Tag Archives: Film as Philosophy

‘Fight Club’: Celebrity and Re-Building Capitalism

A recent revisit of David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) revealed two standout philosophical points: celebrity is an illusion and a re-thinking of consumerism is in order. Over a decade after its release, and with all the pro-violence fuss now a distant memory, Fight Club reveals it is hardly just a ‘film about fighting’ as much as Raging Bull is hardly just a ‘film about boxing’.

Many found casting Brad Pitt (as ‘half’ of the Tyler Durden character) condescending due to his anti-consumerist dialogue such as, “The things you own end up owning you”. It does sound rich coming from one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood, but that is exactly the point. Casting Pitt in the role is a master class in irony. The entire point of Pitt’s presence is for his intense aura of celebrity. Even if Pitt had no dialogue, there would be few actors, if any, that could evoke such a brash statement of ‘this is celebrity’. Of course, the ironic genius of casting is because Pitt’s character does not actually exist. Pitt is an illusion. Celebrity is an illusion, so by extension, celebrity worship and our desire for ‘things’ is an illusion.

The other philosophical argument Fight Club presents is the end of capitalist consumerism is nigh. The film questions our desire for ‘things’ and in particular posits that these ‘things’ no longer make us happy, are driving us insane, and our relationship towards them needs to be re-thought/re-built from the ground up. The film provides an intense rejection of capitalist values such as when the Protagonist (Edward Norton) finds his IKEA-filled apartment has exploded or shortly afterwards when he loses his job after furiously bashing himself before the stunned boss. Ultimately, the final shot of the collapsing capitalist buildings demonstrates a nihilistic, Nietzschean outlook of some extreme and desperate need to clear the slate and rebuild again, hopefully in a much better way.


Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Case Study 2 – Fight Club’, Lecture 21 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Nietzsche and the Ethics of Memory in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind questions the ethics and morality of memory manipulation that tie into Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas of how memory existentially affirms and ethically tests the moral positions of eternal recurrence.

The following deleted scene is a mock advertisement for Lacuna, provider of the memory erasure service:

Nietzsche argues the importance of forgetting. If one were to remember every single detail, every day of our lives, one would go mad. Eternal Sunshine acknowledges an importance in forgetting: the two main characters, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), have both willingly had their memories of each other erased by the Lacuna procedure. Both want to forget the pain they inflicted on each other.

However, Nietzsche also argues the importance of remembering. To remember is to acknowledge all elements of one’s life both pleasurable and painful. Nietzsche argues embracing all memories is the only way to live an authentic life. In the film, Joel and Clementine have failed to respect the importance of remembering that Nietzsche argues as they both decide to have the memories of each other removed. Therefore, by Nietzsche’s account, they live in self-deception and do not lead an authentic life.

Additionally, Nietzsche considers the various elements that make up a memory of some major life event to be inseparable from each other. In other words, memory is holistic. In the film, a major life event occurs when Joel and Clementine lie on the ice and fall in love for the first time. But, if Joel has only Clementine removed from this memory, how much of the experience is truly removed considering Joel would still have many other elements in his memory of that experience independent of Clementine being there or not: himself laying down on the ice, the starry sky, the passing cars, and the background noises. Traces of the experience still exist. Joel breaks the holistic memory bond that Nietzsche describes and therefore the film again questions Joel’s ethics and morality in partaking in this self-deceptive act.

Finally, Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal recurrence’ questions one’s attitude towards the idea of one’s life infinitely and exactly repeating itself. How we respond to this ‘tells us about our attitudes about ourselves and the lives we live’ (Jollimore 2009 p. 55). The end of the film presents an ‘eternal recurrence’ of Joel and Clementine who decide to live their love affair again, even though they know it will be both good and bad.

Their decision may suggest a happy conclusion, but moreover, it questions if this is ethically the right thing to do considering they both know the likely outcome is only going to cause each other pain.

Eternal Sunshine is a complex film on many levels. This Nietzschean approach to the way the film questions the ethics and morals of memory and its erasure provides only one reading of a rich text that will surely be analysed and debated for a long time to come.


Reference Sources

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Case Study 1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, Lecture 19 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Troy Jollimore 2009, ‘Miserably Ever After: Forgetting, Repeating and Affirming Love’, in Christopher Grau (ed.), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Philosophers on Film, Routledge, London, pp. 31-61.

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.