Monday, January 15, 2007


Why do I like this ridiculous film? In part, because it is beautiful, with its sheer black landscape and stark colours. And in part for its humility: it is, by its own confession, a Martian's view of philosophy; and it is framed by three remarks of Wittgenstein, spoken as a child:
If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.

In art it is hard to say anything as good as: saying nothing.
Even to have expressed a false thought boldly and clearly is already to have gained a great deal.
If the film's portrait of Wittgenstein's thought is a cartoon or caricature, it is not a bad one: we learn about the picture theory of the Tractatus, the reversal – with continuity – of the Investigations, the assault on privacy and the inner theatre of ideas. There are disappointing omissions, as when an effete Keynes expands to fill the boots of G. E. Moore, in Terry Eagleton's original script. But as Steven Wright remarked, you can't have everything – where would you put it?

For reasons that are hard to articulate, the many inaccuracies and infelicities of portrayal, the superficial depiction of philosophical argument, the sheer silliness and campiness of the whole enterprise – it all seems irrelevant to me. Perhaps that is because I find it hard to imagine doing a better job, however bad this one may be. Or perhaps I should follow Wittgenstein, and describe my feeling by the metaphor that, if a man could make a film about him which really was a film about him, this film would, with an explosion, destroy all the other films in the world. It's a good thing no-one has tried.


Anonymous "Q" the Enchanter said...

"you can't have everything – where would you put it"

But "everything" would include the space to put it.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Kieran Setiya said...

That reminds me a bit of Frankfurt's response to the well-known puzzle about God's omnipotence.

Q: Could God make a stone so heavy even He couldn't lift it?

A: Yes. And He could lift it, too.

4:05 PM  
Blogger "Q" the Enchanter said...

That Frankfurt is such a bullsh***er.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Ralph Wedgwood said...

I rather liked that film too. Its high-camp silliness didn't prevent it from reminding me of the terrifying character of the serious philosophical problems (which the film just gestures at, without really trying to explore them at all).

Don't you love the moment when the outrageously overdressed Lady Ottoline Morrell (played by Tilda Swinton of course) responds to an anguished outburst from Wittgenstein by saying something like: "Impossible? Nonsense. All it takes is a full English breakfast and a spot of application!"?

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the film this morning in a Library. I thought it was brilliant. Thanks for the laugh and please don't let Vaheh write such a book on ethics.

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrible, pretentious movie, I am sorry to disagree with the general opinion held here... Wittgenstein absolutely abhorred artificial, intellectual, academic attempts at doing objects d'art!

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Mark Thwaite said...

Long time since I saw this -- I have it on video cassette somewhere, I should dig it out. Strangely, I concur with everyone! I liked its "high-camp silliness", but was simultaneously dismayed by its pretension. Sorry if that is having my cake and eating it! Terry Eagleton was involved in writing it -- and that probably explains a lot. I have very mixed feelings about Eagleton and certainly wouldn't trust his reductive reading of Wittgenstein.

Anyway, good to be reminded of this!

9:41 AM  

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