Category Archives: Film Analysis

BOYCHOIR: Essential Questions

For: Grades 9 & 10
1. Is it possible to immortalize yourself? How? Use the film as reference to your answer.
2. Who are the static and dynamic characters in the film? Prove your answer by providing evidences from the film.
3. Explain the line “I have no hope in any other than you.” How do you relate this message in the film?

For: Grade 10 only
4. What is utilitarianism? How is it applicable/presented in the film? Cite instances in the film to support your answer.

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“The Crucible” [도가니 — Dogani]

“The Crucible” [도가니], is a South Korean Movie (originally a Novel written  Gong Ji-Young) based on a true story of deaf students at Gwangju Inhwa School who were sexually abused by the Head Masters and a teacher in the early 2000.

The children lost the case. However, the film has sparked public outcry over lenient court rulings, prompting police to reopen the case and lawmakers to introduce bills for the human rights of the vulnerable.

After watching the film, I was able to come up with this aphorism:

Some says that we should change the world. Still others, says that we should not change the world but our attitudes. But I say, “we should neither change the world nor our attitudes. we should just not let the world change us!”

I pray that all those who have the chance to watch it will be moved; that the people who were wronged be justified; and the people who were involved in this crime against the helpless and hopeless children be punished accordingly.

Below are some links to the film and to the original case.

http://www.silenced2011.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible_(2011_film)

Official trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3BUIreDAeY&feature=player_embedded

Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Choi Clan

Just finished watching the final episode of Dong Yi [동이]..
What i learned about the life of the Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Choi clan [숙빈최씨] is that:

“a man will be bright/radiant, and successful when he has great intentions and great heart.”

Not One Less (Film Analysis)

Immaculate Conception Major Seminary
Philosophy Department

Submitted to: Rev. Fr. Dario Cabral
Mass Media: Film Analysis
03 December 2009

NOT ONE LESS

A. SUMMARY OF THE FILM 

The film began as the thirteen-year-old Wei Minzhi arrived in Shuiquan village to substitute for the village’s only teacher (Gao Enman) while he was away on family business. When Gao discovered that Wei did not have a high school education and has no special talents, he instructed her to teach by copying his texts onto the board and then making the students copy them into their notebooks; he also told her not to use more than one piece of chalk per day, because the village is too poor to afford more. Before leaving, he explained to her that many students have recently left school to find work in the cities, and he offered her a 10-yuan bonus if all the students are still there when he returns.

“Wei Minzhi, you look after the students. More than ten have already left. I don’t want to lose any more. The mayor promised fifty yuan; he’ll make sure you get it. If all the students are here when I get back—not one less—you’ll get an extra ten yuan.” —Teacher Gao, Not One Less (11:08–11:27)

When Wei began teaching, she had a little rapport with the students: they shouted and run around instead of copying their work, and the class troublemaker, Zhang Huike, insisted that “she’s not a teacher, she’s Wei Chunzhi’s big sister!” The Mayor who happened to pass by heard it all and forcedly asked Zhang Huike to call Wei “teacher”.

After putting the lesson on the board, Wei usually sat outside, guarding the door to make sure no students leave until they have finished their work. Early in the month, a sports recruiter came to take one athletic girl, Ming Xinhong, to a special training school. Unwilling to let any students leave, Wei hid Ming, and when the village mayor (Tian Zhenda) found Ming through the help of the troublemaker Zhang Huike, Wei chased after their car in a futile attempt to stop them. She still holds on the words of Teacher Gao that there should be “not one less”.

One day, after trying to make the troublemaker Zhang apologize for bothering another student, Wei discoverd that Zhang had left to go find work in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou. The village mayor was unwilling to give her money for a bus ticket to the city, so she resolved to earn the money herself, and recruited the remaining students to help. One girl suggested that they can make money by moving bricks in a nearby brickyard, and Wei began giving the students mathematical exercises centered on finding out how much money they need to earn for the bus tickets, how many bricks they need to move, and how much time it will take. Through these exercises and working to earn money, her rapport with the class improved. After earning the money, she reached the bus station but learned that the price is higher than she thought, and she cannot afford a ticket. Wei ended up walking most of the way to Zhangjiakou.
In the city, Wei found the people that Zhang was supposed to be working with, only to discover that they had lost him at the train station days before. She forced another girl her age, Sun Zhimei, to help her look for Zhang at the train station, but they did not find him.

Wei had no success finding Zhang through the public address system and “missing person” posters, so she went to the local television station to broadcast a missing person notice. The receptionist (Feng Yuying) did not let her in without valid identification, though, and said the only way she can enter is with permission from the station manager, whom she described as “a man with glasses”. For the rest of the day, Wei stood by the station’s only gate, stopping every man with glasses, but she did not find the station manager, and spent the night asleep on the street. The next day the station manager (Wu Wanlu) saw her at the gate again, through his window, and let her in, scolding the receptionist for making her wait outside.

Although Wei has no money to run an ad on TV, the station manager is interested in her story and decided to feature Wei in a talk show special about rural education. On the talk show, Wei was nervous and hardly said a word when the host (Li Fanfan) addressed her, but Zhang—who has been wandering the streets begging for food—saw the show.

After Wei and Zhang were reunited, the station manager arranged to have them driven back to Shuiquan village, along with a truckload of school supplies and donations that viewers had sent in. Upon their return, they were greeted by the whole village. In the final scene, Wei presented the students with several boxes of colored chalk that were donated, and allowed each student to write one character on the board.
The film ended with a series of title cards that recount the actions of the characters after the film ends, and describe the problem of poverty in rural education in China.

“In the village, she was the teacher. In the city, she discovered how much she had to learn.”

B. ANALYZE THE FILM ACCORDING TO THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:

1) MODERNITY HAS A HARD TIME UNDERSTANDING THE IDEA OF OBLIGATION TO OTHERS, BECAUSE SELF FULFILLMENT IS THE OVERBIDDING OBLIGATION.

“Modo” in Latin means, “now”: hence modernus or modern. There is nothing special about “being modern”. We are all in fact “modern”, since we are alive “now”. But the way they began to use to use this term in the 14th century had a very special connotation: it implied the rejectin of what had been received from the immediate past.

Man felt self-sufficient, and unwilling to acknowledge any indebtedness: he wanted to find things out by himself rather than being taught, like the child who is too proud to ask for help.

Among other things, the Renaissance was a time of economic prosperity with an increasing urge to enjoy the pleasures of life and to look down on the recent past, which could not be easily accepted as a teacher. Those “moderns” felt that they had nothing to learn from their forebears, that now is better than yesterday. This is typical of modern philosophy: a contempt for the past which is self-defeating, since it dooms itself to be despised in turn by tomorrow’s present.

Man wanted to find the whole truth out of himself and by himself: neither God, not the Church, nor the world, nor history should teach me; I am the one to find out the truth by myself.

For modernity, therefore, philosophy no longer consists in contemplating the reality created by God and drawing therefrom the rules for human conduct, but in providing power for man to master the world and use it for his own happiness.

Many critics point out psychological and moral hazards of modern life – alienation, feeling of rootlessness, loss of strong bonds and common values, hedonism, disenchantment of the world, and so on. Likewise, the loss of a generally agreed upon definitions of human dignity, human nature, and the resulting loss of value in human life have all been cited as the impact of a social process/civilization that reaps the fruits of growing privatization, subjectivism, reductionism, as well as a loss of traditional values and worldviews. Some have suggested that the end result of modernity is the loss of a stable conception of humanity and/or the human being.
Here, I will explain how modernity had a hard time understanding obligations.

First, the modern self assumes an autonomy that seeks to reject the claims of authority, tradition, or community. Since he wants to attain this autonomy and liberty or freedom, he wants to break away from the bonds of those enslaving traditions and authorities.

The modern self searches for personal therapy that only results in the subjective experience of well-being. The true, the good, and the beautiful are undiscoverable, so they are judged as not applicable to human experience.

The modern self has moved from an emphasis on redemption of character to liberation from social inhibitions. Here, the desire of a person to be totally detached from any kind of obligations is clearly seen. He does not want to have obligations to others who are members of the community or society so the tendency is that he will break away from it. His selfishness and self-centeredness drives him to strive for independence so as to escape the enslaving power of obligations, responsibilities, and commitments.

Identity is self-constructed through self-consumption of products of desire. His goal is just to satisfy his own passions for pleasurable things. The satisfaction of himself is the main point of his existence without any consideration to the happiness of others. It is a selfish and self-centered desire. This selfishness drives him to be more confined in his own and not to communicate or connect to the lives of others. This selfishness too gives him the idea or connotation that he is free from any obligation to his neighbor since he choose to live alone.

Such claims about identity and truth call for a technical mastery of the environment, as well as a division between the public and private spheres of reality.
Therefore, no one is free from the temptations of modern thought, as no one is free from selfish passion and pride.

2) AS ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD SAID, PHILOSOPHY IS A SERIES OF FOOTNOTES TO PLATO, WHICH MEANS, “PHILOSOPHY RULES OF THE GAME WERE MADE UP BY PLATO, AND WE ARE STILL PLAYING THESE RULES TODAY. NOW WE EXPLORE THE THEME OF THIS FILM FROM VARIOUS THEMES INSTITUTED BY PLATO.

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them…”

Plato has done it all. He has already built the foundations of philosophy and Alfred North Whitehead says that all we have now are just derived from the ideas or teachings of Plato. We just repeat what Plato has stated in the past. Sometimes, we claim an idea as ours but the truth is that you just derived your conclusion from something that you have heard or analyzed on to. We just add something – from our personal ideas or opinions – from Plato’s works but still, we have a basis for our conclusions and therefore a footnote to his works.

The film’s main theme involves the difficulties faced in providing rural education in China. When Wei Minzhi arrived in Shuiquan village, the teacher Gao has not been paid in six months and the school building is in disrepair, and chalk is in such short supply that Gao gives Wei specific instructions limiting how large her written characters should be. Wei slept in the school building, sharing a bed with several female students. The version of the film released overseas ends with a series of title cards in English, the last of which reads, “Each year, poverty forces one million children in China to leave school. Through the help of donations, about 15% of these children return to school.”

From here, I could derive the idea of Plato that education is very important to save the young from the error of falsehood, prejudice, and sophistry to true value. Education also involves conduct, life, and care of the soul.

Another is what Socrates has said that “the more you know, the more you do not know”. This is applicable to the case of Wei: in the village, she was the teacher. In the city, she discovered how much she had to learn. The m ore he went to the city, she found herself as unknowledgeable enough to become a teacher; that she still needs to learn so many things.

In the scenes that were shown in the film, teacher Wei taught her students using the Dialectic – process of soliciting one’s idea to attain knowledge or wisdom or truth. Wei used this process of soliciting ideas to arrive at an answer when they were computing or calculating how much bricks they should carry or work on, how much time they will consume to finish the job, and how much is the transportation expense, and other things they solved mathematically in the class.

Money is important throughout the film. Concerns about money dominate much of the film—for example, a large portion is devoted to Wei and her students’ attempt to earn enough money for bus tickets — as well as motivating them. Most major characters, including Wei, demand payment for their actions, and it is left unclear whether Wei’s search for Zhang Huike is motivated by altruism or by the promise of a 10-yuan bonus. Zhu Ying points out the prominence of money in the film created a conflict between traditional values (such as the implication that the solutions to Wei’s problems can be found through the help of authority figures) and modern, capitalist and individualistic society.

Finally, the film illustrates the growing urban–rural divide in China. When Wei reaches Zhangjiakou, the film creates a clear contrast between urban and rural life, and the two locations are physically separated by a dark tunnel. The city is not portrayed as idyllic; rather, Zhang shows that rural people are faced with difficulties and discrimination in the cities. While Wei’s first view of the city exposes her to well-dressed people and modern buildings, the living quarters she goes to while searching for Zhang Huike are cramped and squalid. Likewise, the iron gate where Wei waits all day for the TV station director reflects the barriers poor people face to survival in the city, and the necessity of connections to avoid becoming an “outsider” in the city. Frequent cuts show Wei and Zhang wandering aimlessly in the streets, Zhang begging for food, and Wei sleeping on the sidewalk; when an enthusiastic TV host later asks Zhang what part of the city left the biggest impression, Zhang replies that the one thing he will never forget is having to beg for food.

We see ourselves as having lost tradition, that is, that our behavior patterns, our rituals, etc., are all new and innovative, that we are not repeating the past. But in fact, the experience of modernity is, to live in traditional ways and to repeat tradition in unrecognizable forms living the quotation “footnotes to Plato”. Modern cultures still perform traditional rituals, such as sports (which are originally religious rituals) or shaming rituals, yet the origin and original meaning of these rituals have passed out of the culture. Modern cultures still repeat ways of thinking in the past—in fact, the bulk of modern culture is based on traditional ways of thinking repeated relatively unchanged—yet modern cultures tend to view these ways of thinking as innovations. Although we base our social groups on abstract categories, the structure and content of these social groups repeat the structure and content of kinship groups, in other words, we base our abstract social groups on principles derived from real, biological relationships; we do not, however, experience these social groups as real, biological relationships. So, in sum, modernity—the sense that the present is discontinuous with the past is an illusion—and this illusion creates modernity itself. What has changed is social memory; we have disconnected most of our practices and ideas from our collective memory of their origins and meaning.

3) EVERYONE’S PERSONALITY, PLATO CLAIMED, IS MADE UP OF THREE DISTINCT PARTS: REASON, SPIRIT, AND APPETITE. DISCUSS THESE THREE IN RELATION TO THE THEME OF THE FILM.

The “Tripartite Nature of the Soul”

As we have studied in Ancient Philosophy class, particularly in the discussion about Plato, the soul consists of three “parts” – the rational part”, the courageous or spirited “part”, and the appetitive “part”; and deep within a person, there is an experience of conflict between the reason and appetite.

The reason seeks for what is valuable. It directs a person towards his goal or function. That is, to seek for what is truly good. On the other hand, the appetite desires for the things of the body. It seeks for what is pleasurable.

At first, the spirited part is neutral. It is in between the reason and the appetite. But later on, the spirit goes toward the direction of the reason.

Here, the analogy of the charioteer and the two horses can be used. First, the charioteer, who represents the rational part, gives the direction to the two horses. It controls both the spirit and the appetite.

Second, the good horse represents the spirited part. It is the natural ally of the reason against the appetite. It stands for moral courage and loves honor, temperance, and modesty.

Lastly, the bad horse represents the appetitive part. It is a friend to all riot and insolence or rudeness and tends to obey sensual passions. According to Phaedrus, it is used to be whipped by the charioteer.

Since the conflict within a person is present and continuous, the rational part needs to discipline the appetitive part because not all sensual or pleasurable things will give a person happiness. In our lives, we use reason to evaluate what the appetite dictates us. We should choose what will lead us to what is truly good.

Here, the peculiar function of the rational part is to seek the true goal of human life and this is done by analyzing the nature of things and to evaluate what is true and good. But in reality, the appetite drives us to what is pleasurable. The dilemma is that sometimes, we are fooled by the things that we think is pleasurable.

In the film, this tripartite nature of the soul or of one’s personality claimed by Plato was clearly seen. The first scene I remember is when teacher Wei Minzhi hid Ming Xinhong from the mayor who wanted to take away the girl with a recruiter due to the athletic potential of the child. Teacher Wei hid the girl to hold on her promise to teacher Gao that there should be “not one less” student when he come back.

When the Mayor could not find Ming Xinhong, he asked every student where the teacher hid the girl. When nobody wanted to tell the location of Ming, he secretly appealed to Zhang Huike, the class’ troublemaker to tell him where Ming Xinhong is hiding. At first, Zhang Huike did not want to tell where Ming Xinhong is because teacher Wei told the class not to do so. But because of the insistence and bribes the mayor offered, the boy finally confessed the location of Ming Xinhong.

At this particular event in the film, we could see that there is a conflict deep inside Zhang Huike – that is to tell or not to tell where the girl was hiding. At first, with the help of the rational part, the spirited part seemed to be domineering. However, when the bribes the mayor offered entered the scene, which for me is the symbol of pleasure, the appetitive part took dominion over the child’s decision (soul or personality).

4) HOW DOES THIS FILM COMMUNICATE EVIL OR MORAL EVIL IN PARTICULAR? WHAT IS MORAL GOOD? WHAT IS MORAL EVIL?

Plato’s moral philosophy states that “knowledge is virtue”.For him, unhappiness is not directly willed by man but it just happen that man doesn’t know what is pleasurable. It is losing the harmony of the soul’s tripartite nature.

There is a struggle between apparent and real good. A man chooses what he knows or even what he thinks is good. Sometimes, it results to choosing the apparent good which causes moral evil.

Knowledge for Plato is virtue: applying this to Christian Philosophy, sin is apparent good; while virtue is the real good. There should be an intellectual assent or moral assent to choose what to follow or what to do: to choose to do evil or to choose to be virtuous. Virtue is the fulfillment of function – that is the work that a thing alone can do better than anything else.

A soul becomes virtuous when it has inner harmony. To be virtuous is to function effectively. If the soul’s parts function properly, it corresponds to 3 virtues: the rational part corresponds to wisdom if reason is the not deceived by the changes around; if reasons remain undisturbed by the appetite. The spirited part corresponds to courage that is when the will is kept within limits avoiding rush actions. And lastly, Appetite corresponding to temperance where in the desires is controlled and pleasures are moderated. There is actually a fourth virtue: a virtue obtained if each part of the soul functions properly; that is, justice.

However, in the liberal side of me in answering this last question, is about my assigned Philosopher when I was in first year. In our Ethics class with Fr. Ernesto Fernando Placibe, I was assigned to talk or report about the ethics of Herbert Spencer.

I learned to love Spencer because of his ethics. For Herbert Spencer, happiness reflects the complete adaptation of an individual organism to its environment–or, in other words, ‘happiness’ is that which an individual human being naturally seeks. For human beings to flourish and develop, Spencer held that there must be as few artificial restrictions as possible, and it is primarily freedom that he saw as promoting human happiness. While progress was an inevitable characteristic of evolution, it was something to be achieved only through the free exercise of human faculties.

Spencer maintained that there was a natural mechanism–an ‘innate moral sense’–in human beings by which they come to arrive at certain moral intuitions and from which laws of conduct might be deduced. Thus one might say that Spencer held a kind of ‘moral sense theory’. Such a mechanism of moral feeling was, Spencer believed, a manifestation of his general idea of the ‘persistence of force.’ As this persistence of force was a principle of nature, and could not be created artificially, Spencer held that no state or government could promote moral feeling any more than it could promote the existence of physical force. But while Spencer insisted that freedom was the power to do what one desired, he also held that what one desired and willed was wholly determined by “an infinitude of previous experiences”

Spencer saw this analysis of ethics as culminating in an ‘Absolute Ethics,’ the standard for which was the production of pure pleasure–and he held that the application of this standard would produce, so far as possible, the greatest amount of pleasure over pain in the long run.

There is, however, more to Spencer’s ethics than this. As individuals become increasingly aware of their individuality, they also become aware of the individuality of others and, thereby, of the law of equal freedom. This ‘first principle’ is that ‘Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man’. One’s ‘moral sense,’ then, led to the recognition of the existence of individual rights, and one can identify strains of a rights-based ethic in Spencer’s writings.

This is what i loved of Spencer. That he believes that all men are free to exercise their human faculties namely will and intellect. This freedom leads man to discern for what he shall do. As i put it in my own words, “My freedom stops as freedom of others begin”.

Sources:

  • Wikipedia: Lu, Sheldon H (2005). “Chinese film culture at the end of the twentieth century: the case of Not One Less by Zhang Yimou”. in Sheldon H. Lu and Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh.
  • Joseph M. de Torre, CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY; third edition, SINAG-TALA Publishers, Manila, 1980, pgs. 286-288.
  • Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [1979]
  • Rev. Fr. Ronnie Tuazon, Lectures on Plato from Ancient Philosophy class.

Sleeping Dictionary (Film Analysis)

Immaculate Conception Major Seminary

Philosophy Department

Submitted to: Rev. Fr. Dario Cabral
Mass Media
February 11, 2010
THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY
I. SUMMARY:[1]
A young and naive Englishman, John Truscott, went to the British colony ofSarawak, Borneo to try and apply his father’s work to the Iban society. He tried to civilize them, building schools and providing education for the Iban people. He was startled to be met by a tattooed native who speaks perfect English, and who introduced himself as Belansai. Belansai took him upriver, where he met Henry Bullard, who was governor of the district. Truscott was assigned a hut, a cook (who cooked well, but drunk heavily), and, to his surprise, a “sleeping dictionary“. A sleeping dictionary, he was informed, is a young woman who will sleep with him and teach him the local language.
Truscott was shocked, and upset, although he felt very attracted to Selima. He refused to sleep with her, but offered to learn the language from her. Bullard was angry, because he was rocking the boat and refusing to follow tradition, even though this was the way things have been done for centuries.
Selima became his “sleeping dictionary”, who taught him the language and the habits of the locals. Despite their intents, the two found themselves falling into a forbidden love. John was eager to marry Selima despite the longhouse not allowing it. When John told Henry about his plans to marry her, they locked Selima up. Selima then agreed to marry in the longhouse and they parted ways. On the other hand, Bullard’s wife, the manipulative Aggie, pushed Truscott him to marry her daughter Cecilia.
A year later, John was seen marrying Cecilia. He still struggled to get over his past with his sleeping dictionary. With Cecilia, he decided the best thing to do was go back to Sarawak to continue his work over there. Returning to Sarawak, Cecilia noticed John’s desire for Selima with his constant distance from her. Cecilia demanded to know more about Selima and John replied by saying that she’s married to Belansai and that the couple had a baby together.
While at the lake collecting rocks for research, John saw Selima with a baby. He believed the child to be his and asked Famous to arrange a meeting with the pair. Soon back at the house, Selima walked in unaware that John was there. John begged to see his son and soon Selima walked away not before John can stop them. Here, John met his son Manda for the first time. When Belansai heard news that John was spending time with his wife, he sneaked in to try to kill John but only managed to hurt him with a razor. The next morning, Henry revealed his past to John about his own “sleeping dictionary”, which resulted in the birth of another child: Selima. When Belansai was caught for trying to kill an officer, he was sentenced to hanging. Selima was not happy with the fact that Belansai will be killed as he’s been a good father to Manda. Not wanting to kill Belansai, a friend of his, John went through with announcing Belansai’s hanging as he had no other option. Later that night, Selima tried to break Belansai out, not knowing John that was already there. When she walked over to the jail cell, she saw John breaking Belansai out and handing him a gun. As Belansai escaped, John asked Selima to meet him at the dock so they can escape on the boat. Selima told him he won’t come as they’ll catch him. John turned to Selima and said: “Then I’ll tell them I’d rather have you than a country… or a language… or a history”. They embraced as the rain was pouring behind them.
The next day, Cecilia announced she’s pregnant, shocking John. Although he still has plans to be with Selima and their son, he wrote a note but stopped as Cecilia caught him. The couple then talked about John’s love for Selima and how Cecilia wanted John to be happy. Aggie was not happy that Cecilia and Henry have allowed both John and Selima to run away together due to that fact that she never left Henry’s sight, fearing he’d go with his sleeping dictionary. Aggie then sent Neville to stop them.
John searched for Selima as she’s left to believe that John didn’t come to the place of arrangement. They reunited as Neville came through with a gun. He told them to cuff themselves around the bamboos and told them of his plans to kill John, Selima and their baby. They’re then rescued by the Ibans, who killed Neville.
John decided to stay with Selima and their son with the rest of the Iban community.
1. What is selfishness? What is individualism? How are they related? Is there anything wrong with it?
Selfishness denotes the precedence given in thought or deed to the self, i.e., self interest or self concern. It is the act of placing one’s own needs or desires above the needs or desires of others.
Individualism is a term used to describe a moral, political, or social outlook, which stresses human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty. Individualists promote the unrestricted exercise of individual goals and desires. They oppose any external interference with an individual’s choices – whether by society, the state, or any other group or institution. Individualism is therefore opposed to collectivism, which stresses community and societal goals over individual goals.
Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses “the moral worth of the individual”. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one’s own interests, whether by society, or any other group or institution.
Individualism has a controversial relationship with selfishness. While many individualists are selfish, they usually do not argue that selfishness is inherently good. Rather, they argue that individuals should not be constrained by any socially-imposed morality; they believe that individuals should be free to choose to be selfish if they so desire.
For me, being selfish is not at all bad or evil. In fact, all of us are selfish. It is necessary for survival. To breathe is selfish; to eat is selfish; to love is selfish; to live is selfish. Everything that is good for you is in your self-interest. No one can survive without selfishness; no one can take care of themselves without acting in their own self-interest.
2. When is selfishness a virtue?
The popular usage of selfishness is for a sinful adjective where one person behaves in total disregard to consequences of his/her actions on others. Such selfish person will be ever ready to do anything just to satisfy whims.
Throughout history, man has been offered the following alternative: be “moral” through a life of sacrifice to others—or be “selfish” through a life of sacrificing others to oneself. Ayn Rand blasts this as a false alternative, holding that a selfish, non-sacrificial way of life is both possible and necessary for man. Ayn Rand rejects altruism, the view that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. Since selfishness (as she understands it) is serious, rational, principled concern with one’s own well-being, it turns out to be a prerequisite for the attainment of the ultimate moral value. For this reason, Rand believes that selfishness is a virtue. Rand writes that the “exact meaning” of selfishness is “concern with one’s own interests”.[2]
A virtue is an action by which one secures and protects one’s rational values—ultimately, one’s life and happiness. Since a concern with one’s own interests is a character trait that, when translated into action, enables one to achieve and guard one’s own well-being. Therefore, it follows that selfishness is a virtue. One must manifest a serious concern for one’s own interests if one is to lead a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life.
Selfishness is related to one’s own self. A person will be selfish only when the person is independent; true to mind, thoughts and values. All the actions by such person will be out of convictions; will go through all kinds of difficulties and obstacles but will never compromise with the values and thus be selfish. The most distinguishing feature of that person will be ‘integrity’ i.e. such a person will ‘walk the talk’. And will never sacrifice others for own needs or will indulge in any ‘desire-satisfaction’ acts. Such a person will be ready to suffer all kinds of hardships to live for the “self – values”; and most importantly a selfish person will never be hypocrite.
The popular usage of selfishness as sinful behavior implies acts which are done for whim-fulfillment, and not for “self”. Every person has some biological and psychological needs and these needs are “objective”. A person will always strive to fulfill these needs. Humans live in social world and to satisfy the objective needs there will be interactions and those interactions has to have the virtues of benevolence, rationality, integrity etc. (to be fulfilling). Hence such persons will never act in disregard to others rather act in regard to oneself. So the ‘real’ selfish acts will never be sinful.
In fact if one has to judge whether the feeling of love, friendship, respect or admiration is true or not then one should see if the person exhibiting such a feeling is selfish or not. If for that person love, friendship, respect etc are catering to the objective needs then it is a true feeling and the person will always be committed. If they are just for whim-fulfillment then those feelings are shallow and there will be no commitment. To understand ‘Self’ is the prerequisite to selfishness. A person is most true when he/she is selfish. Love, friendship and respect is nothing, but token of satisfaction of those objective needs.
In the film, this is very true. The decision of John to leave Cecilia and reunite with his “sleeping dictionary”, Selima, is an expression of selfishness. It is a virtuous selfishness because he just did it because he loves Selima and not Cecilia.
Another is that when John and Cecilia got married. This happened to preserve the reputation of John as an English officer (because it is a shame for an officer to fall in love and marry his native sleeping dictionary).
Another scene that showed selfishness as a virtue was when John has chosen to disown his being an officer for the sake of his love for Selima. He was supposed to perform his duty but because of his love for the girl, he has forsaken it. Isn’t it selfish to forsake your duty just because you love somebody? For me, it is. But it is also a noble and virtuous act – to forsake your duty and follow what your heart dictates and what will make you happier.
3. How are you going to explain this film using Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments?
When we consider the character of any individual, we naturally view it under two different aspects; first, as it may affect his own happiness; and secondly, as it may affect that of other people.
The preservation and healthful state of the body seem to be the objects which Nature first recommends to the care of every individual. The appetites of hunger and thirst, the agreeable or disagreeable sensations of pleasure and pain, of heat and cold, etc. may be considered as lessons delivered by the voice of Nature herself, directing him what he ought to choose, and what he ought to avoid, for this purpose. The first lessons which he is taught by those to whom his childhood is entrusted, tend, the greater part of them, to the samepurpose. Their principal object is to teach him how to keep out of harm’s way.[3]
Smith departed from the “moral sense” tradition of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume, as the principle of sympathy takes the place of that organ. “Sympathy” was the term Smith used for the feeling of these moral sentiments. It was the feeling with the passions of others. Sympathy arose from an innate desire to identify with the emotions of others. It could lead people to strive to maintain good relations with their fellow human beings and provide the basis both for specific benevolent acts and for the general social order. Thus was formed within the beast the psychological basis for the desire to obey natural laws.
In the film, we can see some of the analogous feeling as what A. Smith called as “sympathy”. Looking back at the film, we learned that Henry sympathized with the feeling of John towards his sleeping dictionary. Henry told his story that he was also once an officer and had his own sleeping dictionary. Like what happened to John and Selima, Henry also fell in love with his sleeping dictionary and had a child with her. The fruit of that love affair with Henry and his sleeping dictionary was Selima. So here, in this particular scene, we can prove Adam Smith’s theory.
Another example from the film that applies the moral sentiment theory of Smith is between Aggie and her daughter Cecilia. As I can firmly remember in the film, Aggie warned Cecilia to take watch over John as what she did to Henry for fear of going back to his sleeping dictionary. Here, both of them are afraid to be abandoned by their husbands go back to their sleeping dictionaries. This is how sympathy was portrayed in the film.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments culminated in man as self-interested and self-commanded. Individual freedom, according to Smith, was rooted in self-reliance, the ability of an individual to pursue his self-interest while commanding himself based on the principles of natural law.

[1] Reference: WIKIPEDIA free dictionary.
[2] The Virtue of Selfishness, vii (VOS)
[3] Theory of Moral Sentiments; Adam Smith; Chap. VI; Sec. 1.2