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The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film

The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film

Edited by Steven M. Sanders
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film
    Book Description:

    The science fiction genre maintains a remarkable hold on the imagination and enthusiasm of the filmgoing public, captivating large audiences worldwide and garnering ever-larger profits. Science fiction films entertain the possibility of time travel and extraterrestrial visitation and imaginatively transport us to worlds transformed by modern science and technology. They also provide a medium through which questions about personal identity, moral agency, artificial consciousness, and other categories of experience can be addressed. In The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, distinguished authors explore the storylines, conflicts, and themes of fifteen science fiction film classics, from Metropolis to The Matrix. Editor Steven M. Sanders and a group of outstanding scholars in philosophy, film studies, and other fields raise science fiction film criticism to a new level by penetrating the surface of the films to expose the underlying philosophical arguments, ethical perspectives, and metaphysical views. Sanders's introduction presents an overview and evaluation of each essay and poses questions for readers to consider as they think about the films under discussion.The first section, "Enigmas of Identity and Agency," deals with the nature of humanity as it is portrayed in Blade Runner, Dark City, Frankenstein, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Total Recall. In the second section, "Extraterrestrial Visitation, Time Travel, and Artificial Intelligence," contributors discuss 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, 12 Monkeys, and The Day the Earth Stood Still and analyze the challenges of artificial intelligence, the paradoxes of time travel, and the ethics of war. The final section, "Brave Newer World: Science Fiction Futurism," looks at visions of the future in Metropolis, The Matrix, Alphaville, and screen adaptations of George Orwell's 1984.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7281-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Fiction Film
    (pp. 1-18)
    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,receptiveis 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...

  5. Part 1: Enigmas of Identity and Agency

    • What Is It to Be Human? Blade Runner and Dark City
      (pp. 21-38)
      Deborah Knight and George McKnight

      Blade Runner(Ridley Scott, 1982) andDark City(Alex Proyas, 1998) take place in dystopic cities set in the future of what appears to be our world.¹ Both literally and metaphorically, these are dark cities.Blade Runneris set in Los Angeles in 2019. The city is a gloomy, rainy, commercially driven, multiethnic megalopolis composed of street-level stall vendors, abandoned downtown buildings, and huge modernist and Mayanesque complexes housing the most powerful members of society. Our protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former member of a special police squad, is coerced into taking on one more job, to kill four...

    • Recalling the Self: Personal Identity in Total Recall
      (pp. 39-54)
      Shai Biderman

      Let’s begin with what appears to be a very weird, yet simple, question: Have you ever been to Mars? I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been there. Is that a valid answer? Well, yes, if you think you understood the question. But did you? Let’s analyze each word to see.Ever,in this context, means from the time of one’s birth until now.Marsis the known, yet hardly charted, planet at least 35 million miles from the earth.Been to,in this case, roughly means physically experienced, visited, or spent time at.You,of course, means . ....

    • Picturing Paranoia: Interpreting Invasion of the Body Snatchers
      (pp. 55-72)
      Steven M. Sanders

      To all appearances,Invasion of the Body Snatchers(Don Siegel, 1956) is a paean to individuality and a warning of its imminent loss. Human-size pods appear in the California town of Santa Mira and begin duplicating the bodies of the residents, absorbing their minds while they sleep. Rushing into action with his growing realization that Santa Mira is being taken over by the pods, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) shows a resilient defiance in his perseverance against all odds. Evidently, we are meant to understand what it means to believe in something and fight for a cause.

      Most critics have...

    • The Existential Frankenstein
      (pp. 73-88)
      Jennifer L. McMahon

      In this essay, I shall offer an existential analysis of the science fiction classicFrankenstein.I shall argue thatFrankensteinillustrates not only the anxiety that individuals have about death but also their tendency to deny it and their powerful desire to conquer it. Importantly, I shall also argue thatFrankensteinillustrates the undesirability of death’s defeat.

      Though Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story has taken a variety of forms since it was published in 1818, certain elements of the story remain constant. Whether set in a gothic context or a modern lab, whether drama or comedy, the Frankenstein story examines the...

  6. Part 2: Extraterrestrial Visitation, Time Travel, and Artificial Intelligence

    • Technology and Ethics in The Day the Earth Stood Still
      (pp. 91-102)
      Aeon J. Skoble

      Robert Wise’s 1951 movieThe Day the Earth Stood Stillis generally regarded as a classic of science fiction film. At least as a working definition of the genre, I take science fiction to be that branch of literature (and by extension films) that deals with the effects of science or technology on the human condition or that explores the human condition via science. This can include utopian or dystopian future societies, of course, butThe Day the Earth Stood Stillis set in early 1950s America.

      Science and technology play several roles inThe Day the Earth Stood Still,...

    • Some Paradoxes of Time Travel in The Terminator and 12 Monkeys
      (pp. 103-118)
      William J. Devlin

      Suppose you had a time machine. Where exactly would you like to go throughout all the possibilities of temporal locations? Would you want to go back to the Jurassic period to learn more about the dinosaurs? Maybe you would like to go back to ancient Greece to finally know whether or not the Battle of Troy really took place. Perhaps the past bores you, and you’re really a future adventurer instead. If so, would you fast-forward to 3050 to see if human beings are riding in flying cars and living on the moon? Maybe you’d like to go even further,...

    • 2001: A Philosophical Odyssey
      (pp. 119-134)
      Kevin L. Stoehr

      In2001: A Space Odyssey(1968) we are invited by director Stanley Kubrick to experience a mesmerizing yet also alienating form of sensory liberation, as paradoxical as such an experience may at first sound. His landmark science fiction film does not attempt to free us somehow from our five senses, certainly. In fact, the film tends to enhance an appreciation of our perceptual faculties, particularly those of vision and hearing, as well as to encourage reflection on what we have experienced through our senses while watching the film. But Kubrick’s masterwork leads us beyond the borders of our conventional world...

    • Terminator-Fear and the Paradox of Fiction
      (pp. 135-150)
      Jason Holt

      Some of the most vividly unnerving scenes inThe Terminator(James Cameron, 1984) are those that present the Terminator’s point of view, giving us a sense of what it would be like to be the Terminator, to see the world as it does, to have not only artificial intelligence but also, more disturbingly, artificial consciousness. The judicious use of the subjective camera is an especially effective technique when appropriately modified to evoke alien perspectives, those radically unlike our own. The Terminator’s visual field is infrared, with heads-up displays for attentional shift and focus, information processing of different kinds, decision-making menus,...

  7. Part 3: Brave Newer World:: Science Fiction Futurism

    • The Dialectic of Enlightenment in Metropolis
      (pp. 153-170)
      Jerold J. Abrams

      For anyone living in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, science fiction cinema is one of the few art forms that attempt to predict the future of human nature and civilization—a future filled with space travel, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and widespread surveillance. Ridley Scott’sBlade Runner(1982) andAlien(1979), George Lucas’sStar Warssextology (1977–2005), the Wachowski brothers’The Matrix(1999), and Stanley Kubrick’sDr. Strangelove(1963) andA Clockwork Orange(1971) are among the most influential science fiction films. None of them, however, can be properly understood without an initial grasp of Fritz Lang’s early...

    • Imagining the Future, Contemplating the Past: The Screen Versions of 1984
      (pp. 171-190)
      R. Barton Palmer

      A defining feature of science fiction is that such works of imaginative realism (a potent stylistic brew of perhaps irreconcilable elements) speculate about some future age or alternative, extraterrestrial world. That imagined place and time is characterized essentially by “advancements” in science that plausibly explore the consequences of what is now known and actively researched (in such areas as artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, space travel, pharmacology, and so forth). The difference between the reader’s implied present and the postulated alternative results from the technological manipulation of the natural environment and human experience that such acquired knowledge makes possible.

      This difference...

    • Disenchantment and Rebellion in Alphaville
      (pp. 191-206)
      Alan Woolfolk

      Jean-Luc Godard’sAlphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution(1965) appears on first viewing to be a typical variation of a classic science fiction film in which humanity has been invaded and is threatened with complete colonization by an alien force—in this case an alien computer, Alpha 60, which rules in the name of scientific logic. Indeed, Godard’s film even features a deranged scientist-villain, Leonard Von Braun (Howard Vernon), as the chief human agent of this alien colonization who has himself been converted into the apparently perfect scientific-technocratic man without a trace of human emotion. However, the deeper theme...

    • The Matrix, the Cave, and the Cogito
      (pp. 207-222)
      Mark T. Conard

      Thomas Anderson, computer programmer and hacker, learns that everything he thought he knew about the world and his life is false, that he’s been deceived. Further, he discovers that he and most of his fellow human beings are enslaved in a way that he never could have imagined and that he is the chosen One, the savior who will lead them out of the slavery of ignorance and to enlightenment and understanding. Interestingly, René Descartes asks us to imagine a similar all-encompassing deception, and Plato famously writes in theRepublicabout just such an escape from bondage and a journey...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 223-226)
  9. Index
    (pp. 227-232)