Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

Re-sponsibility: A Levinasian Approach to Waltz with Bashir

Orna Dvora Raviv


In this paper I reread Emmanuel Levinas’s concept of “responsibility” in light of the film Waltz with Bashir (Israel 2008), an animated documentary directed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman.

According to Levinas, the essence of responsibility should be “history for all, visible to all.”[1] However, Levinas also claims that this responsibility should be “an invisible universality”. Levinas’s concept of responsibility encompasses, thus, two contrasting aspects: visible history and invisible universality. What is the meaning of “visible history” and “invisible universality”? Can responsibility be associated with history and at the same time be universal?

Because Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary, the status of its visual images is unique. On the one hand, as a documentary, its images can be viewed as “visible history”, representing what really happened during the Lebanon war. But, on the other hand, as an animated film, its pictorial aspects transcend mere representations of historical facts.

I intend to discuss how the unique visual status of Waltz with Bashir can open up a new understanding of Levinas’s concept of “responsibility.” At the same time I suggest that Levinas’s concept of responsibility allows us a critical view of the film’s ethics, and more specifically, of the possibility that the film offers to be freed from ethical responsibility towards the other.   

By bringing together Levinas’s ethics and cinema, I will demonstrate the potential of integrating ethics not only with the narrative of a specific film, but also with the medium of film itself. Moreover, I will explain how cinema can clarify a philosophical discourse, and I will show how philosophy can enrich our understanding of films.  

[1] Emmanuel Levinas, “From the Rise of Nihilism to the Carnal Jew,” Difficult FreedomEssays on Judaism, translated by Sean Hand (London : Athlone Press, 1990), p. 225

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About the Presenter

Orna Dvora Raviv
Tel Aviv University, School of Philosophy

Phd student and Junior Academic Staff, Department of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University