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the Complete Review
the complete review - screenplay

Ludwig Wittgenstein:
The Terry Eagleton Script

Terry Eagleton

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To purchase Ludwig Wittgenstein

Title: Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script
Author: Terry Eagleton
Genre: Screenplay
Written: 1993
Length: (144 pages)
Availability: in Wittgenstein - US
in Wittgenstein - UK
in Wittgenstein - Canada
Video: Wittgenstein - US
Wittgenstein - UK
  • The bfi volume Wittgenstein includes
    • a Preface by Colin MacCabe
    • Introduction to Wittgenstein, by Terry Eagleton
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script
    • This is Not a Film of Ludwig Wittgenstein by Derek Jarman
    • Wittgenstein: The Derek Jarman Film by Derek Jarman and Ken Butler (see our review)
    • Numerous stills from the film, including many high-quality colour photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : decent often clever little cinematic picture of Wittgenstein

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Terry Eagleton was commissioned to write a television play about Wittgenstein for a Channel 4 series on philosophy. He did, but the script was adapted by Derek Jarman into something bigger (and quite different), eventually becoming the feature film, Wittgenstein. The two versions differ markedly. Eagleton notes (in My Wittgenstein):

I shall omit the usual self-regarding narrative of how my screenplay was ripped to shreds by the director. Suffice it to say that at one point my agent instructed me to remove my name from the credits, whereupon the British Film Institute took fright and persuaded me to keep it on.
       Fortunately, the British Film Institute also decided to publish Eagleton's original script alongside Jarman's radical rewrite (as well as introductory pieces by both of them, and a Preface by Colin MacCabe) in this excellent little volume, also entitled Wittgenstein.
       This review refers specifically to Eagleton's script; see also our review of the Jarman version.

       Terry Eagleton has tackled Wittgenstein before, most notably in his novel, Saints and Sinners, and he is knowledgeable about both the man and his philosophy. In the Introduction to Wittgenstein that precedes the script he explains what he set out to do. The brief "was to assume a more or less totally ignorant audience and dramatise something of his ideas in terms of his life." One of the difficulties with this, Eagleton notes, was that "the life and the ideas happened, so to speak, consecutively" -- first came the interesting life, then came a life in which only ideas dominated, with little action of any sort. Jarman solved this by portraying much of Wittgenstein's life, from childhood to death. Eagleton focusses on a specific time (the mid-1930s) and builds the story around the Wittgenstein of that time, his past (and his future) implicit in the portrayal.
       Eagleton sees Wittgenstein as "an arresting combination of monk, mystic and mechanic". His script is, as he correctly see it, "reasonably strong on ideas but short on dramatic action". It may not have worked as well on the screen as Jarman's version, but it reads well and does give a good impression of the man and his thought.
       Eagleton also has some cinematic sense, with a few touches that would have worked well on the screen -- so, for example, when the camera focusses on an elderly don while Wittgenstein is explaining some of his ideas. As the don's eyes close, "Wittgenstein's voice begins to blur and fade until it becomes mere unintelligible droning", only coming back into focus when the don wakes with a start.
       Eagleton uses a relatively small cast of characters for his Cambridge-based portrayal. Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes, G.E.Moore, and a few other characters suffice. Eagleton uses them quite well, and if it is a somewhat talky script that matters less on the page than on the screen. The short scenes and many shifts also keep things moving.
       Like Jarman, Eagleton uses many authentic statements by and about Wittgenstein in the film-dialogue. He works quite well with this material.
       Overall quite a successful and entertaining script. Certainly worthwhile.

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Wittgenstein - the Derek Jarman film: Ludwig Wittgenstein: Terry Eagleton: Other books about Ludwig Wittgenstein under review: Other books by Terry Eagleton under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Noted literary critic Terry Eagleton is a Professor of English at Oxford University.

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