James D’Arcy stars as a philosophy teacher who’s seeing off his class with one last set of philosophical and moral conundrums. He gives them all a set of hypothetical scenarios all involving a nuclear apocalypse and a bunker to protect them. He randomly assigns his students different characters with varying vocations and tells them to decide who deserves a place in the bunker and who should be left to die in the oncoming apocalypse. As the experiments unfold though, the students start to suspect that their teacher has an ulterior motive.
The Philosophers certainly makes you want to do a philosophy course. The idea of sitting down as a class and discussing the types of people who are worth saving in the event of nuclear annihilation would be fascinating. It’s the kind of topic that would bring hours of entertainment and be a really fun and an interesting time, especially in the context of a classroom. Sadly however, this sense of fun doesn’t translate to film. This sort of conversation is compelling because of the spontaneous nature of it, seeing what people say in the moment. Watching a bunch of actors just read out a scripted version of the debate that one or two writers has just had in their heads completely takes away the intrigue.
The writers of The Philosophers try to tackle this issue by illustrating the conversations as though they were actually happening. This is presumably where the alternate title of this film, After The Dark, derives as a lot of the film takes place in the hypothetical scenes. Even though that title still makes less sense compared to The Philosophers. These scenes are quite well done as they’re all filmed in very exotic locations and show what’s meant to be happening in a much more exciting way than if the film remained completely in the classroom.
However, the “dream” sequences do start to get a bit confusing as people start being murdered and others have to run to safety. It’s not really made clear how some of the events are being established in the confines of the classroom. Is it a Dungeons and Dragons situation where James D’Arcy’s teacher character is acting as the students’ dungeon master or is it more of a live role play by everyone? Whenever you see the classroom, everyone is just sitting down, so it doesn’t seem like anyone is acting anything out. What’s more confusing, is that some students take offence to the idea of even doing the thought experiment in the first place. This begs the question why they decided to become philosophy students if they didn’t want to debate difficult subjects.
The Philosophers definitely has some good ideas brimming at the surface of its story. With a few tweaks here and there, this could have become a very interesting film or maybe even television series. Unfortunately, due to quite a bland script, basic directing and rather wooden acting, you’d find more entertainment in just asking a group of friends what they’d do in an apocalyptic scenario.