Rogue or Lover

Value-Maximizing Interpretations of Withnail and I

in Projections
Peter Alward University of Saskatchewan

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In this article, I want to consider two interpretations of the film Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987), one according to which the title character is a rogue and the other according to which he is a lover. I argue that both interpretations are supported by the text and note that, insofar as an intentionalist approach to interpretation is adopted, the interpretation according to which Withnail is a rogue is correct. Nevertheless, I argue that it is a better film—both morally and aesthetically—on the latter interpretation and, hence, that if one adopts a value-maximizing approach to interpretation, one ought to accept this interpretation. Finally, I argue that insofar as viewers are interested in getting other people to admire the film, they ought to adopt the value-maximizing approach and, as a result, endorse the interpretation according to which Withnail is a lover.

Contributor Notes

Peter Alward is Professor and Department Head of Philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan. He works predominantly on issues in the philosophy of art and literature and the philosophy of language. His recent work has been focused on problems involving fiction and interpretation. E-mail:

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The Journal for Movies and Mind

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  • Alward, Peter. 2017. “The Accidental Author: Interpretation, Intentions, and Responsibility.” Unpublished manuscript.

  • Beardsley, Monroe. 2004. “Intentions and Interpretations: A Fallacy Revived.” In Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition, ed. Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen, 189199. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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  • Davies, Stephen. 2006. “Authors’ Intentions, Literary Interpretation, and Literary Value.” British Journal of Aesthetics 46 (3): 223247.

  • Goldman, Alan H. 2013. Philosophy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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