Philosophy & Film
Professor Greg Reihman
Course Description and Course Objectives
The main purpose of this course is to introduce you to a philosophical approach to thinking about films. When I say, “a philosophical approach to thinking about films,” I really mean two things. First, I mean an attentive, sensitive, thoughtful, collaborative and critical approach to films, which means, among other things, paying careful attention to what a film is trying to show you and how it goes about showing you that; being open and sensitive to the aesthetic qualities of a film; thinking through the meaning of a film and the implications of that meaning; critically evaluating the film; critically evaluating others’ aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual responses to a film; and making connections from one film to another in ways that reveal new levels of meaning or value.
The second thing I mean by “a philosophical approach to thinking about films” is a way of thinking philosophically about a film, which will entail
- Exploring what a film has to say about philosophical themes or topics;
- Discerning and describing a film’s philosophical position or viewpoint;
- Speculating on how a film conveys that position or viewpoint;
- Speculating about how a film is able to create an overall ‘philosophical effect’; and
- Philosophizing more generally about film as a medium. Let me say a few more words about each of the items in that list.
- Discussing and writing about film in intellectually informed and aesthetically nuanced ways.
These are our course objectives and it is my highest hope that by the end of the semester you will have learned to do all of these things well.
For each film, we will have three class sessions.
In weeks 1 and 2 you will watch one film a week.
Because of the holiday, week 1 is a relatively compressed week: You will have to complete the first session (1-1) before the end of your day Monday; the second session before the end of your day Tuesday; and the third session (1-3) before the end of your day on Sunday (or, if you want your holiday and weekend free, aim to complete session 1-3 by the end of your day Wednesday).
For week 2, session 2-1 will be available starting on Saturday. You will have to complete the first session (2-1) before the end of your day Tuesday; the second session before the end of your day Wednesday; and the third session (1-3) before the end of your day on Sunday.
In weeks 3, 4, and 5, you will watch two films each week.
In week 6, you will work on a Final Project (on a film of your choosing) and write up a Final Reflection.
For each course session, you will have a range of time (between 24 hours and 72 hours) to complete the work. Thus you have some flexibility, but have to keep moving together with your classmates as the course unfolds.
Some of the films you’ll know, some will be new to you:
La Jetée (1963, dir. Chris Marker)
Vertigo (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, dir. Michel Gondry)
Memento (2000, dir. Christopher Nolan)
8 1/2 (1963, dir. Federico Fellini)
Synecdoche, NY (2008, dir. Charlie Kaufmann)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961, dir. Alain Resnais)
Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Plus one film of your choosing (details later)
All of these films will be available online, through free streaming in Course Site. However, if you want to, you can rent them (e.g., through Netflix) or buy them if you wish to watch them in higher quality. All of the class readings will be available through Course Site. In short, there’s nothing you need to buy–but you will need a decent internet connection.
My goal is to give you frequent feedback and guidance on the work you do for this class. My main feedback will be (1) after your first two essays so you know how you did on those, (2) during the fourth week on your course participation, (3) on your projects. Most of this feedback will be in the form of written comments but ultimately this will come in the form of grades.
What does a grade mean in a philosophy class? Grades indicate the quality of the work you do. While the quality of work you do will certainly be affected by how much time you put into it, in truth, I have no direct way of knowing how you spend your time. Also, while it may be true that many great ideas exist in your head, I have no direct access to these ideas.
In fact, all I see and hear are your words: the words you choose in your discussion forum postings, the words you write in your Essays, and the words you speak in your videos. So it is on your words that your grade will be based.
I have a reputation as a demanding but fair professor. I strive to be clear with my expectations, I give frank feedback on your successes and failures, and I offer specific advice on what you need to do to succeed in my class. Students who rise to the challenge, do the work, and are open to my suggestions do well in my classes.
Your final grade for the course will be based on
(a) your Initial Thoughts discussion board posts and responses. 5 weeks @ 4pts ea (20% of your final course grade)
(b) your Short Essays. Four total (one due at the end of weeks 1, 2, 4 and 5) week 1 and 2 @ 5 pts ea; week 4 and 5 @ 10 pts ea (30% of your final course grade)
(c) a mid-term assignment (quiz or paper, TBD), due at the end of week 3 (10% of your final course grade)
(d) your Remarks Project (due week 6): 20% (including a brief video in week 2, a brief video in week 4 and a Remarks video due in week 6)
(e) your Final Reflection (due in week 6): 20%
Sample feedback from students on this course:
“As all of you most likely have, I really enjoyed this class. Watching movies critically has always been a passion of mine, and being able to discuss these ideas with others that have put thought into their responses has been a great experience. The films selected for the class were also very entertaining, and made for easy watching each week.”
“I really enjoyed this class. This class has opened my eyes up to new movies and a new thinking about movies that I will definitely use in the future. Thank you everyone for engaging with me in conversation; your thoughts were very helpful and allowed me to think differently/shape my own ideas in a more clarified manner. Also thank you, Professor Reihman, for being a great teacher and thoroughly explaining a lot of difficult topics.”
“Thanks everyone for writing thoughtful posts and expressing your ideas so thoroughly in the forum! It certainly helped me piece together some of the more confusing films, and gave me ample material to reference in my journals. I hope I did the same for you guys. Also, thank you Professor Reihman for assembling a great lineup of films and offering your take on all of them. It was very interesting to see your thoughts on films I had already seen, as well as hear what you had to say about the ones I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed this class. I have always loved watching movies, but this class taught me how watch films through a philosophical lens. I have never been one to watch foreign films but this class as showed me that they are so intriguing that I think I’l try and watch more of them. Also, I just thought I’d mention that over half of the films we watched made made me cry! Goes to show how moving and beautiful they were. Overall, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for being engaging and responding to my posts and posting interesting thoughts into the forums as well. We all did such a good job of engaging with each other and helping each other dig deeper into these films. Also, thank you Professor Reihman for being a great professor! Making an online class engaging and interesting isn’t easy, but you did a great job.”