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Some ways to use film in your classes.  Please send additional ideas.


  • Philosophical Films. This is an extremely useful site for anyone interested in incorporating film into an intro course.  The site lists a large number of films on philosophical themes, many with detailed study questions.

  • Feminist Films.  The Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) has a page of films on feminist themes.

  • Dark City raises many of the same themes as The Matrix (with a more humanistic vision) but is, in the opinion of TΦ101, a much more worthy film. Roger Ebert says it  "is a great visionary achievement, a film so original and exciting" that it can be compared to 2001 or Metropolis. 

  • Groundhog Day is, of course, a remarkable movie that raises questions regarding free willand determinism. Tim Hyde, at Stony Brook University, also uses it to teach Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return.

  • Billy Budd. A number of textbooks use the trial scene in this Melville novella to illustrate different political theories, since the three officers seems to espouse utilitarianism, natural law theory and contractarianism. Joanathan Lavery believes that the theories are presented more clearly in the ten-minute sequence from the1961 Peter Ustinov film.

  • Blade Runner.  Villanova's Paul Livingston uses this film and scripts from the Loebner Prizeto motivate a discussion of Turing's classic article on "Computing Machinery and Intelligence."

  • Gone Baby Gone presents the Kantian vs. utilitarian ethical dilemma in an extremely compelling question; should one be honest and follow principle or try to further the happiness of another?  Although the film raises the question in a profound way, it doesn't try to answer it.

  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Plato's Symposium.  Villanova's Jessica Elkayam uses a section of this film, which has punk rock version of Aristophanes' speech on love, to bring a new perspective on Plato's text  (Symposium 189e). Maybe this will convince your students that you are cooler than they are. 

  • Dirty Pretty Things is very helpful for illustrating some problems with utilitarianism and offers much to discuss concerning rights, citizenship, and coercion (Gaile Pohlhaus, University of Miami).

  • Crimes and Misdemeanors is a classic for discussing not only the Ring of Gyges, but also the possibility of forging an ethics without god/gods. The Departed (the evil man who appears good vs. the good man who appears evil) also might work in conjunction with Gyges (Gaile Pohlhaus, University of Miami). .

  • Gosford Park is perfect for illustrating standpoint epistemology. Particularly helpful is Helen Mirren's speech toward the end as to how she "knew" what was going to happen (Gaile Pohlhaus, University of Miami).

  • Six Degrees of Separation can be used to discuss existentialism. It helps that a portion of the film concerns university and university aged students in relation to their parents. Questions of what it means to live authentically and to live well are present throughout in ways that are complicated and that move students(Gaile Pohlhaus, University of Miami). . 

  • Cinema Paradiso.  Peter Costello (Providence College) uses this film to teach Walter Benjamin's essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction."  This might be advanced for most intro students.  Teaching Philosophy 27.3 (2004): 227-249. 

  • Philosophy and Film.  J. Leonore Wright and Anne-Marie Bowery (Baylor University) discuss some of the advantages of using film in philosophy classes and also mention dozens of films that can be used to illustrate various themes.  "Socrates at the Cinema: Using Film in the Philosophy Classroom."  Teaching Philosophy. 26.1 (2003): 21-41.

  • Goodfellas. Juan S. Santos, at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana at Bogotá - Colombia, uses this film to teach a number of issues in Kantian ethics. In making the choice to become a gangster, the main character imposes a law upon himself, and the movie explores the consequences and conflicts of that choice, including the question of whether that law can be universalized.

  • Veronica Tuzi, a school teacher from Toronto, suggests a number of more recent films including: Equilibrium (a dystopian  society and the consequences of rejecting our humanity), Revolver (violent exploration of ego and sense of self), and The Fountain (love story with metaphysical themes). TΦ101 hasn't seen any of them so can't comment.

  • Tom Sparrow, Duquesne University, has suggested Cold Souls, with Paul Giamatti playing himself, as a depressed actor who has his soul removed by a high tech firm that sells this service. It raises a lot of questions about the soul, mind-body issues, nihilism, and the ethics of new technological procedures.



Updated: May 4, 2011

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