Philosophy 281:
Philosophy and Film

Fall 2010


Instructor Information

Instructor: Gary Zabel, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy, UMB

Office: Wheatley 5/035


Cell Phone: 617-800-3188

Website 1:

Website 2:

Facebook site (add Gary Zabel as a friend)

Skype Name: Gary Zabel

Course Description

This course will investigate the dominant art form of the Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries - namely the motion picture - from several philosophical perspectives. We will begin by exploring, with the philosophers Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, the underlying symbolic structure of film as an imagistic language of motion and time, a language that enables the filmmaker to think about central questions of human experience in a sophisticated, though non-conceptual fashion. We will then proceed to examine, in the work of the film theorist Andre Bazin and the filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Jean Cocteau the three fundamental relations that the film as an aesthetic object can entertain with reality, those of reflection, construction, and dream-like confabulation. Once we have examined film in its symbolic structure as well as its alternative strategies for referring to reality, we will go on to investigate, with the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the film theorist Laura Mulvey, and the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, one of its most persistent and ubiquitous themes, that of desire, amorous experience, and the emergence of multiple forms of sexuality. Finally, in the work of the literary critic Walter Benjamin, the philosopher Theodor Adorno, and the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, we will consider a controversy that has marked film from its historical beginning: is the cinema capable of affecting the world in a thoughtful and transformative way, or is it instead overwhelmingly, or even exclusively, an instrument of cultural manipulation? In each of the four sections of the course, we will rely on discussions of important films as well as relevant textual material.


1. Each week students will read the assigned articles and book chapters, and view the assigned films and film clips, all of which can be accessed by following the links given in the Course Session modules. All readings are required, but only those films in bold type are required. Some films can be found on our Black Board site. These are marked by the designation BB. The other films (marked as NF) must be accessed by students as streaming videos through Netflix. Therefore you will need to get a Netflix account for the duration of the course. The first month is free. After that, the charge is $8.95 per month. You can of course cancel at the end of the term. There are no book costs for the course. Though four months of a Netflix account will cost you $27 dollars, this is the only cost for the course beyond tuition and fees.

2. Each week students will access a lecture by the instructor, which will be archived as podcasts on our Black Board site.

3. Students will take a midterm essay exam (approximately 6 double-spaced pages) based on the readings.

4. Each week (except the first) students will participate in written discussions of the course material in an electronic discussion group hosted by our Black Board site. During the first week, instead of a discussion, students will introduce themselves to the class through the discussion group.

5. Students will produce a final paper (10 to 15 double-spaced pages) addressing questions in the philosophy of cinema based on the course readings, lectures, films, and discussions.


The course requirements have the following weight in determining the final grade for the course:

Midterm exam = 30%

Participation in group discussions = 20%

Final paper = 50%