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Film and Philosophy

Volume 24, 2020

Shawn Loht
Pages 98-119

Drapers and Gardeners
Two Case Studies in the Cinema of Existential Conscience

This article examines Martin Heidegger's concept of conscience in Being and Time as it is manifested by the characters Don Draper from the television series Mad Men (Matthew Weiner, 2007-2013) and Chauncey Gardiner in the film Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979). The article suggests that Draper hears and occasionally responds to what Heidegger terms the “call of conscience,” whereas Gardiner neither hears this call nor responds to it. Gardiner poses a problem case for Heidegger’s account of Dasein by virtue of failing to exhibit conscience. A question latent in Gardiner’s makeup is what causes him to be this way. The contrast of the characters Draper and Gardiner is approached through the lens of the portrayal of secret identity in filmic media. Both characters live public lives that are at odds with their genuine selves, but they react to this disconnect differently. Core concepts addressed vis-a-vis Heidegger’s account of conscience include facticity, falling, discourse, authenticity, and death. The article concludes that Draper hears and responds to conscience’s call because he has a discursive comprehension of the disconnect between his true self and the public life he has lived; a crucial component of the phenomenon of conscience according to Heidegger is the existential capacity for discourse. Gardiner, in contrast, does not hear conscience at all because his Dasein lacks the discursive element that conscience requires in order to be activated. Gardiner’s being-in-the-world is such that he fails to understand the divide between his lived self and his public self. For Gardiner, these are the same.

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