Acting a fool: Evading knowledge in an analysis of stupidity and re-meaning in post-screwball comedy films

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This thesis examines the representation of stupidity within film. Stupidity is treated in relation to theories about moral perfectionism and remarriage as set out by Stanley Cavell. Matthijs van Boxsel’s optimistic theory about stupidity is used to lay a groundwork for the analysis. The films examined are The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) (Joel and Ethan Coen), Burn After Reading (2008) (Joel and Ethan Coen), Toni Erdmann (2016) (Maren Ade) and Alle Anderen (2009) (Maren Ade). The analysis reveals that in the first two films follow a logic wherein stupidity functions to improve society’s control on civilians. This obstructs the moral perfectionist perspective and reinforces a society’s ideology with values such as cynicism and skepticism. The latter two films follow a logic wherein civilians employ stupidity as a method to undermine society’s control, by rebelling against conform communities. This way, stupidity has the ability to make one set of values seem ridiculous, in order to let another set of values emerge, which is a moral perfectionist perspective in this work. The films are gathered around the idea of ‘following a same set of values’ - although they do so in different ways - under the denominator ‘post-screwball comedies’. To explain this, my aim is to explicate the function of stupidity in the construction of ‘re-meaning’. Re-meaning echoes the influence Cavell’s work has on this research, and how it impacts the way meaning in these films is interpreted. I conclude that a focus on knowledge is unhelpful in trying to pursue happiness and a Cavellian emphasis on ‘neighbouring ourselves and others’ is valuable, but made possible only by the function of stupidity.
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