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Filmed Thought

Cinema as Reflective Form

With the rise of review sites and social media, films today, as soon as they are shown, immediately become the topic of debates on their merits not only as entertainment, but also as serious forms of artistic expression. Philosopher Robert B. Pippin, however, wants us to consider a more radical proposition: film as thought, as a reflective form. Pippin explores this idea through a series of perceptive analyses of cinematic masterpieces, revealing how films can illuminate, in a concrete manner, core features and problems of shared human life.

Filmed Thought examines questions of morality in Almodóvar’s Talk to Her, goodness and naïveté in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, love and fantasy in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, politics and society in Polanski’s Chinatown and Malick’s The Thin Red Line, and self-understanding and understanding others in Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place and in the Dardennes brothers'oeuvre. In each reading, Pippin pays close attention to what makes these films exceptional as technical works of art (paying special attention to the role of cinematic irony) and as intellectual and philosophical achievements. Throughout, he shows how films offer a view of basic problems of human agency from the inside and allow viewers to think with and through them. Captivating and insightful, Filmed Thought shows us what it means to take cinema seriously not just as art, but as thought, and how this medium provides a singular form of reflection on what it is to be human.

Author Information

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. His most recent books include The Philosophical Hitchcock: “Vertigo” and the Anxieties of Unknowingness and Hegel’s Realm of Shadows: Logic as Metaphysics in “The Science of Logic,” both published by the University of Chicago Press.


“An ambitious and successful exploration of film as philosophy—or rather, to quote the title of an important book by V. F. Perkins, of film as film, and thereby as a version of philosophy. The form reflects on itself, and in this way brings medium and content into a subtle and shifting relationship with each other and with the world. Philosophers have written very well on film before—the obvious instances are Gilles Deleuze and Stanley Cavell, the latter playing a large part in Pippin’s book—but none has written with so long and so close an attention to individual films or with so intimate a sense of where and how the philosophy plays out in these works (and what kind of philosophy it is not).”
— Michael Wood, Princeton University, author of "Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much" and "Film: A Very Short Introduction"

Filmed Thought is film philosophy at its finest. At a time when so much academic philosophy speaks only to specialized audiences, Pippin’s book is a remarkable work of public scholarship, one that will surely become a classic. Just as viewers never tire of rewatching the films of Hitchcock, Malick, and Ray, readers will return again and again to Filmed Thought, finding something new, something captivating, something worth thinking about, each and every time.”
— Martin Woessner, City College of New York

“There are many riches in these chapters that will reward the careful reader. Taken together, the result is stimulating, engaging, and thought-provoking. Filmed Thought shows convincingly why philosophers should take cinema seriously, and how film theorists can engage in philosophy through cinema. A major contribution.”
— Robert Sinnerbrink, Macquarie University, author of "Cinematic Ethics" and "New Philosophies of Film"

" Filmed Thought is accessibly written, focuses on wonderful films, and argues compellingly for the intellectual intricacy of cinematic works that may already be very familiar to us."
— Lucy Bolton, Times Higher Education

Honorable Mention
— 2019 CriterionCast Gift Guide: The 20 Best Film Books to Give This Year

“If, as Pippin has recently put it, cinema is ‘filmed thought,’ then the cinema from below embodies a historically distinct kind of thinking. As attempts to peek behind the curtain or—to use their metaphor of choice—to look beneath the surface of life under capitalism.”
— Jensen Suther, Senses of Cinema

“I suspect I will often return to Filmed Thought. Each chapter is packed with observations which cast an academically well-worn movie in a whole new light. When I read Pippin’s remark that we never see Jeff from Rear Window take an actual picture (or even load any of his cameras), I wanted to smack my head for never having noticed something so simple, yet so fascinating in its implications. Such small, strange details illustrate how the best films demand both multiple viewings and constant reassessment. Hopefully, Pippin’s analytical framework will inspire similar pieces on more diverse films.”
— Thomas Puhr, Film International

"Pippin, a prolific analyst of cinematic art...[argues] that film, or at least some films, are not just entertainment to be watched and enjoyed, but require a more involved engagement and interpretive effort—not unlike philosophical texts—and that such effort yields insights not only aesthetic but ethical, ontological, and epistemological."
— C. D. Kay, Choice

Audience: Professional and scholarly;