Screening of your thoughts

Philosophy Goes to the Movies

May 31, 2002

No longer do students of philosophy have to fear dry texts filled with unreadable sentences from the masters of thought. In Philosophy Goes to the Movies , Christopher Falzon introduces us to philosophy through film. While aware of the criticisms that can be directed to such an introduction - that philosophy is too abstract to be explained through cinematic images - Falzon insists that philosophers turn to film.

Instead of concentrating on the usual suspects of film studies such as Marx, Freud and Lacan, this book features philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Foucault. Each chapter explains a philosophical area, illustrates the philosophical points through movies and offers criticisms of the philosophies. The areas that for the most part Falzon adeptly introduces are theory of knowledge, the question of self and personal identity, social and political philosophy, science and technology and critical thinking. The films range from Hitchcock's Rear Window and Kurosawa's Rashomon to Judge's Beavis and Butthead Do America , and they include blockbusters such as Terminator and Se7en .

Some chapters work better than others. Chapter one, which deals with theory of knowledge, moves too fast. It does not provide adequate accounts of the Cartesian and Kantian projects. Moreover, while we get some neat examples of the Cartesian dream and evil demon arguments from The Game , Dark City and The Matrix , there are no primary sources such as quotations from philosophers. While we want students to see philosophical issues in movies, we also want them to learn to read philosophical texts.

Chapters two and four deal with the self and personal identity and social and political philosophy and do a better job explaining the positions and relating them to movies. Particularly strong are the explanations of the Lockean memory criterion and Foucault's account of power as it relates to more totalitarian accounts of power, such as that exemplified in Nineteen Eighty-Four . Chapter five's discussion of Habermas, Marcuse, and Foucault on technology is interesting. Chapter three deals with moral philosophy and provides a useful discussion of existentialism. But it does not do justice to the complexity of classical accounts of morality. Finally, chapter six, which introduces critical thinking, may or may not appeal to readers, depending on whether they like their examples of logical reasoning from Monty Python .

Given the importance of the visual and powerful new movies such as Requiem for a Dream and Amores Perros , we can only look forward to more books like Falzon's.

Mariana Ortega is associate professor of philosophy, John Carroll University, Cleveland, US.

Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. First edition

Author - Christopher Falzon
ISBN - 0 415 23740 8 and 23741 6
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 and £11.99
Pages - 230

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