Interpreting Disturbed Minds: Donald Davidson and The White Ribbon

James J Pearson


Thomas Elsaesser claims the late Haneke as a director of ‘mind-game’ films, but his diagnosis of the appeal of such films fails to account for The White Ribbon.  In this paper, I draw on the theory of radical interpretation developed by American philosopher Donald Davidson to uncover the film’s power.  I argue that the focus on charity in Davidson’s account of the conditions under which an interpreter is able to find a foreign community intelligible illuminates the exquisite discomfort the spectator experiences as she begins to understand the disturbed community that the film portrays.  In addition, the film exposes that Davidson’s transcendental argument that language is a condition of mindedness ought to be extended along emotional and moral dimensions.  We should not only hold that every rational mind is a language-user, but that every rational mind is an appropriate language-user, so as to account for minds that have true, justified beliefs but which are, nevertheless, disturbed.


Haneke; Davidson; The White Ribbon; interpretation; mind; mind-game film;

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