Inside the ‘Open-Image’: Virtual Reality Cinema as a Medium of Ethical Experience

by Adam Daniel


This podcast is of a seminar presented by Adam Daniel at WSU Parramatta for SSSN on 10th May 2017. Adam’s paper is followed by a response from Dr Robert Sinnerbrink, who also facilitated a question and answer section with the audience present on the day.

Adam Daniel is the SSSN University Representative and a Ph.D. candidate at Western Sydney University. He is a member of the Writing and Society Research Centre. His thesis investigates the modern evolution of the horror film form, with a focus on the intersection of embodied spectatorship, technology and new media, and Deleuzian philosophy.

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is the author of New Philosophies of Film: Thinking Images (Continuum, 2011) and Understanding Hegelianism (Acumen, 2007). He is currently undertaking a four-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship project (2014-2017) on ‘Cinematic Ethics’ and has recently completed an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant project (2010-2013) with Dr Lisa Trahair (UNSW) and Dr Gregory Flaxman (UNC) on ‘Film as Philosophy: Understanding Cinematic Thinking’.

The primitive space of cinematic VR opens up vital questions regarding how much this new mode can draw from established cinematic paradigms, such as linear narrative progression, techniques of montage, and emotional engagement via identification with diegetic characters. However, early scholarship in the field of virtual reality has also seen a lack of political or ethical engagement as one of the key issues in the field. This paper seeks to examine VR’s potential as a medium of ethical experience. Drawing on Robert Sinnerbrink’s work on the cinema-ethics relationship, this paper also utilises the concept of Chaudhuri and Finn’s ‘open-image’ to expand ethical experience beyond an intellectual consideration of moral or ethical dilemmas, an extension which examines how images can affect us in a multimodal sense: cognitively, but also emotionally, corporeally, and sensorially.

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