Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy of Film Course: Myths for Our Time

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Film fulfils many functions in contemporary society: Films can represent our ideas on morality, politics, friendship and what we believe to be a worthwhile life. But they can also be iconoclastic and irreverent of the status quo. In the course I will argue that film has a ‘mythological’ structure. This structure creates narratives out of our beliefs about the world and our place in it, but also gives us a ‘cathartic’ ability to explore forms of life and behaviour beyond the social norm. For example can a character ‘get away with’ more eccentricity in a film than would be acceptable in real life society? In this philosophy course we will look at the ‘stories’ in contemporary films and try and understand what ‘mythologies’ they are constructing for us. For example Woody Allen’s most recent film Irrational Man presents some very interesting ideas on how a human mind can rationalise ‘immoral’ behaviour as a social good: is Allen being only descriptive here of human psychology, or is he also making a case for this behaviour. The course we will also consider the ways in which film presents reality to us. Structural features considered will be the manipulation of time and space. How does the mind and the image work together to produce a coherent illusion out of long tracts of time and condensed space. The film Locke will be used on this issue, with its technically brilliant use of space (shot entirely in a car). Technique however should be in the service of the aesthetic whole of the work, and in Locke the technique frames some complex questions about moral behaviour.

A range of theorists will be used on these issues, for example Bergson’s theory of ‘stretched time’. Extracts from films will be shown in class.


This philosophy course will consist of the following topics:

Introduction to the philosophy of film

  • Assessing the field.
  • We will consider a range of film theorists, philosophers, and sociologists on the issue of film.
  • We will compare and contrast these views.


  • What is the structure of a mythology; how do they develop; and what role do they play in society.

Mythology in Film.

  • We will take a range of films and assess the stories they tell in terms of their normative or iconoclastic functions.
  • We will also consider why we need them to re-present our world to us: does ‘lived reality’ become more ‘real’ to us when we mirror it backwardly through art; does art construct social reality, or social reality construct art?

Construction of identity.

  • This week we will look at character types.
  • Some of these types are: The outsider and the insider; the hero and the villain; the sexually attractive and the sexually inept; the good friend and those who are relationship challenged.

Fantasy and the Political.

  • Throughout history a time honoured way of either critiquing your own society or exploring alternative social and political scenarios has been to construct other world.
  • There are broadly three forms of this: The mythical past world; the future utopia or dystopia; the parallel fantasy world in the ordinary world.

Image and Mind.

  • We will look at a number of theorists in psychology who have attempted to understand the way film works on the mind.
  • One interesting issues here is whether the mind processes the moving image differently to a static image as in a painting.


  • This week we will look at the way film manipulates space to create the illusion of depth, angle, perspective and experiential ‘thickness’.
  • We will look at a range of films which play with space in novel ways.

Time and Constructed Reality:

  • This week we will consider: The internal structure of events within the film itself; the observers experience of the time of the film which is a phenomenological issue; and the relation of time frames in the film to the external reality which it represents.

Time and Causality:

  • The temporal order of scenes.
  • Does your mind reorder scenes to produce a causal structure? For example the flashback may be in the middle of the film, does your mind reorder the sequence of events to produce a causal narrative of character and action.


  • There are those exceptional comedies which manage to be both funny, intelligent and profound, but often comedy isn’t profound its just funny, and we are a bit embarrassed to enjoy it.
  • Why do we find certain situations funny, and how individual and culturally specific is comedy.

Intended Audience

This philosophy course is suitable for personal interest learners: school, university students, adult and active retirees. Although not essential, this course is suitable for those who have completed Introduction to Philosophy Course I.

Delivery Style

This philosophy course will be delivered as an interactive workshop where active participant participation is encouraged.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion