Symbolism of Evil in Film



A lawsuit in 1915 had a significant influence on the development of American cinema. The case of Mutual Film Corporation vs. Ohio Industrial Board was concluded as the Supreme Court ruled that cinema is not a medium covered by the freedom of speech act but mere representation of events. Making and screening films was deemed to be merely a business activity. There was also an interesting ethical dimension in the ruling: the court observed that films are “capable of evil”, and that because of their possible evil effects, the police had the right to restrict their distribution. The threat of such action taking place was one of the major reasons for establishing an internal system of control within the film industry. Nevertheless, depictions of evil in its various forms have always been an inseparable part of film culture — as well as of all attempts at representing the human condition through fiction.1


Moral Responsibility Moral Universe Relational Violence Black Legion American Cinema 
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  1. 1.
    Stephen Prince, Classical Film Violence: Designing and Regulating Brutality in Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1968, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), p. 17. The decision was overruled as late as 1952 in connection with a ruling concerning Rossellini’s episode film The Miracle (1948). This time, film was acknowledged to be a form of art and thus belonging to the sphere of free speech.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Paul Ricoeur, Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology, trans. John Bowden, (London and New York: Continuum, 2007), p. 37.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967), p. 324.Google Scholar
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    Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 3rd ed., trans. James W. Ellington, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), p. 30. With the notion of the “categorical imperative,” Kant meant that a moral norm is always valid and not tied to any particular conditions. The ability to live according to ethical norms is what in Kant’s opinion distinguishes a human being from creatures that cannot reach the level of morality.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Hannah Arendt, On Violence, (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1970), p. 65.Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 126–127.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Henry Bacon 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HelsinkiFinland

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