Philosophy & Film
Dr. Dennis Weiss
Course Assignments Page
You'll find on this page all the daily reading, viewing, and writing assignments for our course. These are the assignments that must be completed PRIOR to coming to class. You will find the readings on our Moodle course site.
Part One: Film as Philosophy
Readings for Part One
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Introducing the Course
From Plato’s Cave to the Matrix: can films philosophize?
Review of Syllabus
Let’s continue our preliminary thinking about whether film can philosophize
MICRO ESSAY: Drawing on your own experience watching and thinking about movies, do you think movies can philosophize? Do you have an example in mind as you ponder this question?
Philosophizing about the Matrix
Thomas Wartenberg, “Philosophy Screened: Experiencing The Matrix”
WATCH: The Matrix
MICRO ESSAY: How precisely does The Matrix screen philosophy according to Wartenberg? Do you agree with him?
THINK ABOUT: Wartenberg also argues that once Neo has understood his situation, "the film becomes a rather routine adventure film" and that this plot is not philosophy itself. Let's think about this claim. Are you inclined to agree with Wartenberg?
Philosophizing about the Matrix, continued
Catherine Constable, “Baudrillard Reloaded”
MICRO ESSAY: Given her reading of The Matrix, what do you think Constable would say in response to Wartenberg’s analysis of the film?
Film and Philosophy: The Debate
READ: Thomas Wartenberg, “On the Possibility of Cinematic Philosophy”
MICRO ESSAY: For your micro essay for today's class, complete your answer to the Wartenberg worksheet on an index card and be prepared to collaborate with your group on a joint response.
Is Rashomon a case of cinematic philosophy?
WATCH: Prior to class, make some time to watch Rashomon
Julian Baggini on Rashomon (pages 49 - 51)
MICRO ESSAY: Do you think Rashomon is a case of cinematic philosophy? Why or why not?
Film and Philosophy: The Case Against
Select one of the following essays:
Bruce Russell, “The Philosophical Limits of Film”
Paisely Livingston, “Theses on Cinema as Philosophy”
Murray Smith, “Film Art, Argument, and Ambiguity”
Notes on Anti-Cinematic Philosophy: Russell, Livingston, and Smith
MICRO ESSAY: As you read your selected essay (and, if you're interested, the accompanying notes) focus on the author’s core argument in support of the claim that film cannot philosophize. How might you apply the author’s core argument to Rashomon? How can we use the author's anti-cinematic philosophy view to critique the claim that Rashomon philosophizes?
Is The Truman Show a case of cinematic philosophy?
WATCH: The Truman Show
MICRO ESSAY: Let's focus on discussing some of the specific thematic elements and cinematic features of The Truman Show. Can you identify two to three philosophical themes that The Truman Show may raise and address and one or two cinematic features that call attention to the specific cinematic medium of the film. We'll develop some of these ideas in class and work to connect them to our discussion of film-as-philosophy.
ESSAY ONE: Due Feb. 15, The Truman Show
Part Two: Persons and Others
Readings for Part Two
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Jerry Goodenough, “A Philosopher Goes to the Cinema”
MICRO ESSAY: Goodenough maintains that it is possible to understand watching a film as itself engaging in philosophy and he cites two examples: Blade Runner and Last Year at Marienbad. Based on his accounts of what marks these two films as "engaging in philosophy," would he agree that The Truman Show engages in philosophy? Is it a case of film as philosophy, as he terms it?
If you're interested, you can watch Last Year at Marienbad HERE.
WATCH: Blade Runner (There are several versions of the film and it's an interesting exercise to compare versions. You should probably watch either the 1992 director's cut or the 2007 final cut if you can.)
MICRO ESSAY: Goodenough writes of Blade Runner, “Blade Runner does not just make us intellectually aware that the replicants satisfy many possible conditions for personhood. Rather, by sharing this portion of their lives, by seeing their quest for life, the way they relate to each other, by comparing it with Deckard’s job of termination, we must inevitably come to feel for them, anger, fear, lust at one particular point, and, at the end, perhaps a profound pity and admiration. How could anyone not treat these replicants as persons?” Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Further philosophical reflections on Blade Runner
MICRO ESSAY: There is no micro essay due today. Your first essay is due at the start of class.
Blade Runner is based on a novel by the great science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, who's work has had a profound impact on sci fi cinema. If you're interested, I reviewed several Dick films in the essay "Dick Doesn't Do Heroes."
Blade Runner Again!
READ: Stephen Mulhall, “Picturing the Human”
MICRO ESSAY: Mulhall’s essay is complicated but it clearly makes a case for Blade Runner as philosophy in action. To make our reading more manageable, I'll assign you to groups and ask you to complete one part of this worksheet for your micro essay.
As you read through Mulhall's essay, you might take an inventory of some the philosophical themes/questions that Mulhall thinks Blade Runner raises. See if you can identify several of the philosophical issues that Mulhall attributes to this film. Don't worry about understanding them in detail--we'll work on that in class. Just see if you can pick out several of the key philosophical themes/issues that Mulhall locates in the film. If you're interested in Dick and Mulhall, you might be interested in reading my critique of Mulhall's account of film as philosophy: "Mulhall's Missing Dick."
Today is a general education workday for many faculty and so we will not have class.
RECOMMENDED READING: We've seen that a central component of Blade Runner is the question of the status of the replicants. Blade Runners the use of the Voight-Kampff Test of empathy to distinguish between humans and replicants. The Voight-Kampff Test is analogous to Alan Turing's famous Turing Test for determining whether a machine can think. The Turing Test is just one variation of a series of tests that have been proposed to assess the status of artificially intelligent machines. If you're interested, check out some of the following:
Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence," Course Readings, pages 77 - 101
Benjamin Bratton, “Outing A.I.: Beyond the Turing Test,” Course Readings, pages 102 - 109
Susan Schneider and Edwin Turner, "Is Anyone Home? A Way to Find Out If AI Has Become Self-Aware"
Robert Sparrow, "The Turing Triage Test"
It's all about David
WATCH: A.I. Artificial Intelligence
MICRO ESSAY: What do you think about David's status? What does the film "think" about David's status?
Spielberg's film was based on the Brian Aldiss short story "Super Toys Last All Summer Long"
Timothy Dunn, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and the Tragic Sense of Life”
MICRO ESSAY: Let's think about the final sequence in A.I. As Timothy Dunn notes, many critics thought it was a gratuitous and sentimental tack-on to the film (more Spielberg than Kubrick). Dunn thinks that the final sequence is important. Why? And do you think it makes a difference if the beings that show up at the end are actually supermecha descendants of David and the other mecha, and not extraterrestrials, as many suppose?
If you're interested, I long ago wrote a review (I think my one and only published movie review) of A.I., which you can read HERE.
WATCH: Ex Machina
Review: Ex Machina Themes
MICRO ESSAY: You have two options for your micro essay, select one. Option One: What is the status of Ava? Option Two: What does this film say (or following Goodenough and Baggini, show) about the human condition?
ESSAY TWO: Due March 13, Ex Machina
Part Three: Movies and Morality
Readings for Part Three
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WATCH: Crimes and Misdemeanors
MICRO ESSAY: Allen’s film has attracted a lot of attention from philosophers and others interested in exploring the moral dimensions of film. What do you think Allen is saying about moral values in this complex film?
READ: Mark Conard, “The Indifferent Universe”
MICRO ESSAY: What is Conard's thesis regarding Crimes and Misdemeanors? Do you agree with his reading of the film?
Richard Gilmore, “Visions of Meaning”
MICRO ESSAY: How do you think Gilmore would respond to Conard's claim that Crimes and Misdemeanors asserts that in a world without God there would be no values or meaning?
WATCH: Groundhog Day
MICRO ESSAY: What do you think is the primary difference between Phil's life at the beginning of the film and Phil's life at the end of the film? What does this suggest about the nature of the good life?
I’d like to cancel class today and ask that you plan on attending the screening of Mulholland Drive on Thursday, Mar 21, HUM 218, part of the English and Humanities Department’s Film Series.
READ: Jennifer McMahon, “City of Dreams”
MICRO ESSAY: How does McMahon's account of illusion, deception, and absurdity help us to make sense of Mulholland Drive?
READ: James Spence, “What Nietzsche Could Teach You”
MICRO ESSAY: Spence draws on the philosophy of Nietzsche to examine Groundhog Day and notes that Nietzsche does not romanticize life and that he resists "all sentimental weakness." Do you think his use of Nietzsche helps to illuminate Groundhog Day as a potential philosophical film?
READ: James Kupfer, “Virtue and Happiness in Groundhog Day”
MICRO ESSAY: Imagine that Kupfer has just finished reading James Spence's essay on Groundhog Day. Write a micro essay in which Kupfer evaluates Spence's claims and overall argument.
WATCH: The Sea Inside
MICRO ESSAY: Recall Julian Baggini’s and Jerry Goodenough’s claim that films that engage in philosophy show rather than say. We might wonder if The Sea Inside engaged in philosophy. Is it philosophy in action? If so, we might suspect that it is showing us something. But what precisely is it that it is showing? What is the philosophical significance of this film? What does it seem to be saying/showing? Is there an argument about euthanasia and the meaning of living and dying in this film? If so, what is that argument? Can you draw on evidence from the film to formulate a hypothesis regarding what this film seems to be showing?
ESSAY THREE: Due April 5
Part Four: Human-Technology Relations
Readings for Part Four
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MICRO ESSAY: This is a film that is both historically situated and yet quite contemporary. Let's consider how deeply technologicaly textured the film is. As you watch Hugo keep track of the various forms of technology it features. Then let's see if we can challenge ourselves to develop an analysis of the film and what it seems to be saying about our relationship to technology. For your micro essay, articulate and briefly support with relevant evidence a thesis addressing the question, "what is the film Hugo trying to say at its deepest philosophical level"?
From Méliès to Montparnasse, a Cultural Cheat Sheet for 'Hugo'
READ: Dennis Weiss and Justin Nicholas, “Hugo and the Automaton”
MICRO ESSAY: In this essay, I argue that Hugo screens a fruitful account of how to think about the nature of human-technology relations. How specifically does this film articulate a position regarding how human beings relate to technology and technology to human beings and how might it help us understand our relation to technology?
READ: J. Macgregor Wise, “Technological Culture”
MICRO ESSAY: Macgregor Wise's essay is geared toward helping us understand the nature of technological culture. Let's see if we can identify some of the key elements of his framework. What are three or four key elements of MacGregor Wise's account of technological culture?
MICRO ESSAY: We've been talking about how to understand technology and, more importantly, how to understand human-technology relations. We've read that many Hollywood films either demonize technology (technophobia) or seem to fall in love in with technology (technophilia). Watching Her against the backdrop of these concerns, what do you think this film is saying about human-technology relations?
Gina Zavota, “Her and Philosophy”
David Taube, “Her”
Susan Schneider, “The Philosophy of ‘Her’”
MICRO ESSAY: Let's think a bit about love, romance, and sex while thinking further about Her. We've seen the theme of sex and technology come up in both Blade Runner and Ex Machina (suggesting that we should think about gender here as well). What do you think Her is saying about the complex mix of technology and gender, love and romance, and sex?
READ: Sherry Turkle, “Authenticity in the age of digital companions”
MICRO ESSAY: Were Sherry Turkle to write a review of Her, how would she evaluate the future life that the film imagines?
WATCH: Eighth Grade
MICRO ESSAY: We've been thinking about how to understand human-technology relations and how film can provide narratives that help us picture and therefore think about our relation to technology. What do you think Bo Burnham's film tells us about human-technology relations, especially as it relates to social media as it mediates and shapes life for suburban teenagers in the United States?
READ: Douglas Kellner, “Theorizing New Technology”
MICRO ESSAY: Like MacGregor, Kellner helps us understand how to think about (how to theorize) technology, especially new technology. Taking into consideration his thoughts on theorizing new technology, how might we apply his critical theory of technology to our (your) own experience of social media or that portrayed in Eighth Grade?
ESSAY FOUR: Due April 26, Eighth Grade
Part Five: Time and the Movies
WATCH: La Jetée
READ: Cox and Levine, "La Jetée and the Promise of Time Travel," pp. 2 - 3
Micro Essay: Thinking about both the story it tells (its narrative) as well as the form of the film itself, how does La Jetee influence us to think about the nature of time and time travel?
Cox and Levine, "La Jetée and the Promise of Time Travel," pp. 3 - 10
MICRO ESSAY: This reading selection may prove challenging, but let's see if we can figure out the connections between presentism, four-dimensionalism, and time. Compare and contrast how the presentist and the four-dimensionalist treat time travel. Which of these two approaches to thinking about time and time travel strikes you as the most reasonable?
If you're interested in reading more about the philosophy of time travel, check out the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Time Travel," and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Time Travel"
WATCH: 12 Monkeys
MICRO ESSAY: Drawing on our discussion of La Jetée, time, and time travel, what do you think this film is saying about the nature of time and time travel?
READ: William Devlin, "Some Paradoxes of Time Travel In The Terminator and 12 Monkeys"
MICRO ESSAY: According to Devlin, what view of time and time travel does 12 Monkeys subscribe to?
MICRO ESSAY: When old and young Joe confront one another in the diner, old Joe says he doesn't want to "talk about time travel shit." It's messy. But let's imagine that old and young Joe are a little more philosophical than they otherwise appear to be and they decide to engage in a brief analysis of the nature of time travel as it is conceived in the film, trying to make it less "messy." How would that conversation go? What would they conclude about the nature of time travel as conceived in the film Looper?
Work on your final course project!
Continue to work on your final course project!