Ethics of Complicity in Cinema

Project summary

After post-modernism, post-structuralism, so-called post-feminism and some other post-s, critical approaches to Cinema Studies seem to be lacking in aim and focus in regard to the way spectators engage with films. Beyond the treatment of films as mere ‘entertainment’, criticism has emphasised visceral or affective responses and psychoanalytical explanations. This has precipitated a clear concern in many films with ethical issues ranging from the treatment of nudity on screen to the abject dehumanisation of silenced warfare, from national identity discourses to euthanasia as an act of love. This project explored many of these concerns, and focused on the very precise ways in which films make or try to make the spectator complicit in the ethical issues dramatised in their respective narratives.

The aim of the project was not to find which director or which films actually ‘do’ philosophy, nor to determine what kind of morals are acceptable in the work of a series of film-makers, but instead to examine how the directors themselves and their films engage, and make viewers engage, with ethical issues. This project was further intended to influence teachers and students of film studies, locally (in the various courses that are taught in Oxford), nationally, and internationally too. The ultimate aim was to change the paradigms through which viewers understand film, spectatorship, and the broader rules of engagement with the arts, and it achieved this mission by developing a successful seminar series that brought together a group of scholars and graduate students interested in Ethics and Cinema.

Lead investigator

Dr Maria Donapetry, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Lecturer in Spanish, Balliol College, University of Oxford

Research team

Dr Reidar Due, Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages and Tutorial Fellow, Magdalen College, University of Oxford

Dr Nadine Elzein, Department of Philosophy and Wadham College, University of Oxford

Contact details for enquiries

Please email the lead investigator, Dr Maria Donapetry, for any queries regarding this project.