Cosmos and Camus

Science Fiction Film and the Absurd

by Shai Tubali (Author)
©2020 Prompt XII, 148 Pages


Over the last two decades, philosophers have been increasingly inclined to consider science fiction films as philosophical exercises that center on the nature of human consciousness and existence. Albert Camus’ philosophy of the absurd, however, has almost never been employed as a constructive perspective that can reveal unexplored aspects of these films. This is surprising, since science fiction films seem to be packed with visions and dialogues that echo the Sisyphean universe.
Cosmos and Camus endeavors to set foot in this uncharted terrain. Its first part introduces the main components of Camus’ absurdity so that it can be easily applied to the analysis of the films later. Equipped with these Camusean essentials, the book delves into an indepth analysis of two first-encounter films (Contact and Arrival) and two A.I. films (A.I. and Her). These analyses yield more than an insightful reflection of the absurd contents in science fiction film. Indeed, imaginative collisions with nonhumans seem to tell us a lot about the nature of the absurd in the human condition, as well as raising the question of whether absurdity is exclusively a human matter. Ultimately, the interpretation of the films illuminates the films themselves just as much as it illuminates, challenges, and expands Camus’ concept of absurdity.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: Camus’ absurd and science fiction film: A potential point of convergence?
  • Part I Camus’ absurd: Consciousness and limits
  • Chapter 1 The redemptive power of absurd walls in The Stranger
  • Chapter 2 “If I were a tree”: Facing the limits of human existence in The Myth of Sisyphus
  • Chapter 3 “A strange form of love”: Responding to the limits of human existence in The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel
  • Part II Science fiction films: Absurd at the edge of the cosmos
  • Introduction to Part II
  • Chapter 4 When the silent universe speaks: Applying Camus’ absurd to the alien encounters of Contact and Arrival
  • Chapter 5 Dreams of the impossible: Applying Camus’ absurd to the human/machine relations of A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Her
  • Chapter 6 The strangers: Reflections on the interrelations between Camus’ absurd and sci-fi encounters with nonhumans
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Mikel Burley and Dr. Stefan Skrimshire from the University of Leeds, who supervised the research that inspired the writing of this book. Together we traversed this uncharted territory, and I cannot imagine attaining any of the insights in this book without our fervent dialogue and their unwavering trust, engagement, and affection.

I am also grateful for the outstanding support that I received from my editor at Peter Lang, Dr. Laurel Plapp. From beginning to end, in difficulty and triumph, she was fully and keenly devoted, as if this were the only book in the world for her.

It is important to acknowledge the scholars who eagerly read the manuscript and strongly endorsed its publication: Dr. David Sorfa, Professor Jacob Golomb, Dr. Peter Krämer, Dr. Grace Whistler, and Dr. Thomas Pölzler. No doubt, the fact that scholars from different fields – Camus Studies, Film Studies, and the Philosophy of Film - expressed interest in this book says much about the unusual interdisciplinary dialogue it evokes.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Peter Francev, chief-editor of Journal of Camus Studies, and to Dr. Rob Van Gerwen, chief-editor of Aesthetic Investigations, for welcoming versions of chapters of this book into publication.

My dear friends – Tamar and Nir Brosh, and Noga and Jan Mueller – were there all along, lovingly accompanying the birth of each chapter and immersing themselves in the materials. For a while, we were all Camus and film-philosophy enthusiasts! Thank you for the patience, listening and fiery conversations.


Works by Albert Camus


Camus’ absurd and science fiction film: A potential point of convergence?

In this book, I will examine the relevance of Albert Camus’ philosophy of the absurd to science fiction films – in particular, the subgenre involving encounters with nonhuman beings.1 To establish such a connection, I will invoke aspects of the Camusean analysis of the absurd to explain and understand four films from this subgenre. I will then test whether the context offered by this type of film enables a new understanding of Camus’ “feeling of the absurd” (Nagel 1971; Pölzler 2018) and the various tensions he considers inherent to human existence.

Yet, quite justifiably, various questions arise: Why science fiction films? And why Camus? What reason is there to connect the two? What leads me to believe that Camusean analysis of the absurd in the human condition could provide a fertile ground for a fresh perspective on science fiction film?

The philosophy of science fiction film

Over the last two decades, many philosophers have been increasingly inclined to consider film – and, more specifically, science fiction film – as a source of philosophical inquiry (Sanders 2008: 1; Litch 2010: 2). The ←1 | 2→more that is written on the subject, the clearer it is that opinions on the exact philosophical nature of film differ starkly. Scholars seem to share the view that films do not construct proper or explicit philosophical arguments in the way they approach fundamental questions (Anderson 2018; Baggini 2018). Some, however, consider film “an external embodiment” of philosophical thought (Rowlands 2005: 3), and, as such, an “effective tool for introducing a philosophical topic” (Litch 2010: 4). Others believe that films are more than mere tools for illustrating philosophical arguments and suggest that they may provoke philosophical thinking and both echo and develop philosophical ideas (Sanders 2008: 1). Finally, a more provocative approach, most prominently expressed by Stephen Mulhall (2016: 3–10), rejects both previous approaches on the basis that their use of film only serves to reconfirm theories to which they are already committed. Maintaining that films are, in fact, active participants in the making of philosophy, Mulhall argues for their capacity to expand philosophy beyond the reach of formal arguments.2


XII, 148
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (June)
Camus’ philosophy of the absurd Science fiction film philosophy Existentialism and Absurdism in film Posthumanism, aliens and robots in science fiction film Criticism of Camus’ philosophy of the absurd
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XII, 148 pp.

Biographical notes

Shai Tubali (Author)

Shai Tubali is a postgraduate researcher in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science at the University of Leeds. His Masters by Research inspired Cosmos and Camus. Currently, he is conducting his doctoral research in the field of the philosophy of mysticism. His previous academic publications include several articles in philosophy journals. As an independent lecturer and author since 2000, he has published 23 books in English, Hebrew and German in the fields of Eastern philosophy and selftransformation. He is also head of the Human Greatness center in Berlin, Germany, and travels extensively throughout Europe for lectures and seminars.


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162 pages