Every month, the philosophical journal Splijtstof invites young academics to give a philosophical introduction to a film of their choice. Everyone is welcome to join these programmes. Entrance is free and Splijtstof will provide popcorn! If you’ve got any questions, email us at: email@example.com.
13 June: Arrival & Philosophy
Language, Thought and Aliens – Linde van Schuppen
‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’– Wittgenstein, 1922 – 5.6
‘Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.’
In Arrival (2016), a number of enormous oval (and strangely beautiful) UFO’s are found floating above the surface of the earth. While they silently and passively hover above the ground, world governments struggle to find out what the crafts mean and how to handle this visitation from outer space. Throughout the film, we follow the linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who are part of a team that tries to figure out how to communicate with the creatures inside.
Arrival is not your standard alien-movie. In a serene atmosphere, which is filled with tension, director Denis Villeneuve presents us with a dazzling amount of philosophical questions and propositions about the nature of language and meaning, time, free will, cognition and, of course, the future of humanity.
Zooming in on one of the eye-catching motifs of the film, Linde van Schuppen will introduce the movie by asking whether it would be possible at all to communicate with a life form that is fundamentally different from our own. And if this were possible, how would mastering an alien language and alien concepts influence our own thinking? Reflecting on the relation between language and thought, the questions rises if our thoughts determine what we say, or whether it is actually the other way around.
16 May: Spirited Away & Philosophy
Reanimating ‘Spirited Away’: A philosophical discussion of emotion in animated film – Aoife McInerney
“I do believe in the power of story. I believe that stories have an important role to play in the formation of human beings, that they can stimulate, amaze and inspire their listeners.”― Hayao Miyazaki
Next month’s Film and Philosophy event looks at the relationship between philosophy and Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ (2001). Known as the best animated film of all time, ‘Spirited Away’ illustrates a strange, often disgusting, and yet, intensely likeable world. Throughout the film we experience a mix of emotions which are not unified within the story itself, that is, the world of ‘Spirited Away’ remains unfamiliar and chaotic. And yet it speaks to us, it makes sense. To watch the story with the eyes of a philosopher, the importance of human emotion when it comes to experiencing animation in particular takes center stage. ‘Spirited Away’ is an example of the reach and depths of human emotion and imagination, of empathy, and of the complex and sometimes dark nature of our emotional lives. Confronted with a strange plot in a world that is stranger still, we experience the unfolding of the story not as spectators but as participants, as actors. We become immersed in the film by virtue of human emotion.
Aoife McInerney will argue that what makes ‘Spirited Away’ so interesting to discuss from the perspective of philosophy of emotion is how it reverses what we traditionally emphasise when it comes to reading and understanding the emotional lives of others. For example, the role of facial expression and gesture are seen as crucial to the adequate expression and conveying of feeling to others. Yet, when we look at the art of animation we often find that the facial features and gestures of the characters pale in comparison to the detail of the world created around them. In ‘Spirited Away’ this world is an unfamiliar one and conveys its emotion to us through a variety of techniques that are often overlooked in the discussion on philosophy of emotion. What this suggests is that human beings read emotion both from and into a variety of sources. It is this capacity that, according to McInerney, allows us to understand the world around us, be it the world of animation or indeed our own world and our place in it. The aim of McInerney’s talk is to allow you to experience Spirited Away in a way you have not before and as something that will remain with you long after the film has ended.
16 April: The Tree of Life & Philosophy
Beauty and Disenchantment – Rob Compaijen
Telling its story mainly through its awe-inspiring images, Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (2011) depicts a mother, father, and brother who, each in their own way, cope with the death of their 19 year old son and brother. Malick – who studied philosophy in Harvard and Oxford – places this tragedy, as it were, on a ‘cosmic stage’. Evoking a sense of wonder and desolation, “The Tree of Life” contains a sequence of images depicting the origin of our universe and life on earth. In this way, the film illustrates our place in an overwhelmingly beautiful universe, which, nevertheless, seems silent to our outcries. Unsurprisingly, the religious people in this film have their faith profoundly challenged. Moreover, “The Tree of Life” ponders the question about our fundamental attitude towards life. Do we open ourselves up to love, compassion, humility, or are we driven by harshness, competition, success?
Taking these issues in “The Tree of Life” as his starting point, Rob Compaijen will develop some thoughts on the topic of disenchantment and aesthetic experience. Disenchantment is typically understood as meaning that there is no God, no value, and no meaning in the world. Exploring the experience of disenchantment, Compaijen will argue that it results from viewing the world from a highly abstract, ‘detached’ point of view. Malick’s films seem to be created at least in part to challenge that detachment. They communicate, as one critic put it, ‘a heightened alertness to the world’. How does that ‘work’? Is art able to challenge the experience of disenchantment? And if so, should it?
19 March: In Time & Philosophy
Time, value and crisis in the capitalist mode of production – Mathijs van de Sande
The dystopian science fiction film In Time (2011) tells the story of a future society in which people have been genetically engineered to stop aging when they are 25 years old. As a consequence, everyone’s life has become potentially endless. But there is a catch: at their 25th birthday, a clock integrated into your forearm starts ticking backward. Once you have run out of time, you die immediately. Time can also be exchanged – and thus it also serves as a currency and as a means of class division: whilst the rich and powerful have centuries of time credit, the poor are struggling to make it to the next day.
In Time is evidently a piece of fiction, but it does teach us something about capitalism. The film illustrates that, in the capitalist mode of production, labor time is the only true measure of value and productivity. Engaging with Karl Marx’ Das Kapital and his earlier Grundrisse, Mathijs van de Sande will argue why this relation between time and value was so important for Marx’s understanding of capitalism and its emergence as a mode of production. However, van de Sande argues, this very relation between time and value is also the reason why current processes of automation and immaterialisation may eventually lead to a capitalist crisis – and give rise to new forms and possibilities of resistance against capitalism.
24 November: Starship Troopers & Philosophy
The Power of Propaganda – Arjen Kleinherenbrink & Simon Gusman
“Humans in a fascist, militaristic future wage war with giant alien bugs in a satire of modern world politics.”— IMDB
“The film may seem like a chest-thumping celebration of colonialism, a big primary-coloured drum being banged in favour of war’s eternal mastication, but actually it uses the brash tactics of propaganda to show up the ridiculousness of these ideas: ideas that are worryingly appealing to a society driven by ever more fervent tribalism.” – The Guardian
Adventure stories are the most frequently used blueprint for movies. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is the undisputed master of deconstructing this form of storytelling. Interestingly, his movies do not criticize adventure stories by distancing themselves from adventurous stereotypes, but by over-identifying with them. Movies like Robocop, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers are full-blown adventure stories, but they are told in ways that force viewers to rethink why we want to see (and experience) adventures in the first place. Before watching Starship Troopers, Gusman and Kleinherenbrink present a philosophical analysis of the structure of adventure stories, plus an overview of the techniques Verhoeven uses to deconstruct this structure.