Tag Archives: Aaron Smuts

Can Film ‘Do’ Philosophy? Perhaps Eisenstein’s ‘October’ Does

Aaron Smuts defends a milder version of the ‘bold’ thesis of Film as Philosophy (FaP): that film can make an original, innovative philosophical contribution by cinematic means. The very idea that film can ‘do’ philosophy creates heated debate. Although many disagree with the FaP thesis (Paisley Livingston), some sit somewhere in-between (Thomas Wartenberg) while others strongly defend it (Stephen Mulhall).

Smuts argues the ‘For God and Country’ montage sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928) does provide a philosophical argument; that it does do philosophy.

This montage sequence alternates between traditionally Christian and demonically pagan artefacts. The comparison suggests that the ‘familiar, respected’ ideas of Christianity help produce a ‘fear and ignorance’ in other ‘suspect religions’, yet the ‘visual similarity’ between both forms of images suggests that ‘Christian artifacts [sic] are no better than [the] pagan statuary’ (Smuts 2009, pp. 415-416). In other words, all religious worship is futile. Additionally, the montage sequence then compares religion alongside nationalism with images that include the general’s costume paraphernalia and the imposing statue as objects of worship.

Overall, the clash of images suggests an analogical argument: the idolisation of both religion and nationalism is illusionary. Furthermore, this philosophical argument only exists in visual terms. Nevertheless, the question remains how any given film can truly philosophise considering its multiplicity of interpretation and impossibility to provide a counter-argument.


Reference Sources

Aaron Smuts 2009, ‘In Defence of a Bold Thesis’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 67, no. 4, pp. 409-420.

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Film as Philosophy – Pro and Contra’, Lectures 16 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.