The rise of the machines
Instructions: Select and answer two (2) of the following questions in the form of a comprehensive essay. Each answer should be a thorough and considered composition structured around a specific and clearly stated thesis, and will be worth 50 points.
Your answers should demonstrate your knowledge of the films we’ve screened, the assigned readings, and course discussions; ideas should be clearly articulated, not merely implied. That is to say, responses should reflect an understanding of the material, not merely the ability to cite it, and should include evidence – detailed references to specific shots/scenes – to support your point(s).
- Papers should be typed and adhere to standard MLA format.
- Papers should also be checked for correct grammar, spelling and punctuation.
- Film titles are to be in italics, not in quotation marks.
- When discussing the events of a film, use present tense.
- Also when discussing a film, use characters’ names, not the actors’ names.
- Upload your document to the Assignment section of the class website
- Please include both of your responses in a single document, and indicate which
questions you are addressing by including their numbers
- If you are interested in feedback, please indicate that at the beginning of your
paper. Not asking will not impact your grade; it just saves me time and effort.
- Formalist critics saw art forms as systems of communication within a culture. This means that the basic, or “raw,” materials from which art is created are taken from every day life. They are, however, mediated through the artist who, by using them in new and/or unusual ways, constructs a new meaning or “reality.” This theory they based on Sklovskij’s notion that the purpose of art is to renew our perceptions about reality which daily life tends to automatize – to make mechanical. Thus, they felt that art should, through the use of technical and/or stylistic devices, “defamiliarize” every day life and experience.
In light of this theory, examine any of the films we’ve screened this term. How does the director use form and content to “defamiliarize” the every day? That is, what cinematic and/or narrative devices does s/he use in order to provide us with a new perspective on some aspect of our own lives? Clearly state what aspect you think the film is providing a new perspective on, and what means the director used to make us rethink this aspect.
- In the introduction to Film Theory Goes to the Movies, co-editors Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins make the following observation regarding the treatment of film in contemporary culture:
The analysis of contemporary movies has, for the most part, been left to the
world of popular reviewing – a system that is based on sound-bite value
judgments, which precludes consideration of the cultural significance of
these texts. Public discussion about the broader implications of movies is
usually framed in apocalyptic terms by cultural conservatives on both the left
and the right who are eager to see them only as symptoms of an all-purpose
moral and intellectual decay. The end result is an especially unfortunate
situation in which those texts that have the most powerful impact on how we
envision ourselves and each other, on how we imagine our present, past and
future – in short, those movies for which there is the most pressing need for
intensive critical analysis – are the ones most often evaluated in terms of
thumbs, popcorn boxes, stars, hankies, and Armageddon (1).
In light of the quote above, examine any three films (on the syllabus) in terms of their impact on society as a whole. That is, what do you consider to be their social and/or cultural significance? Or, to put it another way, how has (if indeed it has) this course changed the way that you look at film – or specifically, the three films of your choice?
- Personal essay: In the introduction to his book, Storytelling & Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature, Frank McConnell explains:
You are the hero of your own life-story. The kind of story you want to tell
yourself about yourself has a lot to do with the kind of person you are, and
can become. You can listen to (or read in books or watch in films) stories
about other people. But that is only because you know, at some basic level,
that you are – or could be – the hero of those stories too. And out of these
make-believe selves, all of them versions of your own self-in-the-making, you
learn, if you are lucky and canny enough, to invent a better you than you could have before the story was told. (3)
Briefly discuss what you’ve learned from some of the characters (protagonists and antagonists alike) that we’ve encountered this semester. How have they (or will they) help you “invent a better you”? (Note: This is a deceptively easy question; please treat it with the same depth and breadth as any of the others.)
Option 3a: You may combine questions 2 and 3 into one, longer essay that explains not only the cultural significance of the three films (or more if you like) of your choice, but also their impact on you personally.
- Several of the films that we have screened this term – specifically Transcendent Man, Blade Runner, Her, and WALL•E – deal with society’s relationship with technology. While some of the predictions regarding things like robots and artificial intelligence are positive, many prominent people, including Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, along with Ray Kurzweil, believe that we should be concerned about what the future may bring.
Briefly discuss where you stand on this issue, given what you’ve encountered in the aforementioned films, as well as in the comments made by the aforementioned experts and entrepreneurs, which have been uploaded to CANVAS.
- According to Campbell’s theory of the hero’s journey, as well as Jung’s theory of archetypes, the hero of a story may well come up against a ‘father figure’ who must be bettered, persuaded or whose approval must be achieved in some way. Ultimately, by whatever means, the difficult relationship between the two must be reconciled. This person may well be a person in high authority or who has significant power in some way. It may also be a god or immortal of some kind.
Several of the films we’ve screened this term feature father-son relationships – Victor and Arnold Joseph (Smoke Signals), David/Bud and George (Pleasantville),
Roy and Tyrell (Blade Runner), Ricky and Col. Fitts (American Beauty). Discuss at
least two of these relationships in terms of the issues involved, how they are
reconciled, and what we, the audience, learn in the process.
- Several feminist film critics, as well as John Berger in Ways of Seeing (see excerpt below), suggest that classic Hollywood cinema depicts the male as active and the female as passive. Looking at the women in the films that we have screened this term, how accurate do you believe this assertion to be? That is, are women being depicted differently in recent films?
Chapter 3 – Ways of Seeing – John Berger:
According to usage and conventions, which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome, the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. If the promise is large and credible his presence is striking. If it is small or incredible, he is found to have little presence. The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, sexual – but its object is always exterior to the man. A man’s presence suggests what his is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence many be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be capable of what he is not. But the pretense is always towards a power which he exercises over others.
By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste – indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.
To be born a woman has been to be born, within the allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s self being split in two. A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. (45-6)