Existential Crises and Questions

Often Exist
ential themes in literature and film appear in the form of characters experiencing an "existential crisis" of some type.  These themes go way back, all the way back, to the earliest stories -- Gilgamesh when Enkidu dies; Achilles when he faces his own impending death; Hamlet when his father dies, his mother remarries, and he, himself, is denied the throne -- but they are even more prevalent in contemporary literature, and you'll quickly learn to see the influence in all kinds of pop culture, such as the darker versions of Batman, Daniel Craig's 007...anywhere, it would seem, where the protagonist is stripped of his or her most basic assumptions, faces the absurdity of existence, and asks "what's it all about?"

Most of us don't walk around every day asking these questions -- we just go about our day, simply existing -- but for nearly all of us, we'll confront times in our lives when the surface meaning is stripped away, usually by some tragedy, separation from those we love or our daily routines, from our normal "identities" or by confronting "the destroyer": death.
The word "existential" combines the two words "existence" and "essence"  ("exist-ential"), and this etymology tells us what an "existential question" is:  a question concerning the essence of what it means to be alive, such as:

What is the meaning of life? = What is the meaning (essence) of existence?

Who am I (essentially)? What is my true nature/essence? What is my true identity?
What is my greater purpose? How should I live my life?
What is death? What happens when we die?

Is there a god, and, if so, what is her nature?

In a world of moral ambiguity, a world of "gray" areas instead of moral black and whites, good vs. evil etc., how do I make moral choices?  How do I choose between two competing bad choices?  Or how do I choose between two competing good choices?

At the point of absolute crisis, the protagonist realizes he or she has no one to turn to for answers...but him or herself.  We, alone, must choose: Existential Choice And Action