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Philosophical Theories In The Film After The Dark

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Surviving an apocalyptic scenario caused by an alien invasion, zombie attacks or natural disasters, such as the end of the world, is a reoccurring theme explored in the Western film industry. John Huddles’ film After the Dark (2014), a science fiction and psychological thriller film, incorporates the same theme, however, the setting takes place in an imaginary situation contemplated inside a classroom and supervised by a professor who facilitated a thought experiment where the students must participate and find the best ways to survive by using what they have learned in philosophy as their tool for reasoning. As they present their ideas, their decisions raised questions regarding the judgment of what is right and what is wrong, and whether the most practical solutions, which disregards their morality, are the best to apply in a case where human lives are put in threat.

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To cope with the extreme situations presented in their thought experiment, the participants were encouraged to use philosophical analyses to survive the dangers of nuclear warfare and to rebuild their ideal human society. The participants, together with the audience, are then met with a division caused by two contradicting principles between their philosophy teacher, Mr. Zimit, who believes that in order to survive and raise human civilization, only those who can offer technical services must be prioritized to live, and his class, led by Petra, his best student, which believe that society will be able to live by encouraging the role of art in human life. In the thought experiment, the participants were made to pick a card which dictates the role of each student in the exercise. All of them were given a certain occupation, which identified their purpose in the game. Later on, additional conditions were revealed that could either raise or decrease their value. By the characteristics applied to them, the participants were made to judge one another to distinguish who is more valuable.

William James’ theory of functionalism depicts that “mental states are identified by what they do rather than what they are made of”. By applying a functionalism in the experiment, all members were able to know how they must act and the role they must play to achieve societal successes and stability. However, since functionalism pays regard on the function, those with unfavorable purposes or circumstances were seen as a burden and must be eradicated if they cannot provide the function they have or if their circumstances disrupt their movements and pull them down. It also ignores the negative impact of institutionalizing people in terms of their function; hence, they are caged on their labeled identity and judged thereof. As a result, those with ‘more purposive’ functions receive more benefit than those with ‘lesser purpose’. In relation to this situation, Mr. Zimit, a rationalist, applies a utilitarian approach to address the condition. For Mr. Zimit, choices must be based on reasons alone, and should not concern ideas coming from emotional impulses. This is based regarding how emotions affect the judgment of an individual, thus for a rationalist such as Mr. Zimit, the mind has to be free from emotional influences when it comes to decision making. He follows a rational choice-making model in concluding which action must be performed.

Jonathan Levin and Paul Milgrom (2004) define rational choice as “the process of determining what options are available and then choosing the most preferred one according to some consistent criterion. ” This is done by dissecting possible answers and choosing the one which can maximize utility. However, the rational choice theory, in spite of its aim to select the most functional one among the choices provided, is met with plausible criticisms in regards to the unstable concept of what truly defines a rational choice, given that people have different interpretations regarding a single situation and intention, thus, instead of recognizing all choices, many of these choices remains shadowed by those which are considered as ‘best’. By using a utilitarian approach to address the matters, Mr. Zimit strongly argues that the best solution that should be used to deal with such condition is by practicing what is ‘practical’ and ‘pragmatic’ thus leading the people by choosing only those who are technically capable, especially those who excel in the hard sciences like a chemist and an engineer, as well as those who can accommodate the basic essential needs for survival such as food production, which in this case is an organic farmer. Obviously, he puts a disregard on those who can only provide creative services and decides to eradicate them by reasoning that they have no practical use and will only act as competitors for the limited resources they have, hence, they must be put aside through immediate death rather than letting them slowly expire due to exposure of radiation. All of his decisions may not be morally correct, but as long as the act produces benefits to everyone, then for him, it is right and just. By applying utilitarianism, people will be able to encourage greater outcomes in terms of their utility based on their profession, thus being able to maximize our potential and functions to achieve the greatest holistic utility. Rigid rules inflexible by conditional exceptions were rejected, in contrast, exceptions to the rules were considered if they can generate better results. Utilitarians are able to easily distinguish the morality of an action by only regarding the fruit of an act, thus they are able to quickly decide on the course of action they must apply.

The ideas behind utilitarianism support the reasoning of Mr. Zimit as he lays out the choices that are suitable for him. For instance, his decision to pick ‘useful’ people who are inclined to science, killing those who are unnecessary for him, and suggesting ideas even if it disregards other’s ideas based on their emotions. As a result, the students became wary and reluctant when considering his plans and later on, furious because of his unyielding reasoning. As much as utilitarianism aims the best results, its tendency to ignore individual rights to achieve benefits for the greater result becomes problematic. This is not to say that utilitarians fully ignore the law, but some exceptions that are executed shadows the stance of the minority. In the film’s case, Mr. Zimit did not hesitate to eradicate those whomwhom he deemed as useless and tend to enforce his idea when contradicted. These instances led to a question about how the suffering of others against the betterment of everybody else is weighed. As a result of disregard, the students rebelled against him as their personal regards have been offended by his notion of ethics against morals, When the concept of merely breeding and rebuilding overthrown the human necessity to express emotions and be provided with psychological service, a horrifying result erupted, dominated with depression and violence, which led to a tragic death. To respond to this tragedy, Petra stepped in to take control and chose to settle in a society encouraged by the arts – a society that can bring pleasure and color to a monotonous and rigid way of living. Here, Petra argues that the value of art is to uplift human civilization and encourage them to function by developing their self-esteem and a sense of comfort to enhance productivity in the midst of an extreme condition. It was through the usage of utility that they were able to survive, but for Petra, it was not enough because it will be through art that they can live in spite of unwanted circumstances. In the thought experiment, they imagined their life filled with pleasure as they live with countless celebrations, where music, poetry, dance, painting, and literature were the factors that made the students have the greatest time of their limited lives. Mr. Zimit then countered that there is no chance that human civilization will thrive to exist and mankind built in that design will inevitably expire because none of them knows the technical knowledge that will make them survive and cause them to repopulate in order to rebuild humanity.

Once again, Petra intervenes and question why must they abide to live a monotonous life centered on the purpose of reconstruction and multiply for the sake of preserving life when what they must do is to live their life to the fullest given that the amount of time they have to live is significantly decreased. Death becomes less direful to those who lived with fulfillment, as Petra implied. Living solely in a world structured by the aesthetics did provide the students a means of life filled with pleasure and away om worries and anxieties, but in the end, they still gave up their lives as they welcomed death, thus failing the goal of surviving and rebuilding humankind. Their hedonistic approach as a means of living did provide them a life filled with joy, but the outcome remained objectively tragic but subjectively joyous in a sense. The obligation provided to them was put in neglect in exchange for their temporary joy. Mankind did not thrive to survive, but at least, they still lived a joyous life.

The film presents us two conflicting ideas, but both failed to achieve the initial objective provided. One chose science over the art and another chose rationality over emotion. However, if there is one concrete destination aimed to reach in the film, then that would be man’s continuous conquest of fulfillment as its nature. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims through his philosophical analysis that human beings are all compelled to achieve a certain ultimate goal which he referred to as “Eudaimonia. ” As much as it is often used interchangeably with “happiness”, Aristotle’s Eudaimonia goes beyond happiness and concerns itself with goodness, well-being, and flourishing. To put it simply, Eudaimonia is not merely about the state of the mind, but rather the activity of the living towards a good human life and the evaluation of a life overall, and Eudaimonia presupposes a flourishing state of living (Bowin, 2017). Aristotle suggests that the practice of human functions and virtues are tied to reach the ultimate goal, but they are not the only components that Eudaimonia must have; instead he acknowledges the contribution of external goods such as friends and family, because it is through these external goods that a human being is able to exercise his virtues. From a sociological perspective, human beings are social in nature and are in need of a sense of belonging in a society, which fulfills the needs and security of man for survival, hence, social cooperation formed through building relationships is also essential for our well-being. At the same time, Aristotle mentions that “man is a political animal”. In Avicenna’s The Metaphysics of the Healing, he supports this claim and notes that man attains flourishing by identifying that he is a constituent with a role to play in the functioning of the society.

After the Dark denotes the tendencies that human beings act as they pursue their journey towards fulfillment. They tend to act from harmless actions to violent activities when met with circumstances that hinder them from achieving their ultimate goal of fulfillment; and that as much as we believe that our decisions are purely logical, our emotions play an integral role in forming our judgment, but either should not function merely on its own. Our judgments and decisions affect ourselves and to the society we belong in, which later on causes a ripple of consequences. Nonetheless, the film implies that a life worth lived is a life that welcomes death instead of denying it, for it indicates a life fulfilled.

15 July 2020

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