Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 24, August 2003

 

 

Julian Baggini

 

Alien Ways of Thinking:

Mulhall's _On Film_

 

 

Stephen Mulhall

_On Film_

London and New York: Routledge, 2002

ISBN 0-415-24796-9

142 pp.

 

At the beginning of the first chapter of his short but rich discussion of the _Alien_ quartet, Stephen Mulhall describes the first scene of Ridley Scott's original movie, where the camera slowly glides around the spaceship Nostromo, undisturbed by any human activity (13-17). Eventually, we are shown the human inhabitants slowly awake from the suspended animation, in what Mulhall calls 'a kind of rebirth', one which 'represses its creatureliness, that represents parturition as an automated function of technology rather than of flesh emerging noisily and painfully from flesh -- as essentially devoid of blood, trauma and sexuality' (16).

 

These skilfully written pages set up much of what is to come: the problematic relationship between humans and technology, sexuality and embodiment; but also the problem each film confronts in having to give new life to the alien universe, to bring a new directorial sensibility to each film while preserving the continuity of the series.

 

But from a philosophical point of view, the main, underlying question which the book never escapes from has already been raised in the Introduction. Mulhall writes that he wants to see each of _Alien_ films as 'philosophy in action -- film as philosophising' (2). But what does it mean for film to philosophise? Reading and rereading the book, watching and re-watching the films it discusses, this for me emerges as the most important and pressing question raised in _On Film_.

 

Mulhall specifies a few things it does not mean for a film to philosophise. It does not mean that film provides 'philosophy's raw material' (2) in the sense that the philosopher treats the film as merely providing subject matter for his or her philosophising. Nor is it 'a source for its ornamentation' (2), from which examples and illustrations can be plucked to dress up philosophy in the garb of accessible popular culture. To add to these two negative answers, we can also say that to see film as philosophising is not to see it as simply helping itself to a melange of philosophical ideas in order to explore their dramatic potential.

 

All these ways of treating film philosophically have been exemplified by the use of philosophy by both the makers of and commentators on _The Matrix_. [1] Scenarios and scenes from the film have been taken up as starting points for philosophical discussions or as 'cool' illustrations of perennial philosophical problems. The film certainly picks up and plays with many philosophical ideas, such as those concerning reality, authenticity, determinism, and free will. But little or none of this literature has treated seriously the idea that the film itself did serious philosophical work, genuinely moving forward our understanding of the problems and issues it raises, for the obvious reason that it did no such thing. It does not deepen our understanding of the ideas it toys with, it merely plays intellectual and dramatic games with them, albeit it to spectacular effect.

 

Most obviously, perhaps, Mulhall is not thinking about film as philosophising in the sense that film can offer explicit arguments, a series of articulated syllogisms. Interestingly, this is how the Wachowski brothers sought to deepen the philosophical dimension of _The Matrix_ in _The Matrix Reloaded_. Perhaps emboldened by the philosophical literature the first film spawned, in the sequel they allowed themselves the indulgence of inserting lengthy philosophical digressions, in which the characters actually discuss explicit philosophical ideas and arguments. This crude attempt to put philosophy into the film was rightly derided by the critics, who saw through the pretentiousness of the script to its philosophically bankrupt core.

 

A further approach which Mulhall himself expressly says he eschews is to follow the many film theorists who 'treat the films they discuss as objects to which specific theoretical edifices . . . could be applied' (6). If we are to take the idea of film as philosophising seriously, we need to allow the possibility that they can challenge as well as confirm the prior theoretical commitments we bring to them.

 

This deliberate distancing from the conventions of film criticism may disconcert readers expecting to find discussions coached in a particular vocabulary. For example, nowhere in the text does the term 'auteur' appear, even though Mulhall does relate the _Alien_ films to other works by their directors. This is not because Mulhall the philosopher hasn't done his film-crit homework. (As if to prove this point, there are four references to 'auteur theory' in the index.) It seems rather that Mulhall is deliberately trying to make sure we don't slip into seeing his discussion of the _Alien_ films as a standard (whatever that means) piece of film criticism, but remember that he is looking at the films as examples of 'philosophy in action'.

 

If these are the various things Mulhall does *not* mean by 'film as philosophising', what does he mean by this phrase? Mulhall seems to make himself clear enough: 'I see them rather as themselves reflecting on and evaluating such views and arguments, as thinking seriously and systematically about then in just the ways that philosophers do' (2). Many films represent philosophically pregnant ideas and arguments, but not all of them actually take these ideas and arguments forward. For a film to genuinely philosophise it must make this positive contribution. It must not only mimic or enact philosophical arguments but do some real work with them.

 

Mulhall's succinct answer is the source of what for me is this book's most important and lingering question: how can film philosophise in this way? How does a movie think 'seriously and systematically . . . in just the ways that philosophers do'? And what does the answer to that question tell us about the ways in which philosophers normally think 'seriously and systematically'? The answers to these questions are not self-evident, since it is obvious that the kind of discussion exemplified in _On Film_ is very different to those usually found in contemporary academic journals and monographs.

 

Mulhall does not explicitly answer these questions anywhere in the book. But this should not be seen as a great failing or omission. Rather, I would like to take seriously the possibility that, in being invited to see the _Alien_ films as examples of philosophy in action, we are deliberately being *shown* examples of what philosophy is, rather than being *told* what it is. And the most plausible explanation of why Mulhall shows rather than tells is that he sees that difference as being crucial to understanding the mode of philosophising he is dealing with.

 

One cannot talk about the difference between showing and telling in philosophy without evoking Wittgenstein's aphorism, 'What *can* be shown *cannot* be said.' [2] If Wittgenstein is right, then it might seem to threaten the very possibility of writing philosophically about what is being shown. For if, as I have suggested, Mulhall is working with the idea that film as philosophising is a form of showing, and what can be shown cannot be said, then in trying to write about it, isn't he attempting to say the unsayable? And isn't this paradox doubled if, in discussing Mulhall's text, we attempt to spell out what it is Mulhall shows?

 

The way out of the first paradox also provides a way out of the second. The simple point is that one can show with words, and that this is nonetheless different from saying. For example, I can say what singing is or I can show you what singing is, by breaking into song. In both cases I use words, but in the second case I am genuinely showing your something rather than saying what it is. Similarly, and more pertinently, I can attempt to say what philosophy is, by completing a locution of the form 'philosophy is . . .'; or I can attempt to show what philosophy is by doing some for you. Again, in both cases words are being used, but one is an example of saying, the other showing. So there is no paradox in the idea that Mulhall might be showing us what philosophy is or can be in his text rather than saying it, since his showing can take the form of a demonstration or exemplification of a form of philosophising.

 

Nevertheless, his task is not easy, since he is trying to show us what film as philosophising is, as a distinct form of philosophising. The difficulty he has is how to show this without translating his examples of film as philosophising into standard written forms of philosophising. This is perhaps the main reason why Mulhall cannot explicitly say what it means for film to philosophise: for to say it would be transform its distinctive mode of philosophising into another mode and thus to distort the phenomenon which is supposed to be explained. So Mulhall has to point and guide us towards the philosophising undertaken in the films, hoping that we see for ourselves what is going on. And in writing about this attempt, this review must also avoid trying to say what can only be shown by providing a neat 'translation' into the prose form of the mode of philosophising possible in film.

 

If we are to take seriously the idea of a distinctive 'film as philosophising' mode of argumentation, we can thus hope to be able to understand it at least in part by reference to the show/tell distinction. By itself, however, the distinction is inadequate to explain how fictional films can philosophise, since by their nature what they show is not reality but a fictional construct. This is especially true within the genre of science fiction, where the action is premised precisely on the fact that the world depicted is different from the real world we inhabit. So to show something within a film is not necessarily to show something which is true of the world and is indeed sometimes to necessarily not show something which is true of the world. This might seem antithetical to the project of philosophy, which is surely about, in some sense at least, revealing the nature of reality, the structure of logic, the essence of being, and so forth. If this is true, then how can fictional representations hope to show the nature of reality in a philosophically rigorous way?

 

This problem may not appear so great to someone with Mulhall's broader philosophical commitments, however. He has said elsewhere that he has 'a sense that there's an open border between philosophy and literature'. [3] For anyone who holds such a view, the distinction between a description of reality and a fictional representation of reality is not likely to be as sharp as, say, the project of pure twentieth-century analytical philosophy would hope. To accept this point need not mean going the whole way down the road to accepting that all descriptions of reality are 'mere' constructs, or that there is no difference at all between fact and fiction. It is simply to accept that both literature and philosophy are in the business of describing and representing, often with very different ways, but with a common aspiration for truthfulness.

 

This kind of truthfulness is obviously not the kind of truth as depicted in traditional correspondence theories, for example, where a proposition is held to be true if and only if it fits reality exactly. As the paradigm example has it, the proposition 'snow is white' is true if an only if snow is white. A filmmaker or novelist does not attempt to be truthful by achieving this kind of literal correspondence. Of course we do not say that Newt's line in _Aliens_, 'My mommy always said there were no monsters -- no real ones -- but there are', is true if and only if there are monsters and her mother said there weren't. That much is obvious. But what is less obvious is what truthfulness means in philosophy if we declare the correspondence theory dead, as many philosophers have done.

 

Even if we maintain that truth is a matter of correspondence, *truthfulness* can still be seen as distinct from truth. Bernard Williams, for example, sees truthfulness as being a kind of intellectual virtue, 'a readiness against being fooled, and eagerness to see through appearances to the real structure and motives that lie behind them'. [4]

 

This virtue of truthfulness can be shared by philosophy, literature, and film. Paradigmatically, philosophy's truthfulness is demonstrated by the precision and rigour of its arguments. And yet it is far too limiting to conceive of philosophy as being solely or even mainly about the construction of arguments, with conclusions that follow from premises, as the product follows from the multiplication of numbers. For example, in order to reason well from sound premises one first needs to identify those features of the world which are most pertinent to the problem at hand. This process of identification is not itself a form of deductive argument. Rather, it is something which is done well or badly according the skill and judgement of the philosopher. We thus assess the success of this part of their philosophising not by looking to see if they have an appropriate argument but by judging whether the philosopher has correctly identified what it is that really matters.

 

For example, David Hume's most famous contribution to the philosophy of personal identity is not an argument, but an observation:

 

'When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist.' [5]

 

We assess this claim not by attending to the logical structure of the paragraph but by entering most intimately into what we all ourselves, to see if our experience matches that of Hume. What we are looking for is a consonance between Hume's perception and representation of the world and our own. This is much closer to what goes on when we look for truthfulness in a film or a book, and explains at least in part how literature, film, and philosophy can overlap. It also explains how film can be a form of philosophising. The filmmaker perceives the world in a certain way and represents it to us -- perhaps symbolically. We judge the success of the result -- philosophically, if not aesthetically -- by the extent to which that representation is consonant with our experience.

 

It is not, enough, however, for a representation to be merely consonant with our experience. If that were all we were looking for then video recordings from CCTV cameras would be as good as feature films. Film should be consonant with our experience but in such a way as to reveal something about it we had not noticed before, or to make sense of it in a different and helpful way. This would serve equally well as a description of philosophy; Hume's observations on the self are philosophically interesting because they reveal to us something about the nature of our experience of self which we may not have noticed or articulated as clearly before.

 

This fits in with what Mulhall says about film as philosophising as 'reflecting on and evaluating such views and arguments, as thinking seriously and systematically about them'. Film, like philosophy, can represent reality to us truthfully in such a way as to make us understand it better or more accurately than before. Film can achieve this through fictions which can include non-literal modes of representation such as metaphor, whereas philosophy usually achieves the same goal through more literal modes of description. Philosophy thus *says* while film *shows*, its form of showing being distinct from more literal forms such as demonstration.

 

How does this cash out in the particular examples of film being discussed, namely, the _Alien_ quartet and selected other works by their directors? Mulhall identifies various themes the films philosophise about. Their two main philosophical subjects are identified as 'the relation of human identity to embodiment' (2) and 'the conditions for the possibility of film' (3).

 

What might be surprising is that when Mulhall comes to illustrate how the _Alien_ films exemplify film as philosophising, what we seem to be offered is a standard form of interpretation, where the films are understood to contain various levels of symbolic meaning. The language here includes the usual verbs of metaphor and simile: 'represents', 'characterises', 'like', 'suggest' and so forth. Hence, in some lines already cited: 'We are being given a picture of human origination that represses its creatureliness, that represents parturition as an automated function of technology rather than of flesh emerging noisily and painfully from flesh . . .' (16).

 

Mulhall's unpicking of the movies' metaphors, in particular those of sexuality, life, and human identity, is meticulous and insightful. Yet, especially given his somewhat negative assessment of the majority of film criticism in the introduction, one may wonder how what is being offered here is any different to standard critical fare. Is the reality of film as philosophising simply the familiar idea that films contain layers of symbolic meaning, which perhaps correspond to certain arguments and views about the way the world is?

 

That can't be so, since, as we have seen, Mulhall insists that for films to philosophise they have to 'reflect' and 'evaluate' the positions that they raise, and perhaps most interestingly, they must do so 'in just the ways that philosophers do'. (2) It is not enough, then, that the eponymous aliens of the series in some sense symbolise raw life and male sexual threat, for example. In order for this symbolic representation to be philosophical, it must contain substantive reflections on and evaluations of life and male sexuality, ones which take our understanding forward rather than merely represent without commentary pre-existing philosophical views.

 

Yet I have to confess that I have struggled to see the _Alien_ films and Mulhall's discussions of them in these terms. The problem I have encountered is that for philosophy to be anything more than an exchange of opinions, it must involve the giving of good reasons for accepting or rejecting the position under discussion. These reasons may well be other than formal arguments, but they must be reasons of some kind. Such reasons, however, appear to be lacking from the _Alien_ quartet.

 

Take, for example, one of two possible explanations given by Mulhall for why Ripley sleeps with Clemens in _Alien 3_. For Mulhall, this is in urgent need of explanation, for Ripley has not only been chaste in the first two _Alien _ films, she has also, according to Mulhall, been engaged in symbolic battle against the violence of heterosexual male penetration which the alien itself represents -- as a creature that literally enters and impregnates the body of its host by force. Mulhall believes the key is that, as the title sequence of the third film shows, she has already been penetrated by the alien, and on some level she knows this. He writes:

 

'Ripley has, without willing it, already undergone her worst nightmare of heterosexual intercourse and survived; hence (assuming she knows this about herself), it is a world in which actual, human heterosexual intercourse has been demystified, and hence becomes a real option for her' (104-105).

 

It would run counter to my stated goal of trying to avoid translating film as philosophising too literally into ordinary philosophical discourse to even attempt to spell out in explicit terms the ways in which this aspect of the film advances philosophical debate in the area of human sexuality. But whatever way we understand this as an attempt to move us forward, to 'reflect' on and 'evaluate' our existing ideas about them, it is hard to see how the depiction of events in the film could provide us with reasons for accepting or rejecting the picture we are being offered. The 'alien universe', as Mulhall repeatedly calls it, is simply too artificial a creation for us to be able to draw any inferences from what happens there to how the world really is. At best, it seems, the alien universe can be used to provide us with models and metaphors that we can then go and examine to see how accurately they reflect the world we inhabit. But this takes us back to the idea of the films as providing the 'raw materials' for philosophy rather than actually being examples of 'philosophy in action', which is precisely what Mulhall said would be mistaken.

 

I will consider a possible response to this objection shortly. But first I want to stress that I do not have these doubts because I think that 'film as philosophising' is impossible. Rather, I simply think that the _Alien_ films fail to provide good examples of it. A better example, I would argue, is Akira Kurosawa's _Rashomon_. _Rashomon_ is usually thought of as providing a meditation on or even demonstration of the relativity of truth. However, to think that the film merely champions a version of relativism or Nietzschean perspectivism is, I would argue, to seriously underestimate the extent to which it is, in Mulhall's phrase, an example of 'philosophy in action'.

 

The basic structure of the film is that one event -- the capture of a couple, the rape of the woman, and murder of the husband -- is reported in contradictory ways by four different protagonists: the bandit Tajomaru, the wife, the husband (via a medium), and the woodcutter. What makes it philosophically interesting -- and original -- is that the specific ways in which the accounts differ point towards a much more subtle conception of truth than crude relativism or perspectivism, but one which nonetheless preserves their basic insights. The crucial point is that even though the accounts differ in various important aspects, they are sufficiently similar for us to be able to see them as recollections of the same event. Furthermore, when one looks at how much is common to all accounts, a surprisingly large number of objective facts remain constant. Hence the recollections, although very different, are in a large number of respects consistent with a stripped-down version of events that confines itself only to certain central events.

 

Where the accounts differ most is in how they portray the comportment of the protagonists, in particular those aspects of their behaviour which relate most clearly to their virtue or lack of it and which are seen as indicative of their inner states of mind. It is quite clear that the protagonists are making very different moral assessments of how they and the others behaved, assessments which are in part based on their perceptions of motives and feelings which cannot be fully manifest in behaviour, since they have at least in part a private dimension.

 

What we are really being shown then is how one event, which in certain respects objectively occurred, since its key details are not even contested by the inconsistent accounts, is nonetheless recalled differently because the participants did not merely experience the events as detached, objective observers, but as participants who saw, in their actions and the actions of others, motives, feelings, and moral commitments that were not simple, publicly observable facts. Hence we are shown how to make compatible a kind of non-relativistic view that there are objective facts with the truth that events are ineluctably perceived differently by each individual.

 

Obviously this is just a sketch of the philosophically deep waters _Rashomon_ gracefully swims through. The purpose of the sketch is merely to bring out two important points. The first is that this is an example of how film can take forward a philosophical debate in a specifically cinematic way. Although one can to a certain extent formalise the 'argument' of the film in standard philosophical discourse, the argument of _Rashomon_ is stronger on screen precisely because it is more effective in this case to show than to tell. This is because -- and this is the second key point -- the showing provides reasons for us to accept the philosophical position being shown. It demonstrates the possibility of what might, simply described, seem impossible, and in showing it in the context of a story that is all-to believable -- all-too human in its moral and emotional projection, fallibility, and self-serving bias -- it provides evidence that this is actually the way the world is. In short, the argument presented is coherent, it explains things about truth and belief in novel ways and it fits our understanding of how the world actually is.

 

_Alien 3_ on the other hand, does not have the same intellectual reach. The image it symbolically presents of male heterosexuality may be coherent, but it is not clear how it deepens our understanding of it. After all, the idea that male sexuality is inherently threatening, if not actually necessarily violent, is not new. And although Mulhall obviously explores this theme in more depth, I struggle to see the significant new insight the film offers. Furthermore, there seems nothing that could give us reasons to accept such 'insights', even if they were present. Where _Rashomon_ seemed to genuinely show us something about truth, _Alien 3_ seems only able to offer us metaphors for life and sexuality that we must go away and chew over later. We are back again to film as providing the 'raw materials' for philosophising rather than philosophising themselves.

 

One possible response to this objection is that I have over-simplified the ways in which philosophy can provide us with reasons. Although I have been careful to stress that these reasons need not be arguments or propositions, it could be objected that I have overlooked the extent to which a symbolic representation can itself provide reasons for belief.

 

One line such an argument could follow is suggested by Mulhall's assertion that film can think 'seriously and systematically . . . *in just the ways that philosophers do*' (2, my emphasis). If we take Mulhall at his word, instead of starting from how we think philosophy works, as I have to a certain extent done, and then seeing if the _Alien_ films match up, perhaps we should look at how the films examine their ideas and see how philosophy matches up to that. If we do this we are left with the suggestion that philosophy is also about offering a symbolic representation of the world which we accept or reject in so far as it fits or fails to fit the world it is in some sense describing. Hence the kinds of reasons we might have for accepting a philosophical position are not just those offered within and by the description or representation of that position, but those that result from our success or failure to see the position as providing a fruitful or enlightening way of seeing the world. This similarity between the form of film as philosophising Mulhall seems to be describing and standard philosophy is strengthened if one accepts that a philosophical account is also a symbolic representation. It is simply that the symbols of orthodox philosophy are those of language and logic, whereas those of film are metaphor and imagery, in its visuals as well as dialogue. But there is no objective reason why we should allow a traditional logocentric bias in western philosophy to prejudice us against the equal merit of non-linguistic forms of representation.

 

There is surely much that is right in this kind of line of argument, in that it points the way to what Mulhall calls the 'open border' between film and philosophy. But I remain unconvinced that we can start with the assumption that the _Alien_ films philosophise 'in just the ways' philosophers ordinarily do. Certainly films can be *philosophical* when they present a symbolic representation of the world for us to judge the accuracy of. This is one way of understanding the 'open border' between film and philosophy. But I still think we need something to distinguish philosophy from just any attempt to come up with a way of viewing the world, and I would maintain that the key to this difference is that philosophy is by its nature reason-giving. Reason-giving must come to an end at some point. To quote Wittgenstein again: 'For just where one says 'But don't you *see* . . . ?' the rule is no use, it is what is explained, not what does the explaining.' [6] Hence when assessing the claim of Hume's discussed earlier, although Hume is giving us a reason to follow him, ultimately we have to simply look and see if his account fits our experience of the world. But I see it as central to the philosophical enterprise that we offer reasons as much as is possible and that reason-giving ends only when it has to, not before. In contrast, along with much film and literature, the _Alien_ films offer us symbolic representations of the world but don't provide us with reasons for thinking that these representations are accurate. We have to go away and see if they fit our experience of the world, we are not shown that they do.

 

Others, such as some varieties of Wittgensteinian (by which I do not presume any fidelity to the actual Wittgenstein), may be less convinced. They may be more willing to accept that often philosophy can do no more than present a picture which we either judge should be accepted or rejected on the basis of how well it fits experience. For such people, there is no particular problem in accepting the symbolic representations offered by the _Alien_ films as examining ideas 'in just the ways philosophers do'. But for philosophers of my ilk, this may be to stretch the idea of philosophy too far, leaving us with no way of distinguishing between philosophy and, say, religious or mythological accounts of the world. For sure, it is not that this distinction can be made sharply, hence the existence of 'open borders'. But for those of us still sufficiently attracted to the merits of good, strong arguments, ones which provide the reasons we have for accepting them, there are good motives for wanting the open border to remain a border, one we cross with ease but the legitimacy of which we recognise.

 

In conclusion, then, Mulhall's claim that we should view the _Alien_ films -- and by extension many other films -- as 'themselves reflecting on and evaluating . . . views and arguments, as thinking seriously and systematically about them in just the ways that philosophers do' can only be accepted if we also accept a much broader claim about the nature of philosophy itself. This amounts to the claim that philosophy's lofty ambition to distinguish itself from other forms of discourse by virtue of its reason-giving nature cannot or should not be fulfilled, at least not as we would normally understand it. Rather, philosophers can often do little more than present their understandings of the world, through dry, literal descriptions, as in most academic philosophy; or through imagery, metaphor, and symbolism, as in literature and film (and no doubt other art forms). Reasons may be explicitly offered as to why we should accept these understandings, but they need not. We might simply have to judge them by how successful they are in the explanatory work they set out to do. Only on something like this understanding of what philosophy is can we accept Mulhall's claim that the _Alien_ films philosophise 'in just the ways that philosophers do'.

 

Although I have expressed my own doubts that this is how we should view philosophy, it would be dishonest of me to express any confidence in my rejection of Mulhall's stance (or indeed in my interpretation of it). I take his book to provide a serious challenge to the understanding many of us have about what forms philosophising can take. For that reason alone, it is an extremely valuable contribution to the much neglected area of metaphilosophy: the examination of the nature and methods of philosophy itself.

 

I would not, however, like to leave the impression that _On Film_ is mainly a metaphilosophical treatise. For me, the metaphilosophical issues it raises infuse the whole text and are of greatest interest. But those more concerned with the cinematic aspects of the book also have much to get their teeth into. In particular, Mulhall weaves into his text an ongoing discussion on the nature of sequels. Central to this is how each reiteration of the alien universe by each different director is a comment on the nature of repetition, difference, and sequeldom. So, for example, Mulhall shows how James Cameron's _Aliens_ almost fetishistically reiterates themes, structures, and even whole scenes from the first film, but always in such a way as to at the same time transform them. David Fincher's _Alien 3_ more daringly utterly obliterates the redemption Cameron ended his film with before the opening credits have finished rolling. Yet this is not to disregard his inheritance but to respect it, for Fincher's brutal opening is a judgement that Cameron, despite his repetitions of _Alien_, had 'taken the series away from itself', and that Fincher intends to 'return the series to itself' (96) and then 'to shut it down'. (94) The last film in the quartet, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's _Alien Resurrection_, problematises the idea of the sequel even further, since both the main protagonists -- Ripley and the Alien -- are at once clones (hence copies) and hybrids (hence not perfect copies after all) of the protagonists of the first three films. So the basic elements of the film itself raise the question: 'Is _Alien Resurrection_ a sequel to _Alien 3_, and hence to the previous two 'Alien' films?' (119)

 

In these and many other discussions Mulhall shows himself to be an engaging and insightful writer on film. But what makes this much more valuable and interesting than a critical dissection of the _Alien_ films is, for me at least, what it says and shows about the nature of philosophy in general and the possibility of seeing film as philosophising. This possibility deserves further exploration. In particular, it would be good to see someone try and show us how film can philosophise using its more specifically cinematic resources. Mulhall does not ignore the importance of editing, colour, camera movement, mise-en-scene, and so on, but his discussion does mainly focus on the films' thematic and narrative elements. In whichever ways Mulhall's key idea of 'film as philosophising' is taken forward, it represents a challenge both to film theorists and philosophers who think they already know where and how film and philosophy meet.

 

Manchester, England

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. See in particular William Irwin, ed., _The Matrix and Philosophy_ (Chicago: Open Court, 2002), and the official _Philosophy and The Matrix_ website, <http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/phi.html>; accessed 29 May 2003.

 

2. Wittgenstein, _Tractatus Logico-philosophicus_ (London: Routledge, 2001) 4.1212

 

3. 'Post-Analytic Philosophy. In conversation with Stephen Mulhall', in Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom, eds, _New British Philosophy: The Interviews_ (London: Routledge, 2002).

 

4. Bernard Williams, _Truth and Truthfulness_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), p1

 

5. David Hume, _A Treatise of Human Nature_, Book One (Glasgow: Fontana, 1962) pp301-302

 

6. Ludwig Wittgenstein, _Zettel_, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1970), §§302-3

 

 

Filmography

 

_Alien_, Ridley Scott, 1979.

_Alien Resurrection_, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997.

_Aliens_, James Cameron, 1986.

_Alien 3_, David Fincher, 1992.

_The Matrix_, Andy and Larry Wachowski, 1999.

_The Matrix Reloaded_, Andy and Larry Wachowski, 2003.

_Rashomon_, Akira Kurosawa, 1950.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Julian Baggini, 'Alien Ways of Thinking: Mulhall's _On Film_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 24, August 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n24baggini>.

 

Read a response to this review-article:

 

Stephen Mulhall, 'Ways of Thinking: A Response to Andersen and Baggini', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 25, August 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n25mulhall>.

 

Join the _Film-Philosophy_ salon, and receive the journal articles via email as they are published. here

 

 

 

Save as Plain Text Document...Print...Read...Recycle

 

Film-Philosophy (ISSN 1466-4615)

PO Box 26161, London SW8 4WD, England

Contact: editor@film-philosophy.com

 

Back to the Film-Philosophy homepage