Cinema and the Art of Concealment

Film, an analog of human experience, often explores ideas of “knowing” in ways that we cannot, will not, or choose not to explore. We want to know how to understand a great man’s life and we want to understand our own lives. We want to find truth in the stories we hear and the stories we tell. We want to know what the meaning of our lives is and where that meaning derives from. We want to know where our lives, our consciousness, begin and end and likewise those of our neighbor.

John Ford's The Searchers
Still from The Searchers

Citizen Kane searches for the meaning of one word and hopes to find the meaning of an entire life. With the search for a kidnapped child, The Searchers follows the search for a man’s humanity. The Usual Suspects questions the whole idea of narrative. In Being John Malkovich, we spend some time in the other guy’s … shoes. And what if I get stuck in my own shoes? There we have The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Read more in David’s blog post Knowledge and the Search for Meaning in Five Classic Films.

“I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a … piece in a jigsaw puzzle … a missing piece.”

– Jerry Thompson in Citizen Kane



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David Schmitt is an architect and a tutor and has been a Great Books leader and participant for nearly three decades. He has had a love of film since he first skipped school as a young boy to watch movies on television.

Citizen Kane, 1941, Orson Welles

The Searchers, 1956, John Ford

The Usual Suspects, 1995, Bryan Singer

Being John Malkovich, 1999, Spike Jonze

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007, Julian Schnabel

All five films are available on and and in a variety of streaming and physical formats. Your local library and video store will probably also carry them. Some of these films may have been made available by different distributors over the years. There is no need to get a particular distributor's product; just be sure you have the right director.

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