What are some songs or movies that express the ideas of Transcendentalism?

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mmms1981 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Transcendentalism is an ideological force which has shaped America. It continues to penetrate the American psyche up until today, as the films and songs evaluated here demonstrate. I would like to add another example: Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989). This is a film which brings to life many of the principles of transcendentalism in a modern setting. The principles which are echoed are, among others, free-thinking, self-reliance, civil disobedience, revolt against tradition and established institutions, brotherhood of man and nature, and educational reform.  Moreover, the movie is sparkled with significant quotations from many poets, including Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), an author who is part of the core of transcendentalism, active around Concord, Massachusetts where the movement thrived in the 1840’s.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you can take a modern approach to Transcendentalist thought.  Some of the themes to the movement have provided fodder for some great films.  For example, "Pleasantville" can be seen as transcendentalist.  Pulling from the Thoreauian idea of civil disobedience, watch the mural scene when they paint the mural near the end of the film.  A song filled with Transcendentalist thought would be "Across the Universe."  Ironically, there is a Fiona Apple version of the song to close out the "Pleasantville" film.  The song stresses how truth and understanding requires a mindset that is "other worldly."  I think one of the best examples of the movement's desire to stress individualism can be seen in "The Truman Show", where Truman breaks out of a conformed world through listening to his inner voice.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bjork has a song called "Oceania" which is about the relationship of the "mother ocean" to humans and creatures of the earth. It's transcendentalist in the sense that it emphasizes an underlying and profound connection between people and something larger and spiritual.

Wiggin42 | Student

We had a transcendentalism unit in my English class as well. My group read Into the Wild and some of us watched the movie. Another member suggested we watch Easy Rider which he highly recommends as not only a good movie but also a prime example of self-reliance and individualism. As far as songs, we listened to Nirvana for its individualism in its lyrics but also in its music. As a class we also watched clips from Dead Poets Society (particularly the scene where he asks the boys to rip out the page from their textbook and the scene where he asks them to walk around in circles.)

arrellbelle | Student

We need to define what transcendentalism is and according to several resources, it is that before we can understand what mother nature is, we must first have to analyze and understand the way nature works. Some songs that help reflect this idea is Eric Woolfson - Don't Answer Me, You &I, and Colin Bluntstone - Old &Wise. 

wmcfaul | Student

The first movie that came to mind, is Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams plays a teacher in the movie who expresses his love of learning and literature in ways with his students that are not deemed as appropriate by the institution. He charges his students to articulate themselves in ways they never have, such as ripping pages out of books. Although he gets fired in the movie for his teaching style, his student's lives were changed forever through the love and courage Robin William's character had for them. 

loraaa | Student

This topic is very fantastic ... thank his subject, and all those who participated it.
I have benefited a lot from your views.

prettykitty143 | Student

Transcendental Blues by Steve Earle.

But what you need to look for are songs that express individuality, beauty of nature and it's preservation, Self-reliance (like Emerson put it) and stuff against the government or society because those two things confine, rule, and limit the individual and makes us all copies. (transcendental thinking) Rage Against the Machine is good for going against the government. Grateful Dead 'Box of Rain' is a good song and it's him saying how he can't help the guy throughout his whole life, that he needs to feel things for himself. The Killers have really mindy, thinking songs.

daskalos | Student

I would have to say the movie "ZARDOZ" would be a great representation of transcendentalism. It is intellectualism to the nth power, isolated and unbound.  So much so that they seek and create a hybred to end their pergatory of unimportant intelegence.

Also I like Sean Connery, but I do recommend that it is for aduilt only as there are nudity and sexual demonstration that may not be appropriate for a younger audiance.

cohidy | Student

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professor-dean | Student

This is a very interesting question.  Before I get into my response, please note that an "N" is missing in "Transcendentalism" above.

This is my first answer on this site (though I have given a similar assignment myself), I will do my best to keep this as short as possible - volumes could easily be written on this.

I will take as a given that you are familiar with Transcendentalism, but here is a brutally concise statement - a literary and philosophical American 19th century movement.  Promoted by authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller.

As for the music one could say that Frank Zappa's entire career, and the latter music of the Beattles (and some of Lennon's solo work) fullfilled the Transcendentalist idea of finding one's own, unique relationship to the universe and the divine.  Some specific titles - Zappa's Absolutely Free (The first word in this song is discorporate. It means to leave your body, and is not referring to corporations), and the Beattles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

As for movies an excellent recent choice would be "Into the Wild", based on the book (and a true story) by the same name.  This movie could be considered a definition of  Transcendentalism.

Hope this helps,

Professor Dean


loraaa | Student

Maybe ,,,,,,,,,, Titanic movie.