The Philosophy of Neo-Noir

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Film noir is a classic genre characterized by visual elements such as tilted camera angles, skewed scene compositions, and an interplay between darkness and light. Common motifs include crime and punishment, the upheaval of traditional moral values, and a pessimistic stance on the meaning of life and on the place of humankind in the universe. Spanning the 1940s and 1950s, the classic film noir era saw the release of many of Hollywood's best-loved studies of shady characters and shadowy underworlds, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, and The Maltese Falcon. Neo-noir is a somewhat loosely defined genre of films produced after the classic noir era that display the visual or thematic hallmarks of the noir sensibility. The essays collected in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir explore the philosophical implications of neo-noir touchstones such as Blade Runner, Chinatown, Reservoir Dogs, Memento, and the films of the Coen brothers. Through the lens of philosophy, Mark T. Conard and the contributors examine previously obscure layers of meaning in these challenging films. The contributors also consider these neo-noir films as a means of addressing philosophical questions about guilt, redemption, the essence of human nature, and problems of knowledge, memory and identity. In the neo-noir universe, the lines between right and wrong and good and evil are blurred, and the detective and the criminal frequently mirror each other's most debilitating personality traits. The neo-noir detective — more antihero than hero — is frequently a morally compromised and spiritually shaken individual whose pursuit of a criminal masks the search for lost or unattainable aspects of the self. Conard argues that the films discussed in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir convey ambiguity, disillusionment, and disorientation more effectively than even the most iconic films of the classic noir era. Able to self-consciously draw upon noir conventions and simultaneously subvert them, neo-noir directors push beyond the earlier genre's limitations and open new paths of cinematic and philosophical exploration.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Much has been written about neo-noir's distinction from classic noir... but the 13 new essays in this anthology rejuvenate the discussion. Conard and his contributors see to it that these essays are accessible to nonacademic readers." —Library Journal" —

"Conrad's collection provides room for abstract thought through a sustained philosophical engagement with the sub-genre.... written in 'nontechnical language and require no knowledge of philosophy to appreciate or understand.' —Film-Philosophy" —

Library Journal
Much has been written about neo-noir's distinction from classic noir, the continuous presence of the femme fatale, and neo-noir's connection with horror films, but the 13 new essays in this anthology edited by Conard (philosophy, Marymount Manhattan Coll.; editor, The Philosophy of Film Noir) rejuvenate the discussion. Appropriately, John Locke's explanation of personal identity and Jean-Paul Sartre's theory of existentialism are invoked in examining the amnesiac protagonist who tries to make sense of a contingent world in Memento. Other essayists delve into Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reasonand Plato's ethics concerning justice and virtuosity to dissect the morally ambiguous characters in The Onion Field, A Simple Plan, and Hard Eightor refer to Jean-François Lyotard's concepts on postmodern ethics and values and Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy of nihilism in their analyses of the allusive and playful worlds of such neo-noir filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers. Conard and his contributors see to it that these essays are accessible to nonacademic readers. Strongly recommended for public libraries and for academic libraries with a film or philosophy department.
—Victor Or
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813192178
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 6/24/2011
  • Series: The Philosophy of Popular Culture
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 222
  • Sales rank: 826,393
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark T. Conard, assistant professor of philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, is the editor or coeditor of many books, including The Philosophy of Film Noir and The Simpsons and Philosophy.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

Part 1 Subjectivity, Knowledge, and Human Nature in Neo-Noir

Space, Time, and Subjectivity in Neo-Noir Cinema Jerold J. Abrams 7

Blade Runner and Sartre: The Boundaries of Humanity Judith Barad 21

John Locke, Personal Identity, and Memento Basil Smith 35

Problems of Memory and Identity in Neo-Noir's Existentialist Antihero Andrew Spicer 47

Part 2 Justice, Guilt, and Redemption: Morality in Neo-Noir

The Murder of Moral Idealism: Kant and the Death of Ian Campbell in The Onion Field Douglas L. Berger 67

Justice and Moral Corruption in A Simple Plan Aeon J. Skoble 83

"Saint" Sydney: Atonement and Moral Inversion in Hard Eight Donald R. D'Aries Foster Hirsch 91

Reservoir Dogs: Redemption in a Postmodern World Mark T. Canard 101

Part 3 Elements of Neo-Noir

The Dark Sublimity of Chinatown Richard Gilmore 119

The Human Comedy Perpetuates Itself: Nihilism and Comedy in Coen Neo-Noir Thomas S. Hibbs 137

The New Sincerity of Neo-Noir: The Example of The Man Who Wasn't There R. Barton Palmer 151

"Anything Is Possible Here": Capitalism, Neo-Noir, and Chinatown Jeanne Schuler and Patrick Murray 167

Sunshine Noir: Postmodernism and Miami Vice Steven M. Sanders 183

Contributors 203

Index 207

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