Gilles Deleuze and Film Theory

Of all the film-philosophies of the twentieth century, it is perhaps Deleuze‘s that is most of the cinema. It attempts to belong to cinema rather than simply be about it. It shows us film thinking for itself. The magnanimity Deleuze shows to film’s conceptual power is seen most clearly at the very end of his two-volume work on film (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image) when he writes that “cinema’s concepts are not given in cinema. And yet they are cinema’s concepts, not theories about cinema.” Still, at every point and turn of his five hundred pages of text, films and their makers are continually compared with philosophical thinkers, only ones that “think with movement-images and time-images instead of concepts” (Deleuze 1989: 280). Nonetheless, it would be plain “stupid”, as Deleuze remarked in one interview, “to want to create a philosophy of cinema”: Deleuze is not trying to apply philosophy to cinema, but move directly from philosophy to cinema and from cinema to philosophy (Deleuze 2000: 366, 367). A philosophy from cinema, then, that belongs to it, is what we shall examine here.


The two essential things that come from cinema, in Deleuze‘s view, are movement and time, which is to say, the indirect and the direct presentation of time. This is what his books are about. Indeed, the story-arc of Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 is as dramatic as it is (narratively) classical. It begins with a state of nature, followed by its fall and subsequent redemption: there was once a cinematic image adequate to expression that then fell into crisis (the shattering of the movement-image) before its resurrection as a time-image, an image adequate to its time, even when it is a time of loss and decay. First act (Cinema 1), last act (Cinema 2), with the middle act coming in the transition between the two books. This short essay’s purpose, then, is to explain the significance of movement and time both in cinema and for Deleuze. What we shall see in all of this is no mere philosophy of cinema, but how cinema gives us a new philosophy of subject and object and what moves between them: time.


The time-image in Cinema 2 indicates the possibility of new images, new signs, a future art of cinema. But it is the task of Cinema 1 to tell the story of the rise and fall of the movement-image – its various incarnations as perception-image, affection-image, impulse-image, action-image and mental-image – as well as the various signs related to them. We should first note that it is images that Deleuze writes about and not the imaginary) there is no gaze or look at work in Deleuze’s approach, be it male or female, sadistic or masochistic. The image is for itself and not for a consciousness (as both phenomenology and Freud would have it). For, if Edmund Husserl claimed that consciousness is o/the image (and the image is for consciousness), then Deleuze follows Henri Bergson‘s reply in Matter and Memory ([1896] 1994) that consciousness already is the image. There is an “eye” already “in things, in luminous images in themselves”, for it is not consciousness that illumines (as phenomenology believes), but the images, or light, that already are a consciousness “immanent to matter” (Deleuze 1986: 60, 61).

Image as already consciousness, consciousness as already image. What is being iterated here is a materialist identity of brain and screen. It is a new form of material monism, going beyond phenomenology into an “extended mind”, a mind as part of the world (cinema). The Deleuzian notion that “the brain is the screen” (Deleuze 2000) stems from Bergsons understanding of the material universe as an u aggregate of images” (Bergson [1896] 1994: 22) (which, in the modern parlance of philosophy of mind, makes him a “radical externalist”): “an image may be without being perceived – it may be present without being represented – and the distance between these two terms, presence and representation, seems just to measure the interval between matter itself and our conscious perception of matter” (ibid.: 35). Yet, despite the centrality of the Bergsonian image in his theory (one that would strike many as already veering back towards a phenomenology of appearances), Deleuze does not regard his approach as subjectivist. Image = consciousness = matter in an objective phenomenology (the flipside of Deleuze’s thesis that the “brain is a subject”) (Deleuze & Guattari 1994:209-11). It is a phenomenology that transcends “normal”, anthropomorphic, perception, showing us how things see themselves (and us), rather than how we (normally) see them. Whereas Lacanian theory proposes that we see the mirror as if it sees us, in Deleuze’s world, the mirror, or the processes that comprise a mirror, really do see, and touch, us.

Nonetheless, Deleuzian images do have subjective and objective poles or profiles, which are themselves related to each other in different ways. These varied relations just are what Deleuze means by the perception-image, affection-image, action-image and so on. And how those different relations are generated is given to us in the story of images that Bergson provides in chapter one of Matter and Memory. This imagology provides the script for Deleuzes work too, from the movement-image, which gives us only an indirect representation of time (in so far as it depends on montage), to the time-image, which provides us a clear view of time in “false movements” that shatter our “sensory-motor schema” (Deleuze 1986: ix). Also in the script are all the permutations by which subject and object might connect with each other in between this alpha and omega. Although cinematic images do come with varying degrees of bias, sometimes leaning more to the object side (in the static frames of early cinema), sometimes more to the subject side (in the mental images of Alfred Hitchcock that bring movement- image cinema to its completion), they are never one or the other entirely.

Two things must be said here. First, if there is no independent reality to subject and object – they are merely the poles of the image – then there is nothing to stop us saying that cinema, with its images, gives us reality rather than some pale imitation of it. Image is every thing. The two ways it does this are through time and through movement, the latter being the indirect representation of the former. But irrespective of being direct or indirect, the movements shown in cinema are all real. And this is so not only on account of everything being an image. Hence the second point to be made, which compounds the first: every thing is in motion. In a universe where only “duration” (change) is real, the moving images of film have an equal claim on reality: films give us immediately self-moving images. That is why Cinema 1 begins its study with real movement, understanding by this something totally unlike any subjective impression of movement. For this, says Deleuze, is exactly how Bergson understood images, as “mobile sections of duration”; duration itself being the Real {ibid.: 11). In fact, it is because of the ontological priority of change that the image is outlined by Deleuze as a set of relations between subjective and objective poles (in the perception- image, affection-image and so on), as well as being unopposed to reality (in virtue of the latter s own mobility). Mobility makes the image real (for the Real is change); and the mobility between subject and object makes the image real as well (for their variable relations are embodied in its various types).

These various types of image (perception-image, affection-image) do not, therefore, represent the relations between subject and object; rather, they instantiate or exemplify them. This is seen vividly (although also rather abstractly) at the beginning of Cinema 1 in the relation between one or more images and the set of all images surrounding it (the Whole, which is itself incomplete or “Open”). Even in the relatively static framings of early cinema – which were often quite geometrical, with the use of golden sections (in Sergei Eisenstein), horizontals and verticals (in Carl Theodor Dreyer), and diagonals (in German Expressionism) – there is a relation with an outof- field that is always qualitative. Alluding to Bergsons famous image in Creative Evolution of sugar dissolving in water, Deleuze talks of a variable thread linking the particular to the whole, a thread made manifest in the duration of this event (ibid.: 12-17). The local is never closed off: there is always a bi-directional movement that extends the quantitative change in the part to the qualitative state of the Whole. And this is plain to see in cinema, where the moving images on screen (a quantity) extend to an off-screen set of images (a quality). Indeed, in the simple shot we see “the essence” of the cinematic movement-image: it lies in the extraction from “moving bodies” the “movement which is their common substance, or extracting from [quantitative, partial] movements the [qualitative, holistic] mobility which is their essence” (ibid.: 23). This movement produces a qualitative feeling, a whole world, simply created from the way an actor might silently raise a hand during an otherwise static shot, or, in a modern movie, when a camera cranes high into the sky above its subject.

This thread or relation between part and whole is expressed even more clearly with the use of editing techniques, be it in the American, “organic”, style of editing, Soviet “dialectical” montage, the “quantitative” style of pre-war French film-makers, or the “intensive” cutting of the German Expressionists (ibid.: 29-55). Montage – a new, aberrant, connection between images – releases even more the qualitative, holistic movement from the local (on-screen) movement-images in an indirect “image of ‘time”. This extension of the local to the whole is bi-directional, or reciprocally determining. The pure or qualitative movement also rebounds on the on-screen images before us. And it does so in different ways according to the different kinds of gap or “interval” expressed on screen between the actions and reactions displayed between images. This interval belongs to the interrelationship between the images as they frame each other: one shot calls for another kind of shot, one cut leads to another – actions and reactions – according to the interests of the film, in particular its directorial style. Crucially, these “interests” or selections are defined by Deleuze (after Bergson) as forms of perception (ibid.: 29-30, 62, 63). In other words, perception itself is an infra-imagistic delimitation, a further selection or filtering of images from the whole, although nonetheless still linked to the whole. Its link to the whole, therefore – that is, what it expresses of the whole by its infra-imagistic selection – itself constitutes a kind of (qualitative) image that Deleuze calls the “perception-image”.

Like the movement-images, of which they are a subspecies, perception-images have their own variable characteristics, namely a bias towards passive perception at one limit, action at another, and the affect that occupies (without filling) the gap in between.1 The perception-image, however, should not be regarded as subjective, but rather as an objective subjectivity (it is formed from the real auto-delimitation of images). With the perception-image, Deleuze tells us, “we are no longer faced with subjective or objective images; we are caught in a correlation between a perceptionimage and a camera-consciousness which transforms it” (ibid.: 72, 74).2

The action-image, on the other hand, expresses the well-organized, sensory-motor relationship between characters and the story-worlds that they inhabit. It is best typified by classical Hollywood narrative and the acting methods accompanying it (although, for Deleuze, narrative is derived from the images, not the other way round). Indeed, this organicism is said to culminate in the acting “Method” itself, whose rules apply not only to the actor but to “the conception and unfolding of the film, its framings, its cutting, its montage” (ibid.: 155). Here the sensory-motor schema takes “possession of the image” in two basic ways. Deleuze calls the first of these the “large form” (following Noël Burch’s nomenclature), wherein situations lead to actions that then lead to altered situations, as seen in westerns and action films in particular. Things happen for a reason: framings and cuts expressing either the challenges an agent meets with, or how he or she responds to them. Deleuze gives this large form the formula SAS’ (situation- action-new situation). Conversely, the other action-image follows the “small form” of ASA’ (action-situation-new action) where small shifts in an agents activity hugely alter the situation and so also the agent s next action. The small form is typically seen, according to Deleuze, in melodrama and burlesque (ibid.: 155, 141-3).

Finally, the affection-image – the in-between of perception and action – must not be understood as subjective any more than was the perception-image. Deleuze explains it as an inside made outside, expressed par excellence in the close-up of the face. Indeed, it is the face in close-up that is the model for all affection-images, even if these affection-images comprise close-ups of hands, knives, or guns. In each case, there is a facialization of the object, the face/close-up always being a disclosure of qualities or, rather, the passage from one quality to another in pathetic states such as wonder, anger or fear (ibid: 87-90, 96-7).


These different types of image, with their salient features (emphasizing agency or affect or milieu) also encompass and are intimately tied to their own respective forms of space and time, each of which possesses the same emphases.3 Variously active, reactive or affective, antagonistic, melodramatic or comedic, such spaces nevertheless remain fairly complicit with the well-determined space-times of the movement-image, whose co-ordinates come from sensory-motor organization. The history of cinema in the first half of the twentieth century comprises all the various permutations that these images and their space-times can take on, the purpose of Deleuze’s Cinema 1 being to chart each and every one of them. Daunting though this objective is, it is not an infinite task, for after fifty years or so, Deleuze finds that cinema has exhausted all the variants of actual movement possible in the image. Indeed, the culmination of Cinema 1 tells us that it was Alfred Hitchcock who brought these relations among images to their completion, directing the movement-image to its “logical perfection” (1986: 200, 205; 1989: 34). In Hitchcock’s works, every variation of the movement-image, with biases towards one pole or the other, towards perception or action, is brought together and mentalized, filtered through the pole of intellect. Every permutation in plot and agency is explored and exhausted in cerebro. Hitchcock makes film think or, rather, he shows the calculative intellection involved in plotting a murder, an escape, a capture, a concealment, an evasion or a blackmail. He gives us the mental images (of movement) rather than the action-images themselves, virtual movement over actual movement. Characters and actions become specular, quasi-meditative – processed for their spectrality to create suspense or unease.

With this completion, though, also came the inevitable re-examination of the “nature and status” of the movement-images by theorists and film-makers alike (ibid.: 205). Just as the apparent completion of philosophy and history by G. W. E Hegel brought about a crisis in Western thought, so also the completion of the first phase of cinema by Hitchcock occasioned new levels of critical re-examination. This second crisis, still current today according to Deleuze, concerns the uncreative, cliche-ridden nature of movement-image cinema (that is, Hollywood and its imitators). The question set at the end of Cinema 1, portentous though it may seem, is whether cinema can “attack the dark organization of cliches” (ibid,: 210). Can cinema extract a new image from our cliched world at the end of the movement-image? For the cliche is not just bare repetition; it also marks out our “mental deficiency”, “organized mindlessness” and “cretinization” (ibid.: 208-9, 210-211, 212; Deleuze 1995a: 60). It marks the stagnation of the brain, a generalized enslavement. The crisis for cinema, then, is also one for our culture and philosophy, for our ability, fundamentally, to think anew.

In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Felix Guattari make it the artist’s task to struggle against the cliches and repetitions of opinion (1994: 204, 214). And, after Hitchcock, after 1945, cinema certainly seemed in need of a new artistic image. Would one emerge to save it? Would film survive to fight the good fight against cliche? Cinema 1 asks us to wait and see. We anticipate that it will survive, of course, as heroes always do. Yet the crisis of the image that Deleuze sets up between the last chapter of Cinema 1 and the first chapter of its sequel, Cinema 2, does mark a crucial fissure, a genuine intermission, interval, or gap in Deleuzes own thought as well. Into the gap come many things: a real sense of anticipation (for the advent of the time-image), of suspense (over the life or death of cinema) and of animationness (how long before the sequel, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, would come out?). And alongside the cliffhanger ending and curtain-fall, there also comes a real crisis and gap in Deleuze s film-philosophy, although we shall have to wait until we have seen what the time-image does before we tackle that.4 So what does it do? In a reflexive move typical of modernism, the time image thematizes the lack of creativity in the movement-image, the historical exhaustion of the movement-image. The cliche is embraced in order to be resisted, by taking a failure of form as new content. The five characteristics of the new image, then, are “the dispersive situation, the deliberatively weak links, the voyage form, the consciousness of cliches, the condemnation of the plot” (1986: 210). Together, they transform a vice into a virtue, wresting a new image from the bare repetitions of Hollywood.

It can do this because, by thematizing a failure, the time-image gives us a direct representation of what reality is like itself: time as breakage, as wound, as fissure, as crack, as differential – all the features that Deleuze s process philosophy explores across its corpus. Time out of joint is true time, for time really is what puts things out of joint, what dismembers any organized situation. Deleuze is saying no more than what Friedrich Nietzsche, William James, Bergson and Martin Heidegger said before him: when something breaks, when a habitual act fails to find its target, it emerges (as it really is) into consciousness. When vision fails, we see (the truth of) vision, we see the searches in LAvventura (The adventure; dir. M. Antonioni, 1960) or Ladri di biciclette (The bicycle thief; dir. V. De Sica, 1948). We see not the thing, but what it is to see (or not see) the thing. We see the process of seeing.

In one respect, all the movement-images, or set of action-reaction images, can be thought of as cliches because, following Bergson, Deleuze sees any perceived image as a selection and deletion of reality in accordance with preset utilitarian formulae (1989: 20). But these cliches become too formulaic if they cannot adapt to external changes impinging on them. They lose their utility when they cannot respond to the new challenges after 1945 (post-war European anomie and exhaustion, class upheaval, social reorganization, physical and spiritual dislocation, moral re-evaluation, vast economic migrations). This is the moment of transition when anything is possible, when all the normal motor-linkages, motivated actions, logical plots, rational cuts and wellorganized spaces find no purchase. What Deleuze calls “any-space-whatevers” (“espace quelconque“) arise (a concept he takes from the anthropologist Marc Auge; Deleuze 1986:109).

Consequently, new images of a potentially more “readable” or “thinkable” nature can emerge because they are made thematic. Deleuze talks of a new breed of signs, “opsigns” and “sonsigns”, where optical- and sound-images are directly apprehended: We see the actor seeing his seeing, hearing his hearing: it is an image of an image, a thematized image (1989: 69). In the comedies of Jacques Tati, for instance, we see (and read) what it is to be a sound, as when the sound of a swinging door becomes boredom itself in Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Monsieur Hulots holiday; 1953), or in the numerous false fidelities between sound and image (a car horn that is also a ducks quack, a door hinge that is a plucked cello) that make us hear and so think about sound as sound. Time, space and even thought itself are made perceptible in such time-images: they are made visible and audible by being thematized in the breakdown of “natural” sights, sounds, and actions (1989: 67, 18).5 Direct time is the “out of joint” of perception, action and affect, and therefore, of all the dimensions of movement {ibid.: English preface, xi).


The new image, the time-image, was needed to meet the challenge of the cliche. It was born to restore our need to believe in the world, to awaken us from our cynical, hackneyed lives. Where the movement-image weakened itself in formulaic, “false” movements, it is superseded by and subordinated to the time-image. This is the power a/the “false” as such: the power to create untruths, the power to not correspond (with the old “truth”, the formulaic truth), but to respond to the world of change by instantiating it anew (cf. Bogue 2006: 212-13). Cinema tries to restore our belief in the world by creating reasons to believe in this world: “we need an ethic or a faith … a need to believe in this world” (Deleuze 1989: 173). How is this done? By inventing new relationships between sound and vision, new types of space, and even new kinds of body (that correspond to a “genesis of bodies” rather than fixed organic coordinates). The power of the false is the power of creation, invention, novelty. New kinds of actor will also have to emerge, consequently: amateurs, “professional non-actors”, or “actor-mediums”, capable of “seeing and showing rather than acting” (ibid.: 20). The French New Wave gave us an instance of this with its “cinema of attitudes and postures” (ibid.: 193), going so far as to make even the scenery accord to the “attitudes of the body” (ibid.) (Deleuze is thinking of Jean-Pierre Leaud here, Francois Truffaut s cinematic alter-ego). A cinema of the body emerges in contrast to the old cinema of action, with a body that is caught up in “a quite different space”; “this is a space before action, always haunted by a child, or by a clown, or by both at once”. This is the cinema of bodies, which is not sensorymotor, but “action being replaced by attitude” (ibid.: 276). It creates a “pre-hodological space” pointing to an “undecidability of the body”, where any obstacle is dispersed “in a plurality of ways of being present in the world” (ibid.: 203).6

In all of this, time is weighty. Opsigns and sonsigns, being breaks with the sensorymotor, are glimpses of real time, the time that lies virtual behind all actual (movement) images. They find their “true genetic element when the actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image” (ibid.: 69). Indeed, Deleuze explains virtual ontology plainly: “for the time-image to be born … the actual image must enter into relation with its own virtual image as such” (ibid.: 273). And this virtual, real time, which cannot occupy any actual present, must therefore occupy the past or “past in general” (a past that has no actual date) (ibid.: 79). In the cinematic time-image, past and present, virtual and actual, become indiscernible. The films of the Italian neorealists, the French New Wave, New German Cinema, and the New Hollywood of the 1970s only give us glimpses of this virtuality, but they are direct glimpses all the same.7 Tliese “new”, evidently, bring the virtual with them (ibid.). The cinematic glimpses of real time also come in various guises, some more and some less obviously temporal. With the work of Alain Resnais, for instance (Je t’aime, je t’aime [1968], Hiroshima mon amour [1959]), we “plunge into memory” (ibid.: 119): but it is not a present memory or psychological recollection so much as a direct exploration of time: “memory is not in us; it is we who move in Being-memory, a world-memory” (ibid.: 98).


The locus of the indiscernibility of the virtual and actual is named (after Guattari) the “crystal-image” by Deleuze. But its ontology comes directly from Bergsons philosophy of time in Matter and Memory as well as his essay on deja vu, “Memory of the Present and False Recognition” (Deleuze 1989: 81). Deleuze articulates it as follows:

What constitutes the crystal-image is the most fundamental operation of time: since the past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past, which differ from each other in nature, or, what amounts to the same thing, it has to split the present into two heterogeneous directions, one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls towards the past. … Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time, that we see in the crystal. (Ibid.: 81)

Because cinema is time itself in direct presentation, its time-images are glimmering instantiations of the “most fundamental operation of time”. The past persists in die present, although we are never aware of this save for those rare moments of temporal paradoxs such as deja vu.8 But its persistence is what allows for change, its past is what makes each present pass on.9 Once again, because the time-image (like every other image) is also a relation between subjective and objective tendencies or poles, it can present itself in two possible forms, one grounded in the past, the other in the present (ibid.: 98).

Film can explore Being-memory across a varied landscape formed with what Deleuze calls “peaks” and “plains” (or “sheets”) of the past. Orson Welles‘s Citizen Kane (1941) is a case in point of the co-presence of past and present, the famed depth of field photography expressing “regions of past as such … The hero acts, walks and moves: but it is the past that he plunges himself into and moves in: time is no longer subordinated to movement, but movement to time” {ibid.: 106). When Gregg Toland‘s camera bears down on Susan (Dorothy Comingore) at the club, for example, there is a “contraction” of “the actual present” in its “invitation to recollect” {ibid.: 109). Or, to take an example of our own, Jaco van Dormael‘s Toto le hews (Toto the hero; 1991) tells a story concerning the profound effects of an old mans past on his and others’ present. This is a common storyline for many films, but Toto le hews achieves it as much with typical scenes of a man recollecting his past as by showing a continuity of past and present in general with resonating cuts, graphic matches and matches on action between different events. The “past in general” is here in the present on screen, or, rather, we are directly in the presence of the past on screen {ibid.: 101). From the Deleuzian position, therefore, it is a mistake to think that the film image is “by nature in the present” {ibid.: 105). Or, if it is, then at least it is not within a simple present, as L’année dernière à Marienbad (Last year at Marienbad; 1961) demonstrates when its events derive from three types of present: that of the past, of the present and of the future.

Among the different kinds of time-image, the crystal-image itself maintains the closest link to the virtual. It is described as a kind of “expression” (Deleuze here shifting to his own Spinozist language; cf. Deleuze 1990b), be it the expression seen in the relation between past and present (or the virtual and the actual), or in other more oblique relations.10 Various films provide examples of the different forms of the crystals expression, some of them perfect (Max Ophuls La Ronde [Roundabout; 1950]), some flawed (Jean Renoir’s La Regie dujeu [The rules of the game; 1939]), some in the process of its composition (Federico Fellini‘s Amarcord [I remember; 1973]), some in the process of its decay (Luchino Visconti‘s  Il Gattopardo [The leopard; 1963]). The curious fact about Cinema 2, however, is that the most powerful embodiment of the time-image throughout the book is not an image at all but the lack of one: the irrational cut. Indeed, the irrational cut is the paradigm case for Deleuze. It is more than just false continuity, though, for such cuts come in diverse forms, be it “the steady form of a sequence of unusual, anomolous’ images, which come and interrupt the normal linkage of the two sequences; or in the enlarged form of the black screen, or the white screen, and their derivatives” (Deleuze 1989: 248-9).

What matters in each case is that the cut now exits for itself, no longer for what it conjoins, but for its own disjunctive value. The cut, being itself now cut through and broken (irrational), gives us a vision of real time. It captures the essence of how the movement-image differs from the time-image, the disjointedness of the latter being rendered fully in a mutilated joint.

This mutilation gives us real time, or the event – the time of eternity. Yet, what is an event for Deleuze? He writes: Tve tried in all my books to discover the nature of events; its a philosophical concept, the only one capable of ousting the verb ‘to be”‘ (Deleuze 1995a: 141): event as becoming contra being. Yet for Deleuze, the event is understood in terms of multiplicity rather than process. Time must be contained in eternity. Time cannot be time as succession: it is empty, the time of eternity. Ultimately, it is the Event. So, when does an event occur? The answer is that it (a static entity) could never occur (a process); to change is to stop being:

The agonizing aspect of the pure event is that it is always and at the same something which has just happened and something about to happen; never something which is happening … it is the present as being of reason which is subdivided ad infinitum into something that has just happened or is going to happen, always flying in both directions at once. (Deleuze 1990a: 63)

MV5BNTM0Nzc0NTAtMzA1Yy00NjczLTk5YzEtYjdiOTRmZjcyYTMzL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjgyNjk3MzE@._V1_QL50_SY1000_CR0,0,686,1000_AL_We keep missing the event. Or, rather, the event is in this constant missing, about to happen or having happened, but never happening. And cinema, modern cinema, shows this. Take Julio Mederri‘s Los Amantes del Circulo Polar (Lovers of the Arctic Circle; 1998), a film all about missed identities and encounters. Not only do we have different actors playing the characters of Otto and Ana (a tactic of diffusion already used by Luis Bufiuel in Cet obscur objet du desir (That obscure object of desire; 1977), but their names are palindromes: moving backwards and forwards, no less than time itself does in this film. The same occurrences are also populated by different characters/actors, a case in point being the line “its the midnight sun” (above the Arctic Circle), which is spoken twice by different characters in different scenes communicating between two remote points in the film. There are also events – a chase through a forest/park, a fall through trees into snow, near-miss collisions – that repeat across the film, populating themselves with different individuals and settings each time they are “actualized”. Finally, there are the numerous coincidences throughout that are not psychological premonitions (of the stag, for instance) but actual coexistences of different times gathered together by the same resonating names (“Otto the Piloto”) and events (collisions, falls) where things and people do not coincide.

This is the Deleuzian event: above the Arctic Circle the sun never sets – a very Platonist idea evoking both the constancy of the atemporal event as well as the circulation of actions and individuals it keeps in play. But, and this is the crucial point, the series of repetitions is kept going by the non-coincidence of these two lovers who keep missing each other, even on their first night of love. Even at the end when Ana does meet her bus in a fatal collision, this one consummated act also stops her from meeting with Otto. Yet, it is such constant errancy and deflection in their lives that sustains their love (and the movie). Their evental difference resonates through all of the other moments, missed encounters, belated mourning and near-deaths.

Time in modern cinema, Deleuze tells us, “is no longer empirical, nor metaphysical; it is ‘transcendental’ in the sense that Kant gives this word: time is out of joint and presents itself in the pure state” (Deleuze 1986: 7,46; 1989: xi, 271). In the history of cinema we see film repeat the history of philosophy. In a sense, though, it is only the same thing that is being said in different ways, and this is in line with Deleuze s theory of univocity (that Being is said in the same way of, and by, every different thing). There is but one Being, with many languages through which it may express itself. Philosophia sive Cinema. This is an inclusive disjunction: not a choice within a hierarchy of discourses, but different modes of expression. We can learn as much from what film shows as from what philosophy says: both are vital forms of expression for Deieuze.

NOTES 1. Each of these biases is itself expressed by a different type of film image: the perception-image as such (images that act on a central image), along with action-images (reaction of that centre to those images) and affection-images (the gap between that action and reaction, internal or undischarged reaction), as well as even further subdivisions (the impulse-image coming in between action and affect as a kind of virtual action, of potential acts more than actual ones).

2. Deieuze offers the example of “the obsessive framings” of Eric Rohmer’s Die Marquise von O… (The marquis of O; 1976) as expressive of this objective phenomenology, or semi-subjectivity. Deieuze invokes Pier Paolo Pasolini’s linguistic model of free indirect discourse to explain this transformation; Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, H. Tomlinson & B. Habberjam (trans.) (London: Athlone, 1986), 75, 78.

3. The affection-image, for instance, extracts the face, but also carries with that its own peculiar form of “space-time – a scrap of vision, sky, countryside or background” (Deieuze, Cinema 1,108), as can be seen in Robert Bresson’s Proces de Jeanne d’Arc ([The Trial of Joan of Arc] 1962) or in the tactile spaces of his Pickpocket (1959) (ibid., 109).

4. Martin Schwab (2000:134n.) argues that there is strong shift in theoretical orientation between the two Cinema books, Cinema 2 largely ignoring the image-ontology set up in Cinema 1.

5. Other new signs enter into relation with a set of different types of time-image: readable and thinkable images or “chronosigns” (points of the present and sheets of the past), “crystal-images” (where actual and virtual are held together), “lectosigns” (readable images) and “noosigns” (signs that can only be thought); cf. Deieuze Negotiations: 1972-1990, M. Joughin (trans.) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 53. With the lectosigns of modern cinema, for example, sounds now constitute an “autonomous sonic continuum”, to use Ronald Bogue’s phrase, while images constitute a separate visual continuum, the two being put into relation with one another through their mutual differences – their asynchrony rather than a synchrony; cf. R. Bogue, Deieuze on Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2003), 7-8.

6. With “in a plurality of ways of being present in the world”, Deieuze is citing Gilbert Simondon, L’individu et sa genese physico-biologique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1964), 233-4.

7. Although Deieuze says that there were earlier indications in Orson Welles, Yasujiro Ozu and Jacques Tati.

8. Indeed, Deieuze characteristically favours all the pathologies or failings of memory and recognition – deja vu, dream-images, fantasies, visions of the dying – as the proper cinematic avatars of real time; cf. Deieuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, H. Tomlinson & R. Galeta (trans.) (London: Athlone, 1989), 39, 55. These pathologies are also Bergson’s favourite entrees into time.

9. This argument comes directly from Difference and Repetition, P. Patton (trans.) (London: Continuum, 1994). Deieuze talks of the paradox of the present as the need for a time in which to constitute/synthesize time (past, present and future). So “there must be another time in which the first synthesis of time can occur” {ibid., 79). That other time of passage is the past.

10. These others are that between the limpid and the opaque, and the seed and the environment (cf. Cinema 2, 74). Bogue reminds us that Deieuze alters Bergson to see “movement as the expression of duree” (rather than the same as it) (Deieuze on Cinema, 26).


Source: Aitken, Ian. European Film Theory And Cinema A Critical Introduction. edinburgh university press, 2001. Print.


Categories: Literary Theory

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2 replies

  1. Thank you very much for your valuable posts. They’re very helpful in understanding the most complex theories. Could you please provide an explanatory account on the Deleuzian concept of deterritorialization and its relation to identity?


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