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Essays on Values and Practical Rationality

Ethical and Aesthetical Dimensions

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Edited By António Marques and João Sàágua

The essays presented here are the outcome of research carried out by members of IFILNOVA (Institute for Philosophy of New University of Lisbon) in 2016.

The IFILNOVA Permanent Seminar seeks to show how values are relevant to humans (both socially and individually). This seminar is the ‘place’ where different research will converge towards a unified viewpoint. This includes the discussion of the following questions: What is the philosophical contribution to current affairs and decisions that depend crucially on values? Can philosophy make a difference, namely by bringing practical reason to bear on these affairs and decision? And how to do it? Which are our scientific ‘allies’ in this enterprise; psychology, communication sciences, even sociology and history?

This volume shows the connection between practical rationality and values and covers the dimensions ethics, aesthetics and politics.

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The Value(s) of Cinema: Mise-en-scène, Point of View and Ethical Problems (Maria Irene Aparício)

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The Value(s) of Cinema: Mise-en-scène, Point of View and Ethical Problems


MARIA IRENE APARÍCIO

‘One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.’

***

‘Delight becomes pictorial

When viewed through pain,

More fair, because impossible

That any gain.’

Emily Dickinson

On April 3rd, 1986, Stanley Cavell delivered a Tanner Lecture1 at Stanford University on the subject The Uncanniness of the Ordinary. In that lecture the author returned to some subjects he had already dealt with in Must We Mean What We Say? (1969), including the philosophy of the ordinary e.g. the subjects of language use, experience, and world, to J. L. Austin’s similar questions and also to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, particularly the issue concerning the relation between thought and practice. Cavell underlines the idea of ‘its relative neglect in contemporary intellectual life’ (Cavell 1986: 83), and he explains the meaning of the ‘Uncanniness of the ordinary’ as ‘… the possibility or threat of what philosophy has called scepticism, understood … as the ← 337 | 338 → capacity, even desire, of ordinary language to repudiate itself, specifically to repudiate its power to word the world2, to apply to the things we have in common, or to pass them by’3. In a certain way, he considers that one has to trust the value and truth of an idea or belief, or one may be missing important opportunities and experiences. Previously, writing about the relation between ‘artwork’ classification and evaluation Cavell also emphasizes that ‘works of art are valuable’, but their ‘value is inescapable in human experience, and conduct is one of the facts of life, and of art, which modern art lays bare’ (Cavell 1976 [1969]: 216).

This time, I will not take these questions any further, but Cavell’s concern relates to my point since the purpose of this essay is an attempt to understand whether the specific ‘language’ of cinema, as both an art and a popular medium, can embody the ‘uncanny of the ordinary’, with it being a chance to learn something about the most trivial but fearful or (in)significant experiences of life which otherwise would be difficult to apprehend. That means to assume that film can describe and shape common feelings, and deal with philosophical questions like ethics and moral standards. Sometimes cinema’s description or representation are even able to change audiences’ opinions and political thinking about sensitive issues like otherness or human rights, for instance. Thus, the cross-question is: what is the power of film to depict and influence people’s decisions throughout the course of their ordinary lives, simply by highlighting their dilemmas, gestures and the possible future consequences of every action? For Cavell ‘the magic of Hollywood is that it offers us not an escape from the burden of, say, Kant but, precisely, engagement with it’ (Melville 1993: 172–192, 173), which means to assume film as philosophy through the connection between art, experience and thought. The author distinguishes between ‘language, experience and world’, whereas our main objective is to show the relation between film, experience, world and moral life. The issue leads us to the cinema’s ← 338 | 339 → connection with intellectual life – since films are related to human perception and thought. Besides, we are interested in understanding the relevance of contemporary art’s practices to the discussion of humanities, including their influence on a future ‘way of life’ – a culture. The cinematic aesthetic form is an artistic and cultural representation, but also a popular one, with a strong effect on behaviours and peoples’ lives.

In short, I will attempt to find evidence of cinema’s link with ethical and moral value(s) by discussing the following subjects: a) what kind of values and judgments are represented in films? b) Can we learn about human values like freedom, courage, loyalty and honesty by simply seeing movies? c) How does the mise-en-scène and the uses of points of view shape moral thoughts and bring about ethical decisions, leading to the sense that good should prevail over evil? Finally, what ‘practice’ of value is this about? If some films can raise the vexed questions of human values, the contrary is also true; ethics and moral issues provide the cinema with the substance for its stories and mark the high point in contemporary debates on values in the arts and visual culture. I am quite sure that Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula, USA, 1982, 152’) is one of those films, and if analysed with reference to the narrative historical context it can be very revealing of what humans are capable of, and what one can do and think under difficult or extreme conditions.

In order to identify the relevant problems which arise from the cinematic mise-en-scène and the film editing, or montage, of Sophie’s Choice, I will look at the characters’ performances and their involvement in moral judgment processes. From a philosophical perspective there are some important concepts, such as free will and reasoning and decision, that we can apply to both the characters’ performances and the spectator’s judgment. These concepts will help us to understand the problem of showing ethical and moral judgments in cinema and to think about the differences between describing a value system and representing it in cinematic narratives, according to the actions of everyday life.

In this context, I will consider the mise-en-scène as a multi-layered process – form and narrative – that includes the general elements placed in front of the camera, like settings, props, costumes, the actors’ performances, gestures or facial expressions, and camera movements and angles, but also cinema’s possibility of breaking the sense of trivial ‘pictures’ and moments of ordinary life by changing points of view. ← 339 | 340 → This way, the mise-en-scène can mirror human experience and life by spotting its movements and details that, beyond the camera, have little value or no visibility at all. Besides, this is a common assertion that had already been transmitted by some philosophers and film scholars; films allow us to see life as it has never been seen before. Trivial moments of life, once projected, may appear odd, unusual and unexpected experiences. By changing a single point of view, what is normal suddenly becomes uncanny, i.e. too close or too far, even difficult or impossible to explain.

In Sophie’s Choice, the characters’ stories appear like real sequences of events which they cannot control or interfere with. By simply using a character’s point of view – which is, in fact, the director’s voice – ‘life’ becomes something to look at and to think about: from both an aesthetic and an ethical viewpoint. The film’s sense depends on the director’s particular vision and system, though decoding its political meaning is not difficult if one has particular knowledge about the subject, or recognizes something related to both history and everyday life. With this in mind, it is not difficult to identify the current philosophical focus of public debate on film and values. Sophie’s Choice exposes, indeed, a common knowledge of principles (i.e. moral rules or standards of good behaviour) as well as the consequences of any personal or political ‘transgression’. In order to perceive the common/moral level of the film, I will address to both the description of values and their filmic representation in the context of history. Actually, the social and political condition surrounding Sophie’s life – the war and its aftermath as one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever known – is an important reference for the mise-en-scène, tracing out the complicated lines of reasoning that lead spectators to form their own judgments and conclusions.

1.  Mise-en-scène: pictures and values

The concept of mise-en-scène has been discussed by many authors, filmmakers and philosophers. On the one hand, the mise-en-scène is connected with the concept of space and the film frame; on the other, ← 340 | 341 → it is an ambiguous dimension of cinema because it figures a subjective vision influenced by or based on personal beliefs or feelings rather than based on facts. Underlining its ambiguity, Adrian Martin refers to the concept as a controversial issue and even as an undefined term, but also as a kind of ‘pure style’: ‘Mise-en-scène can transform the elements of a given scene; it can transform a narrative’s destination; it can transform our mood or our understanding as we experience the film. Style is not a supplement to content; it makes content – and remakes it, too, in flight.’4 In other words, the mise-en-scène – i.e. the construction of an atmosphere, the feeling of a place or situation – is the first motto of the film in the sense that it expresses the mood of the characters, their principles of good and correct behaviour, etc. The second one is the point of view as we will see in our case study.

Sophie’s Choice is Alan J. Pakula’s cinematic adaptation of William Styron’s homonymous novel (1979)5. The film tells the story of Sophie Zawistowska (Meryl Streep) a Polish Roman Catholic immigrant living in Brooklyn with her lover Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline), who is a Jew and a rather mad genius diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and who is obsessed with the Nazis narrow escape from justice. The film is set in 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War, and it is narrated by another character, Stingo (Peter MacNicol), an aspiring young writer looking for inspiration for his first novel. He soon becomes Sophie’s and Nathan’s closest friend. Stingo is newly-arrived from The South, a detail ← 341 | 342 → which may be seen as an indirect reference to slavery, another ghostly reference and itself a tragic episode of history. In his ‘Introduction’ to the book The Cunning of History (1978), William Styron would state that: ‘If slavery was the great historical nightmare of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the Western world, it was slavery’s continuation, in the horror we have come to call Auschwitz, which is the nightmare of our own century’6. Although we cannot be sure if this detail of the story means a fate of inherited guilt for the characters, it is quite clear that human rights are the general background of the film and that all the characters have to deal with a kind of guilt by descent.

Following the story we learn that Sophie is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Her father was an anti-Semitic lawyer7, yet he was shot in a camp, just like Sophie’s husband. Sophie’s life is a tragedy, full of secrets, lies and hidden details of her past life that she will tell only to her friend Stingo in that long flashback in the film, bringing back painful memories including the moment when she had to choose which one of her children would be murdered to avoid them both being killed. Her confession challenges the spectator’s emotions and makes possible the audience’s doubts and questioning about the right of Sophie – if any – to choose between her son and her little daughter in the extreme conditions imagined and depicted by the movie story.

In the same way as melodrama, the spectator’s point of view is eventually based on his (absence of) experience but human common knowledge is that ‘right must win over wrong’, which means that ‘evil should have lost’. However, this is not a drama but a tragic representation of a vivid painful event because, in this case, Sophie had to face an impossible moral/ethical dilemma; a situation in which a difficult choice had to be made between two possibilities, though both would have equally devastating consequences. In Aristotle’s Poetics ‘a tragedy … is a mimesis of an action – that is, it is [morally] serious and purposeful’ (Baxter & Atherton 1997: 67); ‘… tragedy is an imitation, ← 342 | 343 → not of human beings, but of actions and of life. … Story, then, is the first principle and like the soul of tragedy, and characters are second’8. Thus my decision to include this film in my brief analysis has to do with cinema’s ability to tell life’s stories and their dilemmas. Besides, the film points out how difficult it might be to make a decision against one’s own free will, and how the decision-making process depends on reason and emotions. What we know and what we see affect the ability to decide under certain circumstances, such as putting lives on the line which is exactly the case here.

Dealing with our first question – what kind of values and judgments are represented in the film “Sophie’s Choice”? – we are confronted with pedagogical issues about what to see and how to ‘read’ that are also the basis for the moral approach of our case study. In point of fact, at a basic level of practical wisdom, we know that values are the principles people have that help them to live in a reasonable and safe way. Values are also beliefs, and sometimes they refer to goals to be achieved. But in any case it is obvious that human values are connected to both emotions and reason, which influence people’s decisions, and in the case of movie pictures, strong feelings arise quickly and easily. Films produce, and frequently reflect, emotional pleas and political meaning, and those results are achieved with the mise-en-scène and editing techniques – the primary features of cinematic representation. This is probably the reason why so many movies are controversial regarding the possibility of being a good or bad influence on the audience’s opinion, and even their decision-making. However, the process is neither simple nor natural. It always depends on the spectator’s experience.

Analysing the issue of ‘Spectator, audience and response’, Patrick Phillips says the relationship between the spectator and the cinema is always changing from one film to another. He also states that every particular response to a film depends on crucial factors, namely, the assumption of different selves, including ‘a cultural self who makes particular intertextual references (to other films, other kinds of images and sounds) based on the bank of material she possesses’, and ‘a private self who carries the memories of her own experiences and who may find ← 343 | 344 → personal significance in a film in ways very different from others in her community of interest’ (Phillips 1996: 119).

The previous question leads us to our second question: Can one learn about human values like freedom, courage, loyalty and honesty by simply seeing movies? As a matter of fact, it is by the mise-en-scène and the uses of points of view that filmmakers influence the audience. Light, scale and continuity are precision tools which can be controlled very accurately and which can produce very effective results. In Sophie’s Choice, light and scale shape the characters’ morals and thoughts and lead audiences to the sense that, in those circumstances, it would be completely impossible that good prevailed over evil. The flashback to Sophie’s experiences in the concentration camp, namely her arriving there years before, includes several inserts of her face: close-ups showing her sorrow and pain. This intimate point of view – which Deleuze would call an affection-image – creates empathetic spectators and attentive listeners, and the audience really understands how Sophie feels. The spectator himself becomes aware of Sophie’s dilemma. People understand that she could not decide in good conscience how to achieve the so-called terminal value: freedom. Likewise, one can perceive why Nathan would be unable to find happiness or inner harmony. The film arouses a kind of social conscience; somehow audiences worry about the Holocaust survivors and their injuries. Annette Insdorf points out the contribution of the montage of Sophie’s Choice to the evidence that the Holocaust is still a dreadful monster; a ghost haunting both our present and the coming future. Sophie and Nathan will never be truly ‘free’. Both of them bear the consequences of the war and live in pain.

One can see that, despite Stingo’s true friendship due to his close companionship, Sophie would feel always guilty although the ‘choice’ she made in her dark past had not been guided by any independence or free will, but in subjection to a German agent who restricted her decisions. She was forced to choose. It was not really a free choice; it was not a choice at all, but an order she had to carry out, and one that could never lead her to any ethical decision.

There is no point hypothesizing about how one would react and respond to an external problem like that since we shall never know, but the film clearly shows how Sophie’s particular response had an impact on her future (and, indirectly, on our present). Moreover, by seeing the film, ← 344 | 345 → people become aware of how life is full of uncertainties, which can be a positive quality of experience as an interactive process that demands the highest standards of behaviour, but also have a negative effect with tragic results like those at the end of the film. In fact not only the dilemmas of the characters but also the clarity concerning their actions and moral life make it possible for the harmatia to be seen.

First used by Aristotle in his Poetics, the idea of hamartia is commonly understood to refer to the protagonist’s fatal error or flaw that leads to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine, and culminates in a reversal of his/her good fortune to bad. Analysing the Greek Tragedy, Aristotle stated:

‘It is necessary, then, for the beautiful story to be simple rather than, as some say, double and change not to good fortune from bad fortune but the opposite, from good fortune to bad fortune, not because of wickedness but because of a great mistake either of one such as has been said or of one better rather than worse.’ (Aristotle 2002: 34).

Ari Hiltunen considers it a ‘powerful special effect’ and notes that Aristotle ‘places value on hamartia9 probably because it is an excellent means of achieving the state of undeserved suffering that in turn creates an intense emotional impact. Disaster caused by hamartia is the consequence of actions performed with the best of intentions and so is effective in arousing our sympathy’ (Hiltunen 2002: 17). In Sophie’s life the turning point of harmatia is the moment when she arrives at Auschwitz. When the German agent is turning his back on Sophie after a brutal moment of interrogation, she possibly changes her children’s destiny, calling again for his attention and claiming that she is not Jewish but a Christian; she appeals to him, insisting that her presence there is a mistake. Of course we can argue that, one way or another, the children’s lives were in danger, but Sophie’s desire to save them might have speeded up the agent’s hideous decision. And that was the first moment of her tragic fall even if she was an “impossible” heroine in the very sense of tragedy. The second fateful moment was when Sophie decided to renounce a comfortable life with Stingo and go back to her lover, Nathan. ← 345 | 346 → The consequences of her final decision could not have been worse and the circle of tragedy is finally complete.

According to Aristotle, the tragic hero is never an evil person. His downfall is not a consequence of any vice or wickedness, but brought on him by hamartia. In this way, the story best suited to tragedy is the one of a man or a woman who falls from a state of happiness to a state of misery from some great error and not crime. And that is basically the story of Sophie’s life. Julian Young underlines how ‘the meaning of this word [hamartia] has been … debated. It has been variously translated as tragic “fault”, “flaw”, “mistake”, “fallibility”, “frailty” and “error”’ (Young 2013: 35). Young also became aware of the implications in the debate of understanding the value of moral judgments since it makes clear why the tragic catastrophe cannot occur on account of extreme culpability. In short, Sophie could not stop blaming herself for sending her child to her death but, as a result of the mise-en-scène, audiences can understand her dilemma and forgive her.

2.  Point of View: Is Sophie’s Choice Right or Wrong?

It seems quite clear that the plot line of Sophie’s Choice is not the Shoah. However, from the very beginning the film directs our attention to the Holocaust with a simple but effective close-up: the tattooed number on Sophie’s arm. As a result of television’s massive broadcasting of Second World War newsreels and footage, almost everyone immediately recognizes the tragic moment of history behind this picture. By representation, and a subjective point of view of the camera identified with Sophie’s eyes, audiences are able to call to mind the most hideous facts which were beyond all reason and remain very close to the inhuman experience of what Kant describes as radical evil. But, despite Sophie’s Choice dealing with the most disturbing historical events of the 20th century, the film is not exactly about a transcendental evil; rather it relies on the practical question of supporting values with reasons. It discusses the difficulty of one’s decisions under circumstances beyond one’s control and the probabilities of being right or acting wrongly. ← 346 | 347 →

According to Rokeach (1973), ‘family security’, i.e. ‘taking care of loved ones’, is a terminal value and refers to a ‘desirable end-state of existence’. Moreover, this concept’s descriptors include ‘present and future responsibilities’, ‘rights and wrongs’ as well as ethical and moral standards. Of course the problem of human values is very complex, but it seems very clear that there is a difference between describing a value and judging the consequences of an action based on values. In my opinion that is what this film is about; what kind of principles belong to an ethical and/or moral system and how is it possible – if it is possible – to put the proposals into practice unconditionally? After all, here is a mother who should have taken good care of her children but instead she ‘let her daughter die’ in a gas chamber just to keep her son alive. Was Sophie’s choice right or wrong? Would her life have been different if she had not had to make that choice, and both children had died? Could she live with her own guilty conscience? Are these the right questions? After all, she was unhappy because of something she felt she had done wrong.

At this point, I would like to return to the topic of the point of view in film in order to show its relevance to the question of values in cinema. The point of view may be physical or moral; as a specific and technical rule of cinema it is described as a form, meaning both a quantitative and qualitative representation. It refers to what reality is framed and how it is framed. Thus, a point of view is always a question of perception and perspective. That is, it is a matter of scale and position from which something is viewed or judged. An object’s dimension and angle determines its visibility and relative importance in a specific system, a ‘landscape’, for instance, but also a story. In Sophie’s Choice, the physical point of view of the camera shapes the moral points of view of the characters: Sophie feels guilty, Nathan can neither forget nor forgive, Stingo just wants to be happy and share his happiness with Sophie. The historical events are distant enough to give the story its strength. The film itself looks at Sophie’s motives, calling into question the mother’s reasons and her own judgment.

Using a comparison method, the film makes an explicit and vivid analogy between the value that Sophie wanted to achieve – to keep both her children alive – and the value she had to sacrifice to keep at least one of them: to give up her daughter and ‘send’ her to her death. She consented to one child’s murder to save the other. But, at the end of the ← 347 | 348 → film, there are still questions without answers because, in actual fact, there is no solution to this particular dilemma. All the possible arguments are aporia and become inalienable. In any case, Sophie would be dealing with the ultimate sacrifice – her children’s death, both or just one. And it would make no difference what decision she came to because any decision would go beyond any moral and ethical system. That is to say, on the one hand, none of her possible choices or arguments could ever be the best, i.e. the true or the right one; on the other hand, the cultural assumptions and ideological premises that inform the common audience’s encounter with this film could never support any consideration concerning everyday actions for the reason that, only for Sophie was this a matter of life and death. And real death is the only fact in life that will never be trivial. In fact, our access to the tragic moments of Sophie’s life is only possible by her narrative, which is basically a tacit description in the sense of Seymour Chatman: ‘Sentences that tacitly describe … direct our primary attention … to the story events’ (Chatman 1990: 38).

‘Films, obviously, are more visually specific than novels, and filmmakers traditionally prefer visual representations to verbal ones. In other words, the medium privileges tacit Description. The choice of certain actors, costumes, and sets and their rendition under certain conditions of lighting, framing, angling, and so on all constitute what Aristotle called opsis or spectacle’ (Chatman 1990: 38).

The mise-en-scène is also a tacit description. By remembering past events, Sophie gives audiences the right to look at her tormented soul. She describes the fateful moments of her past and what the spectator sees is not the history, but the story… the film of one mother’s tragedy or, quoting Ruth Wajnryb, ‘a space between speech and silence’. Wajnryb suggests that when someone describes events, all judgments depend on ‘the mechanics of interpretation [that] are only partially contained in the text itself; they are also partially contained in the being(s) who serve as audience for the text’ (Wajnryb 2001: 176). Perhaps we might say that, with regard to this Holocaust narrative, a post-memory syndrome should be considered which affects both the characters and the spectator, and this is definitely another major question concerning values for cinema that we cannot discuss here.

My limited analysis of just one film does not explain all the problems of cinema and the representation of values. This is a simple ← 348 | 349 → introduction to an issue to be discussed in the near future – a work in progress. But there is one obvious foregone conclusion: in Sophie’s Choice the spectator stays at the level of description and faces the problem of the interpretation of her narrative and its philosophical inquiry: the (un)fairness of her decisions, the limits of her freedom and free will. Consequently, one could ask if, by expressing more than one possible meaning, intentionally or not, films can prepare audiences for the dilemmas of life’s ups and downs. Writing about teaching the Holocaust, R. Clifton Spargo argues that: ‘“Teaching the controversy” has become a pedagogical catch-phrase in certain circles, and it can be an artificial exercise, especially if all one intends by it is to illustrate how conflicting hermeneutical procedures … necessarily arrive at different interpretations of the same text’ (Spargo 2008). Sophie’s Choice seems to match this assumption, and that is probably the reason why it was a very much criticized film. However, values like freedom and free will, judgments like right and wrong, are frequently abstract, vague, relative or intangible, and cinema can make them ‘real’ and ‘vivid’. Filmic narratives as well as pictures of life can engage audiences in different values existing in a form that can be seen or felt, giving the audiences the necessary concreteness to understand their complexity. Thus, Sophie’s story reminds audiences how important values are, not only on great occasions and in decisive actions but also in every moment of an ordinary life. And the difference between the characters’ (and the director’s) points of view and the spectator’s conviction is a kind of consideration beyond common sense, which is a decisive factor in shaping a philosophical and ethical perspective as well as shared experiences that create a community.

References

Aristotle (2002). On Poetics. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press.

Baxter, John, & Patrick Atherton (eds.) (1997). Aristotle’s Poetics. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. ← 349 | 350 →

Chatman, Seymour (1990). ‘What is Description in the Cinema?’ in Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell University Press: 38–55.

Cavell, Stanley (1976 [1969]). Must We Mean What We Say? New York: Cambridge University Press.

Cavell, Stanley (1986). ‘The Uncanniness of the Ordinary’, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Stanford University.

D’Amore, Oscar (2010). ‘The Sophie’s choice: el factor letal’. aesthethika, International Journal on Subjectivity, Politics and the Arts / Revista Internacional sobre Subjetividad, Política y Arte, Vol. 6, (1) (Octubre): 69–80.

Hiltunen, Ari (2002). Aristotle in Hollywood: The Anatomy of Successful Storytelling. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Marques, António (2015). A Filosofia e o Mal: Banalidade e Radicalidade do Mal de Hannah Arendt a Kant. Lisboa: Relógio D’ Água Editores.

Martin, Adrian (2014). Mise-en-scène and Film Style: From Classical Hollywood to New Media Art. London: Palgrave.

Melville, Stephen (1993). ‘Oblique and Ordinary: Stanley Cavell’s Engagements of Emerson’. American Literary History, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring): 172–192.

Phillips, Patrick (1996). ‘Spectator, audience and response’, in Jill Nelmes (ed.), Introduction to Film Studies. London and New York: Routledge: 113–141.

Rokeach, Milton (1973). The Nature of Human Values. New York: Free Press.

Rubenstein, Richard L. (1975) The Cunning of History, The Holocaust and the American Future New York: Harper and Row.

Spargo, R. Clifton (2008). ‘Sophie’s Choice: On the Pedagogical Value of the “Problem Text”’, in Robert Eaglestone & Barry Langford (eds.), Holocaust Literature and Film. London: Palgrave Macmillan: 139–155.

Wajnryb, Ruth (2001). ‘Holocaust Narrative’, in The Silence: How tragedy shapes talk. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2001: 170–247.

Young, Julian (2013). The Philosophy of Tragedy From Plato to Žižek. New York: Cambridge University Press.


1 The Tanner Lectures on Human Values were founded on July 1st, 1978, by the American scholar Obert Clark Tanner (1904–1993) at Clare Hall, Cambridge University. Presented annually, the Lectures reflect upon the scientific and academic learning related to human values.

2 Our emphasis.

3 Cavell (1986: 84). Carroll would express a similar idea about the relation between art and ethics: ‘There has been … a gap between theory and practice with respect to the ethical criticism of the arts throughout the twentieth century – a gap intensified by philosophy’s silence about the relation between ethics and art’. Cf. Carroll (2000: 350, 350–387).

4 Martin writes a brief history of the concept and refers to several different definitions used by other authors. He also says: ‘… the term seems to mean (a little mystically) everything, cinema as an expressive art form becoming synonymous with mise-en-scène; … [But] mise-en-scène is nothing very specific’’ and, finally, he says: ‘For my part … I want to hold onto Ruiz’s sense of mise-en-scène as always potentially transformative – but transformative in ways that refer to the entire materiality of cinema, not solely the inspiration of a director on set or the phenomenological subjectivity of enraptured viewers. Transformation is not transcendence.’ (Martin 2014: 13, 19–20). However, this controversy is not our point here and this matter will not be discussed.

5 In 1980, the American writer William Styron (1925–2006) won the National Book Award with the novel Sophie’s Choice. However, the book was very controversial and widely criticized. It was banned in Poland and South Africa, and censored in the Soviet Union. In the USA, it was forbidden in some high schools, probably due to the sexually explicit scenes.

6 Styron apud Rubenstein (1975: vii).

7 The film is not very explicit about this character, but Oscar D’Amore (2010: 70) identifies Sophie’s father, Zbigniew Biégansky, as the ideologist for the ‘final solution’ and the mentor of the monstrous project ‘Die vernichtung’ – the extermination of the Jews.

8 Aristotle (2002: 20, 22).

9 Our emphasis.