n an interview in April, 2004 with James Merendino of SLC Punk, the director speculated that production companies don’t consider making movies about philosophy, even about universally known historical figures like Aristotle or Socrates, because no one would go to them. “The reason is that even highbrow studios like Miramax think that a story about a dead philosopher is too dry and intellectual.” But the fact is movies that incorporate themes and ideas, that is, philosophical dilemmas and hypotheticals, are easily embraced by directors and enjoyed by audiences. These movies are not dry and intellectual documentaries but rather engaging and compelling human dramas. The philosophical ideas are “slipped in” so the audience hook is subtle. The story is the entre; once the audience is emotionally involved, the issues become part of the narrative. When the ideas are packaged in an appealing way, the message can be delivered.
Why study philosophy in film? What are the objectives of this project?
• Recognize key philosophical topics in the context of popular films
• Identify the major philosophers and their theories alluded to or mentioned in popular films
• Discuss philosophical questions using films as a springboard
• Become familiar with the basic elements of logical arguments
• Combine classical and contemporary readings with a discussion of philosophical concepts illustrated in popular films
• Conduct thoughtful, sustained discussions with peers around a theme
There are many philosophical concepts that can be explored in the myriad of philosophical films produced – some implicit and some more obvious: in fact, I would like to organize the presentation of the films under these rubrics. As you view your film, you should try to recognize an overarching theme(s), which has philosophical implications. Decide which overarching theme you would like to highlight. The theme must be formulated in one sentence – it should be a statement that you can discuss with evidence from the film. For example: Vengeance is ethical if the motive is pure.
Carefully select a clip(s) (approximately 5-10 minutes in length) as a catalyst for the discussion. There should be dialogue in the clip – the characters should contemplate and talk about the philosophical question(s) they are forced to confront. Pose that same question to the audience – and talk about it – using examples from the film. Make sure you have many follow-up questions in case there is a lull or if you need to redirect the discussion (sometimes the talk goes off track and you need to bring it back).
You should write a set-up, briefly introducing the film (NOT the plot), and pose a QUESTION (turn your theme into a question) that will spark a thoughtful discussion. For example: Do you think vengeance is the right course of action in some cases? You should be prepared to moderate the discussion (staying on topic) and come to some understanding (not a conclusion necessarily) that each member of the class can take away. In class, the total time should be about 30 minutes. Online the discussion should last that long if it is real-time or consist of at least two responses and one new idea per participant.
Here are the topics from which you will get your theme:
1. knowledge and truth (reality, perception, technology)
2. personal identity (genetics, artificial intelligence, virtual identity)
3. moral responsibility and ethics (right to die, cloning, euthanasia, capital punishment)
4. religion (specific religions or spirituality, existence of god, creationism, concept of evil)
5. free will (concept of a person, liberty, mental illness and insanity)
6. political philosophy (anarchism, communism, socialism, democracy, civil disobedience)
7. the meaning of life (life after death, soul, does life have meaning?)
8. aesthetics (what is art? and art forms)
Here are the directions: (Use this as a checklist)
o Select a topic that you would like to explore
o Select a film that illustrates some aspect of that topic (consult list provided on this site)
o Watch the film in its entirety, paying particular attention to a theme(s) that you would like to discuss (watching some clips on YouTube is not sufficient – you need to see the whole movie)
o Determine a theme that you would like to use for discussion
o Review the pertinent philosophical texts that address your theme (THIS IS IMPORTANT!) You need to read some of the literature. There are some suggestions on this site “Major Philosophical Works,” but you should also consult the databases for some pertinent and interesting articles to help you clarify your argument. You should be saying things like “According to Descartes” or “Plato says that…”
o Turn the theme into a QUESTION around which you will direct the discussion
o Select a You Tube clip that can be accessed by the members of your group.
o Introduce the film with a brief summary (but do not belabor the plot)
Pose the question
o Moderate the discussion (invoking the ideas from the philosophical readings)
o Sum up the discussion and leave the class with something to think about
The audience is also responsible for the success of the discussion. So, the audience members will also be graded. As a member of the group, each participant must respond at least twice to the moderator or another member of the group AND must submit a new comment that is not a direct response to another classmate’s response. In other words, you must respond directly as well as broach at least one new idea.
Each class member will present a film project as well as participate in the film presentation with four other students in the class. Please refer to your group assignment.
I would suggest that you contact the other members of your team to set up a schedule for presentations. Real-time would be preferred for each presentation – the discussion is richer and more passionate if you are all together (virtually, that is). However, if the members of the group are not able to be present at the same/similar time, arrangements can be made to emulate real time: limit the time frame on the discussion so that everyone weighs in at approximately the same time (almost real-time).
Set up a time frame that spans only two –three days. Make a deal that you will all be present for the discussion (or log on and respond in the prescribed time). When the moderator feels the discussion has concluded, he/she will call an end to it. But, everyone in the group must have had an opportunity to respond the necessary number of times.
If the agreed-upon time frame expires, however, and every member has not yet responded, the moderator has the right to cut off the discussion and conclude it.
There is no specific schedule for this project. If the group members wish to do the film projects now, they have the option to do so. If the group members would like to spread the project out over the next few weeks (one per week, for example), that is also an option. However, the film projects MUST BE CONCLUDED BY APRIL 15, 2012.
Here is the procedure to get the discussion started:
-Go to the Canvas site
-Hover over Courses and Groups
-Move over to Film Project Group on the right and select
-Click on Discussions on the right navigation bar
-Go to “Start a New Topic”
-Title your new topic of discussion (The name of the movie and the theme)
For example: The Matrix: Perception vs. Reality
-Type in (or cut and paste) your introduction and question to get the ball rolling.
-Make sure you embed the You Tube link for students to watch the film clip.
-Refer to the rubric for grading
-Remember: the moderator and the participants are graded. This counts as a test grade.
I merged the list of films from the web link with others that came to my attention recently. That expands the database (80+ films!) and gives you more choice. Choose a film from this list or one you select if none of these appeals to you. Keep in mind the purpose of the assignment, however, and focus on a philosophical theme. (Don’t rule out the oldies – they’re goodies, too.)
1. A Brief History of Time (1992)
2. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
3. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
4. A Question of Faith (2001)
5. Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
6. American History X (1998)
7. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
8. Baraka (1992)
9. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
10. Being John Malkovich (1999)
11. Blade Runner (1982)
12. Bowling For Columbine (2002)
13. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
14. Casablanca (1942)
15. Children Underground (2001)
16. City of Joy (1992)
17. Contact (1997)
18. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
19. Devil’s Playground (2002)
20. Dogville (2003)
21. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
22. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
23. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997)
24. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
25. Gandhi (1982)
26. Gattaca (1997)
27. Groundhog Day (1993)
28. Hilary and Jackie (1998)
29. I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
30. If These Walls Could Talk (1996)
31. Kadosh (1999)
32. King Corn (2007)
33. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
34. Lifeboat (1944)
35. Memento (2001)
36. Metropolis (1927)
37. Mindwalk (1991)
38. Minority Report (2002)
39. Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
40. Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (2000)
41. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
42. My Dinner with Andre (1981)
43. Nova: The Secret of Photo 51 (2003) VHS only – for you science fanatics
44. Phenomenon (1996)
45. Pi: Faith in Chaos (1998)
46. Pleasantville (1998)
47. Powder (1995)
48. Religulous (2008)
49. Saw II (2004)
50. Shadowlands (1993)
51. SLC Punk (1999)
52. Solaris (1972 Russian; 2002 English)
53. Sophie’s Choice (1982) be prepared to SOB!!
54. Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
55. The Body (2001)
56. The Book of Life (1998)
57. The Corporation (2004)
58. The Education of Shelby Knox (2005)
59. The Emperor’s Club (2002)
60. The House of Games (1987)
61. The Man from Earth (2007)
62. The Matrix (1999) We will see excerpts of this in class.
63. The Quarrel (1991)
64. The Rapture (1991)
65. The Razor’s Edge (1946, 1984)
66. The Return of Martin Guerre (1983) and/or the remake Sommersby (1993)
67. The Searchers (1956)
68. The Seventh Seal (1957)
69. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) another favorite 70. The Swimmer (1968)
71. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
72. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
73. The Trial (1963)
74. The Truman Show (1998)
75. The Usual Suspects (1995) One of my favorite films; Kevin Spacey is awesome!
76. The Village (2004)
77. Total Recall (1990)
78. Twelve Angry Men (1957) A CLASSIC!
79. Vertigo (1958)
80. Waking Life (2001)
81. Inception (2010)
82. Hereafter (2010)
83. You Don’t Know Jack (2010)