Film as Thought Experiment: A Happy-Go-Lucky Case?

Film-Philosophy 16 (1):72-84 (2012)
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Can some films be genuine thought experiments that challenge our commonsense intuitions? Certain filmic narratives and their mise-en-scène details reveal rigorous reasoning and counterintuitive outcomes on philosophical issues, such as skepticism or personal identity. But this philosophical façade may hide a mundane concern for entertainment. Unfamiliar narratives drive spectator entertainment, and every novel cinematic situation could be easily explained as part of a process that lacks motives of philosophical elucidation. The paper inverses the above objection, and proposes that when the main cinematic character resists spectator engagement (a crucial source of cinematic entertainment), emotionally challenged spectators also question their commonsensical beliefs about his/her actions, and detect a conceptually novel situation as such. A case study is Mike Leigh’s film Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), in which the main female character presents an unrelenting but eccentric version of 'feel good' happiness. Spectators gradually detect that the previously unexamined, commonsensical version of subjective happiness comes at the price of individual eccentricity, and that the choice of a subjective theory of happiness leads to consequences hitherto unacknowledged.

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