Philosophy 45.316

This course investigates both how the tools of philosophy can help illuminate modern films, and how films can themselves be understood as forms of philosophy.  The approach of this class will be to investigate how the literary genres of tragedy and comedy can help us analyze the films listed below.  The first half of the course considers the Western and the gangster film as "tragic" genres of film; the second half considers film comedy.  We will inquire into philosophical theories of tragedy and comedy from Plato and Aristotle through Nietzsche as a way of helping us understand our own popular culture.


Required Readings:

All required readings will be available in free online versions.  You do not need to buy any books for this class.  However, for those who like to own physical books, you are encouraged to purchase the editions recommended below, or any other edition you like.


Sophocles, Complete Plays (Bantam)

      Recommended online version of "Ajax":

Aristophanes, Complete Plays (Bantam)

Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Aristotle, Poetics (Hackett) (free online version available at:



Required Films to be Viewed:


The eight films to be analyzed in this class are listed below.  All films will be available for viewing at the Media Center in O'Leary (you cannot check the films out however).



First reading assignment, for Wed. Sept. 7:  Sophocles' "Ajax" (any translation; recommended online version at: )

No class on Wed. Sept. 21 and Friday Oct. 14


Access to online copy of "Shane", beginning 9/5 for 3 weeks:


FILM ASSIGNMENTS (in the order in which we will discuss them)

1) "Shane" (1953)    

2) "The Wild Bunch" (1969)

3) "The Roaring Twenties" (1939)

4) "Goodfellas" (1990)

5) "The General" (1927)

6) "Duck Soup" (1933)

7) "M*A*S*H" (1970)

8) "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"  (1975)

         Transcript of peasant scene



1) Sophocles: Ajax (optional: Oedipus).

2)  Plato's criticism of tragedy, see here

3) Aristotle, The Poetics (complete)

3a) Freud: optional excerpt here (Freud's discussion of the Oedipal Complex)

4) Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy  Sections 1-10, 22 to end.

5) Aristophanes, "Peace", "The Birds"

6) "Carnival and Dialogue in Bakhtin's Poetics of Folklore," by Shanti Elliot (link is here: (if link does not work, do a web search for the title/author). 

7) Time permitting: Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, Section I




"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart)

"Unforgiven" (Clint Eastwood)

"The Searchers"