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Thinking Through Film

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

An introduction to philosophy through the medium of film. Using a diverse range of films, we will explore some of the most interesting issues in philosophy. In doing so, we will learn what film can contribute to philosophy, and how philosophy can contribute to our enjoyment and understanding of film.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge required.

Content of Course


1. Introduction
In this introductory class, we will consider the various relationships between philosophy & film, and how these have developed over time. In doing so, we will introduce Plato’s allegory of the cave as a precursor of the modern cinema. We will also discuss the course schedule and issues around readings/ viewing.

2. Plato's Cinema
Following on from last week, we will examine Plato's cave allegory further through the medium of film.

Cinema Paradiso (Guiseppe Tornatore, Italy, 1989) [iTunes; Netflix; DVD; Blu-ray]

The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy, 1970) [AIV; iTunes; Netflix; DVD; Blu-ray]

3. Epistemology
What can we know, and how do we know it? In this class, we will examine how films can help us to address questions concerning the nature of knowledge. We will also show how film can be utilised in teaching pre-existing philosophical concepts and ideas.

Open your eyes [Abre los Ojos] (Alejandro Amenabar, Spain, 1997) [DVD]

Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe, USA, 2001) [Netflix; AIV; DVD; Blu-ray]

4. Mind
What is the mind? In this class, we will examine classical theories of mind and consider the idea that traditional conceptions of what the mind is are outdated and need to be re-evaluated in the context of modern technology.

Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, USA, 1999) [AIV; iTunes; DVD; Blu-ray]

Memento (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2000) [iTunes; DVD; Blu-ray]

5. Memory and Identity
Given its specific nature, film may itself be considered as in some ways analogous to memory. In this class we will consider how film can contribute to our understanding of the importance of memory to our sense of identity.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, USA, 2004) [AIV; Netflix; DVD; Blu-ray]

Moon (Duncan Jones, UK, 2009) [AIV; DVD; Blu-ray]

6. Morality
Can films help us with moral quandaries? In this class, we will discuss how issues of right and wrong are dealt with in film. We will also explore whether some films can themselves be considered immoral.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, USA, 1989) [DVD]

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, Austria, 1997/ USA, 2007) [AIV; iTunes; DVD; Blu-ray]

7. Time
Films can play with time, reordering or even reversing the order of natural events. Perhaps this is why so many films have focused on the issue of time travel. In this class we will consider whether any film provides us with a logically consistent account of time travel and what this might mean in terms of its actual possibility.

Timecrimes [Los Cronocrimenes] (Nacho Vigalondo, Spain, 2008) [AIV; DVD]

Primer (Shane Carruth, USA, 2004) [AIV; iTunes; Netflix; DVD]

8. Authenticity
To what extent are we determined by others around us? What does it mean to be authentic? We will examine these, and related questions, through two highly original films from recent years.

Alps [Alpeis] (Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2013) [iTunes; DVD]

Dogtooth [Kynodontas] (Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009) [iTunes; DVD]

9. Truth
This week, we will examine whether documentary films can provide us with objective knowledge of the world. We will also consider the complicated relationship between fact and fiction in documentary filmmaking.

The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1988) [Netflix; DVD]

The Act of Killing [Jagal] (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, 2012) [iTunes; DVD; Blu-ray]

10. The Meaning of Life
How should we live our lives? Does life have meaning? In this class, we will examine responses given to such questions through the medium of film. We will also consider what film, as an art form, can contribute to a meaningful existence.

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, USA, 1999) [AIV; iTunes; DVD; Blu-ray]

Consequences of Love (Paulo Sorrentino, Italy, 2004) [iTunes; DVD]

Teaching method(s)

You will be required to watch one or two films in advance of each class. These are available in a wide variety of formats (AIV; iTunes; Netflix; DVD; Blu-ray). In addition, there will be optional reading each week. Each two-hour class will combine lecture (with film excerpts) and tutor-led discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of some central issues in philosophy;
  • Identify the treatment of such issues in classic and contemporary cinema;
  • Think analytically about film;
  • Enjoy and discuss film from a more informed viewpoint.


Core Readings

Essential reading

There is no essential text for this class. Students will be provided with optional readings on a weekly basis from the recommended titles below as well as a variety of online sources.

Essential viewing

Essential viewing is listed under the respective week in course contents.


Recommended reading


Cox, D. and Levine, M.P., 2012. Thinking Through Film: Doing Philosophy, Watching Movies. Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Falzon,C., 2007. Philosophy Goes to the Movies. 2nd ed. New York; London: Routledge.
Fumerton, R. and Jeske, D. eds., 2010. Introducing Philosophy through Film. Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Litch, M. and Karofsky, A., 2014. Philosophy Through Film. 3rd ed. New York; London: Routledge.
Livingston, P. and Plantinga, C., eds., 2011. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Film. New York; London: Routledge.

Web Sources


Class Handouts

Handouts will be available.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.