The Philosophy of Neo-Noir
Film noir--a cycle of American films from the 1940s and '50s--is characterized not only by a constant opposition of light and shadow and a disruptive compositional balance of frames and scenes, but also by dark, foreboding characters and plots and an overriding sense of alienation and moral ambiguity. Noir films reflect the sense of loss, fragmentation, and nihilism at the heart of the human condition in the twentieth century. Although the classic film noir period ended in the late 1950s, its impact on more films has been profound. While typically not black and white, these new films incorporate the noir sensibility of alienation, pessimism, moral ambivalence, and disorientation. This sensibility is obvious in films such as Blade Runner, Reservoir Dogs, Chinatown, and Memento. Until now, little scholarly attention has been paid to the unique philosophical conventions of the widely popular neo-noir genre. In The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, editor Mark T. Conard and other contributors explore the philosophical foundations of neo-noir, using the films to discuss and explain traditional philosophical ideas as well. The themes and topics covered include justice and moral corruption; problems of memory and identity; human nature, space, time, and subjectivity; crime and punishment; pain and redemption; and spiritual transcendence. Conard argues that neo-noir films have benefited as censorship has relaxed, giving current filmmakers a rich noir tradition from which to draw.
Film noir is a classic genre characterized by visual elements such as tilted camera angles, skewed scene compositions, and an interplay between darkness and light. Common motifs include crime and punishment, the upheaval of traditional moral values, and a pessimistic stance on the meaning of life and on the place of humankind in the universe. Spanning the 1940s and 1950s, the classic film noir era saw the release of many of Hollywood’s best-loved studies of shady characters and shadowy underworlds, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil, and The Maltese Falcon. Neo-noir is a somewhat loosely defined genre of films produced after the classic noir era that display the visual or thematic hallmarks of the noir sensibility. The essays collected in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir explore the philosophical implications of neo-noir touchstones such as Blade Runner, Chinatown, Reservoir Dogs, Memento, and the films of the Coen brothers. Through the lens of philosophy, Mark T. Conard and the contributors examine previously obscure layers of meaning in these challenging films. The contributors also consider these neo-noir films as a means of addressing philosophical questions about guilt, redemption, the essence of human nature, and problems of knowledge, memory and identity. In the neo-noir universe, the lines between right and wrong and good and evil are blurred, and the detective and the criminal frequently mirror each other’s most debilitating personality traits. The neo-noir detective—more antihero than hero—is frequently a morally compromised and spiritually shaken individual whose pursuit of a criminal masks the search for lost or unattainable aspects of the self. Conard argues that the films discussed in The Philosophy of Neo-Noir convey ambiguity, disillusionment, and disorientation more effectively than even the most iconic films of the classic noir era. Able to self-consciously draw upon noir conventions and simultaneously subvert them, neo-noir directors push beyond the earlier genre’s limitations and open new paths of cinematic and philosophical exploration.
Mark T. Conard, assistant professor of philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, is the editor or coeditor of many books, including The Philosophy of Film Noir and The Simpsons and Philosophy.
"Conard can fell confident that these terrific essays will be of interest to film enthusiasts, particularly fans of Neo-Noir. Additionally, for those who come to this volume with some background in philosophy, not only will they be pleased to find fellow philosophers offering accessible introductions to philosophical thinkers and ideas but they are sure to increase their understanding of noir, Neo-Noir, and many familiar film titles, as well as more deeply appreciate the ways in which popular film and television offer wide and varied avenues to doing good philosophy. " --Kimberly A. Blessing, co-editor of Movies and the Meaning of Life
"Much has been written about neo-noir's distinction from classic noir . . . but the 13 new essays in this anthology rejuvenate the discussion. Strongly recommended." --Library Journal
"Is Neo-Noir anything more than film noir in technicolor? Taking up such latter-day classics as Chinatown , Blade Runner , and Memento , this volume explores how contemporary filmmakers have taken up the challenge of classic film noir and broadened the genre. In this analysis, even the pastel shades of South Beach take on a dark coloring in Miami Vice . These probing essays locate what is neo in Neo-Noir and thus define it as a postmodern genre." --Paul Cantor, author of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalizatio
"This collection will serve as a terrific interdisciplinary guide through the chaotic, intriguing world of postmodernist thought as it relates to film and philosophy." --Choice, publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries
"Much has been written about neo-noir’s distinction from classic noir . . . but the 13 new essays in this anthology rejuvenate the discussion. Conard and his contributors see to it that these essays are accessible to nonacademic readers." --Library Journal
"Conrad’s collection provides room for abstract thought through a sustained philosophical engagement with the sub-genre. . . . written in ‘nontechnical language and require no knowledge of philosophy to appreciate or understand.’ --Film-Philosophy