«The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film The Philosophy of Popular Culture The books published in the Philosophy of Popular Culture series will ...»
The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film
The Philosophy of Popular Culture
The books published in the Philosophy of Popular Culture series will illuminate
and explore philosophical themes and ideas that occur in popular culture. The
goal of this series is to demonstrate how philosophical inquiry has been reinvigorated by increased scholarly interest in the intersection of popular culture and
philosophy, as well as to explore through philosophical analysis beloved modes
of entertainment, such as movies, TV shows, and music. Philosophical concepts will be made accessible to the general reader through examples in popular culture. This series seeks to publish both established and emerging scholars who will engage a major area of popular culture for philosophical interpretation and examine the philosophical underpinnings of its themes. Eschewing ephemeral trends of philosophical and cultural theory, authors will establish and elaborate on connections between traditional philosophical ideas from important thinkers and the ever-expanding world of popular culture.
Series Editor Mark T. Conard, Marymount Manhattan College, NY Books in the Series The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick, edited by Jerold J. Abrams The Philosophy of Film Noir, edited by Mark T. Conard The Philosophy of Martin Scorsese, edited by Mark T. Conard The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, edited by Mark T. Conard The Philosophy of The X-Files, edited by Dean A. Kowalski The Philosophy of TV Noir, edited by Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble Basketball and Philosophy, edited by Jerry L. Walls and Gregory Bassham The PhiloSoPhy oF Science FicTion Film edited by Steven m. Sanders The UniversiTy Press of KenTUcKy Publication of this volume was made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Fiction Film” and “Picturing Paranoia: Interpreting Invasion of the Body Snatchers” copyright © 2008 by Steven M. Sanders Copyright © 2008 by The University Press of Kentucky Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University.
All rights reserved.
Editorial and Sales Offices: The University Press of Kentucky 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008 www.kentuckypress.com Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The philosophy of science fiction film / edited by Steven M. Sanders.
p. cm. — (The philosophy of popular culture) Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8131-2472-8 (hardcover : alk. paper)
This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.
Manufactured in the United States of America.
Member of the Association of American University Presses Contents Preface and Acknowledgments vii An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Fiction Film 1 Steven M. Sanders Part 1: Enigmas of Identity and Agency What Is It to Be Human? Blade Runner and Dark City 21 Deborah Knight and George McKnight Recalling the Self: Personal Identity in Total Recall 39 Shai Biderman Picturing Paranoia: Interpreting Invasion of the Body Snatchers 55 Steven M. Sanders The Existential Frankenstein 73 Jennifer L. McMahon Part 2: Extraterrestrial Visitation, Time Travel, and Artificial Intelligence Technology and Ethics in The Day the Earth Stood Still 91 Aeon J. Skoble Some Paradoxes of Time Travel in The Terminator and 12 Monkeys 103 William J. Devlin 2001: A Philosophical Odyssey 119 Kevin L. Stoehr Terminator-Fear and the Paradox of Fiction 135 Jason Holt Part 3: Brave Newer World: Science Fiction Futurism The Dialectic of Enlightenment in Metropolis 153 Jerold J. Abrams Imagining the Future, Contemplating the Past: The Screen Versions of 1984 171 R. Barton Palmer Disenchantment and Rebellion in Alphaville 191 Alan Woolfolk The Matrix, the Cave, and the Cogito 207 Mark T. Conard List of Contributors 223 Index 227 PrefaCe and aCknowledgments The essays in this volume explore some of the ideas and possibilities that science fiction films take as their starting points. Since the essays are philosophical, they aim to increase readers’ understanding and appreciation by identifying the philosophical implications and assumptions of The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Terminator, and a dozen other science fiction film classics. The questions these films raise are addressed by philosophers, film theorists, and other scholars who take a variety of approaches and perspectives. No single method or school of thought predominates. Of course, there is a consensus among the contributors that intelligent and well-informed discussion of films can lead to greater appreciation and understanding of them. And each contributor would no doubt agree that it is desirable for readers to have a firsthand acquaintance with the film he or she has chosen to write about.
Aside from being asked to confine their choices to a “short list,” described in the introductory essay, contributors were free to treat science fiction films in any way that struck them as illuminating. Some contributors deployed a group of philosophical ideas around their choice of film. Others first selected a philosophical problem or theme, such as time travel, personal identity, or artificial intelligence, and then found a film that was particularly effective at dramatizing and developing the problem or theme in question. Although the essays implicate many areas of philosophy, including ethics, metaphysics, theory of knowledge, political philosophy, and aesthetics, readers who have had no previous exposure to philosophy will almost always be able to pick up the gist of the discussion, if not the finer points of detail. In addition, the introductory essay is designed to clarify the basic line of argument and point of view in each essay. All of the essays involve interpretive “readings” of the films, which means that they invite disagreement and reflection on the basis of that disagreement.
I am fortunate to have worked with colleagues who write about science fiction film so well. I thank them for their patience, hard work, and willingness
to share their expertise. I am grateful to Mark T. Conard for developing the series that brings philosophy into such harmonious relationships with popular culture, to Eric Bronson and Michael L. Stephans for their helpful comments during the submission process, and to Christeen Clemens for our discussions of the book from its inception. Finally, I want to thank my editing supervisor, David L. Cobb, and my copyeditor, Anna Laura Bennett, for their valuable suggestions and meticulous correction of the manuscript.
an IntroduCtIon to the PhIlosoPhy of sCIenCe fICtIon fIlm Steven M. Sanders Over the last decade there has been a significant shift in the attitudes of philosophers as they have become increasingly receptive to the opportunity to apply methods of philosophical inquiry to film, television, and other areas of popular culture. In fact, receptive is far too mild a word to describe the enthusiasm with which many philosophers now embrace popular culture.
The authors of the essays included in this volume have genuine affection for science fiction feature films and the expertise to describe, explain, analyze, and evaluate the story lines, conflicts, and philosophically salient themes in them. Their contributions are designed to promote an understanding of the very considerable extent to which philosophy and science fiction are thematically interdependent insofar as science fiction provides materials for philosophical thinking about the logical possibility and paradoxes of time travel, the concept of personal identity and what it means to be human, the nature of consciousness and artificial intelligence, the moral implications of encounters with extraterrestrials, and the transformations of the future that will be brought about by science and technology. Of course, many science fiction films emphasize gadgets and special effects to the neglect of conceptual complexity, but the films discussed here engage viewers on the plane of ideas and provide occasions for historical, political, literary, and cultural commentary as well as philosophical analysis.
This volume includes a dozen philosophically accessible essays on some of the best science fiction films from seven decades. The essays discuss science fiction film classics, and they are classics precisely because they were alive to their own times and are alive to ours as well. In this sense, Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931), The Day the Earth Steven M. Sanders Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) are acknowledged classics of the genre. The landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) continues to influence contemporary filmmakers and awe or baffle viewers forty years after its release.
The 1970s, dubbed the decade of “easy riders, raging bulls” by the journalist Peter Biskind in his book of that title, was also the era of the blockbuster science fiction franchise movies Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and Star Trek—The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979). In the 1980s, Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) and The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984), science fiction action films with philosophical thrust to spare, were released, and the 1990s had Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990), Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998), and The Matrix (Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, 1999), films that remain vital and vibrant.
These films differ significantly in budget, dramatic scope, and imaginative sweep. Most of them were on the editor’s short list from which contributors were asked to select a film for discussion. Two criteria guided the choice of films for inclusion on the list. First, the films had to be classics in the sense explained above, and second, they had to be amenable to philosophical examination. Obviously, a case can be made for many films that could not be accommodated within the confines of a single volume, so numerous worthwhile candidates had to be excluded. Naturally, opinions vary on which films should be regarded as science fiction classics, but less so than one might think. On the basis of either box office receipts or critical reception, the place of most of the films discussed in this volume in the science fiction film pantheon seems secure. Their suitability for philosophical interrogation is ably demonstrated by the philosophers, film theorists, and other scholars whose essays constitute case studies in philosophical thinking about popular culture.
Three Types of Philosophical Thinking The contributors to The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film have chosen to address such topics as space, time, causality, consciousness, identity, agency, and other categories of experience. Their essays exhibit three types of philosophical thinking about science fiction films. First, there are essays that develop the historical and intellectual context in which the films were conceived, produced, and received—the latter sometimes by less than comprehending audiences. The cultural understanding and historical erudition that go into
IntroductionJerold J. Abrams’s essay on Metropolis, for example, provide a guide to the constellation of ideas found in the work of the filmmaker Fritz Lang and the philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Jennifer L. McMahon develops the literary background and existential themes of Frankenstein.
And R. Barton Palmer, writing about 1984, gives us the historical, literary, and philosophical web of thinking that went into both the 1956 and 1984 versions of the film.
Second, there are essays that provide focused analyses of particular films. These essays make explicit the themes, settings, and structure of a specific film and draw out its philosophical implications and assumptions.
Aeon J. Skoble’s essay on The Day the Earth Stood Still, the essay on Blade Runner and Dark City by Deborah Knight and George McKnight, Mark T.
Conard’s examination of The Matrix, and my own essay on Invasion of the Body Snatchers are examples of this type of philosophical thinking about science fiction film.