PHI 4884: Philosophy of Film

Spring 2017 Philosophy

Instructor: Dr. Elizabeth Scarbrough


Course Description:

This class is an introduction to the philosophy of film. The course is designed to provide you with a broad overview of some of the topics in the philosophy of film. This is not a film theory course, nor is it a film history or film studies course. Topics discussed include:

  • What is film (ontological questions)?
  • What is documentary film?
  • Do films have narrators?
  • Who is the author of a film?
  • How can we respond emotionally to things in film we know are fake? (Paradox of fiction)
  • Why do we take pleasure in disgusting images? (Horror / slasher films)
  • How should we judge a film made by a moral monster? A film that glorifies Nazis? A film that advocates for immoral actions?
  • Can porn films be artworks?
  • Can films make arguments?
  • Can a film be philosophy?

You will be required to read one article and watch one movie per week. Although there are no prerequisites for this course, previous coursework in philosophy will be extremely beneficial. The articles assigned are not designed for introductory students.

Important info at a glance:

Required Text:

BOOK: Carroll, Noel and Choi, Jinhee, ed. Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008).

All other text will be placed in a shared folder (PDF)

MOVIES: You are also required to watch one movie a week. These movies can either be found on Kanopy (a streaming service through our library), or through our course reserves (3 hour lending period through the library). I expect you to watch the movie even if you have seen it before. Good movies, like good books, reward multiple viewings.


            Participation 15%

            Weekly Journal 15%

            Discussion leader 5%

            Quizzes 20% (2 quizzes)

            Papers 45% (3 short papers)


Late work will be penalized at 10% a day (or part of a day) unless you have made prior arrangements with me. You may not make up quizzes, in-class presentation or participation grades without prior consent of instructor or documented illness/emergency. In cases of documented illness or emergency, contact me as soon as possible to make arrangements.

Attendance and Participation 15%:  You are required to attend class sessions. Attendance includes being awake, alert, and prepared. If you miss more than 3 unexcused classes your final grade will be penalized. Participation is vital to your success in this class. You are being graded on the quality of your contribution to the class.

Weekly Journal Questions and Reflections 15%: Attendance includes being prepared with questions. You will be required to write in your on-line journal (on blackboard). Each journal entry should have two questions about the text and a brief (1 paragraph) reflection on how the movie assigned does or does not relate to the author’s argument.  Journal entries are turned in on blackboard by the start of class. These are designed to encourage class participation and are designed to help you write your papers.

Leadership Project 5%: Everyone in the class must sign up for a slot to be the discussion leader for a particular reading. As a discussion leader you will have prepared questions about the reading, and must relate the reading to the assigned meeting. You may even want to prepare an activity for the class. Get creative!

Two Quizzes 20% (10% each): There will be two in-class examinations. Each will be worth 10% of your final grade. The first will only cover 1/2 of the class materials. The final quiz will be cumulative and will occur during our examination period.

 Three short papers 45% (15% each): You must complete three short papers. Each of these papers should be 3-5 pages in length. The papers should have an introduction (with thesis statement), exegesis, argument, and conclusion. If you are having trouble coming up with a thesis statement, please come see me in office hours. Your first paper must be on one of the movies/readings in the first third of the course and is due by class the fifth week of class. Your second paper must be on one of the movies/readings in the second third of the course and is due by the beginning of class the tenth week of class. Your final paper should be on one of the movies/readings in the final third of the course and is due at the beginning of class the last week of class. All of these papers will be turned in via Turn-It-In, a link to which can be found on your Blackboard page. Plagiarized papers (or parts of paper) will receive a 0 for that assignment.

Class Schedule:

WEEK 1: Introduction

WEEK 2: What is Film?


-Introduction Section II (text)

-Carroll “Defining the Moving Image” (text)


F for Fake (Welles, 1975)  – Kanopy

Required You-tube:

Wayang Kulit: – Online

WEEK 3: Documentary


-Introduction Section III (text

-Carroll, “Fiction, Non-Fiction, and the Film of Presumptive Assertion: A Conceptual Analysis” (text)


Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1988) – Course Reserves

WEEK 4: Film Narrative / Narration


-Introduction Section IV (text)

-Currie, “Unreliability Refigured: Narrative in Literature and Film” (text


Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950) – Kanopy

WEEK 5: Cinematic Authorship*


Livingston, “Cinematic Authorship” (text)


8 ½ (Fellini, 1963) – Kanopy

*You must have written one of your papers by this class period.

WEEK 6: Emotions and Film: Playing make-believe

Readings: Introduction, Section V (text)

Walton, “Fearing Fictions” (text)

Film: Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)  – Course Reserves

WEEK 7: Emotions and Film: Empathy

Neill, “Empathy and Film Fiction”

Film: Au Hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 1966) – Kanopy

WEEK 8: Emotions and Film: Identification*

            *Midterm Exam

Gaut, “Identification and Emotion in Narrative Film”

Film: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) – Course Reserves

WEEK 9: Horror

Carroll, “Why Horror?” (PDF)

Movie: The Host / Gwoemul (Joon-ho Bong, 2006) – Requested Course Reserves


WEEK 10: Horror*

Gaut, “The Paradox of Horror” (PDF)

Movie: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Amirpour, 2014) – Kanopy

*You must have written your second response paper by this class period.

WEEK 11: Film and Ethics

Movie: Triumph of the Will (Riefenstahl, 1935) – Online:, also on Course Reserve

Article: Devereaux, “Beauty and Evil: The Case of Leni Riefensthal’s Triumph of the Will

WEEK 12: Film and Ethics: The Case Against Pornography

Article: Vadas, “A First Look at the Pornography/Civil Rights Ordinance: Could Pornography Be the Subordination of Women?”

Recommended Movie: Don Jon (Gordon-Levitt, 2013)

Required Youtube:

WEEK 13: Film and Ethics: The Case for Pornography

Article: Prinz and Brabandt, “Why Do Porn Films Suck?” (PDF)

Movies: Dirty Diaries (Various Directors, 2009)*  – Kanopy

*Your article mentions Dirty Diaries (2009) as a successful art porn film. I have chosen two of the films below for your viewing: Skin and Dildoman. These are not required, merely recommended as they are pornographic. If you would prefer not to watch these films, you may read the “Manifesto” instead (found here):

WEEK 14: Film and Philosophy*

Article: Intro to Part VIII (text)

Article: Hanson, “Minerva in the Movies: Relations Between Philosophy and Film” (text)

Film: The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957) – Kanopy

*Your final response paper must be handed in by this class period



Finals Week: Final Exam 507 pm Graham Center 287 A. Please note that our final is in the same room, but a slightly different time.