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The ontology of film

Julie N Books, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Contemporary philosophers have tried to determine whether transparency, illusionism, or perceptual realism best explains realism in film. In this dissertation I will explain these three doctrines, critically evaluate them, and discuss the criticisms that have been raised against them. I will then propose my own account of the ontology of film. In Chapter 1 I will discuss the doctrine of transparency that is defended by Kendall Walton, which says that most films are transparent because we see through them to the real world. I will argue that most films do not allow us to see the real world when we look at them because filmmakers creatively manipulate their images. They also employ animated, computer-animated, and computer-generated film images that don't involve photographing reality. In Chapter 2 I will explain the doctrine of illusionism, which says that film images engender in the viewer an illusion of the reality of the fictional world. I will critically discuss Gregory Currie's arguments against illusionism in his book Image and Mind. I will argue that most film viewers do not experience cognitive illusions while watching films, but they do experience perceptual illusions. In Chapter 3 I will explain the doctrine of perceptual realism that is endorsed by Gregory Currie. Currie argues that film viewing is realistic because it approximates our normal experience of perceiving the real world. I will argue that Currie's account is inadequate because he does not clearly explain how our perceptual mechanisms work in recognizing objects in film images to be like objects we have seen before. In Chapter 4 I will summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the three doctrines. In Chapter 5 I will explain how films are creative works of art by discussing how filmmakers intentionally manipulate film images. I will ultimately show how films do not reproduce reality, but rather alter, distort, and transform reality, as well as create new realities. My task in this dissertation is to critically evaluate the three contemporary doctrines of film realism and to offer a comprehensive new theory that can better explain the ontology of film.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Motion Pictures

Recommended Citation

Books, Julie N, "The ontology of film" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068541.