis.

Here are examples:

  • You identify yourself as an athlete and have a promising career. Then you have a severe injury and your career is over. At that point, you would have an existential crisis because you have defined yourself as an athlete.
  • If you are raised to believe that God rewards good people and punishes bad people, you may have a problem coping with injustice or cruel acts inflicted by bad people on good people.
  • You see yourself as a parent so when the children leave the home, you are faced with a crises in how you perceive yourself.
  • You are a soldier and you have been told that you will be considered a hero by people you are trying to help. Then you find out that they hate you.
  • You fall in love and want to live with that person forever. Then you discover that person does not feel the same way.

Existentialism in the Arts

  • Alice in Wonderland - Alice wishes she hadn't come there but it was her decision and no one else's.
  • In the song, "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield, the lyrics explain that no one else can take the blame: Feel the rain on your skin; No one else can feel it for you; Only you can let it in; No one else, no one else
  • In the movie "Stranger than Fiction" - Professor Hilbert suggests that Harold can do whatever he wants to, even if it just means eating nothing but pancakes with the point being that he should go out and live his life.
  • Monty Python dealt with existentialism in their 1983 film "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"
  • An example of an existential play would be the movie "I Heart Huckabees." In this movie a character uses a blanket to symbolize the universe and that each part of the blanket is a person or thing.
  • Theatre of the Absurd has roots in existentialism as shown in "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, where characters discuss their lives while waiting for Godot.
  • In "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre, people are left in a room and they think it is hell but no one arrives to torture them. The soon see that they are there to torture each other and they discuss each other's lives and actions.

    Directors of Existentialist Films

    Here are movie directors who are well-known for their existentialist films:

    • Akira Kurosawa
    • Charlie Kaufman
    • Christopher Nolan
    • François Truffaut
    • Ingmar Bergman
    • Jean-Luc Godard
    • Stanley Kubrick
    • Wes Anderson
    • Woody Allen

    These are all different examples that can help you to understand existentialism.

Hand holding the earth as examples of existentialism