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Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski

So far we were floating in the vast vacuum of Democritus raised high on the wings of the butterfly called metaphysics, where we even conversed with spirits. Now, the sobering force of self-knowledge is pulling back its silken wings, and once again we return to the firm ground of experience and common sense. Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit Seer (1766) And can film do what Kant could not do? Stanley Cavell, Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (1995)

Near the conclusion of the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant remarks that if a human being were able to know with complete clarity (Erleuchtung) that there is a God and a soul destined for an afterlife, then [a]s long as human nature remains as it is, human conduct would be thus changed into a mere mechanism in which, as in a puppet show, everything would gesticulate well but there would be no life in the figures.1 He contends that our natural, sensuous desire for happiness would lead us to comply unfailingly with the moral law once we recognized God and eternity with their awful majesty. In an interesting twist on Platos allegory of the cave, Kant suggests that metaphysical enlightenment by itself would not free us from the domination of the marionettes casting their life-like shadows on the wall of the cave. It would rather transform us into those very marionettes! We would become mere simulacra of humans because we would operate according to our inclinations, especially our fears, and would not experience that tension between duty and sensuousness that is the very mark of our freedom and dignity. By his awesome presence and power, God would be a sort of puppet master. Earlier in the Critique, Kant also made use of the marionette theater to defend his distinction

between acts undertaken in the phenomenal appearance of time and the noumenal reality of freedom. If a temporal series were simply a feature of reality in itself and not a mode of sensible consciousness determining the way reality appears, then human actions would belong to a causally ordered sequence in time, and so would not be free. Kant writes: A human being would be a marionette or an automatonbuilt and wound up by the Supreme Artist.2 It is not enough for Kant that there be a self-conscious and rational ghost in the machine to distinguish the human being from an automaton: self-consciousness would indeed make him a thinking automaton, but the consciousness of his spontaneity, if this is held to be freedom, would be a mere illusion. A genuine and not illusory free act must spring from the wills conformity to a moral law that transcends the spatial-temporal order. Such an act would appear to external eyes to come from nowhere; nothing in the causal temporal series of events preceding it could have predetermined it. In itself, however, it would spring from the deepest, but unseen, reality of free subjectivity. So, human freedom in Kantian thought necessitates a gap between our experience as temporal, phenomenal beings and our inner reality as spiritual subjects of moral law. Not only are we theoretically barred by the Critique of Pure Reason from knowing God and our own souls as they are in themselves, but, as the Critique of Practical Reason suggests, we should not even desire to cross this infinite gulf.3 Penetrating the veil of phenomena may be morally disastrous. As Slovenian cultural theorist Slavoj iek has written, what appears as essential (moral law in ourselves) is possible and thinkable only within the horizon of our

148 limitation to the domain of phenomenal reality; if it were possible for us to trespass this limitation and to gain a direct insight into the noumenal thing, we would lose the very capacity which enables us to transcend the limits of sensible experience (moral dignity and freedom).4 Kant mocks the claims of theological metaphysics to know the direct truth about the highest reality as being infected with transcendent presumptions and theories of the supersensible and indulging in a magic lantern of chimeras.5 So, Kant can think of no worse deflation of the pretensions of those who would go beyond appearance to cognize God and the soul than to compare them to the illusions of the puppet theater and the magic lantern, ancestors of modern cinema! And yet, it could also be said that the modern cinema is itself the Kantian art form par excellence. One could say of movies that they are, according to iek, not simply the domain of phenomena, but those magic moments in which another, noumenal dimension momentarily appears in (shines through) empirical/ contingent phenomena.6 When a film audience experiences images on the screen it is in no danger of taking them for agents operating in a real spatio-temporal continuum, for what is seen are hyper-phenomenal apparitions, less substantial than puppets. In the cinema there is no temptation to try to penetrate the veil of the phenomena to see what is really going on, behind the screen, as it were. A film director may, however, suggest that there are metaphysical and spiritual depths to the scenes being displayed, offering viewers an occasion to reflect on God, freedom, and the human soul. In this respect, a film can be taken as a philosophical act expressing ideas about the ground of phenomena, without pretending to offer a conceptual knowledge of that ground. When we watch a good film we may experience, not the rigidly determined and lifeless marionettes that we know the moving images really are, but rather the evocation of what may be lifes deepest essence.7 In what follows, I shall suggest that such metaphysical and spiritual depths infuse the films of the late Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, a master at shaping the screen image to probe a reality underlying ordinary, mundane existence. Specifically, I hope to show by a study of

Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy three of his films, Decalogue 1 (1988), La Double Vie de Veronique [The Double Life of Veronique] (1991), and Bleu [Three Colors: Blue] (1993), that Kieslowski provides a powerful testimony to, or even an argument for, the reality of a human soul. His films are artistic phenomena that have much to teach us about the human psyche, moral power, and the absolute, indirectly and discreetly without violating Kantian prohibitions against knowing being in itself. I do not want to imply, however, that Kieslowski has a distinctly Kantian view of the soul, as a transcendental ego, for example. Rather, I want to examine how his films reveal, in his words, the secret life of people that animates the gestures and countenances that we display to one another. I shall try, then, to indicate some of the ways Kieslowski creates a kind of cinematic iconography endeavoring to disclose the soul on celluloid, to borrow Monika Maurers expression.8 To assist my interpretation of these films, I shall continue to draw on the fertile thinking of Slavoj ieks Lacanian approach to cinema and subjectivity, which he puts to good use in his book on Kieslowski, The Fright of Real Tears, and in other writings. We do not need to subscribe to Lacanian orthodoxy in order to recognize the power of depth psychology for eliciting good readings of movies like Kieslowskis that explore subtle facets of the human subject and bear witness to the human personality.9 Kieslowski does not ever confess to any interest in psychoanalysis, but both the thematic content and style of his films lend themselves, I think, very naturally to ieks unique blend of Lacanian developmental psychology and Kantian transcendentalism.

Kieslowskis films are not known for their plot or action. Instead, they use artful cinematography, sparse dialogue, subtle acting, and haunting musical scores to gesture toward a mysterious, noumenal order of being. In some early films, Kieslowski experiments with the fantastic to link the supersensible with spatiotemporal reality. In Bez Konca [No End] (1984), for instance, the ghost of a widows recently deceased husband makes an appearance, and in Przypadek [Blind Chance] (1981), the protagonist,


Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski


Witek (Bogus0aw Linda), has the chance to live three alternative lives, much like the characters in the Tom Tykwers film Lola rennt [Run Lola Run] (1998). But for the most part, Kieslowski sticks to a narrative realism that respects the Kantian challenge for a filmmaker to reveal a spiritual horizon in ordinary existence without indulging in fantastic visions of spirits and ghosts. Kieslowski himself has recognized the difficulty of meeting this challenge: This goal is to capture what lies within us, but there is no way of filming it. As he said of his film, The Double Life of Veronique: The film is about sensibility, presentiments and relationships that are difficult to nameShowing this on film is difficult: if I show too much the mystery disappears.10 A good introduction to Kieslowskis cinema is The Decalogue. The Decalogue consists of ten one-hour films made for Polish television in 1988 and represents an attempt to translate the meaning of the Ten Commandments for modern society. All ten films of The Decalogue are set in the same massive apartment complex in Warsaw at a time when Polish society was still suffering from the spiritual and economic deprivations of communist rule. The Polish world was, Kieslowski says, terrible and dull, full of pitiless people, moving in a gray, robotic atmosphere alone, isolated, and lonely. Although Kieslowskis earlier films, both in the documentary and narrative genre, engaged political events in Poland, participating in what was then called the cinema of moral concern, The Decalogue focuses more on the psychological and moral life of individuals, using the depressing political climate of martial law in the 1980s only as a backdrop for exploring the inner states of his characters.11 All my films, he says, are about individuals who cant quite find their bearings, who dont quite know how to live, who dont really know whats right or wrong and are desperately looking.12 Politics, he asserts, whether of the Communist Party, the Solidarity Movement, or Western liberalism, cannot answer our essential, fundamental, human and humanistic questions.13 Decalogue 1 explicitly poses a philosophical question about the reality and nature of the soul. It is a meditation on what for Kieslowski would be the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not worship false gods. This film tells of

a close relation between a father, Krzysztof (Henryk Baranowski), and his young son, Pawel (Wojclech Klata). (The mother is away and indications are that it is not a good marriage.) The plot turns on Pawels desire to use his new Christmas ice skates on a local pond and his fathers caution about making sure that the ice is thick enough. Krzysztof is a professor of computer science, engaged in a project to develop software for a computer to construct poems and stories. As he explains to his university class, with his son watching from the back of the room, a properly programmed computer may have a will, aesthetic preferences, and a personality of its own. Tragically and ironically, however, his computer fails to gauge correctly the thickness of the ponds ice, which thaws because of unexplained events, causing his son to drown while trying out his new skates. Early in the film, Pawel comes across the corpse of a dog lying in the street and then, shortly thereafter, reads about a mans death in the obituary section of the newspaper. These experiences disturb him, prompting him to ask his father about why people die. In response, his father, Krzysztof, offers an account of death in which the human being is described as a machine. Death occurs, he says, when the heart stops pumping bloodmovement ceases, everything stops. Pawel, not quite satisfied with this, asks about some words he saw in the paper, the deceaseds peace of soul, to which his father replies: Its a form of words of farewell. There is no soul. At the end of the film, of course, these words that reduce the human being to an automaton will come back to torment him, as the encounter with the reality of his sons drowning shatters the precious mathematical certainties by which he has structured his life. In one beautiful and haunting scene, Kieslowski suggests the dissolution of such certainties by filming a splotch of blue ink mysteriously seeping through some paper on Krzysztofs desk. There is a perfectly rational explanation for the appearance of this stain the bottom of an ink bottle has crackedbut in this context the viewer is allowed to discern an elemental, disruptive reality lurking beneath and behind our solid, phenomenal reality. We learn as the film unfolds that at the very moment the blue ink washed over Krzysztofs desk, the ice on which Pawel was skating gave

150 way, causing his death. The question Kieslowski elicits in this film is how we could ever know this deeper reality that eludes our modern machines and scientific calculations. What in us fails when the computer, our contemporary graven image of the gods, fails? We do have a sense from Kieslowski that the father did not attend to his own vague intuitions of unease about the ice, intuitions that could not be translated into a computer program. Even though his measurements presumably calculated the safety of the ice sheet, Krzysztof nevertheless at one point ventures out to the pond to feel it for himself. There he observes a young man huddled by a fire on the side of the pond. The man says nothing but gazes directly at Krzysztof with an intense, questioning look. As we watch this we have an ominous sense of something wrong and know that Krzysztof does as well. Viewers of the entire Decalogue will recognize this silent, watchful character (Artur Barcis) as one who appears briefly in other films of the series, for example: as a student in the class of a philosophy professor who earlier in her life had abandoned a Jewish child to the Nazis (Decalogue 8); as a medical intern in the office of a doctor who makes a prognosis that he knows is not true in order to save a fetus from abortion (Decalogue 2); as a highway worker who peers into the eyes of a young man about to murder a cab driver (Decalogue 5). Various interpretations have been given for this characters appearance. He has been described as an angel, a witness, and an embodiment of conscience.14 His appearance by the pond in Decalogue 1 suggests that there is a gap between what the protagonist knows and what he is about to do, a gap that can only be closed by an attunement to something other than what can be gauged by a machine. Failing to heed feelings, intuitions, and presentiments, he misses a kind of truth about the fragile nature of the human reality he has attempted to reduce to computer codeswith terrible consequences.

Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy subsequent films, The Double Life of Veronique and the trilogy, Three Colors: Blue, White, and Red.15 Kieslowski claims that The Double Life, the next work I examine, is a film about emotions and nothing else, but in fact it is a film about the psyche in a broad sense and about what Geoff Andrew has called the unseen, unfathomable forcesfate and chancethat shape our lives even as we go about our banal everyday business.16 With a visual style that critic Jonathan Romney has called luminous, numinous, and ominous, it tells a complex story of two very young women, Veronika and Veronique (both played by Irene Jacob), living different but uncannily parallel lives, one in Poland and one in France.17 The film opens with a voice-over announcing that these women were born on the same day in 1968 and shows each as a little girl being spoken to by a mother, who later dies. They both have gentle fathers to whom they are very close; both have beautiful singing voices, and both, incredibly, have a serious heart condition. The first part of the film, which is in Polish, concentrates on moments in the last days in the life of Veronika, a spontaneously joyful person whom we first meet singing ecstatically in a downpour while the rest of her chorus runs for cover. Veronika travels to Krakow from her hometown and wins a music competition, allowing her to perform a celestially beautiful piece of music. During her debut concert, as she reaches for an impossibly high note, she perishes from a heart attack. Her story closes from the viewpoint of her glass-topped coffin; we watch, as though from the grave, dirt being shoveled from above onto the coffin until the screen becomes entirely black. In that moment, we are brought to the bedroom of the Frenchwoman Veronique, who is making love with her boyfriend. Veronique tells her boyfriend that she feels a deep sense of loss and sadness. Afterward, she decides to give up her singing career, have her heart condition taken care of, and accept a job as a music teacher at a provincial elementary school. She visits her widowed father on occasion and seems resigned to a dull, but comfortable, life, until she attends a marionette performance at her school. The performance is put on in the school auditorium, which is filled with excited children. The camera alternates shots of the childrens


Such attunement to the mystery of being that lies below the surface of ordinary, impersonal reality as a shadowy double, in ieks words, is treated in great depth in Kieslowskis


Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski


faces with the marionette show conducted by a puppet master named Alexandre Fabbri (Philippe Volter). Alexandre draws a ballerina from a black box and sets it into a dance motion. The ballerina collapses, dies, and miraculously comes to life again as an angel-like being or a large winged butterfly, to the relief of the distressed school children. Given the beauty and psychological power of this scene, one can understand what Henrich von Kleist was getting at when he observed in his 1810 essay On the Puppet Theater that, although the puppet is an automaton manipulated by a human master, we witness in its movements a grace and spirit that seem more soulful than those of a real human dancer.18 Kieslowski seems also to have captured cinematically the sensibilities of Rilkes lines from the fourth Duino Elegy, Ich will nicht diese halbgefllten Masken, lieber die Puppe [I wont endure these half-filled human masks; better, the puppet], and Engel und Puppe: dann ist endlich Schauspiel [Angel and puppet: a real play, finally].19 During this performance, the camera catches Veronique looking into a backstage mirror and spotting the puppet master, Alexandre, absorbed in his work. He in turn sees her looking at him and seems disturbed by that fact. Beginning with this meeting in the mirror, a relationship develops between Alexandre and Veronique. Alexandre begins to lure Veronique to him by sending her little mysterious items like a shoestring, a phone call, and a tape with train station noises. In one shot of Veroniques apartment, an orange-yellow light dances around, like an angelic visitor, apparently cast by a mirror held by Alexandre in another apartment window. It becomes clear later that this puppet master has somehow acquired knowledge of Veroniques double, Veronika, and is using this knowledge both to seduce Veronique and to fabricate a story for another of his marionette dramas. Once Veronique herself recognizes this, her relationship with Alexandre crumbles, and she returns in tears to her fathers home. How are we to understand these incidents? Although the age of Veronique-Veronika in this movie appears to be about twenty-two and although the character is played by an actress (Irene Jacob) of twenty-five, Kieslowski himself said, I realized its a film about a girl and not a young woman.20 Veronique is a girl

who has lost her mother but who is still attached to and haunted by this absent mother. As a psychoanalyst would remind us, until she can in some way cut herself off from her mother, she cannot develop a mature subjectivity that would allow her to act as an independent ego and, among other things, have a healthy love relationship with a male. Both the death of Veronika and Veroniques encounter with Alexandres puppets, I would suggest, represent phases of a young womans psychological and spiritual development that provide clues to Kieslowskis understanding of the importance of the soul. The Polish Veronika is depicted as being, despite her illness, extraordinarily buoyant, full of emotion and what Lacanians would call jouissance. She takes passionate delight in her lovemaking as she does with her music, but it is a dreamy, unanchored delight. She lives at the Lacanian imaginary, presymbolic, and narcissistic stage of psychological development. Reality to her is an apparition, symbolized by her train journey to Krakow where she looks at villages through the distorting glass of the train window, and then through the further deformations of a prized glass ball. When she makes love she smiles at her own photograph, which is smiling back at her. Although male figures appear briefly in her world, as a very masculine aunt, a dwarflike lawyer, and a passerby who exposes his penis to her, they have no resonance in her being. In a way, she lives as a pure voice disconnected from her body, or as what has been called an acousmatic, a voice without a bearer, without an assignable place, floating in an intermediate space.21 Lacanians hold such a disembodied voice to be a little bit of the other or a petite objet a, which stands for a void left by the absent mother. We attach ourselves to such things in an effort to recover the lost reality of what we really desire, the unconditional admiring gaze of a mother who loves us and us alone. So, I believe that Veronikas devotion to her voice is a symptom of her unwillingness or inability to give up her mother. What Renata Salecl has said of vocal performances fits the case of Veronika very well: The singer has to approach self-annihilation as a subject in order to offer himself or herself as pure voice.22 In the case of Veronika we have a girl who is pure voice because she is not yet a subject, who in fact resists subjectivization. To

152 become a subject, she would have to, as iek says, renouncethe object which vouches for the fantasmatic, incestuous link [with the mother].23 The death of Veronika spurs Veronique, her double, to give up her voice to save her life. The formation of subjectivity requires us early in life to move from the narcissistic self-absorption to a self-reflective stage, in which we ourselves are split inwardly, and not magically entranced by the appearance of ourselves in others. In psychoanalytic terms it is the father, the representative of the law and the entire sociocultural system of codes and symbols, that makes the splice (or castration) necessary for subjectivity and allows a normal, mature subject to tarry with the negative, as iek puts it, and integrate oneself reflectively into a symbolic-linguistic reality.24 Unlike Veronika, Veronique does have an encounter with a male, Alexandre, which restimulates the kind of self-reflection and sense of emptiness that the death of Veronika first awakened in her. She says to her father, I am in love. I just dont know with what. What fascinates her from the start about Alexandre is that she is the object of his gaze first mirrored during the puppet performance. What becomes clear as their relationship develops, however, is that what she loves in him is herself as he looks at her, not what he is in himself. Each time he sends mysterious objects, she is entranced by dreamy, shapeless possibilities in her soul to which he seems to hold the key and to which these items seem to be objective correlatives. Therefore, despite her aroused subjectivity, she is still in the grip of a wounded narcissism. Near the conclusion of the film, after she and Alexandre make love, Veronique comes into his workshop and sees two marionettes made in her exact likeness. At that moment, when she and her doppelganger are made mundanely visible to her by this fabricator, her love for Alexandre collapses and she returns to her fathers home. Why? Kieslowski said that he employed the puppetmaster Bruce Schwartz to perform the dance of the dying ballerina because Schwartz does not disguise his hands when performing: you can see his enormous paws all the time. Yet you dont notice them; you only see the dancing, the puppet dancing beautifully. That was something, which I thought was absolutely necessary. That Alexandres hands should be

Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy there, too, the hands of someone whos manipulating something.25 When Veronique watches the puppet performance, Alexandres hands are translucently phenomenal, invested with the luminous, transfiguring, and soulful possibilities she sees in the puppets themselves. When she then looks at the puppets he has manufactured to represent the two Veroniques (in case one gets damaged, says Alexandre), they sicken her with their lifelessness, their flatness, their lack of spirit, and their raw reality. They no longer mirror her inchoate thoughts and inner longings; rather, in their naked, public state they are what they are in themselves, mere simulacra of the human soul. The marionettes are like the hands of their manipulator that have so recently caressed her; these hands are no longer part of a fantasy show, but big paws without noumenal depth. As iek has said in another context, life becomes disgusting when the fantasy that mediates our access to it disintegrates, so that we are directly confronted with the Real.26 Now the puppets are not the angelic beings drawing the soul to a mysterious kinship with noumenal depths, but Rilkes child dolls, which, he says, are unmasked as the gruesome foreign body on which we squandered our purest affection.27 Veronique remains immature.28 Unable to become a couple, she remains ultimately in the shadow of her double until she experiences a loss of her intimate fantasy. When defining the nature of fetishes in the cinema, Marc Vernet wrote that in the heart of the desire to see and to know is the desire not to see and not to know.29 This insight, I think, applies quite well to the psychology of this young woman who, fascinated by representations of reality that promise fantastically deep and rich experiences, prevents herself from knowing or loving the actual source of these phenomena. In the next film Kieslowski directed, Three Colors: Blue, the reverse could be said of its main character Julie (played by Juliet Binoche): In the heart of the desire not to see and not to know is the desire to see and to know.


Blue is about a Frenchwoman who loses her husband and daughter in an automobile crash


Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski


and as result of this trauma tries to commit a kind of psychic suicide by obliterating her identity and her memories. She does this by selling off her possessions, closing up her house, tearing up a musical score on which she and her husband, Patrice, a famous composer, had been working, and moving to a Paris neighborhood where she hopes she can live in anonymity. At a real estate office where she is looking for an apartment, she replies to the agents inquiry about her occupation that she does Nothing Nothing at all (the agent, by the way, is uncannily played by Philippe Volter, Alexandre in the Double Life). This refrain is repeated later to her mother whom she visits at a nursing home: Ill only do what I want to now. Nothing. I dont want any belonging, any memoriesno friends, no love. For the narcissistic Veronique, the world was a mirror of her psychic need for a mother. For the traumatized Julie, the world is a representation divested of all significance and desire. This is shown brilliantly early in the film, as she lays in her hospital bed after the accident, through the use of an immense closeup of her eye that contains only the mirage images of her surroundings, including her attending doctor, who in her eyes reflection looks exactly the same as the father of Veronique. (He is indeed played by the same actor, Claude Duneton.) Her eye is a twin of the miniature television her friend, Oliver, brings her so that she can watch the funeral of her husband and daughter. In a moment of intense pathos, as Julie touches the tiny television screen depicting the two coffins, the viewer experiences a powerful overlay of Kieslowskis cross-references. The television monitor reminds us of the ending of Decalogue 1 where the image of Pawel after his death lingers, frozen onto a television screen, of Veronikas glass-topped coffin and her treasured glass ball, of the mirror in which Veronique and Alexandre first espy each other, and now, in Blue, of the cold mirroring eye of Julie herself. It is as though under the impact of traumatic losses the familiar reality of the world takes on an uncanny alien aspect, or deadness, making it unreal, nothing more than a phantom. Julie cannot mourn her dead daughter and husband or cry. It is as though her eyes now are not real human eyes, but cold mirrors, like the icy surface of the fateful pond in Decalogue 1. The

blue tints of the cinematography itself reinforce the tones of melancholy, coolness, and boundless nothing, evoking the collapse of Julies world. In her act of withdrawal, not only does Julie try to strip the luminous sheen off the everyday worldhighlighted by a scene where she angrily scrapes her knuckles along a stone wallso that for her it has no significance or desirability, she also tries to remove any of her features that may arouse another subjects desire for her. If, as Levinas has suggested, we perceive infinite and incalculable depths in the face and words of another beckoning us to goodness and to love, then for Julie the trick is to present a visage that signifies nothing. In the marionette theater we are entranced by the supersensible possibilities of an apparitional automaton. We could say that Julie, suffering perhaps from what psychiatrists have called a marionette syndrome, a complex of feelings of powerlessness, emotional rigidity, and ego alienation, wants to exhibit herself as a soulless puppet and an empty shell.30 To her friend, Oliver (Benit Regent), who confesses his love for her after the accident, and with whom she shares one night of kind, but dispassionate, lovemaking, she says, Im like any other woman. I sweat. I cough. I have cavities. You wont miss me. To love someone, one must see him or her as a kind of virtual image, disclosing and concealing depths, both inaccessible and lovely. It is that depth that Veronique believed she saw in the puppets and token signs from Alexandre. By emphasizing the repellant aspects of her flesh, Julie wishes to disenchant her own being in the eyes of her male friend and negate his desire for her. Whereas Veronique wants to be the desired object of a gaze that holds her gaze, Julie wants to deflect the gaze, to be merely a window without soul. In short, she wants to become for her fellow human being a flat automaton by stressing, paradoxically, the banal carnality of her humanity. Julies own elderly mother spends her days in a nursing home gazing at the most insipid images television has at its disposal. Suffering from something like Alzheimers disease, she has lost her memory and misrecognizes her daughter, confusing her with her own sister, Marie France. She is objectively what her daughter would need to become to succeed in

154 her nihilistic retreat from reality, a blank eye peering at a meaningless screen. But there is a gap between the mother and daughter that ensures that Julie will not be caught, like Veronique, in a nostalgic longing for the lost mother. The mother is lost, but she is also embarrassingly present precisely as one who is lost, repelling rather than inviting a psychic union or doubling, offering thereby a kind of escape from a narcissistic immaturity not available for young Veronique. Whereas Veronique was entranced by the dream that there was an other who bore her name (Veronika) to replace the mother who knew her name, Julie is compelled to accept the existence of a mother who misnames her. In this misrecognition lies hope for Julies growth into a more complete human subject. The awareness that she is not the beloved object of her mothers gaze parallels a truth to which she comes later in the movie. As the film unfolds, Julie, despite her resolve, begins to form attachments with her Parisian neighbors and to reawaken to the world around her. In particular, she forms a close relationship with a stripper named Lucille (Charlotte Vry, a raucous and earthy person, who embodies all the sex and erotic desire that Julie has managed to suppress. It is in Lucilles club that she sees, ironically on a television screen, a documentary about her husband, Patrice, and learns for the first time that he had a mistress. The shock of this knowledge propels her back to the world she thought she knew to seek out friends, like Oliver, to explain the affair her husband had with this young woman named Sandrine (Florence Pernel). Aware now of her own misrecognition of her married life and of fantasy elements in her construction of a happy marriage, she tracks down Sandrine, the ex-mistress, only to learn that this woman is pregnant with Patrices child. Then, in an extraordinary and spontaneous act, Julie makes arrangements to give Sandrine and the child her house and her money. What accounts for this act? The act cannot be interpreted simply in the words Sandrine uses: Patrice told me a lot about you. That you are goodThat you are good and generous. Thats what you want to be. The cold look on Julies face tells us that Sandrine has misread this gesture. Rather, we viewers should see it in the context of the whole film as a gesture from the depths of the empty

Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy pit into which Julie has descended, and not as an act of ordinary virtue. One can recognize such gestures in other Kieslowski filmsspontaneous attempts to bear witness to the needs of another person, which seem to spring from a subjectivity that is both unlike and yet underlies ordinary human agency. A good example of this is that of the doctor in Decalogue 2, whose unbearable loss of his entire family during a bombing raid in World War II at first isolates and deadens him to his fellow humans, but also, in the course of time, moves him to heed sympathetically the desperate pleas of a woman who is (like Sandrine) pregnant with a lovers child and who is about to have an abortion she does not want. Lying about a prognosis in order to alter this womans decision to have an abortion, the doctor becomes a good and faithful witness who, at least for a while, forms a connection with another soul. Likewise, in her offering to Sandrine and her child, Julie draws on her shattered life, the breakdown of her reality. Emerging from the dark night of her soul, she attains a degree of free subjectivity and human contact that was not possible for the narcissistic Veronique, in whom there was no moral capacity whatsoever.31 In Three Colors: Blue, this liberating movement out of the psyches fathomless depths to a communion with others is magnificently captured by Kieslowskis integration of Zbigniew Preisners musical score. While Veronique was a presence haunted by the absence of her double, Julie throughout the film is an absence haunted by a presence of musical phrases that return from her unconsciousness like powerful waves. To take one example, while she is swimming in the blue waters of an indoor pool, musical fragments from her husbands unfinished concerto wash over her as the screen image fades away completely for a few seconds. This return of repressed musical memories provokes what Jonathan Lear has called petits morts, breaks in the flow of mental life and the fabric of meaning, presenting the possibility for new possibilities.32 Despite her conscious choice to retreat from human contact and to erase her past, there remains in Julie a powerful undercurrent of will and desire associated with the music her husband had composed. It is this periodic, resurgent lifeforce that saves her from the psychosis of a complete withdrawal from


Cinema and Subjectivity in Krzysztof Kieslowski


reality and actually moves her to finish the concerto herself. The music erupts with a driving Schopenhauerian energy, as though memory were an earthy, palpable thing, capable at any point of disrupting ordinary existence. Blue concludes, as does the Double Life of Veronique, with an act of lovemaking. Julie returns to Oliver and accepts his profession of love. As they lie with one another, we hear a splendid concerto (scored by Preisner) and a chorus singing in Greek the words of St. Pauls First Letter to the Corinthians. Julies face is pressed against a window sprayed with a rain unleashed from the heavens. The chorus sings: Though I have all faith so that I could move mountains, without love I am nothing. We then follow the camera as it traces a loop, creating a montage joining images of Julies mother in her nursing home, Lucille at her strip club, and Sandrine in a hospital where her fetus appears on an ultrasound monitor, a television now alive with human reality. Then, as Oliver sleeps, to use the words of Kieslowskis script: By the window we find Julie, her face in her hands. One by one, tears appear on these hands. Julie is crying helplessly.33 Annette Insdorf has said of this final scene: The music engenders what could be called an epiphany; as the camera embraces the characters, it equalizes, forgives, and suggests hope.34 The last shot of the film lingers on Julies face, giving us the opportunity to witness that this face is still haunted by death, by the infidelity of her husband, and by the collapse of her illusions. But it is also a face, just because it has been stripped of its conceits and exposed to the zero-point of the night of the world, that can bear witness to a mystical communion of agape or something like Christian love.35 We can say, then, that with Julie the soul of a woman has truly grown from the primary narcissism and fantasies of Veronique to a mature acceptance of reality and of the other. It is a soul whose moral power and transcendental life we have been privileged to behold, thanks to the genius of Kieslowski, as though we were indeed present at a cinematic epiphany.

describing the soul, just as it is describing many other things, like a state of consciousness. You have to find methods, tricks, which may be more or less successful in making it understood that this is what your film is about. He admitted that some people may like those tricks, others may not.36 No doubt, film is an enchanting illusion that tricks us into thinking that the characters and scenery are real when they are mere appearances of appearances, and no doubt film can be interpreted, like the puppet theater, to be a simplistic way to approach the human psyche in comparison to philosophy. The risk of film is the same as that of the puppet theater, or indeed any other use of icon or graven image: that one will become idolatrous, superstitious, or presumptuous rather than cautiously reflective about extra-mundane reality. Kieslowski himself planned to retire from making films, live in the country, and read favorite authors like Dostoyevsky and Dickens, who wrote the kind of literature that provided access to the immanent and transcendent dimensions of experience that he tried to recreate in his films. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at fiftyfour, shortly after making his last film Three Colors: Red. I would contend that, despite his sense of disappointment with cinema, Kieslowski did succeed through his explorations of the mysterious depths of the human personality in offering to his audience an intriguing and serious philosophy of the soul. The tricks that I have tried to describe here in my brief examination of some of his films the intimations of a doubled self, cinematic cross-references, psychically charged objects, and ethereal musicdo arouse in us a sense of an extra-phenomenal reality while respecting the limits of realism and the Kantian ban on direct insight into the noumenally transcendent and immanent. It is a credit to his ambitions and integrity as an artist that he was not satisfied with this and wished to do even more to describe what lies within us.
PAUL C. SANTILLI Department of Philosophy Siena College Loudonville, New York 12211 USA


In an interview shortly before he died, Kieslowski said: Film is helpless when it comes to

1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 122. I thank members of the Metaphysical Society of America and members of the Philosophy Department at Penn State University for their encouraging comments on earlier drafts of this essay. Thanks also to the editors, Tom Wartenberg and Murray Smith, for their insightful suggestions. 2. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, p. 85. 3. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, p. 48. 4. Slavoj iek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology (Duke University Press, 1993), p. 114. 5. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, p. 117. 6. Slavoj iek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Center of Political Ontology (London: Verso Books, 1999), p. 196. 7. Victoria Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets (Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 37. 8. Monika Maurer, Krzysztof Kieslowski (Pocket Essentials, 2000), p. 73. 9. Slavoj iek, The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post-Theory (London: British Film Institute, 2001), p. 73. 10. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, ed. Danusia Stok (London: Faber and Faber, 1993), p. 194. 11. On the cinema of moral concern, see Boleslaw Michalek and Frank Turaj, The Modern Cinema of Poland (Indiana University Press, 1988), pp. 5993. 12. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p. 79. 13. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p. 144. 14. See, for example, Maurer, Krzysztof Kieslowski, p. 42 and Annette Insdorf, Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski (New York: Hyperion Books, 1999), p. 74. 15. iek, The Fright of Real Tears, p. 77. 16. Geoff Andrew, The Three Colours Trilogy (London: British Film Institute Publishing, 1998), p. 19. 17. Jonathan Romney, review of La Double Vie de Veronique, Sight and Sound 1 (1992): 4243. Cited in Andrew, The Three Colours Trilogy, p. 19. 18. Heinrich von Kleist, On the Puppet Theater, in An Abyss Deep Enough: Letters of Heinrich von Kleist with a Selection of Essays and Anecdotes, trans. Philip B. Miller (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982), pp. 211216. 19. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Vintage International, 1982), pp. 169, 171. 20. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p. 175. 21. Slavoj iek, In His Bold Gaze My Ruin is Writ Large, in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Lacan But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock, ed. Slavoj iek. (London: Verso Books, 1992), p. 234.

Thinking Through Cinema: Film as Philosophy

22. Renata Salecl, The Silence of Feminine Jouissance, in Cogito and the Unconscious, ed. Slavoj iek (Duke University Press, 1998), p. 181. 23. iek, The Fright of Real Tears, p. 51. 24. Ibid. 25. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p. 181. 26. iek, The Fright of Real Tears, p. 169. 27. Rainer Maria Rilke, Doll: On the Wax Dolls of Lotte Pritzel, cited in Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets, p. 69. 28. In an odd little subplot of Double Life, a friend of Veronique asks her to perjure herself during a divorce proceeding by saying that she had slept with her friends husband. Kieslowski admits that this subplot does not fit the mood or theme of the rest of the film, but he needed it because only the soul existed for [Veronique], only premonitions, only a certain magic. So to bring her down to earth he decided to have her agreeto appear in court, bear false witness against someone and in this way become a normal human being again. Kieslowski on Kieslowski, p. 186. But it seems to me that the scene achieves the opposite of what Kieslowski intends. Veronique so easily agrees to her friends request because the realm of the law and the ethical are for her unreal; the moral imperative is not for her an organ of conscience or in any way constitutive of her still unfinished, girlish personality. 29. Marc Vernet, The Fetish in the Theory and History of the Cinema, in Endless Night: Cinema and Psychoanalysis, Parallel Histories, ed. Janet Bergstrom (University of California Press, 1999), p. 93. 30. Reference to this syndrome can be found in Nelson, The Secret Life of Puppets, p. 252. 31. Space does not allow me to pursue this study of the ethical in Kieslowskis female characters, particularly in his last film, Rouge [Three Colors: Red] (1994). In Red, Irene Jacob returns to play the character of a young woman named Valentine. Valentine represents a new phase of subjectivity in Veronika-Veronique-Julie. She exhibits a natural moral grace and a Pauline spirit of love in her dealings with people, qualities that were not present in the other women. 32. Jonathan Lear, Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 112, 115. 33. Citation from the screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Three Colours Trilogy: Blue, White, Red, trans. Danusia Stok (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), p. 98. 34. Insdorf, Double Lives, Second Chances, pp. 150151. 35. iek, The Fright of Real Tears, p. 175. 36. In an interview with Geoff Andrew, The Three Colours Trilogy, p. 82.