What is Gnosticism?
First of all, let's get a quick description of Gnostic philosophy. In a nutshell, Gnosticism stems from the Greek word Gnosis, meaning direct experiential Knowledge. In the most inclusive definition of Gnosticism, it simply means one who seeks direct experiential knowledge of the Truth behind the self, the universe and the divine. It often postulates a universe created by and ruled over by a malevolent force (often referred to as the Demiurge) bent on keeping humanity ignorant and obedient. The task of the individual is to free oneself from the delusions keeping one in servitude by obtaining forbidden knowledge. Stories that fit the Gnostic theme are often dystopian in nature.
10 - Logan's Run (1976)
People living in domed cities in the future. All the pleasures of this world are readily available, including food and sex. Everyone is young because once you turn 30 years old you get "renewed" in a ceremony called "Carrousel." The story follows a man who's job it is to catch runners trying to avoid renewal. One evening he meets a mysterious woman who exposes him to some disturbing truths. A classic Gnostic Dystopian adventure.
9 - Total Recall (1990)
Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, this has to be one of Schwarzenegger's best films. This takes place in a future where humanity has expanded beyond the Earth to travel space and colonize other planets. Our protagonist is a regular blue collar worker living on Earth. He's married with no kids and feeling bored with his life decides to go to a virtual travel agency who agree to implant false memories of an adventurous vacation to Mars. This is where things start to get crazy. Mutants, corporate conspiracies, an alien cover-up and mind bending twists that keep you wondering what is truth and what is a delusion.
P.S. A remake of this movie that came out in 2012, but it wasn't nearly as good as the original 1990 film.
8 - Equilibrium (2002)
This film reminds me of a cross between the novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury with an aesthetic reminiscent of The Matrix movies. The context is a world in which feelings have become taboo. In order to protect the population from experiencing uncomfortable feelings and to maintain social order, everything that evokes strong emotion (artwork, music, books, etc...) is banned and all citizens are required to take drugs that dull the emotions. The protagonist is a "Grammaton Cleric" which is essentially an elite police detective. However, if you look at the title, "Grammaton" is short for Tetragrammaton, literally meaning "Word of Four Letters" and is a reference to YHVH, the primary name of God in the Hebrew Bible. According to Gnostic thought, YHVH is the Demiurge, so to be a Grammaton Cleric implies that one is an agent of the Demiurge. After accidentally missing a dose of his emotion suppressing injection, our protagonist begins to awaken to a whole new world of emotional experiences.
7 - Pleasantville (1998)
Modern brother and sister (our protagonists) get sucked into a television and find themselves in the universe of an idyllic 1950's era show similar to Leave It To Beaver. Everything is in black and white and the citizens of the town are pathetically innocent. The introduction of the siblings into this environment proves to be a corrupting influence. As the townsfolk begin to awaken to a world of greater possibilities (most notably sex, violence, art and literature) the people and environments exhibit more and more color. Those still in black and white do what they can to stop the spread of this corruption. One scene in particular is a thinly veiled Gnostic retelling of the Temptation of Eve myth from the biblical book of Genesis. The Demiurge character is a television repair man and is played by Don Knotts in this film.
6 - The Truman Show (1998)
Like most Jim Carey movies, this one is quite silly in tone, however the message is far from shallow. Our protagonist, Truman, was raised from birth in the world's largest film studio. This studio encompasses an island covered with a dome. Everything about the environment is controlled, including the weather. Everyone except for Truman is an actor, but Truman is led to believe it is real. The entire elaborate project is designed for the entertainment of the viewing public, who watch Truman's every move through countless hidden cameras. As is usual for these Gnostic themed stories, an encounter with a woman who exposes him to forbidden knowledge becomes the trigger which inspires our protagonist to engage in a pursuit of Truth at all costs.
5 - Vanilla Sky (2001)
This is a Hollywood remake of the Spanish film, Abre los ojos. I highly suspect this film was inspired by the Philip K. Dick novel, Ubik. Our protagonist in this film is David, a man who seems to have it all: Successful career, good looks, money, loyal friends and a budding romantic relationship. That is, until an obsessed former lover gets revenge by committing suicide via car accident with David in the passenger seat. David survives the crash but his body receives a lot of damage, especially his face. Suffering from chronic pain and a devastating loss of self-esteem, David struggles to pull his life back together. Paranoia, hallucinations and mysterious strangers lead David through a roller coaster of beautiful and terrifying experiences in his quest for Love and Truth.
4 - They Live (1988)
This movie is horribly cheesy, but that's part of it's charm. The story follows a down and out man looking for work who stumbles across a pair of sunglasses which reveal the truth of the world to the wearer. Who really controls the planet and can anybody do something about it? Absolutely must see this cult classic.
3 - The Matrix Trilogy (1999 to 2003)
Ok, so I'm cheating a bit with this one by lumping the entire Trilogy into one entry. I would also include the Animatrix in there as well. The overarching mythos of The Matrix films cover a range of different Gnostic modalities. The first film is Mandaean in nature, meaning an epic battle between the forces of ultimate good and ultimate evil. This classic form of Gnostic dualism is quite stark in the first installment. As we go through the series the lines begin to blur and other factors come into the picture. It is no longer a simple "us vs. them" scenario. This series includes all the classic elements, including the Architect character as the Demiurge and the dark haired woman who initiates the protagonist into forbidden knowledge. One could watch these movies dozens of times and still find new concepts to contemplate.
2 - The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
I absolutely love this movie! It has some similarities with The Matrix in that it involves a simulated universe that can be experienced. The main character discovers that his boss has been secretly entering into the simulated environment they have been building. Now his boss turns up dead and it looks like murder. Our hero decides to enter into the simulation in order to find clues to help solve the crime but finds much more than he went looking for.
1 - Dark City (1998)
Finally we reach my top pick for amazing Gnostic themed movies. This movie should be watched at night in a darkened room for the full effect. Dark City has a film noir feel with a bit of gothic steampunk mixed in. Man wakes up in a hotel bathtub with no memories. The phone rings and a frantic voice implores him to flee the building. He notices a dead prostitute on the floor with spirals carved into her flesh. On his way out he narrowly escapes from these super pale Nosferatu looking guys wearing wool cassocks and bowler hats. What more can I say without giving it away? The symbolism of this movie is out of this world. If you haven't seen this movie, endeavor to see it tonight!
The Island (2005)
A fun action film that's essentially a remake of Logan's Run with an added twist.
Strange science fiction movie from the 70's. The costumes are hilarious and much of the movie ends up being unintentionally funny. However, if you can look past all of that, there is a powerful lesson of empowerment through disobedience and an insatiable curiosity. One of the characters seems to be inspired by the infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley.