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Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership
Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership

Philosophy At The Movies

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  • Design and Innovation

    Design and Innovation

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    Radio Stockdale

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PHILOSOPHY AT THE MOVIES is an interview show, hosted by Shaun and Alex Baker, where popular movies are presented, with intriguing philosophical concepts through the arc of the narrative, choices the characters make as they face dilemmas, and through the inner dialogue of the characters.

Listen first, and then watch the movies, or watch first, then listen, if you would like to avoid spoilers.

The Best Years of Our Lives (29:55) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #029

What does this film tell us about the difficulties encountered by WWII veterans as the re-entered civilian life? How does the film show the uncomprehending nature of those that did not serve, and how best to bridge that experiential divide? What must veterans do to ease anxieties of family, friends a colleagues? What must family, friends and colleagues do to ease anxieties or PTS in veterans? How does this film show that the Lion’s share of this burden, arguably something owed veterans by the US government, is nevertheless unavoidably shouldered by families? How does the Stephenson family illustrate the social or emotional intelligence necessary to pull this off? How does Fred Derry’s story illustrate the difficulties in finding meaningful employment encountered by some returning veterans? How does the arc of his story contrast the attitudes of his wife with the attitude of Peggy, Al Stephenson’s daughter? What lesson does that contrast impart to us?

Equilibrium (29:55) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #028

What does this dystopian film tell us about connection between feelings or emotions and evil? Does the fact that the film is derivative of several films and works of literature dilute its message or its entertainment value? How does the society's social control technique, (chemical deadening of emotions and feelings, as a preventative for warfare and inhumanity), bring about the very things it attempts to prevent? What historical parallels are there in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia? More generally, what does this film tell us about the duality of human nature and cultural accomplishment? Do we attain cultural heights at inevitable moral costs? What exactly is the message with regard to controlling and disciplining our negative emotional tendencies? What connection does this message have with Plato’s thoughts on the dangers of art and literature? What does the Father and son story in the film tell us about past and present totalitarian societies’ efforts to censor, and their concomitant efforts to encourage their citizens to monitor and report each other?  

The Bird People in China (29:55) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #027

What does this film tell us as it contrasts the busy stressful lives of its two main characters in modern Japan and the idyllic life of the remote Chinese village they visit? How does it the film portray the diluting impact of modern technology and culture on unique indigenous cultures? How do the villagers instantiate conflicting interests that remote villages might have in trading with and interacting modern societies? How does the film construct the contrast between modern and primitive lifestyles during the trek to the remote Chinese village? The crash landing of a British airmen contributed to the beliefs of these villagers in regard to flying like birds. He lived out the balance of his life with the isolated group. His grand-daughter inherited the ‘flight school,’ that had formed and the semi-religious beliefs that grew up around this cross-cultural contact. How is this fictional story similar to so-called “cargo cults” of the mid-to-late 20th Century in Melanesia, (some of which survive to this day)? How does the film illustrate the conceptual challenges that primitive societies have when trying to make sense of their interactions with technologically advanced civilizations? How does the film illustrate the formation of deep empathy or value that anthropologists or missionaries often form with remote indigenous groups or cultures they study or visit?

The Lives of Others (29:59) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #026

What does this film, set in 1984 East Germany, tell us about the role of culture ministries in closed and authoritarian communist countries? What does it indicate about the role of fear and self-preservation in the exertion of control in such totalitarian systems of government? Is manipulation of such fear an engine of betrayal? How does day to day surveillance of private life affect Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler as he undertakes the task he so eagerly recommended to his superiors? How does the intimacy, and the literature and music he is exposed to as he watches writer Georg Dreyman and his girlfriend, actress Christa Sieland, drive the change in Wiesler from committed functionary to compassionate secret ally? How does the title reflect Wiesler’s lack of a personal life, and what message does that send us with regard to balancing career and life? How does the film cause us to reflect on parallel cases in the West, such as that of Edward Snowden? How much of an indictment of communism is this film, and how applicable is its lesson in the case of 21st Century communist China?

Seven Days in May (28:28) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #025

What does this 1964 film tell us about the state of the Cold War in the early 60s? How does it illustrate the unique nature of the American constitutional order, as compared to other governments of the world, where extra-constitutional military coups, overthrowing elected governments, often occur? How does the film reflect upon contemporaneous conspiracy theories of its day, and those of today? How does the film hold up as a prediction of what the near future, the 1970s, held for international relations? What lessons can be learned about civil military relations that can be extended to present day challenges and present foreign policy? How does the film portray the media environment of its day, and cause us to reflect on changes that have occurred since?

Another Round (Druk) (28:04) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #024

What does this film tell us about the role of alcohol in Danish culture, in particular, youth as they navigate the milestones of academic life? How does it illustrate the dual nature of alcohol use for purposes of lighting creativity or buoying self confidence or verve for life? How do the middle aged teachers that are the main characters illustrate the risks and rewards of using alcohol for this purpose? Is alcohol both a genie of the magic lamp, and a Pandora's box of risk? What exactly does it mean to describe alcohol as "liquid courage"? Does the loss of inhibition that comes with imbibing serve as an adequate substitute for the virtue courage, or is it a crutch or substitute to which it is dangerously easy to resort? Is this substitution role the door to addiction and the chemical dependency of alcoholism and attendant tragedies? Does the moderate drinker still run an unacceptable risk of falling into this trap? How does the story arch of the film answer these questions?

Tenet (29:44) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #023

What does this film, (premised upon the notion that time travel is possible, and there is only one possible world - our own - the events of which are fixed), tell us about how much influence such time travelling agents would actually have in their attempts to alter outcomes? What does it tell us about the author's intent with regard to designed complexity of the plot line? Is this film a case of an overly ambitious and complex film that works at cross purposes with itself as a vehicle of entertainment, which attempts to draw audiences in for multiple viewings? Are the prospects of figuring out the chronology of events presented in the story too slight to encourage those multiple viewings? How does the film illustrate and comment upon paradoxes that exist with regard to travel backward in time? Does the grandfather paradox show that such time travel is impossible? Did the release of this film in theaters (threatened with obsolescence, during the COVID pandemic), show a lack of responsibility with regard to risks to audiences that would show up for multiple viewings?

2001: A Space Odyssey (29:03) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #022

What does this 1968 film portray with regard to the possible interplay between intelligent guidance and evolutionary processes in the origins of humanity? What resonances does its story have with religious traditions on this subject? How does it reflect pop-cultural trends on that same question? How does it illustrate, in the 'person' of the HAL-9000 computer, the potentials and pitfalls of artificial intelligence? What does it tell us about the possible trajectory of human to post-human or post-biological development? How does the film reflect Cold War relations between the United States and Soviet Russia in the 1960s?

It's a Wonderful Life (29:55) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #021

What does this classic film suggest to us about travel between the actual and possible worlds? What does it suggest about invariance of character traits of individuals across possible worlds? Are Potter and George Bailey such invariant characters, the former always depraved, the latter always good? What was Clarence's purpose in showing George a particularly bleak alternate history of his town, one dominated by Potter's influence? How does the story reflect the wartime experiences of director Frank Capra, and star Jimmy Stewart? Is there a parallel between the life story of Jesus Christ and that of George Bailey? What lesson should each of us take away from the film?

Starship Troopers (28:30) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #020

What does the film, based loosely upon the Robert Heinlein novel, tell us about director, Paul Verhoeven's opinion of the novel? What is the message the film and novel transmits concerning civil/military relations today? What is the role for philosophical and ethical education in Heinlein's vision of secondary and post secondary education? What does he have us consider with regard to the notion of voluntary national service being a pre-condition for exercise of the franchise? What does the vision of the future, in the film and novel, tell us about the ideal of the military as a merit based organization? What is his vision with regard to gender and racial identity in the military?

Citizen Kane (29:30) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #019

What does this film tell us about the range of responses we can have toward aspects of our lives that are outside our complete control? How does Charles Foster Kane exemplify, through failure, Aristotle's views on virtues, his doctrine of the mean, and his views on happiness or flourishing? How does he exemplify, through failure, Stoic Doctrine? How does Kane's life parallel Welles's own life, and his character traits? What can we infer as to authorship with regard to the collaborative nature of his work on film and radio?

Blade Runner - 2049 (29:00) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #018

What does this film tell us about the potential to bio-engineer characteristics that would suit human beings for roles that require use of violence, such as bounty hunters or military combatants? What does it tell us about the ongoing project of creating AI that has an ability to perfectly mimic human emotional reactions? What does the ambiguous interpretation of Joi's actions indicate about this? What does the film tell us about the potential for neuro-engineers to customize and edit memories? Finally, what does it tell us about sexual objectification?

Five Came Back (29:35) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #017

What does this documentary series tell us about the sense of duty and service to country that was felt by five directors from the golden age of Hollywood (John Ford, John Huston, Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler)? What does it tell us about sterwardship responsibilities, with regard to US troops that was shouldered by General George C. Marshall and civilian leadership, during WWII? What does it tell us about the obligation to inform servicemen and women that were going into harm's way? How does the film show contemporary efforts to treat PTSD in servicemen? How do these directors' later films reflect their wartime experiences?

The Human Stain (29:13) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #016

What does this movie, based upon a Phillip Roth novel, tell us about cancel culture on campus? What does it tell us about the difficult choice made by the main character, Coleman Silk, who disowned his African American family in order to pursue success in his careers passing as a white Jewish man? Does the film attempt too much by cursorily including too many of the novel's narrative threads? Should it have more exclusively focused on one or other of these storylines? How does the casting work to lessen the plausibility of the story of Silk's later life?

The Exorcist (29:45) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #015

What does this 1973 film tell us about post Hays-Code Hollywood and the ethics of using child actors in roles such as that of the posessed daughter, Regan? What does it tell us about the interaction between the MPAA and film producers/distributors? What does the film make us consider with regard to the problem of the existence of evil and God? Why would God allow a perfectly malignant demon to exist? What do Fathers Karras and Merrin teach us about duty and self sacrifice? How does the film's setting at Georgetown University illustrate the role of religious belief in a more secular age? How do the characters' reactions to Regan's behavior instantiate these two 'realms'?

Shin Godzilla (29:40) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #014

What does this retelling of the Godzilla story tell us about the responsibilities of governments in handling emergency situations? How does it reflect contemporary Japanese bureaucracy and does it provide a window into how the Japanese conscience feels about WWII era lmperial leadership in the terminal stages of that war? The film's first half is dark satire, while the later half portrays international cooperation to defeat the threat, efforts led by an up and coming young minister. What does this tell us about keeping governments responsive and resiliant in a global age?

Get Out (29:00) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #013

How does this horror/suspense film engage with recent philosophical thought experiments having to do with brain transplants and issues of personal identity? What does it tell us about submersion of identity for social purposes? How does producer/director Jordan Peele utilize awkwardness in white/black relations to build suspense and foreboding in his audience? What did he intend to tell us regarding the challenges that young black males face when interacting with law enforcement? How do the several alternate endings he filmed reveal his own views and hopes on the subject?

Moon (29:49) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #012

What does this film tell us about the human proclivity to use fellow human beings as mere means to larger ends, such as corporate gain or climate change mitigation? Is it realistic to assume a corporation, its employees or society would treat cloned humans as less than human? How does the AI robot, GERTY illustrate codes of ethics for AI human interaction? What evidence is there that GERTY is simply following an algorithm to protect Sam? What evidence is there that GERTY actually has compassion for Sam, and a moral sense?

Sergeant Rutledge (29:22) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #011

What does this story, about the court-martial of a black cavalryman accused of rape and murder of a white woman, tell us about justice, fairness, and bigotry in the post-bellum U.S. Army? What does it tell us about the tenuous and inconsistent nature of the American social contract at the time? What message does John Ford wish to send his audience of 1960 with this film? Does he presage elements of the looming civil rights battles of that decade? Does he intend to show us that the military led the way in regard to integrating black Americans?

Twelve O'Clock High (29:15) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #010

What does this story, based on the early days of American involvement in the air war over Germany, tell us about the tensions that exist, for commanders, when they try to balance mission accomplishment with stewardship responsibilities they have for the well-being of the men and women they lead? How does it illustrate the emotional and psychological toll that these command responsibilities take? How does the film contrast with later Vietnam era films, as regards cynicism and combat exhaustion?

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (29:51) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #009

What is the relationship between violence and civilization? How do the two main characters, Tom Doniphant and Ransom Stoddart reflect that relationship? What does the film tell us about circumstances where it becomes necessary to act with 'dirty hands' in order to preserve civilization? What does this film tell us about America's founding, and the mythologizing of our founders? How does John Ford use the character of the black man Pompey as an object lesson in the inconsistencies between American ideals and practice in regard to civil rights?

Saving Private Ryan (28:40) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #008

What are the concepts of the natural lottery and moral luck, and how are they represented in the film? Does the gritty realism of the film’s opening sequence morally contextualize the choices Capt. Miller and his squad make during the film with regard to POWs? Is it fair of Capt. Miller to demand, with his last words, that Ryan “earn it” as he dies after defending the bridge? Did Ryan satisfy that demand? Is this final demand from Miller representative of a message from members of US armed services to the country they serve?

Ikiru (29:40) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #007

What does this 1952 Japanese film, about a bureaucrat who discovers he has terminal cancer, tell us about choice, direction in life, and living authentically? What does it tell us about the focus and hard questions that often happen when confronted with one's own mortality? What does it say about the compromises with reality or necessity that most people must make when it comes to the ability to make a living or provide for family, and what does it tell us with regard to obligations of sons and daughters to parents?

Jurassic Park (29:41) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #006

What does this film tell us about the benefits and risks associated with reviving long extinct life forms? What is the interplay between scientific inquiry and entrepreneurial efforts in the film? What are the competing motivations in such cases? Do such projects as the real-world enterprise "Pleistocene Park" run similar risks while offering their possible benefits? If so, how might they be mitigated? Is it, in principle, impossible to predict consequences of playing with complex systems, such as eco-systems? If so, should we abstain from doing so?

Extreme Measures (29:00) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #005

What does this film, about nerve regeneration research, tell us about utilitarian thought and the role of consent in medical research using human subjects? Is the film too far-fetched? How does the history of WWII medical research help to answer that question? What sorts of rationalizations do we find in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee (1932 to 1972) that have resonance with the arguments of doctors in this film? What lessons can be learned for medical research by comparing and contrasting this fictional story with these actual historical episodes?

Black Robe (27:10) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #004

What does this film, about Jesuit missionaries in Algonquin territory during the 1600s tell us about rationality and religious beliefs? How does it illustrate the conceptual difficulties that can occur when we attempt to understand cultures whose experiences and outlooks are foreign to us in fundamental ways? How does it illustrate the alliances and power politics of the colonial period, and just how similar in goals and methods were the several native tribes to the European powers with which they allied?

The Hate U Give (29:35) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #003

What does W.E.B Dubois' concept of 'double consciousness' tell us about the main character Starr Carter, and life as a black American? What does it tell us about recent police shootings of unarmed black men? What does THUGLIFE mean? Is the message of The Hate U Give one of despair or hope when it comes to race relations? How does this theme connect with other recent films and the comedy of Key and Peele, and Dave Chapell? These, and other questions are explored.

Blade Runner (29:44) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #002

What does Blade Runner tell us about the role of empathy in morality? How are memories connected with personal identity? What connection is there between the capacity for cruelty and moral agency? Is there religious significance or commentary in this film and in the book upon which it is based? These, and other questions are explored.

Arrival (23:48) Shaun and Alex Baker  Episode #001

What does the 2016 film Arrival tell us about time, and our relationship to it? If you knew your future and could choose, would you live it exactly as it is to unfold? Does foreknowledge of the future course of our lives imply that there is no free will? Would it be wrong to inform loved ones of the tragedies you see for them? Would it be wrong to enter into relationships that you know will end in tragedy? These and other questions are explored in this film.