Philosophy and movie essays

N43 This anthology presents significant and influential writings on film theory from prominent film theorists and cultural thinkers. Essays are organized around central issues relating to film theory and include structures of film narrative, subject, narrative, cinema, apparatus, and textuality as ideology. Additionally, Rosen introduces each section by contextualizing the following arguments, ideas, and theories in the tradition of film theory.

Main Stacks PN B Arranged conceptually, part one consists of essays on film form, style, and spectatorship, part two includes critiques of film scholarship, marginalized and emerging perspectives, and concludes with the application of the concepts covered in the earlier chapters. Reference Librarian. For the Australian rules footballer, see Noel Carroll footballer. Retrieved Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Categories : births Living people 20th-century American writers 20th-century American philosophers 21st-century American non-fiction writers 21st-century American philosophers American philosophy academics Critics of postmodernism Graduate Center, CUNY faculty Film theorists Media theorists Philosophers of art Philosophers of history.

Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. These narrators are generally character narrators, narrators who are characters within the fictional world of the film.

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They tell us the film's stories and, supposedly, show us the images that we see. Sometimes, however, a voice-over narration presents us with an apparently objective view of the situation of the characters, as if it originated from outside of the film world. In addition, there are fiction films, films that tell stories, in which there is no clear agent who is doing the telling. These facts have given rise to a number of puzzles about film narration that have been discussed by philosophers of film.

See Chatman and Gaut One central issue that has been a subject of controversy among philosophers is unreliable narration. There are films in which the audience comes to see that the character narrator of the film has a limited or misguided view of the film world. One example is Max Ophuls' Letter from an Unknown Woman , a film that has been discussed by a number of different philosophers. The majority of the film is a voice-over narration by Lisa Berndle, the unknown woman of the film's title, who recites the words of the letter she sends to her lover, Max Brand, shortly before her death.

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The audience comes to see that Lisa has a distorted view of the events she narrates, most clearly in her misestimation of the character of Brand. This raises the question of how the audience can come to know that Lisa's view is distorted, since what we hear and see is narrated or shown by her.

George Wilson has argued that unreliable narratives such as this require the positing of an implicit narrator of the film, while Gregory Currie has argued that an implied filmmaker suffices. This question has become very relevant with the increased popularity of filmmaking styles involving unreliable narration. Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects touched off a flurry of films whose narrators were unreliable in one way or another. A related issue concerning narrative that has been a focus of debate is whether all films have narrators, including those without explicit ones.

Initially, it was argued that the idea of a narratorless narrative did not make sense, that narration required an agent doing the narrating, who was the film's narrator. In cases where there were no explicit narrators, an implicit narrator needed to be posited to make sense of how viewers gained access to the fictional world of the film.

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Opponents responded that the narrator in the sense of the agent who gave film audiences access to a film's fictional world could be the filmmaker s , so there was no need to posit such a dubious entity as an implicit narrator of a film. According to this Thesis, viewers of mainstream fiction films imagine themselves to be looking into the world of the story and seeing segments of the narrative action from a series of definite visual perspectives.

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As a result, an alternative view has been suggested, namely that viewers imagine themselves to be seeing motion picture images that have been photographically derived, in some indeterminate way, from within the fictional world itself. But this position runs into problems, since it is normally part of the film's fiction that no camera was present in the fictional space of the narrative.

The resulting debate is over whether to reject as incoherent the Imagined Seeing Thesis or whether it is possible to develop an acceptable version of this Thesis. Philosophers remain sharply divided on this fundamental issue. The topic of film narration thus continues to be a subject of intense philosophical discussion and investigation. Various attempts to explain its nature remain hotly debated.

As new and more complex styles of film narration become popular, it is likely that the subject of film narration will continue to receive attention from philosophers and aestheticians. The best way to understand the innovations made by philosophers in our understanding of how films relate to society is to look at the view that was dominant in film theory some years ago.

Such films were taken to present nothing but fairytales that used the realistic character of the medium to present those imaginary stories as if they were accurate pictures of reality. In this way, the actual character of the social domination assumed by such a view to be rampant in contemporary society was obscured in favor of a rosy picture of the realities of human social existence.


  1. Film as Philosophy - Essays in Cinema after Wittgenstein and Cavell | R. Read | Palgrave Macmillan.
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As part of their argument, these film theorists have gone beyond examining individual films themselves and have argued that the very structure of the narrative film functions to assist in the maintenance of social domination. From this point of view, an overcoming of narrativity itself is required for films to be genuinely progressive. In opposition to such a negative view of film's relationship to society, philosophers of film have argued that popular films need not support social domination but can even give expression to socially critical attitudes. In making this argument, they have corrected film theory's tendency to make broad generalizations about the relationship between film and society that are not grounded in careful analysis of individual films.

They have instead concentrated upon presenting detailed interpretations of films that show how their narratives present critical takes on various social practices and institutions. Class, race, gender, and sexuality are among the different social arenas in which philosophers of film have seen films make socially conscious, critical interventions in public debates.

Philosophy of Film - Bibliography - PhilPapers

One interesting example of films that develop political stances that are not merely supportive of existing modes of social domination are those that involve interracial couples. So Stanley Kramer's film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner , investigates the plausibility of racial integration as a solution to the problems of anti-black racism in America through its portrayal of the problems facing an interracial couple.

Nearly 25 years later, Spike Lee's Jungle Fever argues against the earlier film's political agenda, once again using an interracial couple that encounters racism. Only this time, the film asserts that the intransigent racism of White Americans undermines integration as a panacea to the ills of this racist society Wartenberg And many other films employ this narrative figure to investigate other aspects of racism and possibilities for its overcoming.

Similarly, philosophers have looked outside of Hollywood to the films of progressive filmmakers like John Sayles to illustrate their belief that narrative films can make sophisticated political statements. A film like Matewan is shown to involve a sophisticated investigation of the relationship between class and race as sites of social domination. In general, then, we can say that philosophers have resisted a monolithic condemnation of films as socially regressive and explored the different means that filmmakers have used to present critical perspectives on areas of social concern.

While they have not ignored the ways in which standard Hollywood narratives undermine critical social awareness, they have shown that narrative film is an important vehicle for communal reflection on important social issues of the day. Ever since Plato banished poets from his ideal city in The Republic , hostility towards the arts has been endemic to philosophy. To a large extent, this is because philosophy and the various artforms were perceived to be competing sources of knowledge and belief.

Philosophers concerned to maintain the exclusivity of their claim to truth have dismissed the arts as poor pretenders to the title of purveyors of truth.

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Philosophers of film have generally opposed this view, seeing film as a source of knowledge and, even, as potential contributor to philosophy itself. This view was forcefully articulated by Stanley Cavell, whose interest in the philosophy of film helped spark the field's development. For Cavell, philosophy is inherently concerned with skepticism and the different ways that it can be overcome.

In his many books and articles, Cavell has argued that film shares this concern with philosophy and can even provide philosophic insights of its own Cavell ; ; Until recently, there have been few adherents to the idea that films can make a philosophical contribution. But see Kupfer and Freeland for counterinstances. In part, this is because Cavell's linking of film to skepticism seems inadequately grounded, while his account of skepticism as a live option for contemporary philosophy is based on a highly idiosyncratic reading of the history of modern philosophy. Nonetheless, Cavell's interpretations of individual films' encounter with skepticism are highly suggestive and have influenced many philosophers and film scholars with the seriousness with which they take film.

For one example, see Mulhall Now, however, there is an ongoing debate about the philosophical capacity of film. In opposition to views like that of Cavell, a number of philosophers have argued that films can have at most a heuristic or pedagogic function in relation to philosophy.

Others have asserted that there are clear limits to what films can accomplish philosophically. Both of these types of views regard the narrative character of fiction films as disqualifying them from genuinely being or doing philosophy. Opponents to this point of view have pointed to a number of different ways in which films can do philosophy.

Foremost among these is the thought experiment. Thought experiments involve imaginary scenarios in which readers are asked to imagine what things would be like if such-and-such were the case. Those who think that films can actually do philosophy point out that fiction films can function as philosophical thought experiments and thus qualify as philosophical See Wartenberg Many films have been suggested as candidates for doing philosophy, including the Wachowski Brothers' hit The Matrix , a film that has engendered more philosophical discussion than any other film, Memento , and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Philosophers have also begun to pay attention to a strand of avant-garde filmmaking known as structural films.