Work/Life Balance About Which Philosophers Should Films Be Made?

About Which Philosophers Should Films Be Made?

When Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis broke up in 2013, so, it seems, did plans for a film called My American Lover—about the love affair between Simone de Beauvoir and the Chicago novelist Nelson Algren—in which Paradis and Depp were flagged to play the leading roles.  Other films, TV movies, and documentaries about philosophers include:

On the New APPS blog, Samir Chopra has proposed that Enlightenment philosophers and Charles Sanders Peirce would make for good stories on the big screen. In the blog’s discussion threads, Bertrand Russell is popular, and John Stuart Mill, Cicero, and the couple Sophie de Condorcet and Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat have been proposed.

Do you know of any films about philosophers not on this list? What other philosophers should a film be made about?

Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.

Skye Cleary
Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.


  1. When A Dangerous Method came out (about Freud and Jung), a philosopher friend and I ran to the cinema on opening day. Amusingly, the film was so bad that it became an episode of Mystery Science Fiction 3000 for us. That is, we filled in fake dialogue, did impressions, and couldn’t stop laughing. In the end, a few cinema goers- psychoanalysts, it seemed- asked us to move or leave (which actually made the experience even more fun).
    Samir Chopra notes how many films about philosophers are just terrible. Alas, this is true. Perhaps this is because such films need to strike a careful balance between the ideas of a philosopher and detailing his or her struggles, loves, and triumphs. Perhaps it is also difficult find screenwriters who can get this mix right. Who knows? But about which philosophers have not had films made about them, well, given the dearth of good philosopher films out there- some of the films often cited are documentaries- most philosophers (even those like Spinoza or Wittgenstein) have not really had a film made about them.
    Personally, I would love for someone to make a film (or films) about certain analytic philosophers. Many of us owe our intellectual development, say, to Bertrand Russell, Donald Davidson, or Gareth Evans, or yet we tend to know little about their lives. So although a film about Soren Kierkegaard and Regina Olsen would be good fun, I would prefer to see a film about one of these analytic philosophers. After all, because Davidson or Evans are not an already set personalities in our heads, the details of their lives, struggles, or triumphs would be new to many of us. In turn, this may make such films more enjoyable.
    For example, The Imitation Game (about Alan Turing) was this sort of film. Part of the appeal of this film, to many, was seeing Turing as a person, for the first time. Amazingly, Game actually made money. Such a film (or films) about certain analytic philosophers would be beneficial for so many reasons. Are there directors or producers listening, perhaps?

  2. I have long maintained that the next period costume drama that the BBC does needs to be the Universities of Paris and Oxford in the 1st half of the 14th C. Academic rivalries! The Hundred Years’ War! Popes! Anti-popes! Academics turned diplomats! Buridan writing poetry and having a fling with Queen Blanche! It would be awesome.

  3. I’ve just read a new book called “At the Existentialist Café:
    Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Others” by Sarah Bakewell. It would make a fantastic film about philosophy, love, dancing, rescuing philosophical manuscripts from wartime book burnings, and summer castle retreats.

  4. 1) Newton. He’s not often classed (primarily) as a philosopher, but he did his share of philosophizing, both in metaphysics (his views were what prompted the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence after all) and on philosophy of science (in the General Scholium and Book 3 of the Principia, for instance). Plus, he has a pretty interesting bio (the dispute over the calculus, being Master of the Mint, etc).

    2) Anscombe. Has the treble virtue of having been (arguably) the greatest woman philosopher who ever lived, having befriended and studied under Wittgenstein, and having had such a larger-than-life personality.

    3) Heidegger. Not terribly knowledgeable concerning his philosophical output (and not a huge fan of the little I know), but his life certainly had a high degree of drama, particularly his dynamic with Hannah Arendt.

  5. “Destiny” (Al-massif) is about Ibn Rushd (Averroës). And it has singing gypsies. What more could anybody want?

  6. A great list there Skye. There is another good documentary about Jacques Derrida called D’ailleurs, Derrida (Derrida’s Elsewhere), made by Safaa Fathy, which you can see on Youtube:

    ‘Being-in-the-world’ (Tao Ruspoli) offers a really interesting exploration of Heideggerian phenomenology applied to all sorts of activities (sports, art, music, dance) and the idea of expertise:

    The Ister (made by Australians Daniel Ross and David Barison) is an engrossing exploration of Heidegger’s thinking on being, technology, and politics, and features extended interviews with Bernard Stiegler, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, and Jean-Luc Nancy. These are all woven into a journey up the Danube/Donau river through the war-torn Balkans region and back to Freiburg where Heidegger was Nazi rector at the University in 1933:

    One philosopher who would make a fascinating subject for a movie would be Michel Foucault. There are at least three excellent biographies out there (plus a novel by Patricia Dunckner, Hallucinating Foucault) so I’m surprised that there isn’t yet a movie based on his extraordinary life.

  7. I’ve thought for a while now that Oxford/Cambridge in the early 20th Century would make a great television drama. Not only do you have some of the most exciting intellectual developments in history but you have so many larger-than-life figures – Russell, Wittgenstein, Keynes, Ramsey, later Turing (depending on how long of a stretch of time the show covered) – with dramatic and intrigue-filled lives

  8. Edmund Husserl, William James, Spinoza (focused on his Ethics – Nietzsche found Spinoza his precursor), Heraclitus, Dewey, Brentano, Bergson, Wittgenstei, Adorno, and other already mentioned above, like Nietzsche (specially his Gaya and his Zarathustra) and Nancy (this one focused on his recent L’Intrus.

  9. I had a dream that Eddie Redmayne played the main character in a movie for Soren Kierkegaard. I don’t know about the casting choice, but I think SK needs a movie.


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