October 5, 2013 1 Comment

1Can MURDER ever be an act of LOVE????

On Sunday, September 22, the Reel Deal Film Series presented the first program of the year with Michael Haneke’s masterpiece film “Amour.”  This question was posed by Professor Thomas Wartenberg and Matthew Sherman, the program’s discussants, and processed by the audience fortunate to attend.

Jolyn Wagner introduced the speakers for the program, but first began with a brief presentation of clinical vignettes highlighting the reality (and central premise of the film) that “growing old is NOT for sissies.”

Professor Tom Wartenberg, a renowned writer on Film and Psychoanalysis from Mount Holyoke College, provided a careful analysis of many of the film’s  key issues:  What does the film suggest about the meaning of Anne'(Emmanuelle Riva) s death?  He used a cogent film clip to demonstrate the director’s conviction that killing is NEVER an easy endeavor, highlighting Haneke’s use of long takes, and a lingering scene of George (Jean Tringenant) following the killing of Anne (spoiler alert) to support his premise.  He then outlined the film’s exploration of the dilemmas created  when there is an agreement of the essential nature of a “death with dignity.”  Beginning with Kant’s belief that it is dignity that makes us (humans) more than mere physical beings, Wartenberg then outlined the threats to dignity posed in the film that provide the grounds for George’s killing of his wife and the invitation for us to sympathize with him as he struggles.  The discussion also provided the participants with the opportunity to reflect upon the concept of marriage as a moral relationship.

Matthew Sherman then discussed aspects of director Michael Haneke that were essential in creating the film’s gut-wrenching poignancy.  Film clips from Haneke’s “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon”



Reel Deal Goes to the Movies
One Comment to “Amour”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    Da Mayor in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” is supposed to be a wise person. At one point he calls Mookie (Spike Lee) over and tells him in all seriousness how he should live his life. His advice? Always do the right thing! That’s funny, not because it is false but because it gives a person who is wondering what to do no guidance. He wants to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? Should he throw a trash can through the window of Sal’s pizzeria, thereby sacrificing Sal’s business, or not, thereby sacrificing Sal to the angry mob? Da Mayor’s advice won’t help.

    Kant is somewhat like Da Mayor when he tells us to treat everyone with dignity. Uh, what exactly does that require and forbid? Is killing you wife by smothering her treating her with dignity? How about withholding food or water until she dies? Giving her a lethal injection? How about just letting her decline and die through natural causes, while continuing to provide nutrition and water?

    Kant also tells us to always treat everyone as an end in themselves, never as a mere means. If you give someone an overdose of morphine foreseeing that they will die as a result but only intending to end their suffering, is that treating them as a mere means? The Catholic Church, based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, invokes the Doctrine of the Double Effect (DDE) according to which this is not treating someone as a mere means. It’s not clear what “treating someone as a mere means” amounts to. And isn’t it sometimes permissible to treat someone as a mere means? Suppose you are an egoist and care only for yourself. The child of a wealthy couple is drowning in the surf. You are the only one around who can save her (the parents can’t swim; you are an excellent swimmer; no one else is around). You save her only because they promise to give you a big reward if you do; otherwise, you’d walk away. You treat the child as a mere means to further your self-interest, but your act isn’t wrong. Morally, it’s just what you should do.

    In many ways, Kant is the father of Da Mayor. His moral theory sounds good; we can’t see how it’s false (uh, leaving aside the example of the drowning child!). But what specific advice does it give? Watching a film like Amour can give us a better understanding of what the concept of “treating people with dignity” amounts to. In that way, it can supplement Kant’s theory. Then we will be able to tell whether his theory is really a good one; we’ll then be able to test it against examples.

    Already one worry: does it apply to our treatment of animals? Another one: does the rightness or wrongness of an action depend on whether you treat someone with dignity, or as a mere means, or is that only relevant to the morality of your motives or character? We’d condemn the egoist’s motives and character but not his action of saving the child.

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