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PH2880A Philosophy & Film Sci-Fi & the Silver Screen John Holbo Lecture 5 Ridley Scott: Androids & Aliens.

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Presentation on theme: "PH2880A Philosophy & Film Sci-Fi & the Silver Screen John Holbo Lecture 5 Ridley Scott: Androids & Aliens."— Presentation transcript:

1 PH2880A Philosophy & Film Sci-Fi & the Silver Screen John Holbo Lecture 5 Ridley Scott: Androids & Aliens

2 “Science - technology - is conceived of as the great unifier. Thus the science fiction films also project a Utopian fantasy. In the classic models of Uptopian thinking - Plato’s Republic … - society had worked out a perfect consensus.

3 In these societies reasonabless had achieved an unbreakable supremacy over the emotions. Since no disagreement or social conflict was intellectually plausible, none was possible …The universal rule of reason meant universal agreement.” - Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster”

4 Klaatu: This does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Fichte: No one has … rights against reason. Comte: We do not allow free thinking in chemistry. Why in politics? “To compel men to adopt the right form of government, to impose Right on them by force, is not only the right, but the sacred duty of every man who has both the insight and the power to do so.”

5 SF is “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment.” There must be a “novum” - a new thing. -Darko Suvin -[Verfremdungseffekt; Unheimlich]

6 Science fiction plucks from within us our deepest fears and hopes then shows them to us in rough disguise: the monster and the rocket. - W. H. Auden We live, as we dream - alone. - Joseph Conrad

7 PASSWORTHY: But we are such little creatures. Poor humanity. So fragile - so weak. CABAL: Little animals, eh?

8 “A time will come when they will want more cannon fodder for their Space Guns

9 - when you in your turn will be forced away to take your chance upon strange planets and in dreary abominable places beyond the stars.

10 “When the crew finally emerge from their ship’s hibernation pods so that they can respond to the unidentified radio beacon signal, the ship’s need for them in these unusual circumstances only emphasizes their superfluity in normal circumstances. They appear as useful creatures for the ship’s purposes, as if a kind of pet or parasite, and the significance of their own purposes and fate is correspondingly diminished.” Mulhall, On Film, p. 15

11 “To insist that technology belongs to the destiny of the West in no way implies that it does not menace. On the contrary, the question concerning the essence of technology confronts the supreme danger, which is that this one way of revealing beings may overwhelm man and beings and all other possible ways of revealing. Such danger is impacted in the essence of technology, which is an ordering of, or setting-upon, both nature and man, a defiant challenging of beings that aims at total and exclusive mastery …

12 … The technological framework is inherently expansionist and can reveal only by reduction. Its attempt to enclose all beings in a particular claim - utter availability and sheer manipulability - Heidegger calls Ge-stell, “enframing”. As the essence of technology, enframing would be absolute …


14 It would reduce man and beings to a sort of “standing reserve” …

15 or stockpile in service to, and on call for, technological purposes.” David Krell’s introduction to Heidegger’s essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”

16 “The alien species appears not so much to follow nature’s imperatives as to incarnate them. This is not because it is driven to survive and reproduce, but rather because it is so purely driven … because it appears to have no other desires - no desire to communicate, no culture, no modes of play or pleasure or industry other than those necessitated by its own continuation as a species …


18 The alien’s form of life is (just merely, simply) life, life as such.” Mulhall, On Film, p.18-9

19 “It is not, then, difficult to see Blade Runner as a continuation of the study that Ridley Scott began in Alien of the flesh and blood embodiedness of human beings … A certain Nietzschean vision of human existence can be seen to hold this study together, as it moves from a conception of life as rapacious and devouring will-to-power, …

20 a Moloch to which the human individual is sacrificed, to a conception of what the flourishing of a human life within such an ordering of the cosmos might look like …

21 … This same background of ideas might also account for the vestigial presence of religious, and more specifically Christian, ideas in Alien: for Blade Runner appears to declare an investment in their overcoming.” - Mulhall, On Film, p. 46

22 Pentecost is the time when the Apostles are give the power to speak in tongues. There is understanding, even though people don’t speak the same language. We are finding very old methods more resonant than more modern ones.


24 “The internationalism of filmic language will become the strongest instrument available for the mutual understanding of peoples, who otherwise have such difficulty understanding each other in all too many languages.” - Fritz Lang, “The Future of the Feature Film in German” So film will overcome the Babel-like conditions of modern life. Film will be the heart that mediates head and hand (hint, hint.)

25 “There are also substantial puzzles when we ask what matters other than how people's experiences feel "from the inside." Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life's experiences?... What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?” - Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia

26 “Superduper neuropsychologists could …” The fact that Nozick feels the need to drag in ‘superduper scientists’ says a lot about the connection between SF, real science and philosophy, for better or worse … But there is more to SF that pure thought-experiment, in the standard philosophy sense …

27 In his essay, “The Uncanny”, Freud discusses “Doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive;

28 … or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate …

29 the impression made by waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata …

30 … the uncanny effect of epileptic fits

31 … and of manifestations of insanity, because these excite in the spectator the impression of automatic, mechanical processes at work behind the ordinary appearance of mental activity.”


33 A great scene [ the Leon getting his Voight-Kampff test scheme] and a very useful one for philosophical purposes. It illustrates both what a ‘thought-experiment’ is - and what it isn’t. Holden tells Leon that it doesn’t matter ‘what desert’ - it’s completely hypothetical. Like when Galileo tells us the story of two balls of unequal weight dropped off the tower, it doesn’t matter WHAT tower. Any tower will do to prove the abstract, purely conceptual point.

34 Suppose I give you a little math story problem to solve. Mr. X has $5 and Mr. Y has $10. If Mr. Y gives Mr. X $3, who has more money? That’s a ‘thought- experiment’ - a very humble one. But note how weird and surreal the version that Leon is taking is.

35 The funny thing about Leon’s case is that - unlike the math story problem case - Leon is right to ask about the details. He cannot reasonably be expected to know ‘why he isn’t turning the tortoise over’ without knowing details. What is he doing in the desert? “Maybe you're fed up, maybe you want to be by yourself, who knows?” But if Leon doesn’t even know what his motivation is for being in the desert, how is he supposed to know what his motivation is for not turning the tortoise over? In short, it’s a BAD thought-experiment.

36 What the imagined situation really is like is a dream. ‘I was in the desert, there was this turtle, and I wouldn’t turn it over even though it was struggling.’ Dreams are times when you find yourself exhibiting peculiar motivations, apparently alien to your waking life, which then seem to cry out for interpretation when you wake. So the test is a bit like dream interpretation, maybe. Only that’s unfair. If you actually dream something, maybe that’s evidence of unconscious motives. But how is telling someone he has bad motives evidence that he has bad motives?

37 It seems Leon is really being tested on his ability to withstand someone telling him that, deep down, he’s a bad person. (As it turns out, he’s not very good at this.) Another interesting feature of the exchange. Holden is very easily vexed by Leon’s tendency to say things that are hardly more irrelevant than the things Holden is asking Leon to respond to.

38 Notice that the questions Rachel answers aren’t EVEN questions. They are just statements. (What can possibly be wrong with Rachel’s responses? Well, they are a bit … mechanical. Is the problem that they are too correct?)

39 “At this point I invented a kind of contemplative voice-over for Deckard. Here, let me read it to you [Peoples now quotes from his December 15 script]: ‘I wonder who designs the ones like me... and what choices we really have, and which ones we just think we have. I wondered if I had really loved her. I wondered which of my memories were real and which belonged to someone else. The great Tyrell hadn't designed me, but whoever had hadn't done so much better. "You're programmed, too," she told me, and she was right. In my modest way, I was a combat model. Roy Batty was my late brother.’

40 ‘Now what I'd intended with this voice-over was mostly metaphysical … Deckard was supposed to be philosophically questioning himself about what it was that made him so different from Rachael and the other replicants. He was supposed to be realizing that, on the human level, they weren't so different. That Deckard wanted the same things the replicants did. The 'maker' he was referring to wasn't literally Tyrelol, either. It was supposed to be God. So basically, Deckard was just musing about what it meant to be human.’

41 ‘But then Ridley … well, I think Ridley misinterpreted me. Because right about this period of time he started announcing, 'Ah-ha! Deckard's a replicant! What brilliance! How Heavy Metal!' I was sort of confused by this response, because Ridley kept giving me all this praise and credit for this terrific idea. It wasn't until many years later, when I happened to be browsing through his draft, that I suddenly realized the metaphysical material I had written could just as easily have been read to imply that Deckard was a replicant. Even though it wasn't what I meant at all.’

42 ‘What I had meant was, we all have a maker, and we all have an incept date. We just can't address them. That's one of the similarities we had to the replicants. We couldn't go find Tyrell, but Tyrell was up there somewhere. For all of us. So what I had intended as a kind of a metaphysical speculation, Ridley had read differently, but I now realize there was nothing wrong with his reading. That confusion was my own fault. I'd written this voice-over so ambiguously that it could indeed have meant exactly what Ridley took it to mean. And that, I think, is how the whole idea of Deckard being a replicant came about.’

43 Instead of salvation coming through the good human, the mediator turns out to be the ‘bad’ Other.

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