PHIL 149 A: Existentialism and Film

Spring 2024
TTh 8:30am - 9:50am / GUG 220
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Move posters for BoJack Horseman, Love Death and Robots, Ex Machina, Waking Life, The Third Man, Cleo from 5 to 7.


What makes life worth living? Is morality just a convenient fiction? What is the nature of the human condition? Is God dead, or just playing hard to get? This course investigates the works of several existentialist philosophers, including Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Beauvoir and Sartre, and uses their works to interpret and analyze the philosophical content of angst-ridden cinema from the French New Wave to BoJack Horseman.

Course Structure

This class will be held in person (not remote/online), and in-class participation is an important part of the course grade. It has 3 hours of lecture and 1 hour of quiz section each week. It is listed as "hybrid" because it has less in-class time per week (4 hours total) and more out-of-class work than a typical 5-credit class. That is because there is a large amount to of reading and film screenings. You should only enroll in this class if that sounds fun!

Learning Objectives

In this course students will:

  • Learn active reading, interrogating a text with care and deliberation
  • Define and use philosophical concepts relevant to the course content (existentialism, will to power, knight of faith, etc.)
  • Analyze and interpret philosophical texts and films
  • Develop and distinguish multiple philosophical readings of a text or film
  • Employ textual evidence to argue for a philosophical reading of a text or film
  • Reconstruct and evaluate philosophical arguments
  • Communicate philosophical concepts and ideas to a general audience

Grades and Evaluation Criteria

The grading in this class is a bit different than most courses, so please read this section carefully! Grading is done on the UW 4.0 scale. Each assignment you do accrues UW points, and your grade at the end of the quarter will just be the sum of all the points that you accrue. Each assignment is worth 0.5 points, so in order to earn a 4.0 you will need to do at least 8 assignments. The assignments still have due dates. You need to set your own course goals, keep diligent about doing the work to meet them, and track your progress throughout the quarter.

There are two groups of assignments: optional assignments and required assignments.

Optional Assignments (2.0 points total)

There are about 17 texts and films for the course (five philosophers and about a dozen films and TV episodes). For each of them, there will be an optional assignment you can do. For the philosophers, you must write a 2-3-page paper analyzing a key quotation. For the films and episodes, you can either write a 2-3-page paper, or you can do a 10-minute voice-over video commentary on a key scene or group of scenes. Directions and instructions on how to do these is provided in Canvas. You can only do one assignment per text or film (no doing a paper and a commentary on the same film).

Each of optional assignment is worth 0.5 UW points. So if you get full points, you only need to do 4 out of the 17 to max out your score and get 2.0 points total. That means you have a lot of flexibility in doing these assignments, depending on your schedule. You can also do as many or as few as you’d like, depending on our own course grade goals.

Partial credit is possible for all assignments, which is explained on the rubrics. If you get less than full credit, you are allowed to do more than 4 optional assignments. All points are summed; you don’t have to choose your top 4 assignments. No matter how many optional assignments you do, however, they are worth a maximum of 2.0 points. You cannot do more of these to substitute for the required assignments.

Required Assignments (2.0 points total)

There are four required assignments, also worth 0.5 points each. “Required” means you cannot do one of the other assignments in order to make up these points.

  1. In-class participation via Poll Everywhere (0.5 points)
  2. First paper: Meaning of Life (0.5 points)
  3. Final paper: Personal Philosophy (0.5 points)
  4. Final exam and quizzes (0.5 points)

For in-class participation, we will use the response system Poll Everywhere. There is no device to buy: you can use a phone, tablet, or computer, or I will also allow you to answer by paper and pencil if you prefer (talk with me in advance if you would like to use that option). In-class participation means you must actually be in the classroom participating in order to earn these points (clicking in when you are not in class will be considered academic dishonesty). Your lowest three Poll Everywhere grades will be dropped, which accounts for sick days or other legitimate reasons to miss a class. At the end of the quarter, the Poll Everywhere score will be converted to the 4.0 scale this way: 90% = 0.5 (max); 80% = 0.4; 70% = 0.3; etc.

Partial credit for the final exam and quizzes works slightly differently. There will be several short multiple-choice quizzes throughout the quarter. You are allowed to do them as many times as you wish (up until the due date), and only your highest score will be kept. The quiz questions will help you practice for the multiple-choice final exam, which you may only take once and will be held IN PERSON during our slot assigned by the university in finals week. You should not enroll in this class unless you can commit to taking the final exam on that day.

At the end of the quarter, the points for the quizzes and exam will be totaled (about 70 points), and your % score from that total will determine how many of the UW 0.5 points you earn on this assignment. That means that if you earn all of the quiz points throughout the quarter, you can decrease the pressure of the final exam.

There is no optional writing credit for this course.

Catalog Description:
What makes life worth living? Is morality just a convenient fiction? What is the nature of the human condition? Is God dead, or just playing hard to get? Investigates the works of several existentialist philosophers, including Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Beauvoir, and uses their works to interpret and analyze the philosophical content of angst-ridden cinema of the French New Wave and Hollywood film noir.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
July 18, 2024 - 11:54 pm