Alaina Schema: Minimalist Films Do Philosophy of Film

On Film Interpretation and Film-Philosophy


What kinds of activities should count as philosophy and what kinds of activities should we exclude? Can films actually do philosophy or do they merely screen thought experiments? Murray Smith (2006) has argued that films can only screen philosophical inquires through thought experiments. He claims that in order to count as philosophy, the work should be able to create an argument and cinematic imagery is too metaphorical, too inexact. On the other hand, Thomas Wartenberg (2006, 2007) has argued that films can indeed do philosophy. In addition, Stephen Mulhall (2002) describes an »anxiety« philosophers feel when having unexpected philosophical thoughts about non-traditional subjects. He writes, »isn’t such an interpretation of these movies just a matter of over-interpretation, of reading things into them that simply aren’t there?« (7-8). Noël Carroll (2006) has argued that certain special cases such as structuralist films should count as philosophy because they, using the unique properties of the cinematic medium, investigate unique and novel philosophical questions about the nature of film. In this paper, I follow Carroll’s lead that a film can be said to be doing philosophy if one comes to the work with a philosophical question already in mind. In my view, philosophers of art are already doing this when they use an artwork to instigate philosophical inquiry. I further argue that if our criteria for what counts as philosophy is significantly broad enough, we should include certain special cases of minimalist cinema as doing philosophy and not merely screening it.