Deleuze and Film

Time, Movement, and Image in Gilles Deleuze's works on Cinema.

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Picture from Blue Ridge Botanic.

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher who worked heavily in causality and aesthetic, literary, and film theory. This essay will focus on his two works on film, Cinema I: The Movement-Image and Cinema II: The Time-Image, published in 1983 and 1985, respectively.

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Picture from Wikipedia.

In his major works on film, Deleuze combines film criticism and philosophy. While both are in many regards considered separate, Deleuze brings them together in these two books in a way that makes them seem indistinguishable. It is important to note that many of his ideas, like the terms Movement-Image and Time-Image, come from and through a critique of Henri Bergson’s theories on perception. These books are no exception, as he explicitly states in the books. As an introduction to Deleuze, the concepts of repetition and difference repeat, ironically, throughout most of Deleuze's work. Difference and Repetition (1968) is considered his magnum opus and lays the foundation for many of his works, including the two on Cinema. It represents the idea of difference in itself and repetition for itself, which are names of sections of the piece, which was also his principal thesis. These ideas are important to recognize with the role of memory in Deleuze's film theory that is about to be laid out. For this project's themes of transformation and time, we will look into how Deleuze understands the nature of film and its artistry, especially in how time and movement, or in our words, transformation, play with it at its very foundation. Our inspection of the relationship between modern film and digital art will require us to spend most of our time on the second book Cinema II: The Time-Image compared to the first. This is also because he goes more into where he talks about where he believes film should be heading. For clarity, which is seldom to find at first glance in Deleuze, we can see an integral part of his theory straight from his words in the second book:

“Hence a first thesis: it is a montage itself which constitutes the whole, and thus gives us the image of time. It is therefore the principal art of cinema. Time is necessarily an indirect representation, because it flows from the montage which links one movement-image to another.” (Deleuze 34, The Time-Image)

His understanding of a montage is as a determination of a whole in the way it is warped or represented through its sequence; how the different images or shots are cut, and the utility of false continuity. Those are similar to how we view montages now in some sense, as it is how we can use the clipping of images to represent a very long period, and in many ways, we can use this manipulation of time, or false continuity, to represent a different idea. The importance here is for his later introduction to where he believes Cinema should be heading, ideally, which is where the lines of movement should bleed and melt between the images and become a crystallized whole. We will see this also in the chapters on Arrival (2016). Something important to note in his discussion above through the connection of Movement-Images is that this quote doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about the good or bad aspects of the role of time in film. Deleuze merely points out that this relationship between time and film, as an art, and for us through his understanding of transformation from one to another, as a foundational aspect of the discipline.

Within the first book Cinema I: The Movement-Image and to establish context for our discussion of the second, Deleuze concludes with his discussion of images and the history of film by criticizing the obsession with movement as its pure self. This fixation on movement is where Deleuze believes the artist to be losing this human essence. This book highlights the material discussion of film and the utility and foundation of the concept of movement in film. However, many people, like Deleuze, believed that there was a need to move it further, or that there was something within the discussion itself that would allow for a more authentic experience. The Time-Image to Deleuze is beyond the Movement-Image by disconnecting the action and how we associate or sensualize those actions. To explain, it is when one isolates the sensation, like what one sees or hears, from the specific scene or situational image itself. That isolation, to Deleuze, reignites the authenticity of movement in film through its reinforcement in distinct durations. Moreover, when focusing on sensation or a specific part of a scene, there also seems to be a bit of contradiction to further aspects of his understanding of the Time-Image as we are led to believe that it is also an abstraction. This leads to confusion for many people because the question of: how can one get more specific as well as more abstract? He answers this through the explanation of the Crystal-Image.

“From this point of view, time depends on movement itself and belongs to it: it may be defined, in the style of ancient philosophers, as the number of movement. Montage will therefore be a relation of number, variable according to the intrinsic nature of the movements considered in each image, in each shot.” (Deleuze 35, The Time-Image)

Through this distinction of time through the 'number of movement', we begin to enter Deleuze’s solution to the cliché crisis of film. He believes the creation of the Time-Image will restore the authenticity of film, and we will argue through its extension in the other pieces of the project as an abstract version to restore the authenticity of all digital art. Deleuze continues to argue from this distinction the use of illusion and falsity regarding creation and novelty. This is where we get into the technical aspect of the Crystal-Image. The Crystal-Image is a depiction and unison of the real and the imaginary, the virtual and the actual, through the structuralization of time or non-chronological time. This specific understanding of time is important in that it expresses the seemingly paradoxical or false nature of time, though, in actuality, it also comes from an influence on Deleuze from Bergson on the split of time in habitual memory. To attempt a brief explanation of this dissonance, the very present-like nature of memories is in seeming conflict with the knowledge that the experience and event happened not in the present but within the past. This is where difference and repetition come back, as the event repeating is the sensation that we connect with the past, and its crystallization is the creation and realization of the difference. Through this, the Crystal-Image represents this split in time and allows us to not see films like we often do, as images that have come before, but also one that moves beyond those images to transform into a world of its own. We see this conjunction of the virtual and the real here in the quote:

“Subjectivity is never ours, it is time, that is the soul or the spirit, the virtual. The actual is always objective, but the virtual is subjective: it was initially the affect, that which we experience in time; then time itself, pure virtuality which divides itself in two as affector and affected, ‘the affection of self by self as definition of time.” (Deleuze 82, The Time-Image)

To further apply this confusing conversation to a more realistic sense, one can understand the Crystal-Image through the tension between time and illusion. These images come through remembering, dreams, fantasy, allegory, or even déjà vu. In the world of film, Deleuze solidifies his understanding of this illusion as a creation that splits the time of the present, future, and past. This manipulation and play on time allows for the new aspects of film, ones that Deleuze called for with the publishing of this book, to come to life and form a new reality. We will look at a personal favorite film that articulates this well: Arrival (2016).