Lucy Bolton, 'Murdoch and Margaret: Learning a Moral Life'

Barber Photograph Room
Arts and Law, Research
Thursday 6th February 2014 (17:00-19:00)
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Regretably this event has been cancelled due to industrial action.

We hope to reschedule for the summer term.


This paper will bring together the moral philosophy of Iris Murdoch with the moral agency of Lisa in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2011 film Margaret, in an investigation of how film can be a moral fable that might be relevant to our actions.

Following a road accident for which she is partly responsible, Lisa holds an injured woman during the last minutes of her life, coming face-to-face with the imminence and immediacy of death. The rest of the film is concerned with how Lisa resumes life after this incident: the decisions she makes to tell certain untruths, her pursuit of particular people in order to resolve her confused and conflicted feelings, and the volatile, self-centred maelstrom of emotion that surrounds her. The film explores Lisa’s attempts to make good choices, and the reasons why she might be considered to make bad ones.

Reading the moral philosophy of Iris Murdoch alongside the film enables us to see Murdoch’s notions of practical moral good in action. For Murdoch, moral philosophy can be seen as ‘a more systematic and reflective extension of what ordinary moral agents are continually doing’, so Lisa’s moral choices might be seen as creating a filmic moral philosophy. Murdoch can help us further by her consideration of the value of a moral fable: does a morally important fable always imply universal rules? And how do we decide whether a fable is morally important? By bringing Murdoch and Margaret together in an exploration of the moral decision making of the film’s protagonist and our assessment of her choices, we can learn more about the idea of film as a morally important fable rather than a fable that is purely decorative. 

Lucy Bolton is Lecturer in Film Studies at Queen Mary University of London and the author of Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema and Thinking Women (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).