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The Empire Strikes Back: Humanising Technology or droids are persons too

The Empire Strikes Back Trailer

Director: Irvin Kershner

Screenwroter: Lawrence Kasden and Leigh Brackett

Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams

The Empire Strikes Back: Humanising Technology or droids are persons to.

I f we as humans are thinking and reasoning beings and therefore possess the qualities that can consider us to be persons then is it our minds or bodies that deliver us this form? I believe that through examining this notion it is possible to prove that droids, like C-3PO and R2-D2, are justifiably persons as well.

For a droid to be considered to have the fundamental essence of a sentient being, therefore person, it is necessary to have some guidelines to what makes a person. Arp (2005, p.121) suggests five criteria for the defining characteristics of a person, reasoning or rationality; beliefs, intentions, desires and emotions; language; social relationships and being a responsible moral agent. All of these criteria are in evidence throughout The Empire Strikes Back  and indeed throughout the two droids adventures in the other films and the expanded universe.

Let us consider language and its use by the droids. While it could be argued that their programming is the driving factor in their language use it must be noted that both droids communicate in a way that is very human or sentient. The droids constant bickering is in and of itself something of a fraternal like relationship and points to their regard and fondness for each other. It is also through language that we can see and hear the droids emotions.

R2-D2’s mournful whistle as they close the base doors while Luke is still missing in the colds of Hoth show that this droid has feelings of sorrow and worry for Luke. Here we also see the droids reasoning capacity when Artoo calculates the chances of survival in the dropping temperatures and C-3PO’s rational response that there is little hope of survival. C-3PO’s remonstrations at Chewbacca while the Wookie is repairing him, “ow…Chewie”, displays that the droid can feel the pain of his condition at the hands of the well meaning Wookie and can use expressive language to communicate his feelings to his repairer.  It is this demonstration of emotion and feeling that can lead us to believing that the droids and their friends can engage in social relationships.

For this criterion I will use the example of Luke’s response to Artoo falling into the swamps of Dagobah. He is genuinely upset, worried and willing to fight to save Artoo from the monster lurking in the swamps and shows great relief when his friend is returned in a still functional state. It is obvious in this section of the movie that there is real feeling and a sense of a strong relationship that is more than Artoo being a useful tool.

That leaves the criterion of being a responsible moral agent and once again it is Artoo who best espouses this personal strength. While escaping Cloud City, Artoo discovers that the hyperdrive has been disabled and after the efforts of the flesh and bloods proves fruitless Artoo decides to leave his half repaired friend, C-3PO, to rescue his friends by interfacing with the Falcon to make the jump to hyperspace. He has fulfilled a moral obligation to his friends and acted in a responsible manner even if C-3PO is unhappy about being down a foot.

While Keller (2007, p.6) may argue that what constitutes life is simply a ‘human decision’ can we not use the definition of what it is to be a live person to rationally justify the sentience of the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2. They have all the attributes and therefore it is this human’s decision that it is not necessary to have an organic body to qualify as a person.

Arp, R. (2005). “If droids could think…” : Droids as slaves and persons. In K. Decker & J. Eberl (Eds.), Star wars and philosophy: more powerful than you can possibly imagine (pp. 120-131). Peru, IL: Carus Publishing Company.

Keller, E.F. (2007). Once again, ‘What is life?’. Retrieved from:     http://vuibert.com/IMG/doc/9782711748655-Keller.doc

A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom?

A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee and  Warren Clarke

A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom.

What is it to have freedom of choice and what can these choices lead to? Stanley Kubrick’s (1971) A Clockwork Orange can be seen to cast a critical lens on the notion of human determinism. Litch (2009, p.121) states that through the theses of human determinism our choices are not of free will but are fully determined by preceding events. Does this mean then that the anti-hero Alex had no choice throughout the movie? Were the events leading to his incarceration and choice of rehabilitation already pre-determined by some unknown causal effect?

Alex and his Droogs make their way through life on what one can only describe as violent thuggery and criminality. It is their choice to beat a homeless old man and it is their choice to rape the catlady but it is also Alex’s choice to undergo aversion therapy after his incarceration. So which of these choices reflect true freedom of choice and is freedom of choice desirable given the outcomes in the film.

It would seem that the amoral choices of Alex are not determinist as he has the ability to choose not to carry out his deeds. Stoehr (2006, p. 163) questions whether the freedom to choose is a desirable thing when you consider the actions of Alex and it would seem on viewing that perhaps the State is correct to re-program Alex’s uncontrollable desires through the ‘Ludovico Treatment’.  However, as Shaw (2008, pp.48-49) argues, Alex after the treatment is not a ‘good’ Alex but one whose ability to choose is removed by the State and this power to render him without the freedom of choice to be far more threatening.

It is, in a morose way, gratifying that Alex in the end is able to return to his ways of ultra-violence and to throw of the shackles of the State’s control of his free will. Shaw (2006, p.48) argues that it is his ability to return to his choice of vile and evil acts that speaks of the power of human free choice and it is this ability that returns him his autonomy. However the fact that he does return to his ways in some way goes to give credence to the theses of human determinism.

Alex’s reversion to his former self and the apparent ability to choose to go back to his former life does not necessarily mean determinism is at play but given the definition from the opening of this review it could be argued that Alex’s new decisions are based on his preceding actions before his treatment. However to be absolutely certain of human determinism Alex would need to be real and would need to be studied. As Litch (2009, pp.122-125) suggests there are ways to determine whether this theses holds credence but it would require testing that is not possible on fictional characters. Looking at this film in this way holds more questions than answers as to what constitutes freedom of choice and whether it actually exists, but is it possible that this was the intention of the director all along. Are we really free to choose or is every choice already determined?

Litch, M. (2009). Philosophy through film (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Shaw, D. (2008). Film and philosophy: Taking movies seriously. London: Wallflower.

Let The Right One In: Life, undeath and friendship

Let The Right One In Trailer

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Screenwriter: John Ajivde Lindqvist

Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragner

Let The Right One In: Life, undeath and friendship.

Tomas Alfredson’s (2008) Let The Right One In is at once a coming of age drama and an exploration of friendship. However the friendship in this instance is between a living boy and an undead vampire. This has caused some difficulty in looking at what death means for us in terms of what happens upon death.

Greene and Mohammed (2010, p.7) argue that the philosophical question of why death can be seen as something bad can also be applied to the undead. That is they see undeath as being likened to death in that the undead are unable to fulfil the desires that the living can indulge in (Greene and Mohammed, 2010, p.9). One of these desires is love and friendship. Eli in their eyes would not be capable of such things due to her lack of living.

Eli is the vampire of this tale and after events elsewhere her and her procurer, Hakan, move to the Stockholm suburb of Blakeberg. They move in next door to Oskar, who has troubles with bullying at his school and is seen as an outcast among his peers. Their first meeting is at night, of course, as Oskar pretends to stab his tormentor from school. Here Eli tells him they can’t be friends but as the film progresses we see a change in Eli’s feelings towards Oskar and a friendship, through Morse code, burgeons. Behind this starting friendship is Hakan’s failed attempts at getting Eli the blood that is needed to sustain a vampire which leads to Eli taking matters into his own hands.

One such attack leads to Virginia, one of the locals at the pub, being infected and she slowly comes to realise her nature. Instead of succumbing to her new desires she asks a nurse to open the blinds thus combusting in accordance with vampiric lore. Here we have an example of one choosing death over being undead and possibly confirming Greene and Mohammed’s thoughts that any normal person would see that being undead is worse than being dead. However, the growing love and friendship between Eli and Oskar shows that a vampire can display qualities we would normally associate with the living.

In the very end Eli shows a true, if somewhat horrific, display of his love for Oskar by saving him from being drowned by Oskar’s bullies. They then leave Blakeberg behind and it is assumed that Oskar will be Eli’s new procurer. While this may suggest that Eli is evil and using Oskar their final communication on screen is the tapping, in Morse code, of the words “I Love You”. It is difficult to reconcile the evil of the undead and their inability to have the feelings of the living with this simple but meaningful gesture. As more is written on this story actual analysis may be possible but not until we see past the Hollywood style monstrous vampire that pervades literature and its analysis.

Greene, R., & Mohammed, S. (2010). Zombies, vampires and philosophy: New life for the undead. [EBL Version]. Retrieved from: http://reader.eblib.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/%28S%28qux0p2h2iw3gejfc2ag0oly1%29%29/Reader.aspx?p=547557&o=96&u=auj%2fgfdBTTM9C%2bqGRevMUQ%3d%3d&t=1307687340&h=1F4D8F8E6F033648DB128FB7852867DC5C6E9947&s=4439158&ut=245&pg=1&r=img&c=-1&pat=n

Pan’s Labyrinth: One girl’s reality.

Pan’s Labyrinth Trailer

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Sreenwriter: Guillermo Del Toro

Starring:  Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil and Sergi López

Pan’s Labyrinth: One girl’s reality.

Guillermo Del Toro’s (2006) Pan’s Labyrinth deals with one girls reversion into a mythical world of her, supposed, own making. However how can we truly know what is real and is reality objective. Through psychoanalysis one could be lead to believe that Ophelia’s world is a happenstance of the harsh and cruel world she lives in (Seagal, 2006). How then do we know if it is her circumstance that mars her reality or if her fantasy can have an outcome on her other life thus having an effect on reality? If her fantasy can affect reality what is to say that it too is not within the realm of reality?

Early on we hear Ophelia’s mother remonstrating her for bringing to many books to her step-fathers’ abode, especially the fact they are fairytales and these are nonsense. However it is these fairytales and the girl’s beliefs that allow her to live through a harrowing existence. In her new home Ophelia is visited by a faun who gives her instructions to fulfil a quest to return the princess of the opening fable to her father. What ensues is a fantastical journey played against the background of the brutality of Vidal and Franco’s Spain.

Throughout the film we see instances of the sheer brutality of Ophelia’s stepfather and as an audience it would be easy to sympathise with Ophelia’s reversion to fantasy in escaping her horrid reality but how can we explain things from her fantasy impacting on her reality. If you consider the instance of Vidal finding Ophelia’s magic root and her mother’s subsequent hurling of it into the fire remonstrating to Ophelia that there is no such thing as magic. How can you explain the immediate effects of the magic roots death to that of the complications of Carmen’s pregnancy and death? MacKinnon and Heise (2010, p.232) assert that the continental philosophers view of reality is subject to the use of language, and in some instance visuals, and it is therefore society and reality that is made from the construction of words. If this is the case then cannot Ophelia create her own reality in parallel to the reality of the other protagonists in the film?

Ophelia’s death in one world and re-birth of life in the world of her fantasies is the final time where we can see her ‘fantasy’ impacting on reality. Her refusal to turn her brother over to the faun or Vidal displays a merging of both realities which affects both worlds (Orme, 2010). That is her death in one and new life in another.

Mackinnon, N., & Heise, D. (2010). Self, identity and social institutions. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Orme, J. (2010). Narrative desire and disobedience in Pan’s Labyrinthe. Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies,24(2), 219–234. Retrieved From: http://proquest.umi.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au /pqdweb?index=0&di

Segal, T. (2009). Pan’ s Labyrinth : A subjective view on childhood fantasies and the nature of evil. International Review of Psychiatry, 21(3), 269-270. doi: 10.1080/09540260902747193

The Third Man: Morality and dissolving friendships

The Third Man trailer

Director: Carol Reed (1949)

Screenwriter: Graham Greene

Starring: Joseph Cotton, Valli, Trevor Howard and Orson Wells.

The Third Man:  Morality and dissolving friendships

What would it take for one to dissolve a friendship of twenty years and would the  morals of a given situation mean nothing in the face of loyalty? Carrol Reed’s (1949) The Third Man has at its heart I believe these very questions. These questions can be said to be based on Aristotle’s notion of moral intelligence, where one must be able to apply their moral commitments in a variety of settings (Wartenburg, 2007, p. 97).  It is this proposed moral intelligence that is questioned throughout the film as characters gradually learn more of the man that is Harry Lime.

At this point it would be pertinent to look at the film’s general premise and the situation of the main players. The Third Man takes place in post-war Vienna, which has now been partitioned into four sectors controlled by the allies; Russia, France, USA and Great Britain. It is a placethat has been ravaged during the Second World War and its people remain suspicious of the powers that enforce the laws. It is also a place where the black market of goods is flourishing. It is this black market that gives the backdrop to the story and characters that inhabit it. At its crux is the loyalty of one man to his dead friend.

Holly Martins, a pulp fictionist, arrives in Vienna at the invitation and cost of his good friend and entrepreneur Harry Lime, yet he arrives only to find his friend dead and it is at his funeral service that he meets Major Calloway of the British arm of law and order in Vienna. From here starts Martins quest for truth and defence of his friend’s good name. Martins’ believes his friend’s death is murder and Calloway’s reticence to act as the sort of corruption that he has explored in one of his western novelettes. Through his bumbling investigation and interaction with Calloway and Lime’s lover Anna Schmidt he begins to unravel Harry Limes life in Vienna. It is his blind loyalty to Lime at the beginning of the film that develops the notion of the ending of friendship due to one’s awakening of their moral intelligence.

The reality and ethics of post-war Vienna are found in Lime’s dealing in diluted penicillin that has at its roots a verifiable truth of this moment in history (Schwab, 2003). As Martins learns more of his friends illicit activities his loyalty begins to weaken and when he discovers the truth that his friend is still alive he learns that his friend is indeed capable of all that Calloway has espoused. In the Ferris-wheel scene Lime’s lack of morality towards the victims of his dealings is made apparent and Martins subsequent visit to the children’s ward leads him too finally join Calloway in ensnaring Lime.

The dissolving of their friendship on moral grounds is complete. According to Wartenburg (2007, p.114), it is possible to dissolve a friendship fully on moral grounds if one takes into account Aristotle’s belief that one can moralistically dissolve a friendship if the said friend turns out to be a vile and unrepentant individual. In watching the film you will indeed find that this is the case for the now truly dead Harry Lime.

Wartenburg, T.E. (2007). Thinking on screen: Film as philosophy. New York, NY: Routledge

Schwab, U. (2003). Authenticity and ethics in the film the third man. Literature Film Quarterly, 28(1), 2-6, Retrieved from: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au    /ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=21276838-120c-4ea0-9299-29901db8ecb1%40sessionmgr15&vid=2&hid=25

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