- Best Movies About Identity: Our Top Recommendations - December 2, 2021
How do we define our identities? What exactly is it that makes us who we are? As humans, we are under constant pressure to both conform to society and strike out as our own person. It’s a struggle we all combat daily, and it’s something that’s explored regularly in movies. In a way, you could argue that every piece of media ever created is related to the concept of identity, as it’s an inherent part of life. However, with this list, I’m looking for films that take the notion deeper. I want characters that are discovering themselves, questioning their identity, and developing new personalities.
Top Movies about Identity
I don’t think I could write a list of the best movies about identity and not include Split. This 2016 M Night Shyamalan thriller introduces the intriguing Kevin, a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (which some might know as Multiple Personality Disorder). Inside his one body are 23 separate minds, all fighting for dominance. How can you say which is the ‘real’ Kevin when all the personalities are so distinct from each other, and all so genuine? The movie was captivating in its introduction of all the characters that lived inside Kevin’s head, and it really made me question what I thought I knew about identity.
We also get to know Casey, a young girl who seems aloof and antisocial at first but is dealing with her own difficult lot in life. It goes to show how our perceptions of the identities of others rarely accurately reflect their reality. The entire movie calls into question what it means to be a human and whether different ideas and personalities can all reside in one head whilst still being the same person. Many of us have numerous facets to our personality that all combine to form an identity. But if we separate those out from one another, do we have multiple different identities or merely multiple fragments?
Next on our list of top movies about identity is a true classic. Not only is this an excellent movie for discussing the concept of identity, but it happens to be my favourite movie of all time. Christopher Nolan is an absolute genius, and The Prestige, in my opinion, is his most outstanding achievement. The whole film flows beautifully, builds suspense, creates rich and detailed characters, and immerses you like no other. The plot twist is also immaculate (don’t worry, no spoilers), and yet the impact is barely lessened even upon a rewatch.
The film follows two rival magicians, Angier and Borden, both utterly devoted to their identity as performers of magic. Angier lost his wife in a tragic escapology accident, an incident for which he blames Borden. His grief is initially his greatest motivator, but over time it morphs into pure vengeance. He wants to be an incredible magician not for his own sake, but to spite Borden. The two of them continue to sabotage each other, completely changing from the men that they used to be. Their identities are so intrinsically linked to their hatred of one another.
The Prestige shows how much we can be shaped by our experiences. The whole movie is an exceptional piece of art that exemplifies what it means to be dedicated to a cause.
Moving on to a lighter movie than the thrillers I’ve mentioned thus far, Mean Girls is a cult classic for a reason. It’s a perfect portrayal of teen drama and how it feels to try and fit in as an outsider. The movie deliberately conforms to strict tropes of high-school cliques, and it makes a powerful statement about identity. Do we have to stay in the box that other people put us in, or can we have multiple sides to ourselves? High school is a time when many teenagers are figuring out who they are, and Mean Girls perfectly encapsulates that.
Cady has just come back to America after living in Africa for most of her life. She soon finds out that she doesn’t understand the complicated social dynamics of high school. But when the opportunity arises for her to join the ‘Plastics’, the most popular group of girls in the school, she’s faced with a dilemma. At first, she’s only pretending to be one of them, but as time goes on, she changes more and more until she becomes a version of herself that she doesn’t recognise.
Mean Girls is a fun romp from start to finish, and discovering one’s identity is a significant theme throughout.
Another Christopher Nolan title, I couldn’t write a list of the best movies about identity and not include Memento. Imagine if you could only perceive life for a couple of minutes at a time. That’s the reality for Leonard Shelby, who suffers from anterograde amnesia after witnessing the traumatic murder of his wife. Desperate for revenge, but unable to hold memories for more than a few moments, he uses notes and tattoos to keep track of any progress he makes in uncovering his wife’s killer.
The movie is fast-paced and full of suspense, but more importantly, it calls the very concept of identity into question. How can you know who you are when you no longer get to remember your experiences? It’s our memories that make us who we are, and being unable to form new ones stunt our growth as people. Leonard is forced to constantly relive the very worst moment of his life. And with no way of finding closure or moving past it, he becomes a very dark, damaged person, completely different from who he used to be. Memento reminds us of how much our personality can be shaped by just one impactful event, and it makes us grateful for being able to remember who we really are.
When Jack wakes up one day to discover that he’s the only person who remembers The Beatles, he sees it as an opportunity. He’s always been the reserved, quiet one, the guy in the shadows. But now Jack has a chance at worldwide fame, and he grasps it with both hands. He starts performing all the best-loved songs from The Beatles, whilst claiming them as his own, and rockets into success. All of a sudden, everyone wants a piece of him.
Completely blown away by his new life, Jack changes into a totally different person. He’s confident, outgoing, and has new priorities. But as time goes on and the fame becomes all-consuming, he starts to question whether this is really what he wants. He’s found success that most people only dream of, but he’s done it by pretending to be someone he’s not. He’s singing someone else’s songs, living someone else’s life. He’s forgotten everything he used to care about, including the woman he loved.
In the end, Jack has to make a choice between the person he’s become and the person he used to be. I won’t give any spoilers, but needless to say, Yesterday shows how easily our identity can be influenced.
Superhero movies are the epitome of identity, but Deadpool flips the regular genre on its head. We’re used to superheroes that always do the right thing, that fight for justice and laugh in the face of evil. And that’s not who Deadpool is. He’s an anti-hero, and finding that balance in his identity is what the film is really all about. Wade Wilson doesn’t necessarily want to be a bad guy, but he doesn’t have the impulse control to be a good guy, either.
Long before he becomes Deadpool, he’s a mercenary, killing whoever he’s asked to, no questions asked. His life has no real meaning, that is, until he meets Vanessa. All of a sudden, he finds himself falling in love, an entirely new experience for him. And the best thing is, she doesn’t expect him to change. She loves him for who he is. This relationship is somehow healthy and dysfunctional at the same time, and it becomes the crux of Wilson’s character development. So when Wade finds out he has terminal cancer, he can’t bear to let her watch him die, and he leaves her.
I won’t go into the realm of spoilers, but the film gets pretty messy from there. He ends up becoming the eponymous masked anti-hero, hellbent on revenge upon a guy who wronged him. He rediscovers himself through the violence that forged him in the first place whilst never losing that love for Vanessa. Deadpool is all about Wade accepting his new identity and the challenges that come along with that.
This is the final Nolan movie, I promise. I can’t help it if the man is unparalleled when it comes to the best movies about identity! Another superhero story, Batman Begins follows the classic formula of good triumphing over evil. After the tragic death of his parents, Bruce Wayne is crippled by guilt and anguish. He spends years adrift and in emotional limbo, unable to move past his loss.
He goes on a journey with the intention of becoming more powerful, but he ends up discovering an entirely new side to himself. Until that point, he’d been driven by pure emotion, angry at the world, and determined to become someone feared. But his encounter with the League of Shadows teaches him some much-needed discipline. He starts to realise that his life can have real purpose.
Batman Begins shows the origins of one of the most popular superheroes in nerd culture. Batman has been reignited many times, but in my opinion, nobody does it better than Nolan. We truly see Bruce evolve as a character, and the film’s deep look at identity is what sets it apart from the others.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever
The third film in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise, this film is more than just a rom-com. Whilst the first two were predominantly about Lara Jean Covey figuring out who she wanted to be with; this third movie is more about who she wants to be. The film starts with Lara Jean returning to her cultural heritage with a summer trip to Korea. It’s an adorably cute scene that shows her fully engaging with the Korean part of her ethnicity. It’s great to see that she identifies so strongly with both her American and Korean sides. She even admits that she’d felt somewhat disconnected from her Korean side, and that the trip had been eye-opening for her.
When she comes back to America, she’s got her whole plan figured out. With graduation less than a year away, she’s ready to work hard, earn excellent grades, and move to Stanford University with her boyfriend to begin their lives together. But when Stanford rejects her application, everything is thrown into disarray. She can go to Berkeley College, a mere hour away from Stanford, and be near to Peter. Or she can change pace entirely and study at New York University, which is becoming increasingly appealing to her.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever keeps the humour and charm of the previous two, and adds an extra dose of personality. It’s a joy to watch Lara Jean explore the different facets of her identity, and decide upon what’s important to her. It’s also great to see Korean representation in a popular movie. I’m sure it must be really meaningful for all the Korean American girls to see a character that they can relate their own identities to.
Top Movies about Identity – Conclusion
As you can see, there’s no one way to define identity, and there’s no one way to explore it. It could be a young teen navigating the familiar pitfalls of life. It could be a masked hero rediscovering themselves through their vigilante actions. Or it could even be a dark story of someone being shaped through trauma. In a way, any movie could be seen as being about identity, as it’s about what speaks to the situation of the watcher. The movies I’ve chosen are the ones that impacted me, but maybe yours are different? Let us know in the comments what you think are the best movies about identity!
FAQs about Movies about Identity
Question: When was the first Batman movie?
Answer: Believe it or not, the first Batman movie was made all the way back in 1943. Simply entitled Batman, it was a 15 chapter movie with a runtime of 260 minutes, which is over 4 hours! Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t really held up over time and scored a pretty pitiful 6.3 rating on IMDb.
Question: Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Real?
Answer: There’s a lot of controversy around the particulars of the diagnosis, but the short answer is yes. Until 1994, it was officially known as Multiple Personality Disorder, and colloquially it was called that up until recently. Whilst, as with any mental health condition, there’s no definitive way to prove that it exists, enough people claim to have it and present with similar symptoms that it can be considered very much real. Some individuals with DID choose to showcase their lives, and you can find many Youtube videos that introduce the different personalities in their ‘system’ (a system is the collective term for all the personalities that live in one body).
Question: Will there be another To All the Boys movie?
Answer: Unfortunately not! Whilst the third movie ended somewhat open-endedly, the author has confirmed that she sees the franchise as a trilogy, and she’s happy with how she left Lara Jean’s story. Although that’s undeniably sad news for fans who might have been hoping for a new installment, it does mean that we get to create our own ending in our minds.