Film philosophy

March 18, 2007 at 8:31 am (philosophy of the arts)

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22 Comments

  1. akiba said,

    Philosophy is found everywhere, living life in your own way demands it, whatever way that may be.

    I’ve found that the movies that have impacted me the most, is when the filmmaker takes you into the psyche of a character. The key is understanding the character might be absurd, but as long as the audience understands him, through either action or speech, the filmmaker can guide the audience to feel exactly what he wants them to feel.

    As a Film Student, I find philosophy to be a useful tool to express myself, combining visual language with the written word of script. This tool however, needs sharpening. I have found difficulty integrating Western Philosophy into my writing, though I’ve tried.

    I like to think I have vision however… I can see Plato’s Utopia, established for centuries, into the present day… or even into the future. I can see his Society crumble under the corruption of a Totalitarian regime… I can see Socrates walking the streets of Greece, bearing the colds of the world like no other… But I see it done right

  2. akiba said,

    For now, I’ll write about what I know best, myself, I base characters on people I meet, situations that inspire me. I try to integrate my philosophy into what I do, and how I do it… Right now the best idea is to work hard and become the best I can… This seems to be coming to me pretty naturally considering my passion and determination.

    I’ve been a member of this forum/blog for over a year, and I know my place when it comes to complex philosophy syntax, I have used this forum/blog as inspiration. I haven’t found it yet, a core. An idea, a Thesis, an Essay so visually perfect for Film, It would become a text in itself, a true testimony to the art of Film making, and it is an art, for me, Editing is more then a brush and my lens make a far better canvas.

    Who knows maybe I’ll end being the one making this Thesis on Film. But let’s be realistic, writing is a skill to be refined, and right now for me it?s between a pencil and a camera.. I hope to make philosophy part of my art, my business, I know this might sound hollow, considering the many failed attempt at philosophical Movies. That?s not to say there aren’t a few flics that drive a point home every now and then…

    Once I’ll make it you know what I mean

    How do you live life philosophically?

  3. Kwalish Kid said,

    I think that Francois Truffaut had a lot of philosophy in his movies, yet it wasn’t direct. How one lives one’s life philosophically is an important question, becuase realistically, one can only show people on the screen, living their life, and try to get the viewer to learn something from the lives of these characters.

    Of course, mise-en-scence is important for philosophical discourse in film as well. It highlights what is important. Where are children placed in a shot, for example? In Truffaut we see a more important role for children than we see in other films. This is imparted, in part, from the framing of the children and the angles at which we see them. It changes the way that we view them as agents, those who assess and decide.

  4. jaoman said,

    Akiba wrote:
    As a Film Student, I find philosophy to be a useful tool to express myself, combining visual language with the written word of script. This tool however, needs sharpening. I have found difficulty integrating Western Philosophy into my writing, though I’ve tried.

    Akiba, I feel your pain. Quite literally, having journeyed to the same sojourn for the past year. I’ve found the crafts of Hollywood and, generally, Western cinema to be quite limited when it comes to thematic. Most can usually be broken down to something as rudimentary as “Good always triumphs.” Or, as you’ve said, expressions of people through the psychology of the character, which is less shallow, but confined to the circumstances of the individual and, therefore, far from ideal.

    If you’re looking for examples of great theme I can recommend two sources. 1. Great theatre. Shakespeare was brilliant global thematic, for instance. 2. (A modern source.) Japanese Animation. While it is often scoffed at in the West, much that I’ve seen contains thematic and philosophical sophistication quite unrivaled.

  5. select said,

    Most philosophy is inapplicable to film, and vice versa. The few exceptions are philosophers like Plato who express themselves with metaphors. But I think you need to take Plato’s philosophy to heart as you do this, you can’t reveal the truth through film just as Plato knew that he couldn’t reveal the truth through his dialogues. But even in being shadows of the truth, I think there’s a lot you can reveal through film. If you want a closet full of metaphors look at the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer even though very little of it is in any way philosophical. And most of the philosophers from the analytical tradition, and even most philosophy otherwise, really can’t be represented well through film.

    But I think the key is that in order to create film that is philosophical, you need to understand both philosophy and film, and at a level where you have competence at both. And I sometimes wonder if such people can exist.

  6. reformed nihilist said,

    I disagree. I think movies can express and explore philosophical ideas. BTVS(Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in particular is a great example of cinimatically exploring philosophical ideas. Mind/body dualism, what humanity is, brain in vat skepticism, is good an inhereht property/objective morality, are just a few questions I can come up with off the top of my head. How can you characterize these themes “little of it is in any way philosophical”. Sorry, I’m a bit of a Buffy geek, but these are some of the reasons why I am.

  7. valens said,

    Nihilist wrote:
    BTVS(Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in particular is a great example of cinimatically exploring philosophical ideas. Mind/body dualism, what humanity is…

    Precisely why I do not like discussing the moral and philosophical implications within television or cinema. We end up giving mediocre work more credit than it deserves.

  8. select said,

    Valens wrote:
    Precisely why I do not like discussing the moral and philosophical implications within television or cinema. We end up giving mediocre work more credit than it deserves.

    So you think that if a movie or television show is philosophical then it deserves more merit?
    You know, I’m almost thinking that there are enough geeks here to open a thread critiquing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But would we feel better about ourselves if we did?

  9. jaoman said,

    Worse, there maybe someone here who’s read Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy. It gives me shivers just thinking about it.

  10. easyjacksn said,

    The TV series Northern Exposure is loaded with philosophical content. Many of the episodes begin/end with a philosphically-minded narrative by the local DJ in which he quotes philosophers/poets/artists and expounds on their various positions in a way that is subtly representative of that episodes stories. An episode springs to mind in which a debate takes place between two of the characters about the difference between fact and truth and whether we have an ethical obligation to share knowledge. The series is astonishingly well-written and deeply funny/moving in its exploration of humanity.

    The Simpsons also touches on philosophical issues, at times(although it’s more social criticism than anything else).

    A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Blade Runner, hell…even Star Wars contains some philosophical themes.

    jaoman wrote:
    Japanese Animation. While it is often scoffed at in the West, much that I’ve seen contains thematic and philosophical sophistication quite unrivaled

    Very true(I don’t know about “unrivaled”, though).
    Unfortunately, it is usually stylistically juvenile to the point of self-parody and the dialogue is almost always dubbed which can’t help but detract from the quality.

  11. select said,

    I don’t underestimate our ability of free association, so what is fact is that many of these shows and movies do “touch on” philosophical themes, but I guess when I hear discussion about philosophy on film I’m looking for more than just touching a philosophical theme. A movie itself doesn’t have to be philosophical, or have philosophy as it’s intention for you to find something philosophical to say about it. And I think most of the things you can point to in “Buffy” or in most movies are really accidents that you’ve associated with philosophy somehow. Like “A Beautiful Mind” can be said to be an exposition on the concept of hallucination and insanity, but I think that covers up the real intent of the film, to discuss the story of that mathematician.

    So when I think of philosophy on film, I’m looking for something more. Not as a complement to works of philosophy, but as a work of philosophy in itself. Philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche have written about philosophy through fiction, so it’s certainly possible but I don’t think we’ve seen it in film. “The Matrix” didn’t really introduce anything new, it is just another free association of many different philosophical and religious themes. And I think if you are going to have a show or film about philosophy, that its medium needs to be appropriate for the material. You would have to reveal philosophy by showing, not through expositional speeches like they had in “Matrix: Reloaded”.

  12. A.D.D said,

    It must be very difficult to incorporate philosophical ideas into films, not least because even long films are very short, but also because surely the idea of film in the mainstream sense at least is to make money. So yes the “good” must always win, and there has to be something for everybody in a film.

    Thats not to say it cannot be done. I’m a huge fan of minority report for example, I think it deals with philosophical questions (determinism mostly), while appealing to an action-loving crowd with its fast pace, and to aesthetics-loving crowd with its good looking actors and wonderful futuristic look.
    I think thats the example to follow, to be able to appeal different things to different people while still asking the questions those interested in the more philosophical side of things want to be asked.

    In response to the previous posts, I definitely agree the best way to fit it in, as people have been suggesting is in a t.v. series (since you’re not as limited by time and can continue themes in other episodes) or a film series (like star wars) for the same reasons.

  13. jaoman said,

    easyjacksn wrote:
    Very true(I don’t know about “unrivaled”, though).
    Unfortunately, it is usually stylistically juvenile to the point of self-parody and the dialogue is almost always dubbed which can’t help but detract from the quality.

    The “unrivaled” was meant as a comparison to modern day Hollywood. Hardly a statement for the ages.

    As for manga being juvenile, it really depends on the manga. Truthfully, slapstick is often used very well, but there’s a good lot of serious or even adult manga out there. Miyazaki has been making waves with Western audiences: he’s an excellent example of Anime done seriously.

  14. easyjacksn said,

    select wrote:
    I don’t underestimate our ability of free association, so what is fact is that many of these shows and movies do “touch on” philosophical themes, but I guess when I hear discussion about philosophy on film I’m looking for more than just touching a philosophical theme. A movie itself doesn’t have to be philosophical, or have philosophy as it’s intention for you to find something philosophical to say about it. And I think most of the things you can point to in “Buffy” or in most movies are really accidents that you’ve associated with philosophy somehow. Like “A Beautiful Mind” can be said to be an exposition on the concept of hallucination and insanity, but I think that covers up the real intent of the film, to discuss the story of that mathematician.

    I agree that people tend to read things into a work that aren’t necessarily intended by the artist. There are, though, films and shows out there that contain intentional genuine philosophical themes. Is a film about the implications of moral relativism and Jung’s duality of man not a philosophically themed work?
    select wrote:
    So when I think of philosophy on film, I’m looking for something more. Not as a complement to works of philosophy, but as a work of philosophy in itself. Philosophers like Plato and Nietzsche have written about philosophy through fiction, so it’s certainly possible but I don’t think we’ve seen it in film. “The Matrix” didn’t really introduce anything new, it is just another free association of many different philosophical and religious themes. And I think if you are going to have a show or film about philosophy, that its medium needs to be appropriate for the material. You would have to reveal philosophy by showing, not through expositional speeches like they had in “Matrix: Reloaded”.

    If you are looking for a film that is an actual original philosophy in itself I think you are asking too much. It is very unlikely that someone with a substantial new philosophical position would use film/TV as their medium.

  15. select said,

    easyjacksn wrote:
    If you are looking for a film that is an actual original philosophy in itself I think you are asking too much. It is very unlikely that someone with a substantial new philosophical position would use film/TV as their medium.

    Why not? I think you’re asking too little. What makes Plato’s dialogue format so superior to a TV show anyway? And that’s just one example.

  16. reformed nihilist said,

    How much new philosophy is there period? I don’t mean development of an existing idea, because film would be a horrible medium for that. I’m talking about a major paradigm shift. That’s where the metaphor that film can offer us works well. Considering that these paradigm shifts seem to happen every 100+ years or so, is it that surprising that a medium such as film hasn’t had it’s Plato?

  17. danielle said,

    I don’t think that there has ever been a paradigm shift. If one sits down and tries to give a definition for paradigm shift, it either becomes meaningless or empirically false.

    I would suggest that the way to look into philosiphy in film is by looking to philosophers who tried to work in a narrative medium and then try to look for the same things in films. For example, the existentialists attempted to convey philosophical content in literature. Some feel that many italian neo-realist films are part of the existentialist tradition.

    This is just a start, mind you, one doesn’t want to look at all film as if it was existentialist.

    The ironic thing about the discussion so far is that it has focussed on dialogue. Film is not a medium of dialogue. Generally, if a film has to rely on dialogue to get its point across, it’s a crappy film. Too look for Plato, who wrote again and again about his distaste for peotry and the theatre, in film is doubly ironic.

    There have been attempts in the past to explicitly incorporate philosophy into filmmaking (rather than simply into dialogue). Sergei Eisenstien attempted to use Marx’s dialectical materialism as a guide to editting. (I believe that his dialectics were more Hegelian, but that still counts as philosophy.) Eisenstein fills his movies with juxtaposed shots accross jump cuts that are strikingly visually different. His intent is to instill a third visual image or idea in the mind of the viewer. Thesis-Antitheis-Synthesis.

  18. akiba said,

    Reformed Nihilist wrote:
    How much new philosophy is there period? I don’t mean development of an existing idea, because film would be a horrible medium for that. I’m talking about a major paradigm shift. That’s where the metaphor that film can offer us works well. Considering that these paradigm shifts seem to happen every 100+ years or so, is it that surprising that a medium such as film hasn’t had it’s Plato?

    Why do you think it would be such a bad Medium? I know linear film making wouldn’t work for this…
    They have been refining documentary filming up north for years, and now with a reality hungry audience, they are just starting to get recognized. One of the most philosophical documentary’s I have seen, was Corporations; this Doc really brought the truth of the world we live in to life, more so then any book could have. And I’ve never noticed any deep philosophical context in Buffy, although there is ample subtext, which creates symbolism. I have really been impressed with the impact a good documentary can have, and if we bring it in a captivating media, and like someone mentioned, we’re making the money there’s nothing stoping us.

    Money has been the problem, no one has taken to true time to develope something this profound, something studied. Film is just to expensive… The figures a succesful producer works with are ridiculous. Who wants to blow their money putting a thesis on film?! Well there has to be a way, because I don’t believe every angle has been shot.

  19. leucrotta said,

    what strikes me about films that ultimately impact how i think is not so much that they obviously tackle abstract notions, but that they start with a very situationally human premise and imply or demonstrate the abstract through the characters and story.

    The Matrix didn’t really cause me to think or see the world differently. About Schmidt, however, did.

  20. the boss said,

    Waking Life was a very good philosophical film. It was basically comprised of a series of dialogues in senarios which just get more odd as the film progresses. Also, I Heart Huckabees is a good existentialist flick.
    French films often have philosophical content due to it being taught on the curriculum there. Philosophy requires one to visualise the abstract, which is why books are the better medium, as film does not usually allow one to visualise, instead it displays things boldly infront of us. So good philosophical films usually do not deal with an entirely visual representation of reality.

  21. stephane sednaoui said,

    I saw Waking Life about a week ago. It didn’t strike me as particularly impressive.

  22. the boss said,

    I’ve seen it twice now. Visually and aurally I found it enjoyable, and as a matter of content I feel that there’s a lot of interesting things to think about. The thing about Waking Life is that it doesn’t hand you the answers on a plate, it lays out various different situations, questions and seemingly unconnected answers and requires that the audience join the dots themselves and reach their own conclusion.

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