module specification

SJ5078 - Film and Philosophy (2013/14)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2013/14
Module status DELETED (This module is no longer running)
Module title Film and Philosophy
Module level Intermediate (05)
Credit rating for module 15
School Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities
Total study hours 150
105 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 40%   Summary of philosophical context - 1500 word exercise
Coursework 60%   2500 word essay
Running in 2013/14
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester North Friday Afternoon

Module summary

This module will examine the ways in which philosophy can enrich our experience of films and contribute to their analysis; and conversely to what extent films can actively participate in the exploration and understanding of philosophical problems. The module will, therefore, provide a good introduction to some of the basic problems that have exercised philosophers in modern times, such as scepticism about the existence of the external world and other minds, the problem of free will, and the nature of personal identity. It will ask whether the advent of cinema as a new medium of communication altered some of the underlying preconceptions that have shaped these debates.  By examining specific films from a variety of genres the module will explore the various ways in which film can cinematically present philosophical ideas, and will pursue the question of whether there is a specifically cinematic mode of doing philosophy.

Module aims

Film and Philosophy aims:
• To demonstrate the ways in which the understanding of film can be enhanced by an appreciation of philosophical ideas which may be at play in the work
• To enable students to apply the philosophical knowledge and understanding they have acquired on the module in their own analyses of films
• To explore the different ways in which film can present and articulate philosophical problems so as to expand the students’ awareness and understanding of the possibilities of the medium
• To introduce students to contemporary debates about the relation between film and philosophy and equip them to adopt reasoned positions on the issue


The module will begin by introducing students to several key philosophical problems that have driven the development of modern philosophy, and featured as recurrent themes in films, in particular the problems of scepticism and personal identity. The module will then explore philosophical responses to the advent of film, raising the question whether this new medium has some special affinity with the characteristic problems of modern philosophy. In the second half of the module, we will examine the medium’s capacity for presenting, articulating and exploring philosophical problems by screening and analysing specific films from a wide range of genres including rom-com and horror. The aim will be to demonstrate that films can be genuinely philosophical without being Sci-Fi thought experiments (Star Trek/The Matrix) or Art House meditations (Bergson/Tarkovsky). Through the examination of these possibilities, the module will finally raise the question of whether film can do anything more than simply illustrate philosophical ideas. The claims made variously by Cavell, Deleuze and more recently Mulhall that it can, will be critically examined.

Learning and teaching

The module will be taught in weekly sessions that combine lectures, screenings, seminar discussion and small group activities, plus additional scheduled online or face-to-face tutorials. Lecture summaries will be available on WebLearn along with other electronic resources that support the course. Students will have weekly set reading that will include philosophical texts and commentaries, along with works of film theory, criticism and analysis. Students will be expected to enhance their learning in scheduled classes through guided research, including the viewing of films beyond the list of scheduled screenings.
Student development weeks will provide students with the opportunity for primary research and for individual feedback in tutorials with tutors to develop planning and research for their assignments. The developing assessment strategy provides opportunities for personal development as students are able to reflect on and develop their learning and research in conjunction with tutor feedback in preparation for their final essays.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
• Articulate an understanding of basic philosophical problems
• Analyse the different ways in which films can present and explore philosophical ideas
• Produce in-depth studies of particular films using philosophical ideas in an independent manner
• Understand and contribute to contemporary debates about the philosophical potential of film

Assessment strategy

The module’s strategy of assessment both promotes developmental learning and research and enables students to demonstrate key skills and engagement with module content. The first assignment provides the opportunity for students to demonstrate the understanding they have acquired of the key philosophical problems that are the focus of the module. Formal feedback will be provided on this assignment. Through the final essay, students will have the opportunity to build on this theoretical basis and feedback from their earlier assignment so as either to critically analyse specific films in terms of their philosophical content or to engage in wider debates about the relation between film and philosophy.


Austen, J.L.             – Philosophical Papers (Clarendon Press, 1961)
Blackburn, Simon  – Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford Paperbacks, 2001)
Carroll, Noël          – The Philosophy of Horror: Paradoxes of the Heart (Routledge, 1990)
                                 – Theorizing the Moving Image (CUP, 1996)
Cavell, Stanley       – The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (Harvard University Press, 1971, enlarged ed. 1979)
                                  – Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Harvard University Press, 1981)
Critchley, Simon    – Continental Philosophy A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2001)
Deleuze, Gilles       – Cinema 1 – The Movement-Image, trans. by H. Tomlinson & B. Habberjam (The Athlone Press, 1986)
                                 – Cinema 2 – The Time-Image, trans. by H. Tomlinson & R. Galeta (The Athlone Press, 1989)
Descartes, R.          – Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. by J. Cottingham (CUP, 1996)
Falzon, Chris           – Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy (Routledge, 2002)
Frampton, David    – Filmosophy (Wallflower Press, 2006)
Freeland, C.           – Philosophy and Film (Routledge, 1995)
   & Wartenberg, T. (eds)
Gledhill, C. (ed.)    – Home Is Where the Heart Is – Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (British Film Institute, 1987)
Heidegger, Martin  – Basic Writings, ed. by David Farrell Krell (Routledge, 1978, rev. ed. 1993)
Hume, David           – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (OUP, 1999)
Locke, John             – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Clarendon,1979)
Mulhall, Stephen   – On Film (Routledge, 2002; 2nd ed. 2008)
Nagel, Thomas       – What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (OUP, 2004)
Sartre, Jean-Paul    – Existentialism and Humanism (Methuen, 1948)
Smith, Murray      – Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy (Blackwell, 2006)
   & Wartenberg, T. (eds)
Warnock, Mary      – Existentialism (OUP, 1970)
Wartenberg, T.       – Thinking on Screen: Film as Philosophy (Routledge, 2007)
Wittgenstein, L.      – Philosophical Investigations, trans. by G.E.M. Anscombe (Blackwell, 1958)