Robert Pippin (University of Chicago) has written an essay entitled “Philosophical Film: Trapped by Oneself in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past,” which you can find in the current issue of New Literary History (the same issue that includes Rupert Read’s essay on PI as a war book). To access the article, please click here.
Here is its abstract:
In many classic film noirs of the 1940s, characters are often depicted acting, but without a clear sense of why they are doing what they are doing or even without a clear sense of exactly what it is that they are doing. Moreover, whatever they end up intending to do is often portrayed as irrelevant. They have no power to direct or control future events and often invoke notions of fatalism and chance that seem out of place in modern contexts. I argue that these films, and especially the one subject to analysis here, Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 Out of the Past, raise a number of difficult and thoughtful questions about standard philosophical accounts of agency, especially about the capacity of individuals to achieve the self-knowledge and to exercise the deliberative control of events often taken to be necessary conditions of agency. Moreover, this and other such films also suggest what it would like to acknowledge such limitations and still attempt to act.