Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page


PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Skepticism, relativism, religion

CHARACTERS: George Malley (John Travolta, average simple-minded guy who is transformed into a genius), Doc (Robert Duvall, small-town doctor and George’s surrogate father), Nate (Forest Whitaker, George’s best friend and business partner), Lace (Kyra Sedgwick, single mother and George’s love interest)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR JON TURTELTAUB: Cool Runnings (1993), While You Were Sleeping (1995), The Kid (2000), National Treasure (2004)

SYNOPSIS: George Malley is just your average, small-town guy who works as a mechanic for a living; that is, until he sees a mysterious flash of light in the sky on his 37th Birthday which knocks him to the ground. After George realizes he was the only one who saw the light, his life changes from ordinary to complicated and he begins to take on an intense appetite for learning and the ability to move objects with just his mind. As his powers get stronger, George begins to realize what possibilities there are in life. He conducts experiments with solar power and fertilizers in his basement and learns to speak Portuguese in a matter of minutes. As his friends and fellow town members begin to notice the physical changes that George is taking on, they become frightened and turn away and he realizes that his life has changed forever.


1. After George experiences the light flash, his whole life begins to turn around. He goes from and ordinary mechanic who likes to do things his own way and who doesn’t seem to like reading, to a genius who reads two to three books a day and conducts scientific experiments in his basement. Is there a significance to this contrast?

2. When George’s powers become stronger (such as when he breaks the mirror in the bar), his friends and neighbors realize the changes that are happening to him and they start to turn away. Why were they frightened of George’s abilities? How would you have reacted if you were a friend of George?

3. Was George’s experience a gift or a curse? How do you think George would answer that?

4. When George speaks at the library’s book fair in the park, he explains to everyone that the largest living organism is a grove of Aspen trees. “They thought they were disconnected, separate, but indeed they found out that they weren’t, that there was one giant organism with the same root system.” What’s his larger point, and do you agree with him.

5. When the children find out that George is dying, he tells them, “If we set this apple down, it would become spoiled within a few days. But if we take a bit of it like this… it becomes a part of us forever, and we can take it with us.” What did he mean by this?

6. George first sees the flash of light on the night of his 37th Birthday. What was the significance of this to his condition?

7. Throughout the film, George seems to stay the same sweet, caring man that he was before his experience. What point or moral was Turteltaub trying to get across by making George’s changes occur only physically and not emotionally?

8. Turteltaub seems to leave out some information, such as how George was able to move objects with his mind, and how the tumor was ever formed in his brain. Could it still be possible that the formation of the tumor and George’s powers was cause by something beyond our world?

9. The film seemed to be making some sort of point about the legacy we leave behind. What kind of legacy do you think George left behind? Was he aware of this legacy?

Author: Nicole Todd


Phenomenon: Sporting a cast like John Travolta, Forrest Whittaker, Kyra Sedgwick, and Robert Duvall, Phenomenon is mediocre at best to me. Not saying it’s a bad film, just saying the no awards should’ve come this way. George Malley is an amiable auto mechanic whose "everyman" life is transformed by a strange flash of light he observes on the evening of his 37th birthday. Over the next few days, George starts to exercise an extraordinary form of genius-level intelligence, rapidly absorbing vast amounts of information, formulating new, revolutionary ideas, and even exhibiting telekinetic abilities. George tries to use his new intelligence for the good of his community. At first local town folks are intrigued and amused by George's new abilities, but as they increase, community members gradually become afraid of him, with the only exceptions being love interest, his black best friend, and the nutty doctor of the town. Yes, I too would not have an open mind about the guy who couldn’t fix my busted radiator that can now speak Portuguese. All he does with his power is help others, which is noble of him, but that’s a crock if you ask me. You need to make some money and then we will see the flawed joke that is George the mechanic. He played the same character through the whole movie and got more fragile in the process. Super Powered Wimp would have been a better name for this movie. — B.C.
Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page