Mulhall, Film, and the Importance of Self-Reflexivity

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Nelson, Matthew
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Stephen Mulhall , Philosophy , Ludwig Wittgenstein , Film theory , Self-reflexivity
In On Film, Stephen Mulhall examines whether and in what sense film can be understood as being a form of philosophy. Mulhall grounds his exploration of the relevant issues in the ideas and approach of Ludwig Wittgenstein, examines the Alien series of films with this approach, and explains how they exemplify the ways in which film can be understood as doing philosophy. Specifically, he argues that the degree to which a particular film is self-reflexively engaged with the contextual conditions of its own existence—genre, place in film history or director’s filmography, etc.—determines whether a film can be said to be doing philosophy. Thomas Wartenberg and other philosophers of film have objected to Mulhall’s conception, arguing that it is too limited and is essentialist, in seeming contradiction to Wittgensteinian ideas. I will show that these concerns are justified, and will argue that Mulhall misconceives of the nature and importance of self-reflexivity in film and philosophy and that, in doing so, he creates a confused picture of the philosophical status and possibilities of film.