Lucy Bolton: ”Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real”

Moral Realism in »Once Upon a Time in Anatolia«


In her 1959 essay »The Sublime and the Good«, British moral philosopher Iris Murdoch discusses the role that art can play in the acceptance of one’s consciousness as inherently limited. Murdoch used the term »unselfing« for this process, which for her is the basis of developing moral vision. Her moral realism is founded on a commitment to becoming less egocentric, and this involves effort and attention to others as individuals. »Once Upon a Time in Anatolia« (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) is a film that demands effort and attention, and which not only shows us scenes in which unselfing does not occur, where egocentric solipsism reigns, but also demands that we pay attention to the plight of another, Dr Cemal, and develop a moral vision that understands the decision that he takes. The film exists in a form that Murdoch might agree to be »good art«, in that it denies consolation and fantasy, and acts as a transformative ethical experience through its challenge to the viewer to pay attention to Cemal’s consciousness. In this paper, I will demonstrate how this film operates as Murdochian moral realism, not only on-screen, as Cemal feels compelled to act in flagrant breach of his moral and professional codes of conduct, but as an exercise in unselfing for us as we are compelled to recognise Cemal as a centre of moral meaning.