Philosophy lectures engaging viewing

Doc features top thinkers walking and talking in their favourite haunts

Taking the approach that most people nowadays don’t have the time to tackle huge philosophical and theoretical tomes director Astra Taylor decided to ask a few of the biggest modern thinkers to sum up in 10 minutes their thoughts on why philosophy is important. She follows them around as they stroll down streets walk through parks and even root through trash in their personal favourite haunts from New York to London.

Examined Life is akin to spending an afternoon talking with the best dinner guests you’d ever hope to meet. Taking the same approach as Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) the film presents a series of bite-sized monologues exploring different facets of philosophy from politics to the environment post-colonialism and gender. An interview with Princeton University’s Cornel West bookends the film as he delivers a rapid-fire dialogue on why philosophy remains an important pursuit. He free-associates on everything from Sartre to Charlie Parker stressing the need for a democratic dialogue in the face of hierarchical structures and what he calls humankind’s “finite situation.” Other speakers include Avital Ronell discussing Derrida and ethics Peter Singer on materialism in downtown New York Kwame Anthony Appiah on building a cosmopolitan state Martha Nussbaum on her “capability theory” Michael Hardt dissecting revolution Slavoj Zizek on ecology and Judith Butler and Sunaura Taylor describing the intersections between gender theory and disability.

Some of the dialogues are more pointed and challenging than others — like Waking Life it’s the nature of a film like this to be a little scatterbrained and occasionally overwhelmed by confusing rhetoric. Still it’s wonderful to hear and see some of these theorists speak and the kaleidoscopic range of topics should encourage viewers to pick up some of their texts. If there’s any criticism it’s that the film is too short — I could spend all day listening to Zizek’s musings on ideology “mystifying real problems” West’s praising philosophy as revelling in the “rawness the stink of life” and Ronell’s razor-sharp observations on existing in an anxiety-ridden state. If spending a day chatting and shopping with Judith Butler in San Francisco sounds awesome you’ll love this film.