This course will use film to discuss philosophy, and philosophy to discuss film. Many of the film selections will be science fiction because, despite the name, that genre of film tends to be an exploration of philosophical and even theological questions.
Rationale for Including the Written Word
Written philosophy, fiction, and literature will also feature prominently in the course because those who are the most literate tend to have the most insightful, interesting things to say about what they are viewing, and also to understand what they are viewing better. Many directors of meaningful films assume that their art house audiences are readers who are used to applying themselves assiduously to intellectually demanding tasks, thinking about what they are engaged with, are comfortable with ambiguity, and do not expect easy answers.
There was an attempt in the 1990s to argue that students who did not read were just “differently” literate – they were “media savvy.” This idea turned out to be chimerical and not supported by the facts.
Movies and TV Series to Be Studied,
and Their Corresponding Books and Reading Material
- Film: Stalker – by Tarkovsky
Books: Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky Brothers, We by Zamyatin. Article summarizing The Mastery and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist
A movie about the role of imagination, creativity, and intuition in human life. And, as René Girard argues, like any good story, a conversion story; from prosaicism and despair, to a rejection of nihilism and the fear that people might make bad use of free will, and creativity.
- Film: Solaris – by Tarkovsky
Book: Solaris by Stanislav Lem
A scientist with the lack of imagination of soulless accountant, rediscovers a love for earth, love for a woman, and an acceptance of mystery at the core of existence. Solaris is a planet that appears to be conscious and is either defending itself, torturing the astronauts, or trying to communicate with them, by manifesting their subconscious fears.
- Film: 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick
Reading: Summary of Deceit, Desire and the Novel, by René Girard
HAL the computer starts to kill the crew one by one. He appears to be driven by resentment. Resentment is such a peculiarly human emotion, that permeates so much of human existence, that HAL demonstrates his humanity in the act of destroying his crew mates.
- Blade Runner by Ridley Scott
Book: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Also, a conversion story, the androids (replicants) in the movie start by trying to deal with the fact of their mortality – a four year life span – with one of them turning around to save the life of the very man who has been hired to kill him. The books ask about the borderline between sociopathy and normal individuals. What exactly is the difference between them?
- True Detective First Season, 8 episodes, written by Nic Pizzolatto
Book: The Call of Cthulu by H. P. Lovecraft.
The TV series explicitly explores the arguments for and against nihilism, while trying to figure out who is involved in sacrificial, ritualistic murders modeled on those described in H. P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu. Nic Pizzolato has degrees in English and Philosophy and it shows!
- Groundhog Day by Harold Ramis
Reading: Nietzsche – Eternal Recurrence
Groundhog Day may seem like a light comedy, but it is philosophically rich. The Buddhist screenwriter, a Jewbu, commented that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Platonists, Buddhists, Hindus, and pretty much every other religion under the sun considered the movie to be about their religion and/or philosophy. Phil (love in Greek) slowly makes his way from morally repugnant to morally enlightened by reliving the same day over and over – according to the screenwriter – for ten thousand years, although never made explicit in the movie.
- Tampopo by Juzo Itami
The Meaning of Life boiled to down to the quest to make the perfect bowl of soup, done with panache and humor.
- Still Life by Uberto Passolini
A city counsel worker whose job it is to take note of and hold funerals for those who die with no friends or relatives willing to attend their funeral. Making a scrapbook for each dead individual who has so alienated everyone in his or her life that she or he has died alone, and lovingly remembering them, this city worker avoids one of the worst of fates for the dead – dying unloved and immediately forgotten. A profound, thoughtful, and ultimately cheering movie.
- American Psycho by Mary Harron
Book: American Psycho
The movie and the book are a frequently misunderstood satire of 1980s New York City, Wall Street materialism. Everyone is doing cocaine, wearing designer clothing, and trying to get into the most exclusive restaurants. One of them might or might not be slowly killing off his mimetic rivals. Mimetic rivals being people who have come to desire the same thing, putting them at odds with each other, and filling each other with resentment.
- Revanche by Gotz Spielmann
Revanche is a German word that means “now we are even,” or “evening the score,” rather than “revenge.” The protagonist has to decide whether to forgive the policeman who shot his girlfriend and accomplice in crime. While trying to decide, he shares the home of his grandfather who admires his excellent work ethic.