Ethical Engagement with Movies

Response to Carl Plantinga's Screen Stories

in Projections
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In Screen Stories, Carl Plantinga concedes that films have considerable power to manipulate our emotions, attitudes, and even action tendencies. Still, he believes that film viewers do consciously engage in various types of cognition and judgment, and thus he argues that they can resist films’ manipulations. The “engaged critic” he calls for can assist in assessing how films create and convey their moral messages. I raise some questions about the account Plantinga gives of how both character engagement and narrative structures contribute to filmic manipulation. First, I note that there is an unresolved active/passive tension in his picture of film viewers. Second, I suggest that his treatment of narrative paradigm scenarios does not offer a strong enough account of the specifically filmic aspects of screen stories and how they differ from literary stories. And finally, I raise some questions about his ideal of the ethically engaged film critic and the social role to be played by such a critic.