Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Michael Weisberg


Film-viewing is a unique aesthetic experience, and it seems to possess a unique sort of tension. On the one hand, a film’s story seems to just be there before us: we’re directly presented with sights and sounds and can perceive the objects, people, and places depicted in the same sort of way we perceive things in the world. On the other hand, there’s an important sort of constructedness in film. Film-viewers have to cognize what’s represented by a film’s perceptual prompts; we have to bring our awareness of convention to understand shot-transitions and montage; and we have to extrapolate from what’s shown in order to pick up on what’s implied by the shots we see. These two aspects—perceptual immediacy and constructedness—seem opposed. And theorists typically treat them as opposed, with cinematic realists focusing on film’s perceptual content, semioticians focusing on how movies communicate, and narrative theorists focusing on how we cognize a film’s fiction, and each of them engaging in those analyses independent of the others. In this dissertation, I argue for nuanced ways in which what we see and hear, what we know, and what we imagine interact throughout film-viewing. I argue that film’s perceptual content and representational content entwine insofar as we perceive a film’s fictional world. I argue that because movies show (in ways that other art forms, like novels, cannot), they have an epistemic directness—they present their fictional truths immediately. I argue that movies communicate, in a roughly Gricean way, and that they do so partly through showing—with their perceptual content helping imply certain fictional truths. My analyses pave the way for a full theory of film meaning that does not treat as separate different, intertwining layers of meaning. I use and apply concepts from philosophy of perception, philosophy of language, and epistemology in order to clarify what precisely goes on when we watch movies and to motivate ties between philosophy of film and other areas of philosophy.

Included in

Aesthetics Commons