Saturday, November 8, 2014

Philosophy Film Review

Plato, in The Republic, says “For this same craftsman can not only make all artificial objects, but also create all plants and animals, himself included, and, in addition, earth and sky and gods, the heavenly bodies and everything in the underworld.”[1]  Even though he is talking about poets and artisans of the ancient Greek era, he very well could have been referring to cinematographers today.  However, cinematographers do not just simply recreate the things listed by Plato, but anything that the imagination can come up with thanks to modern technology.  An example of this creation of imagination being seamlessly put into a reality-like situation is the new movie Ted, by Seth MacFarlane.  It is the story of a boy, who being a social outcast in his youth, makes a wish one night that his beloved teddy bear was real and that they could be best friends forever, and what happens when that wish does come true and they grow up into their 30s still together.  This premise is quite interesting from the philosophical point of view.

Firstly, Rudolf talked about film as art, and the way that its form and presentation can affect the viewers.  The main character of the movie is a stuffed bear named Ted that is granted life.  Going from what Rudolf said, the viewer is forced to compare this stuffed bear to the attributes of other stuffed bears and compare them to see if it is a typical type and conforms to its species.[2]  The answer is a resounding ‘no’, of course.  Stuffed bears do not typically come alive and become a hormone-riddled, pot-smoking, layabout ex-celebrity, still living with their 35-year-old best friend.  It is interesting to think about what the potential processes that took this innocent boy and his equally innocent bear to this later reality is, though. 

Nichols talked about the concept of mindreading as viewed from the child-model perspective.  Given the nature of this film, this viewpoint is relevant.  The child-model is used to showcase a mind or mental state that has yet to be tainted by years of experience or conditioning to illicit certain responses or draw certain conclusions.  The child draws upon their own experiences to form opinions about what they perceive.  It could be argued that since the boy wished for Ted to become real, it is just a projection of his own perceived self-mental state that imbued Ted with life and intelligence, and this is why they are such best friends so easily; because they are of each other.[3]  A counter-argument, however, could also be that Ted only exists because the boy perceived him as existing in reality, thus making him live.  As Sarte said, “It is shame or pride which reveals to me the Other’s look and myself at the end of that look.  It is the shame or pride which makes me live, not know, the situation of being looked at.”[4] 

Ted is quite easily a film that explores, whether intentionally or not, many facets of the philosophical view of the self and how one is perceived, as well as what it means to be alive, as the stuffed bear is clearly alive.  The state of being, be it being for-self or being for-others, essentially effects self-knowledge, and once observed, as Schrodinger’s cat explains, the state of being is a decided fact. 


Nichols, S.  “Mindreading and the Philosophy of Mind”, in Jesse Prinz (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Psychology.

Plato.  “Theory of art” in Republic.  Lee, D. (Trans), 1987.  Pp. 421-439.

Rudolf, A.  (1958).  Extracts in Film as Art.  Pp. 37-46,53-57,62-64,68-64,68-70,108-114.

Sartre, J.  (1956).  ‘The Existance of Others: The Look’ (extract).  Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology.  Philosophical Library, New York. 

[1] Plato, Republic, p. 423
[2] Rudolf, Extracts in Film Art, p. 46
[3] Nichols, Mindreading and the Philosophy of Mind, pp. 17-18 
[4] Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 261

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