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A drifter with no name and no past, driven purely by desire, is convinced by a beautiful woman to murder her husband. A hard-drinking detective down on his luck becomes involved with a gang of criminals in pursuit of a priceless artifact. The stories are at once romantic, pessimistic, filled with anxiety and a sense of alienation, and they define the essence of film noir. Noir emerged as a prominent American film genre in the early 1940s, distinguishable by its use of unusual lighting, sinister plots, mysterious characters, and dark themes. From The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Touch of Evil (1958), films from this classic period reflect an atmosphere of corruption and social decay that attracted such accomplished directors as John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Orson Welles. The Philosophy of Film Noir is the first volume to focus exclusively on the philosophical underpinnings of these iconic films. Drawing on the work of diverse thinkers, from the French existentialist Albert Camus to the Frankurt school theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the volume connects film noir to the philosophical questions of a modern, often nihilistic, world. Opening with an examination of what constitutes noir cinema, the book interprets the philosophical elements consistently present in the films—themes such as moral ambiguity, reason versus passion, and pessimism. The contributors to the volume also argue that the essence and elements of noir have fundamentally influenced movies outside of the traditional noir period. Neo-noir films such as Pulp Fiction (1994), Fight Club (1999), and Memento (2000) have reintroduced the genre to a contemporary audience. As they assess the concepts present in individual films, the contributors also illuminate and explore the philosophical themes that surface in popular culture. A close examination of one of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century, The Philosophy of Film Noir reinvigorates an intellectual discussion at the intersection of popular culture and philosophy.

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 Martin Scorsese and The Philosophy of Neo-Noir.

A satisfying book, as each of the authors brings a unique perspective to the discussion and they are able to isolate, identify, and explain some of the more subtle aspects of a genre which, on the surface, seems all about gangsters and pretty girls who done somebody wrong. -- Blogcritics

Explores the philosophical underpinnings of movies from the classical noir period and . . . suggests that films aren't noir merely because they share a consistent tone, or certain visual conventions, with the likes of The Maltese Falcon , The Postman Always Rings Twice , and Double Indemnity . -- Boston Globe

The essays work both as solid primers into philosophy, stretching from Aristotle to Schopenhauer, and as lucid excursions into the genre's dark, mean streets. . . . A fascinating, readable, and provocative book. . . . Highly recommended. -- Choice

An intellectually seductive, hard-boiled romp through a world of moral murkiness, femme fatales, and desperately lonely protagonist. -- Eric Bronson, editor of Baseball and Philosophy

The collection aims to achieve two goals: to introduce genuine philosophical problems and film noir characteristics, while providing sufficiently in-depth discussion that those familiar with either philosophical methods or film noir will not find the material too elementary. Although facing a difficult task, Conard has put together a collection that succeeds in both respects. -- Intertexts

Dense and intriguing, the book suggests noir is best perceived as a slightly warped mirror held up to contemporary society. -- Publishers Weekly

An excellent book, giving readers a very good sense of the rich philosophical resources in film noir. -- Thomas Hibbs, author of Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from t

This collection of essays, delving into the films and elucidating their philosophical depths, is challenging and engaging. Read it and prepare to be provoked. -- Les Reid -- Philosophy Now

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Film noir, Film posters, Motion pictures, Realism


American Popular Culture

The Philosophy of Film Noir
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