Our philosophers' favorite movies to see in theaters

Foyer with people
Cinema hall with people
Mark Bolk

Four philosophers from our university chose their favourite film. These can be seen at the Rotterdam cinema KINO. Robin van den Akker's favourite is Ex Machina: "As a philosopher, you look at films in a different way."

On the 11th of oktober Ex Machina will be shown in theaters. Robin van den Akker, associate professor at Erasmus School of Philosophy (ESPHIL), introduced the film with a short lecture. "From my work I am much involved with Artificial Intelligence (AI). And in Ex Machina, AI takes center stage. It raises fundamental questions about artificial intelligence. And not so much the whole practical application. That makes the film insanely fascinating."

Robin van den Akker in front of building on campus

Three ways to look at a movie philosophically

Ex Machina is from 2014. But still relevant, according to our philosopher. At the time the film came out, AI was already a controversial topic. Now, of course, that has gained momentum: "This film is a thinking exercise. You can rank the questions the film raises in three ways. That's what I want to give moviegoers in my introduction later on."

1. Film as illustration

"You can think of a film as a philosophical debate. It raises fundamental questions such as: what is man? What is self-awareness? What is the relationship between the human, who makes the technology, and the autonomy of the robot? These questions are very interesting and can be illustrated through a film."

2. Film as representation

"You can also think of film as a medium that represents something. A film takes positions on different levels. That also happens in Ex Machina. So in what role can you say what, and do what? And what does that say about the ideological positions that also mark this debate? An example in the film is the CEO of the tech company. The way he speaks represents how people in Silicon Valley think about AI and making humans obsolete. That is a very ideological position that is also in the film."

3. Film as philosophy

"Then you also have the film as philosophy. What visual language is in the film? What Mise-en-scène? What choices are made in editing? And what does that say about the positions that can be taken around if those fundamental questions?"

The three entries are interesting in their own way. Robin: "I hope that moviegoers will keep these three ways of watching the film in mind. That will also help them discuss the film properly afterwards."

"Film is a thinking tool for a philosopher. It forces you to think about the subject matter"

Screen in hall with people
Joey Rietveld

Is there a special moment in the film that viewers should pay attention to?

"That's the moment when the manipulation of the 'tech entrepeneur' comes to light. Not through human ingenuity of the ethical hacker, but through the AI that suddenly seems to show self-awareness. And in the process seems to have empathy for the well-intentioned hacker. That's the moment when you think the movie is going one way, but the movie doesn't go that way. That's a key moment."

Watching film as a philosopher. What do you learn from that?

"You see the world through the film. You have to take that into account as a philosopher. A film is culturally commanded and historically determined. That is the case with all art. You have to be aware of that. How is your gaze directed? What positions can I take now based on what I have seen? What exactly am I looking at? Yes, that's really a philosophical way of looking at films. As a philosopher, I can't look at films any other way. In that, the three aspects come back again. Film as illustration, film as representation and film as philosophy."

Since Robin's work involves AI, it's fun to look at Ex Machina through those glasses now: "Film is a thinking tool for a philosopher. It forces you to think about the subject matter. To think about how the film is put together and within what frameworks you may think of the film."

Foyer with people
Mark Bolk

Will AI make humans obsolete? That's the question

"The film also raises the question: do we need AI in the real world? And will humans be affected by it? In Sillicon Valley now you hear the idea that AI will eventually make humans obsolete. That's the question we can talk about. Let's see what point of view the film takes."

At the end of the film, we see where the title comes from. "There's a real 'deus ex machina' there," Robin van den Akker explains. "That's short for an unexpected denouement of a story. A 'god' drops out of the sky that gives the plot another twist. In this film, something literally falls from the sky, too. I'm not giving away what yet. So come to the cinema to see it."

More information

KINOsophy is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Philosophy (ESPHIL) and KINO. In addition to Ex Machina (2014), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Falling Down (1993) will also be shown. For more information and to order tickets, visit the website of KINO.

Can't be there? Ex Machina can also be seen on Prime. But without an introduction by philosopher Robin van den Akker.

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