Table of Contents

Title page


This book introduces readers to a broad range of philosophical issues though film, as well as to issues about the nature of film itself – a blend missing in most recent books on philosophy and film. Film is an extremely valuable way of exploring and discussing topics in philosophy, but it is not without its limitations and dangers. Pointing out ways in which film can obfuscate through rhetoric, by playing on the emotions, or by pandering to various desires, is an important part of any approach to thinking through film. We try to bring a critical eye to philosophical-film discussions throughout the present book.

The book has four parts. In part I, chapter 1, we discuss the possibilities of film as a philosophical medium. Why is film a good way of approaching philosophical issues and how is it possible to advance philosophical dis­cussion through film? In the second chapter we discuss some of the philosophical issues raised by film itself. While it focuses on the power of film and its significance, other principal philosophical issues about film and film spectatorship are also raised. Further issues concerning the nature of film and film spectatorship are discussed throughout the book. Why, for example, do we like certain films? How do we get pleasure from films? How can we tell when a film is manipulating our philosophical judgment and the intuitions on which it is based? How can we make use of the confusions that abound in films for philosophical purposes? (Handling both the films and the philosophy with care, of course.)

The chapters in parts II–IV are designed to be read after viewing nominated films, and after having read part I. Part II focuses on films that raise questions about epistemology and metaphysics. These include skepticism, ontology, artificial intelligence, and time (time-travel in particular). In part III we discuss four films in relation to what may broadly be called “the human condition.” Here we focus on free will, personal identity, and death and the meaning of life. We also examine the nature of film spectatorship in some depth: in chapter 9 our topic is horror, and realist horror films in particular. What, we ask, draws audiences to the experience of horror; to fear and repulsion? Part IV is concerned with ethics and values. We focus on films that address, in turn, the following: motivations for a moral life, moral luck, deontology and consequentialism, and finally virtue theory.

The book aims to give a general overview of core philosophical topics; viewed from the perspective of current work in philosophy and current work in philosophy and film. It is about both philosophy of film and philosophy through film. These two aspects of the book support one another and it is the idea of bringing these two aspects together that has structured the work. We have chosen films for content, quality, and philosophical potential; films that engage with philosophical issues – at times in circumscribed and distorted ways, but also in ways that help one appreciate the philosophical issues involved and, along with them, something of the significance of philosophy. Where we could do so, we used films to advance philosophical thought, rather than simply illustrate it.

Both classical and contemporary films are used, each chosen to highlight a particular set of philosophical questions, sometimes in unusual ways and with unlikely films. We discuss well-known and popular films, but also lesser-known films. At the end of each chapter there is a brief list of further recommended readings and a list of questions for further philosophical work.

The principle ambition of the book is to do philosophy with films and to think about films philosophically. The chapters are about the issues present in the films from a philosophical and filmic perspective. Films can be used to do philosophy in many ways. They can be used as illustrations of philosophical problems; as ways of testing philosophical theories; as ways of running philosophical thought experiments; as suppliers of interesting puzzles or phenomena, things in need of philosophical examination; as ways of getting clear about the significance of philosophical issues, or ways of getting clear about philosophical possibilities. Reflection on film leads to philosophy by raising questions about the nature of films themselves and film spectatorship in particular. Sometimes philosophical theories are used to interpret films; sometimes films are used to shed light on philosophical theories. All of these ways of watching movies and doing philosophy are represented in this work. There is no unique perspective that philosophy brings to film. Instead, films are themselves – often muddled, but sometimes brilliant – philosophical investigations.

Philosophy and film is still a relatively new field. What we have done in this book could not have been done without the pioneering efforts of those philosophers and film theorists who helped establish philosophy and film as a worthwhile, ongoing, and indeed burgeoning area of inquiry. Even where we disagree with them, we most certainly have learned from them.


We thank the many people that inconspicuously and often unknowingly helped us develop this text and our thoughts on the films discussed – often by just saying a few words, and sometimes by presenting more developed views about a film, character, or philosophical problem. In particular we thank our students in film and philosophy at Bond University and The University of Western Australia. We also wish to thank Marguerite La Caze, Amy Barrett-Lennard, Lorna Mehta, Bill Taylor, Ted Roberts, and Carol Mack.

Part I: Philosophy and Film

Part I has two chapters. The first chapter discusses the relationship between philosophy and film. The primary issue here is also preliminary. Is film a credible philosophical medium? Can films do philosophy? What should we expect from films philosophically speaking? The second chapter looks at some of the philosophical issues that are either specific to film or applicable to particular films as aesthetic objects (or works of art). What can be said, philosophically speaking, about films’ ability to evoke strong emotion and to evoke and even satisfy, at least transiently, phantasies of revenge and narcissistic, even perverse, desires?

In part I objections on the part of philosophers to the philosophical possibilities of film are considered. Various ways in which film and philosophical theory are allegedly related are explained and queried. We make it clear that film can be much more than simply a test or illustration of a piece of philosophical theory. Instead of casting the philosophical possibilities of film in terms of film as servicing philosophy, we turn the tables and view film (or some film) as inherently or naturally philosophical. Various philosophical issues raised by film are discussed alongside relevant narrative and filmic techniques.

Part I constitutes both a background to and a resource for parts II–IV in which central epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical problems are analyzed in relation to specific films.