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Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema

Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema: A Sartrean Perspective

Jean-Pierre Boulé
Enda McCaffrey
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Existentialism and Contemporary Cinema
    Book Description:

    At the heart of this volume is the assertion that Sartrean existentialism, most prominent in the 1940s, particularly in France, is still relevant as a way of interpreting the world today. Film, by reflecting philosophical concerns in the actions and choices of characters, continues and extends a tradition in which art exemplifies the understanding of existentialist philosophy. In a scholarly yet accessible style, the contributors exploit the rich interplay between Sartre's philosophy, plays and novels, and a number of contemporary films includingNo Country for Old Men,Lost in TranslationandThe Truman Show, with film-makers including the Dardenne brothers, Michael Haneke, and Mike Leigh. This volume will be of interest to students who are coming to Sartre's work for the first time and to those who would like to read films within an existentialist perspective.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-321-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Jean-Pierre Boulé and Enda McCaffrey

    At the heart of this volume is the understanding that Sartrean existentialism, most prominent in the 1940s particularly in France, is still relevant as a way of interpreting the world today. And film, by reflecting philosophical concerns in the actions and choices of characters, continues and extends a tradition in which art exemplifies the understanding of this philosophy. This book, therefore, seeks to revalidate the Sartrean philosophical project through its application to film.

    ‘I am an existentialist.’ What does this statement mean? What kind of existentialism is one talking about? There are a variety of philosophical tenets held by those...

  5. Part I The Call to Freedom

    • 1 Peter Weir’s The Truman Show and Sartrean Freedom
      (pp. 17-32)
      Christopher Falzon

      In Peter Weir’sThe Truman Show(1998), Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) gradually discovers that since birth he has been the unwitting star of a reality television show, watched by a global audience. His home town of Seahaven is in fact an enormous studio set filled with hidden cameras; all those around him, including his wife Meryl (Laura Linney) and best friend Marlon (Noah Emmerich), are really actors; and his life is being orchestrated from behind the scenes by the show’s producer and director, Christof (Ed Harris). A series of unusual events lead him to question his situation, and he makes...

    • 2 Michael Haneke and the Consequences of Radical Freedom
      (pp. 33-46)
      Kevin L. Stoehr

      Many of the feature films and television productions of screenwriter-director Michael Haneke explore the individual’s unsuccessful attempts in coming to terms with his or her innate autonomy. Many existentialist thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre in his lectureExistentialism Is a Humanism, suggest a kind of radical freedom that is implied by human subjectivity and that provides opportunities for creative individuality. Yet such freedom also poses serious challenges that may lead a person away from the path to genuine self-realisation and instead to a life of untruthfulness or inauthenticity, to a slavish type of conformism, or to a pathological form of life-negation....

    • 3 Naked, Bad Faith and Masculinity
      (pp. 47-62)
      Mark Stanton

      Mike Leigh’s film,Naked, won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1993: those for Best Actor and Best Director. It was the first major indication that Leigh had become a filmmaker of international importance and was arguably considered his most important film up to that point. The film’s narrative centres on a character called Johnny (David Thewlis). He is first seen having rough sex with a woman in an alleyway who subsequently threatens him with death at the hands of ‘[her] Bernard’. This causes Johnny to flee his hometown of Manchester to London where he spends a...

    • 4 Pursuits of Transcendence in The Man Who Wasn’t There
      (pp. 63-78)
      Tom Martin

      The Man Who Wasn’t Thereis the tenth film to result from the prolific partnership of brothers Ethan and Joel Coen. Since its release, the film has received mixed responses. On the positive side, one reviewer judged that the film ‘ranks with their [the Coens] most immaculately crafted work’ (Sterritt 2001), while another stated, more effusively, thatThe Man Who Wasn’t There

      is steadily engrossing and devilishly funny, and, o brother, does it look sharp. Shot in black and white by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins,Manhauntingly evokes such Forties film-noir classics asDouble Indemnityandthe Postman Always...

    • 5 Lorna’s Silence: Sartre and the Dardenne Brothers
      (pp. 79-92)
      Sarah Cooper

      In his diary notes on their filmmaking practice,Au dos de nos images, Luc Dardenne makes numerous references to Western philosophers, in addition to literary writers and other filmmakers, all of whose work informs his and his brother Jean-Pierre’s desire radically to rethink cinema. While numerous commentators on their work, myself included, have noted that the Dardenne brothers’ most explicit philosophical debt is to the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, two fleeting mentions of Jean-Paul Sartre in Luc Dardenne’s diary underline an ongoing, and more tacit, interest in this latter philosopher too. It is this more tangential but nonetheless significant interest...

  6. Part II Films of Situation

    • 6 Being – Lost in Translation
      (pp. 95-110)
      Michelle R. Darnell

      Sartre was a prolific author, and each of his many writings focuses on the freedom of the human person, and the subsequent ambiguity of the universal human situation. Still, despite his many attempts at communicating his conclusion to a wide audience, much of Sartre’s philosophy is rejected by those who clearly do not understand what Sartre was intending to communicate. Consideration of why Sartre’s attempt at communication with others about the human situation was, and continues to be, so difficult is provided below, with special emphasis on the role of language. Sartre’s insistence that words are freely interpreted as signifying...

    • 7 If I Should Wake Before I Die: Existentialism as a Political Call to Arms in The Crying Game
      (pp. 111-124)
      Tracey Nicholls

      In a world devastated by war and terrorism, there is, I submit, a special relevance to an analysis that pairs Neil Jordan’s 1992 filmThe Crying Gamewith Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy. Juxtaposing the two challenges us to consider the extent to which our lives really are the product of our own complex choices, and to acknowledge latent possibilities for dramatic transformation of what we all too often take to be our immutable characters. In my opinion, the driving force of this film is the existential anguish that Sartre describes as being triggered by the profound sense of responsibility we...

    • 8 Crimes of Passion, Freedom and a Clash of Sartrean Moralities in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men
      (pp. 125-142)
      Enda McCaffrey

      In this chapter, I want to demonstrate how we can use Sartrean existentialism to understand the choices and freedom faced by the three main characters in the multiple-award-winning filmNo Country for Old Men(2007) by the Coen Brothers.No Country for Old Menis a crime thriller adapted for the screen from the Cormac McCarthy 2005 novel of the same name, which in turn is the first line from the W.B. Yeats poemSailing to Byzantium, first published in his 1928 collectionThe Tower. Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, the film stars Tommy Lee Jones (Sheriff Ed Tom...

    • 9 ‘An Act of Confidence in the Freedom of Men’: Jean-Paul Sartre and Ousmane Sembene
      (pp. 143-156)
      Patrick Williams

      ‘It was the best of texts. It was the worst of texts.’ – as Dickens might have said:Existentialism Is a Humanismwas simultaneously seen by some as the best of Sartre, because it was popular, and by others as the worst – because it was popular. The enormous popular success of this brief lecture transcript made philosophy seem accessible, even fashionable. One instance of that popularity was that, as Simone de Beauvoir complained, she and Sartre could no longer go to the Café Flore for a drink without being mobbed by admirers. At the same time, particularly for academic...

    • 10 Cédric Klapisch’s The Spanish Apartment and Russian Dolls in Nausea’s Mirror
      (pp. 157-174)
      Jean-Pierre Boulé

      The first frame ofThe Spanish Apartment(Cédric Klapisch 2002) akaPot Luckin the United Kingdom sees Xavier, a twenty-five-year-old Frenchman (Romain Duris), word-processing the story which will unfold before us. Xavier goes to Barcelona to study for a Masters in Economics and leaves behind in Paris his girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou), having been promised a job at the Ministry of Finance when he returns. Once in Barcelona, he shares an apartment with six other European students. We join him in a series of adventures which will translate into a personal journey that will broaden his horizons. The first...

    • 11 Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet: The Nauseous Art of Adaptation
      (pp. 175-190)
      Alistair Rolls

      Until the release of his 2008 epicAustralia, Baz Luhrmann’s corpus consisted primarily of his self-styled ‘Red Curtain Trilogy’:Strictly Ballroom(1992),William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet(1996) andMoulin Rouge(2001).¹ According to a Luhrmann fan site, his talent as a filmmaker lies in his ‘determination to reinvent genres and break away from the traditional process of story-telling’.² With especial focus onWilliam Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet, we will show how the tragedy of Shakespeare’s young lovers is, in fact, simultaneously re-endorsed as a play and redirected and adapted as a film. In Luhrmann’s film, as in Shakespeare’s play,...

  7. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 191-192)
  8. Index
    (pp. 193-200)