Film-Philosophy

ISSN 1466-4615  

 


 

Marty Fairbairn

 

Film and Philosophy Family Reunion

 


 

 

 

_Film and Philosophy_

Volume 3, 1996

Edited by Kendall D'Andrade

The Society for the Philosophic Study of the Contemporary Visual Arts

ISSN 1073-0427

185 pages

 

 

'Plato attacks . . . [the] deception of the sophist and warns that: 'Once deception exists, images and likenesses and appearances will be everywhere rampant' . . . [But] Nietzsche would advise Plato's cave dwellers, as he would the hard-boiled detective, that the shadowy and illusory figures on the wall constitute reality. Any attempt to track the origin of shadows' source would be futile.' (Kearns, 28-29)

 

Thus Cimberli Kearns, in her essay 'Fascinating Knowledge', points to a quintessentially postmodern and peculiarly cinematic problematic, namely, the epistemological status of the *image*. This problematic stands at the centre of the postmodern world, the way the problem of truth-as-text, right there in black and white, stood at the centre of the modern world, the way the problem of truth-as-authority-of-the-church stood at the centre of the Renaissance world. This third annual collection of essays focusing on points of intersection between philosophy and film is an eclectic blend of investigations into the various ways in which the cinematic image both expresses and challenges various philosophical perspectives.

 

The first two essays in the third issue of the journal _Film and Philosophy_ -- Mark Vorobej's 'Monstrous Equivocation' and Daniel Shaw's 'Horror and the Problem of Personal Identity' -- take as their starting point a potentially serious flaw in Noel Carroll's analysis of the horror genre in film -- in Carroll's _The Philosophy of Horror; or, Paradoxes of the Heart_ (New York: Routledge, 1990) -- namely, that Carroll limits 'art horror' to the 'depictions of the impossible' (Shaw, 14), or what Mark Vorobej calls 'depictions of anomalous monsters' (Vorobej, 4). Vorobej works out the 'logical consequences of Carroll's decidedly cerebral solution' (3) to the paradox of art horror and finds that Carroll's claims to comprehensiveness do not hold because his solution fails to explain why we put ourselves through that large class of horrific film experiences which do not involve impossible monsters. Shaw sees the same limitation in Carroll's analysis, but uses it instead as the starting point for a psychoanalytic interpretation of what he calls 'realistic horror' (14), the peculiar appeal of which he cashes out in terms of its underlying address of 'the crucial philosophical issues of personal identity and the meaningfulness of human existence' (14). These companion pieces work well together, setting the tone for a richly-varied, far-flung collection of high-order meditations on film and philosophy.

 

Vorobej offers us a succinct and convincing explanation of why Carroll's analysis cannot account for the appeal of realistic horror, while Shaw offers us a plausible account of this same appeal, which he calls 'existential terror' (22), that is, that terror which threatens our sense of personal identity and undercuts our faith in our ability to choose our own destiny.

 

Shaw's existential analysis of horror's appeal segues nicely into Cimberli Kearns' bold Nietzschean/feminist reading of the role of the femme fatale in forties film noir, 'Fascinating Knowledge'. Kearns' controversial argument by analogy is that 'the visual seductiveness of the femme fatale . . . [is] popular culture's metaphorical response to Western philosophy's long-standing dread that truth will be confused with style' (24). 'With the advent of film noir, the demonized other which terrorizes the Western philosopher can be seen on the screen in the form of the femme fatale.' (25) While not denying the importance of major historical changes during and after World War II which heightened male anxieties about identity, Kearns nevertheless insists on a much broader context. The hard-boiled detective and the femme fatale enact ancient anxieties over knowledge/spectatorship that Kearns sees as historically linked to the projection of the knower's epistemological dread onto the figure of the woman. Juxtaposing the writings of ancient (Plato), modern (Descartes), and postmodern (Nietzsche and Derrida) philosophers with certain key scenes from film noirs such as _Out of the Past_ (1947) and _The Maltese Falcon_ (1941), Kearns weaves a fascinating, intricate tapestry of ideas that illuminates the history of both film and philosophy. While the results of such an investigation are only suggestive, the suggestion is sufficiently intriguing to warrant the attempt. Our fascination with that which lies just beyond the edges of the motion picture frame is not unlike our philosophical fascination with totalizing discourses, but perhaps the real value of both lies in the aesthetics of wonder, not in the answers they provide.

 

Also following an epistemological path, though somewhat more tenuously, is Dan Flory's 'Hitchcock and Deductive Reasoning', wherein he argues that Hitchcock's _Vertigo_ (1958) 'constitutes a critique of the scientific-deductive paradigm' (39). For Flory, this Hitchcock masterpiece 'foregrounds the tragedy that may accompany an overly slavish devotion to this method of understanding mental events' (40). Flory takes as paradigmatic an early scene in which Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) tries to overcome his acrophobia in a step-wise fashion by an amateurish application of the method of progressive desensitization. Using a kitchen step-stool in Midge's (Barbara Bell Gettes) apartment, Scottie ascends the stool a step at a time, a method he believes will get him used to heights 'just a little bit at a time' (40). Flory interprets Hitchcock here as 'giving us a visual metaphor for Scottie's reasoning process that will be implemented repeatedly as the story unfolds' (41). Although Flory cites several plausible examples where Scottie arguably employs at least a form of scientific-deductive reasoning, his thesis runs into serious trouble when it attempts to *reduce* an explanation of Scottie's behaviour to the detective's failure to properly explain Madeline's suicide. More problematic for Flory's account, though, is his characterization of the tragic ending of _Vertigo_ as 'a final attempt [by Scottie] to apply his version of the scientific-deductive paradigm and eliminate his own personal trauma involving Madeline's death' (43). As Flory puts it, Scottie 'decides to verify a new hypothesis about the facts of the case through testing it at the bell tower steps of the old Spanish mission' (43). But Scottie's reasons for re-ascending these steps are more complicated than this. Revenge; the acting-out of anger toward Madeline/Judy; forcing a confession from her: none of these motivations derive from an unemotional, objective application of hypothesis testing. Besides, Scottie's 'method' hasn't failed him. The object of his 'research' has been actively deceiving him. While it may be true that 'Scottie brutally forces out of her [Judy] . . . a confession', it seems inescapably false that he does so solely in order to 'verify his hypothesis about what happened' (45). Flory contrasts Scottie's 'hard-headed epistemological realism' with Judy's 'excessive commitment to living by her passions' (47). But this 'hard-headed empirical' realist (47) tries to turn one person into another, whereas the excessively passionate Judy has a better grasp of the facts. She is fully aware of the risk she is taking by encouraging this relationship. Ironically, Flory offers us an inordinately reductionist account of human motivation, just the kind of account he seems intent to discredit.

 

Far more successful is Joseph Kupfer's '_Fresh_ Phronesis', an Aristotelian interpretation of writer/director Boaz Yakin's _Fresh_ in terms of practical wisdom or phronesis. Kupfer convincingly links Aristotle's notions of cleverness -- 'knowing the means to particular ends' (53) -- and moral insight -- knowing the worth of various ends -- with the development of the character of Michael, a very young street-wise black drug-runner and dealer. Using the film's central metaphor of a chess game, Kupfer takes us through both the fictional narrative and Aristotle's stages along the path toward phronesis. Michael is shown to have a natural intellectual gift, a necessary prerequisite for the development of phronesis. He's also portrayed as having courage, strength of character, self-control, insight into human motivation, the ability to delay gratification, and the openness to learn from his experiences, all necessary qualities for the successful development and employment of phronesis.

 

After the innocent-bystander shooting of his girlfriend, Michael sees clearly that life on the street is evil and decides to plan his and his sister's extrication from it. Using his knowledge of human character and motivation, he successfully manipulates the demise of one of his drug bosses and the incarceration of the other, the latter holding his sister Nicki a virtual prisoner as a result of her dependence on him for heroin. As Kupfer convincingly argues, Michael discerns the good and sees how to get it for himself and his sister. In so doing, he displays a broad and deep kind of practical wisdom -- in Aristotelian terms: phronesis. Kupfer realizes that while film-makers such as Yakin may not be Aristotelian philosophers, their art is 'fully capable of offering us fresh insights . . . [into] ancient wisdom' (59). Kupfer's double illumination is quintessentially philosophy of film.

 

Also tracing parallel lines between philosophy and film is Richard Gilmore's 'John Ford's _The Searchers_ as an Allegory of the Philosophical Search'. Following Stanley Cavell's idea of reading movies as 'spiritual parables' (62), Gilmore offers us a reading of _The Searchers_ as an example of 'a long and involved journey', a story of a forbidding landscape and how to pass through it. Using the writings of Wittgenstein and Nietzsche as examples, Gilmore argues that the story of _The Searchers_ is not unlike the story of philosophy itself, a story that, ideally at least, moves 'from more confusion, anxiety, and unhappiness to less; . . . [that progresses] from self-deception, despair and a kind of madness to something like a condition of mental health' (61). John Ford's quest is, in part, to revise through filmic reflection our romanticized view of the old west as populated by morally unambiguous heroes (and villains). Both projects concern themselves with removing the veil from our eyes, enabling us to see the landscape clearly. This process parallels the philosophical process: 'To begin to do philosophy is to begin to see things in a new way, to begin to reflect.' (65).

 

In an intriguing but ultimately unfocused analysis, Gilmore follows too many threads in his search for philosophical allegory. While there is much grist for the mill here, the mixture suffers from an abundance of insights. One cannot follow every promising path without risking becoming lost: epistemology, self-deception, ethics, John Ford's re-visionism, guilt, resentment, revenge, repression, the Other, racism, and the tension between being true to oneself and one's obligations to one's culture -- all issues worthy of reflection, but perhaps some are best left for other papers.

 

The following three articles concern themselves with documentary film-making: the first with the problem of objectivity in documentary production; the second with the 'limits of documentary realism' and its relationship to fictional narrative; and the third with the ethical dimensions of the making of a particular documentary, _Crumb_ . First is David Brubaker's 'Documentary Images and Shared Encounters', a breakdown of the various modes of regulating media workers' actions on the set of a documentary, in which he dissects and evaluates the various ways that documentary producers interact with their subjects. Brubaker's stated purpose is 'to offer some practical advice to documentarians, so that spectators will ultimately obtain the information they need to judge whether a given image represents behaviour scripted in advance by media producers' (77). Brubaker wants to rescue documentary from 'corrosive scepticism' (77), the potential result of a slippery slope at the bottom of which 'every film or video image of human behaviour . . . [would be regarded as] an instance of fiction. As the notion of non-interference continues to lose credibility, audiences may doubt whether any motion picture offers reliable information about human events' (77).

 

Brubaker offers us a brief account of Bill Nichols' dialectical stages of development of the documentary, from the 'didactic film' (where producers achieve direct address to the audience via scripted voice-overs), to the 'observational film' (where producers use portable sound equipment instead of directly addressing the audience), to the 'interview film' (in which on-camera subjects directly address the audience), and finally to the 'self-reflexive film' (where media producers act as witnesses and co-participants). Brubaker claims that this dialectical movement 'leads us to reflexivity and ultimately to a *mise en scene* of shared control' (79). Each mode of production runs into difficulties with objectivity of representation: first, the 'asceticism' of the observational style, paradoxically, rules out too much, artificially disallowing all communication between crew members and their subjects: 'If a method of production imposes blanket prohibitions against conversation and verbal exchange, it will still influence the behaviour of people in front of the camera.' (80)

 

Secondly, the interview style, while affording its subjects an opportunity to directly address the spectator, nevertheless hides the participation of media workers who ask the questions, thus causing doubts about their actions. Brubaker uses these failed modes of production via a process of elimination to argue for the fourth mode: 'reflexivity and reciprocity' (82). In a kind of if-you-can't-beat'em-join'em move, Brubaker argues for a method that embraces, rather than avoids media producers' involvement. If you show everyone interacting, the audience can *see* the (unavoidable anyway) participation of the media workers. The conclusion follows that films such as _Roger and Me_, far from heralding the collapse of the documentary into the fiction film, are actually more effective in persuading rational spectators that they are watching images of un-staged human behaviour.

 

The second of the three, John Arthos' 'Narrative Manipulation and Documentary Truth: Putting the Move on Audiences in _Hoop Dreams_', also deals with the question of 'documentary realism'. Arthos argues that, notwithstanding this award-winning documentary's intentional manipulation of its audience's responses, it still qualifies as a 'truthful' documentary. We need only think through what the term 'documentary' means. _Hoop Dreams'_ move is to first play on and then to frustrate mainstream audience expectations. This strategy amounts to a kind of 'bait and switch' tactic designed to 'force from the audience a recognition of complexity, of the way that behaviour can disappoint the archetypal narratives that organize social and cultural understanding' (87). Working his way through the film's many set-ups and reversals, Arthos builds a convincing case not only for his particular claim about the structure of _Hoop Dreams_ but also for his more general thesis about the nature of documentary truth. Like Brubaker's advice to media producers, Arthos says that not only can we never really get rid of the effects of media producers on their chosen subjects, we should actually embrace these effects, making them work for us just as they work in fiction: 'Documentary is not about independent observation of an unaltered reality, it is about revelation. The documentary form needs then to celebrate its relationship to narrative fiction, and acknowledge its debt to those very same techniques to which it had thought to oppose itself.' (91) _Hoop Dreams_ 'stands as a good example precisely because it celebrates its fictional identity, its rhetorical contrivance, while exploiting its documentary appeal' (93). Hence the notion of 'documentary realism' requires a more careful unpacking. For Arthos, realism is never a simple matter of a one-to-one correspondence between reference and referent. The distinction between narrative fiction and documentary is most profitably thought of as a distinction between two different but related kinds of reference, the latter just having a stronger set of determinate relations.

 

The last of these three reflections on the documentary mode is Harvey Roy Greenberg's unflattering review of Terry Zwigoff's documentary about underground comic book artist Robert Crumb, '_Crumb_ : Whereof One Should Not Speak'. Whatever Robert Crumb's merits are as comic book artist, Greenberg says that this documentary is a 'cold, deeply problematic piece of business' (95). This is not the justifiable discomfort associated with confronting an unsettling truth, but the unjustifiable discomfort associated with slowing down for a better look at the scene of a terrible car crash.

 

Bringing to bear Jungian notions such as 'psychological individuation', Paul M. Belbutowski, in his '_Hara-Kiri_ and the Aftermath of Peace in 17th Century Japan', interprets Masaki Kobayashi's film, _Hara-Kiri_, as a critique of the corrupt and static dual institutions of hara-kiri and the warrior code from which it grew, Bushido -- which he calls Japan's 'frozen code of honor' (99), an aspect of Japanese culture which has stunted its intellectual and spiritual growth by ignoring individual development and psychological freedom. Belbutowski successfully sets the horrific suicide act known as hara-kiri into the context of the historical development of Japan, while simultaneously giving us fresh insights into what theatre means for the Japanese. Belbutowski links the practice of hara-kiri and the warrior code of Bushido with the problem of the collective versus the individual: 'Military qualities such as organization, discipline, and sacrifice must be complimented by [individual] virtues such as wisdom, moral courage, and benevolence.' (103) Otherwise, a culture sacrifices vitality for subservience, truth for honour. Kobayashi's film is 'a criticism of those aspects of Japanese culture which deprive the country of the opportunity for further differentiation and social development' (104). With an interesting blend of historical context and film interpretation, Belbutowski's article illuminates both Kobayashi's film and some salient aspects of the history of Japanese culture.

 

Erich D. Freiberger's paper, 'Projecting the Real: Tornatore's _Cinema Paradiso_, Plato, and Psychoanalysis', attempts a triple-illumination among Plato's idea of the Good, Tornatore's 1988 film, and Lacan's notion of 'the lack'. It sets up a bewildering array of linkages among a wide range of ideas -- such as Plato's allegory of the cave and the divided line; the Platonic notion of *paideia* and its relation to psychoanalytic practice; _Cinema Paradiso_ and Plato and Lacan's critique of the lure of the image (as they are found in the allegory of the cave and the notion of the *objet a*, respectively); and finally the goal of psychoanalytic practice as analogous to Plato's educational goal, represented by the allegory of the cave, namely, the 'attempt to reconcile us to the lack that constitutes our erotic nature' (107). While there is much grist for the mill in what Freiberger attempts here, it seems the grinding wheel is being eroded by an over-abundance of hard material underneath it. This cave contains archaeological treasures, but they must be excavated by careful reading. To use Freiberger's phrasing, this dense paper, 'to the casual reader' (117), presents an unfocused, confusing combination of insights, but 'to the careful reader' (117) it discloses insights into both Plato's aim in using the allegory of the cave as well as Lacan's fundamental insight into the erotic nature of the lure of the visual image. One might have hoped for these treasures to have been more easily unearthed.

 

The next two papers -- Harvey Roy Greenberg's '_12 Monkeys_ : The Rags of Time', and Sean Cridland's 'In the Twinkling of an Eye: Nietzschean Undercurrents in Terry Gilliam's _12 Monkeys_ ' -- interpret in radically different ways Gilliam's 1995 surreal time-travel epic. But, interestingly, both of their interpretations hang on one key two-minute scene, namely, the last scene of the film in which Dr Peters (David Morse), laboratory assistant to the renowned virologist Dr Goines, boards a plane in 1996 intent on unleashing to the world a deadly, unstoppable virus. However, seated next to him on this flight is the Chief Scientist from the virus-ravaged world of 2035, who remarks that she's 'in insurance', implying that she has come from the future to prevent the world-wide propagation of the virus. Greenberg interprets this key scene as a victory for the future, even though James Cole (Bruce Willis) sacrifices his life in an effort to thwart Dr Peters' genocidal plans, whereas Cridland sees this scene as the end of a cycle that now begins again, an eternally-recurring, Nietzschean loop, at the end of which Cole and Dr Railly (Madeline Stowe) are forever doomed to repeat Cole's death-scene. Where Greenberg sees the 'elegiac tragedy' of two lovers who pay the ultimate price for redemption, Cridland sees a philosophical sub-text in which director Gilliam and screenwriters David and Janet Peoples suggest that redemption lies in our affirmation of mortality and our acceptance of the eternal return: 'That the young Cole is present to his own death provides the catalyst for the viewer to live and re-live his or her own death' (Cridland, 135). Notwithstanding the vagaries of interpretation, these authors share an 'ultimate concern' for redemption that makes their papers both perspicuous with regard to Gilliam's film and philosophically worth the price of admission.

 

Continuing along Nietzschean lines is John A. Marmysz's 'From Night to Day: Nihilism and the Walking Dead', an analysis of George A. Romero's zombie trilogy -- _Night of the Living Dead_ (1965), _Dawn of the Dead_ (1978), and _Day of the Dead_ (1985) -- in terms of Nietzsche's description of the fundamental struggle between active and passive nihilism. Marmysz claims that 'these competing reactions to the doctrine of nothingness' -- i.e. the notion that 'any genuine knowledge of the world, whether it be moral, scientific, metaphysical, political or theological, is impossible' (138) -- are worked out in Romero's zombie films (indeed, that this struggle between the impulses of active and passive nihilism is a theme played out repeatedly in all of George Romero's films). 'The passive nihilist withdraws, refuses to engage with a world that doesn't make sense, whereas the active nihilist wills himself to experience the exhilaration of interpretive freedom.' (139) Romero's zombies threaten the world with the triumph of passive nihilism, an ultimately irrational world order where not even death brings any peace. But Romero's main characters achieve whatever humanity they are able to by actively affirming their own life force in the face of an absurd world. In this sense, as Marmysz explains, 'Romero's 'Dead films' are a warning against passivity . . . [they] try to persuade us that an active engagement with the world, even in the face of hopeless circumstances, produces a higher quality of life worth the sacrifice of comfort' (143). Marmysz's short paper sheds light on both Romero's films and Nietzsche's notion of nihilism. Romero's zombies, spiritless automatons not unlike the Borg from _Star Trek_, epitomize passive nihilism, wandering the landscape perpetuating their own existence by consuming others, like multinational corporations. But even though we all eventually have to submit to death, as Marmysz, and Romero's films, remind us, the only redeeming value is active engagement with the world. This form of nihilism promotes strength and courage instead of passionless acquiescence.

 

Norman Fischer's article, 'Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Opera Film, _Parsifal_ : Visual Transformation and Philosophical Reconstruction', takes us again into Nietzsche's philosophy, this time into his critique of Wagner's opera _Parsifal_ . Fischer wants to show how Syberberg's film transforms Wagner's opera by opening up the community depicted in the myth of Parsifal to include new, feminine elements, as well as a new version of compassion -- but also how this resurrected opera sheds light on both Marxist interpretations of Wagner's _Ring of the Nibelung_ and on Nietzschean critiques of Wagner. The old thorny issue of author's intention is lurking here in the background, notwithstanding its name never being spoken. Syberberg's so-called 'transformation' of Wagner's opera into a kinder, gentler Teutonic spectacle seems a bit of a stretch on the face of it, but it is a move that renders Wagner's works less susceptible to Nietzsche's 'Christian essentialism' attacks, as well as making two of his works, namely _Parsifal_ and his earlier _Ring of the Nibelung_, consistent with each other along social compassion lines. However, in order to accomplish this Herculean interpretive task, Fischer is forced to paint Nietzsche as a feminist (!), and Wagner as a proto-socialist, citing the supposedly unavoidable discrepancy between the ideal moment of vision that the artist wanted to convey, and its 'actual expression' (146). Fischer in the end has to posit that Wagner's 'ideal concept' in the case of _Parsifal_ is a universalized, utopian compassion, as opposed to a merely Christian compassion, as Nietzsche accused it of being. Syberberg's film -- and some other recent renderings of Wagner's opera -- reinterprets key elements of the work along these more universalistic lines. For example, in Syberberg's film version the 'female outsider, healer, and temptress [Kundry] . . . does not die, as is called for in Wagner's stage directions, but is instead transformed into a grail Queen' (147). In this and other ways, according to Fischer, Syberberg restores the integrity of Wagner's knights of the grail myth to its ideal vision, 'before the discrepancy between vision and expression distorted the myth' (147). The question is, who is 'restoring' and who is 'distorting'? The jury is still out.

 

The final four essays in the collection deal in various ways with issues surrounding gender. Elizabeth Jones' 'The Failure of Imagination in _Thelma and Louise_ : The Crisis of Identity in the Pursuit of the Ideal' proposes that while Ridley Scott's 1991 female buddy picture transforms 'the female role from the traditional ideals of purity (the Madonna) and of sexuality (the whore) to the more contemporary ideal of unlimited power' (154), the film nevertheless fails to provide realistic, multidimensional models of female identity. Thelma and Louise simply transform themselves into violent, aggressive men, a transformation that may be empowering but is hardly liberating. Jones makes a good point when she claims that 'if women behave like violent men, which, after all, *is* a kind of equality, then the system survives intact. The exchange of roles is no change at all.' (156) These ideals of sexuality and male power are all ultimately dehumanizing. Although suffering somewhat from an overabundance of theory, Jones manages to make an interesting point, her own writing flowing much more freely than that of those giants upon whom she depends for philosophical grounding.

 

However, Leilani Nevarez Luce's paper on _Thelma and Louise_ , ' . . . We Don't Live in That Kind of World, Thelma', is unencumbered by perplexing moral dilemmas. Thelma and Louise had no choice but to destroy themselves since they had broken the unwritten law of patriarchal society: remain inauthentic females. Never mind that their road to self-realization is littered with injured bodies and burned-out car wrecks. In striking contrast to Jones' analysis, Luce seems unconcerned that Thelma and Louise purchase individuation at the cost of becoming their own worst enemy: the violent, macho male. Drawing upon Jung's analysis of the journey of individuation as the process by which a culturally-created 'persona' is transformed into a self-created person, Luce traces out Thelma and Louise's path toward oblivion but sees their ultimate demise as life-affirming! If, as Luce claims, their suicidal choice is 'figuratively, the promise of authenticity for any woman who continues the journey . . . [and exemplifies] the possibility of wholeness, completeness, and celebration' (166), this is a resoundingly hollow victory. At least Butch and Sundance went out with a smirk.

 

Valerie Gray Hardcastle's 'Changing Perspectives of Motherhood: Images from the _Aliens_ Trilogy' continues this series of reflections on gender by tracing the apparent development of Ripley's attitudes toward femininity and particularly motherhood, as well as the consequences of this development for Ripley's success or failure against the Alien -- from original to sequel to second sequel, and then linking these changes allegorically to the changing political/social climate of each film's production. As Hardcastle describes it, 'Ripley first [in _Alien_] . . . learns to cope by denying motherhood itself as a feminine trait . . . [then, in _Aliens_] realizes that she, too, is maternal and that that can be a source of strength . . . [and finally, in _Alien3_, discovers that] this strength is not enough to survive in a difficult and confusing world' (167). However, the merits of this thesis depend upon problematic social observations which link the films to their social milieu. It's not at all clear, for example, that the early 1980s should be characterized as a time of 'initial optimism about women's power' or that the mid-1980s to early 1990s should be thought of as a time of 'bleak despair as women realize that they cannot overcome the parochialism of society' (167). Moreover, the theoretical practice of culling from popular entertainment society's perspectives on various issues concerning gender identity is deeply problematic. Indeed, it is the very kind of thing that prompts the likes of American political commentator George Will to flippantly remark in another context: 'We are in danger of committing sociology.' It is just as likely that movies such as the _Aliens_ trilogy reflect muddled, confused and relatively superficial viewpoints regarding these kinds of issues, as opposed to any rationally-traceable development of societal attitudes. It is as if the culture is being read *through* the film rather than linked to it.

 

Finally, Richard Gull in '_The Crying Game_ and the Destabilization of Masculinity', argues convincingly that Neil Jordan's controversial 1993 film unhinges modern masculinity, showing it as unstable, and prone to unexpected variations because it is not a fixed, predictable nature, but a construct: 'Persons may have natures, but being a man or being a woman are not natures.' (176) For Gull, _The Crying Game_ is 'a narrative about modern masculinity and the discovery that masculinity is not a nature' (176). The film's central moral issue is the relation between violence in consensual, fantasy games, and real (i.e. non-contractual) violence. Hence, Jordan uses the milieu of terrorism because its practice resembles sadomasochistic games, 'crying' games that have gotten out of control, where pain is inflicted sadistically on unwilling victims. Jordan's film 'subtly creates confusion about real and consensual 'games'' (180), and in so doing highlights the similarities between games of truth played by lovers and sadomasochistic games played by terrorists. Using some recent reconceptualizations of sadomasochism by writers like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, Gull interprets some of the film's key scenes in terms of an erotic game: the working out of an unspoken, but still consensual contract. These games often have an epistemic value -- they lead to truth through 'a willing submission to a lovingly inflicted torture in which a truth of a character's being appears' (182). Fergus' story then becomes 'that of a man whose 'truth' or 'nature' is revealed by being drawn into a world of peripheral sexualities where he becomes a player in a (crying) 'game of truth'' (183). Jordan's film explores the humanizing possibilities of peripheral sexualities by placing them in the context of deadlier games, sadistic games of death in which human beings are treated as means to an end. Richard Gull's essay helps us to better understand the lure of sadomasochistic games while simultaneously illuminating the subtleties of Jordan's film.

 

Summarizing such a wide-ranging volume seems ill-conceived but somehow called for, at least for those who have stuck it out with me this far. Although sometimes uneven and occasionally lacking in philosophical context, the articles contained herein are all sufficiently interesting to warrant the investment. I would only suggest that the mixture be more heavily weighted in favour of the philosophical rather than the film-theoretical. That being said, it's still the case that _Film and Philosophy_ is well worth the price of admission.

 

 

Guelph, Ontario, Canada

 

***

 

Marty Fairbairn, 'Film and Philosophy Family Reunion'

_Film-Philosophy_, vol.2 no. 14, June 1998

http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol2-1998/n14fairbairn

 

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