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Cinema and Albert Camus

Antonioni's films and the aesthetic of the

Absurd

Jan-Willem van der Boom, 5813522 Media & Culture: MA Film thesis

ms. Oslofjordweg 71, 1033 SL Amsterdam University of Amsterdam

tel.06-21197855 Supervisor: dr. T.K. Laine

jbvanderboom@gmail.com Word count: 17 401

22-06-12

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Table of contents

Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

1 Antonioni and the absurd man. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

1.1 The absurd man. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

1.2 Absurd man in crisis. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

1.3 Becoming-strange(r) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

2 Antonioni and the absurd landscape. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

2.1 Indeterminate reality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

2.2 The absurd viewing experience. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

3 Revolt, passion and freedom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

3.1 A leap from the Absurd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

3.2 Antonioni and the passionate flames of human revolt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

3.2.1 Revolt. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

3.2.2 Freedom. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34

3.2.3 Passion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37

3.3 Antonioni’s films as absurd awareness. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

4 Film, philosophy and the Absurd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .44

Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50

Bibliography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52

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Abstract

This thesis will give an account of the aesthetics of cinema as harbouring the potential to be a

philosophical partner. By analysing the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and the way in which they treat

Albert Camus’ notion of the Absurd, as the disharmony between man and the world, the relation between

film and philosophy will be explored. Through the particular account of Antonioni’s work as absurdist an

insight will be gained in the general cinematic potential to give rise to the Absurd through a mode of lucid

aesthetics. As a result, it will be argued that thinking about film and philosophy as film-philosophy is

more useful than thinking about it in terms of a rationalist philosophy of film.

Camus ● Absurd ● film-philosophy ● aesthetics ● lucidity

Introduction

"One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

In Greek mythology the myth of Sisyphus tells the story of a king that is condemned by the gods

for trapping Thanatos, the god of Death, in the underworld. Sisyphus is given the task to roll a

huge boulder up a mountain. Before he can reach the top, however, the boulder will roll down

and consequently Sisyphus has to undertake the frustrating task of pushing the stone for eternity.

French philosopher Albert Camus has appropriated this myth of Sisyphus to illustrate the burden

of an individual’s existence. As we live our lives, the individual strives for unity in the world, he

argues, but is ultimately faced with an unreasonable world. Drawing upon the existentialist

philosophical tradition, Camus argues that the Absurd is that which comes to the surface as a

result of the disjunction between the human mind and the world. Resultingly, every man’s life is

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burdened by the Absurd, as Sisyphus is burdened by his punishment. Camus, however, states that

one must not despair in the face of the Absurd, for “the struggle itself towards the heights is

enough to fill a man’s heart” (Camus, 2009: p. 119). In other words, one must imagine Sisyphus

happy.

This thesis will supply a basic understanding of how Camus imagines Sisyphus happy, in

order to explore and compare the way in which the cinematic arts as a doing philosophy deal with

the absurdity of existence. While Camus has already hinted at the possibility for absurd literary

creations, the way in which films evoke the Absurd has thusfar remained underexposed. By

looking at the work of Michelangelo Antonioni the aim will be to formulate an answer to the

following question:

To what extent does an analysis of Antonioni's films as absurd works of art point towards

the conception of a cinematic aesthetic of the Absurd?

By focusing on the work of Michelangelo Antonioni the thesis will have two goals. The first goal

is to analyse and revaluate the films of Antonioni as manifestations which are close to Camus'

absurdist philosophy. Secondly, following from the first, a conception of a cinematic aesthetic of

the Absurd will be explored. More specifically, the inherent qualities of cinema as a medium that

can touch upon the absurd nature of existence are elaborated. How do the films of Antonioni

relate themselves to the Absurd? In other words, what kind of absurd visual nature does

Antonioni's work have? Are his movies true absurd works of art? That is, can a cinematic

creation which elucidates the absurdity of existence exist – without giving a new hope of

understanding reality?

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These questions are to be asked in order to gain a more complete understanding of the

relationship between film and philosophy. The thesis will add to the discussion of the divide

between analytic and ‘Continental’ philosophy (see Sinnerbrink, 2011a: p. 7). In accordance with

Robert Sinnerbrink’s view on film and philosophy, the aim will be to move beyond a mere

(analytical) philosophy of film, towards a film-philosophy – providing a romanticist, rather than a

rationalist account of the relation between film and philosophy as being mutually transformative.

The focus herein lies on Camus and the notion of the Absurd, for it is the absurdist

philosophy which implies the reconfiguration of man’s way of thinking as lucid thought. This

thesis will argue that cinema as cinematic thinking – Antonioni’s films in particular, has the

potential to give a distinct form to this mode of lucid thought through its specific absurd

aesthetics, thus further informing the concept of film-philosophy.

The first chapter of this thesis will focus on the absurd man and the nature of his thought which

ultimately is one of two factors in the emergence of the Absurd. By looking for the representation

or rather the manifestation of absurd man within the cinematic art of Antonioni, this chapter will

provide the first step towards a cinematic aesthetic of the Absurd. The second chapter will

propound upon the findings on cinematic absurd man by relating man to his surroundings, as

portrayed by Antonioni’s films. The third chapter will clarify the role of revolt, passion and

freedom in the clash between absurd man and his surroundings. For when the absurd emerges, the

absurd man has the choice of passionately seeking freedom in all its potential forms. Through

providing a cinematic understanding of these concepts, human thought and the unreasonable

world as they are distinctly revealed by Antonioni will be united and a conclusion as to the

absurd aesthetic of Antonioni’s ouevre will be formed. In the final chapter, the implication of this

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absurd aesthetic for the nature of film’s being as a philosophical partner will be expanded upon.

The conclusion; Antonioni’s cinema is absurd.

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1 Antonioni and the Absurd Man

In order to move towards an absurdist interpretation of Antonioni’s work, first, the concept of the

Absurd as defined by Albert Camus has to be delineated. For only when the elements which

consitute the Absurd as a whole are clear can their cinematic equivalents be found and analysed.

The elements which constitute the Absurd are primarily human reasonable thought and the

unreasonable world. But in what way, by way of what kind of dynamics does the Absurd emerge

from these two elements?

1.1 The absurd man

In his work The Myth of Sisyphus Camus elaborates on the absurdity of existence in order to

answer the philosophical question of suicide. Since Nietzsche, humans are confronted with the

possibility of living in a godless universe wherein all true apparent meaning has disappeared. For

Nietzsche, the access of an individual to a truth about reality has become an illusion, for language

is simply a web of metaphorical lies of which we have forgotten that they are lies (Nietzsche,

1873: p. 49). Human thought has, then, as a result of Nietzsche’s philosophy been dislodged from

reality itself. True knowledge is not given by God and can only be obtained through the use of

language, which through its concepts makes equal that which is essentially unequal (Nietzsche,

1873: p. 48). Resultingly, being Camus’ (and many others’) philosophical starting point, the

question of suicide emerges. If the universe is without meaning and God is dead, is life worth

living? This is the only relevant question for Camus. It is a question which directly faces

ourselves with the absurdity of existence and demands a solution for its inhuman glare.

Albert Camus has defined the feeling of absurdity as “the divorce between man and his

life, the actor and his setting” (Camus, 2009: p. 5). As the daily routine of human life is

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challenged by the question of ‘why’ such a life is worth living, one’s consciousness is awakened

to the true nature of reality. Reality becomes divested of the illusions and lights which reason so

often supplies for. Man becomes a stranger (Camus, 2009: p. 5). In other words, the Absurd is

felt as the flesh revolts against its own position within time and as related to inevitable Death

(Camus, 2009: p. 11). The Absurd can thus be described as the disharmonic junction between, on

the one hand, the impossibility to reduce this world to a rational and reasonable principle, and on

the other hand our appetite for the absolute and for unity (Camus, 2009: p. 49). As the

unreasonable world meets reasonable man the Absurd reveals itself. The longing for tomorrow

ceases to satisfy the absurd man, because his desire for unity and meaning can no longer be

fulfilled. Absurd man becomes conscious of his meaningless position within the whole of

existence and either recovers or is forced to commit suicide. Recovery of the absurd human

condition can take on many forms. Camus, however, argues that the most common philosophical

answers to the feeling of absurdity, as supplied by existentialism, transcendentalism, or by

phenomenology are severely lacking in that they require the absurd mind to take a leap (Camus,

2009: p. 22-6). The leap exists in the fact that either the irrational nature of the Absurd is to be

rationalized in some fashion, or the irrational is attributed spiritual significance. In order to truly

engage with the Absurd Camus theorizes that one has to instead embrace the irrationality of

absurd existence as such, without appeal. Any other alternative would reinstate a meaningful

relation between the reasonable mind and the unreasonable world. Such a relation can not exist,

for it denies the Absurd as the disjunction between two distinct elements, namely thought and

reality. Rather, the absurd man has to force himself to scour the wastelands of his thought for

truth, without hope for anything but the Absurd itself – a complete lack of hope instead of a

feeling of despair is required (Camus, 2009: p. 7).

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When one speaks of absurd man in the equation of existence, then, it is not meant that the

Absurd is in man. Nor is the Absurd in the world. On the contrary, it is “in their presence

together” (Camus, 2009: p. 29). The conflict between human thought and the world gives birth to

the Absurd. Absurd man merely exists due to his natural, human attempts to interact with the true

nature of reality.

In order to explore the visual Absurd aesthetic within the works of Antonioni, then, first the

nature of absurd man in his films has to be elucidated. Only after Antonioni's treatment of the

individual becomes clear can man be related to his surroundings, and cumulatively to the Absurd

itself.

For the purpose of this thesis the focus of the discussion of Antonioni's individual will

primarily lie on Il grido (1957) and Professione: Reporter (1975). These two films offer us with

clear representations of the human individual, as they are utilised throughout Antonioni's work.

Now, how does the absurd man manifest itself in Antonioni's oeuvre?

1.2 Absurd man in crisis

In Il Grido the viewer is introduced to a man named Aldo who is left by his lover Irma, after her

real husband dies. Despite the fact that the couple had been together for seven years, awaiting the

finalisation of Irma's divorce, Aldo is forced to face the world as a single man, accompanied by

his daughter Elvia. The film starts with Aldo being abandoned and consequently wandering away

from all of which he previously thought to be his future. The break-up of Aldo and Irma becomes

the defining act in the film, which sets in motion Aldo's existential crisis. As he sets out into the

world Aldo is disconnected and estranged from his surroundings, for all that he previously knew

to be true, has become an illusion. Aldo has become the absurd man. The veil of meaning that lay

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over reality for seven years has been lifted and Aldo is forced to come to terms with the true

irrational, inhuman and chaotic nature of the world.

This crisis is depicted through several aesthetic means. As Deleuze has already pointed

out about the work of Antonioni, the relation between cause and effect has disappeared. Aldo

does not set out his new path in order to find a new purpose in life. On the contrary, all which can

be said about his purpose is that it is a form of estrangement or a means of escape from his

former self. Rather, Aldo becomes “a spectator to the very images he is immersed in”, whilst

severing the sensory-motor link of classical cinema (Flaxman, 2000: p. 175-6). For example, the

meetings of Aldo with the widow and gas station owner Virginia and later with the prostitute

Andreina are purely based on coincidence. These encounters are allowed to happen, because

Aldo himself has lost his drive to actively construct meaning in a now (apparently) meaningless

world. He has become an empty shell of a man, who in the face of a harsh reality falls back to his

own primal, bodily urge to live or survive. The only deeply rooted layer of cause and effect that

thus remains in Il Grido is structured around the flesh in revolt, while it is being subdued by an

exponential sense of despair. The Absurd is then also gradually subdued by Aldo's despairing

body. Or as Camus has stated on the body in the face of the Absurd; “in that race which daily

hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreperable lead” (Camus, 2009: p. 7). In other

words, the existential crisis of Aldo is ultimately ruled by his bodily state, for it shrinks away

when faced with annihilation or Death, when the option of suicide emerges. Ultimately, then,

cause and effect falls short in Il Grido in dealing with the absurdity of existence.

The idea of a restricted form of cause and effect is also reinforced by the circular narrative

structure of the film. The film starts at Aldo's departure from his town, but also ends up at the

same point at the end of the film when Aldo commits suicide. This circular structure urges the

viewer to question and make sense of what has exactly happened in between these two moments

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in time. In this context, Antonioni has described Il Grido as “neo-realism without the bicycle”

(see Ford, 2003). In response to which Deleuze has commented on the film's redefinition of time;

“bicycle-less neo-realism replaces the last quest involving movement (the trip) with a specific

weight of time operating inside characters and excavating them from within” (Deleuze, 2005: p.

23). It is thus exactly the lack of purposeful cause and effect (the bicycle-less-ness) that obscures

the necessity for movement in the image. Instead, time presses upon Aldo's mind and his venture

into the world – a world which most importantly has lost its reasonable limits and established

frames of meaning. The circular narrative and the lack of cause and effect allow time to weigh on

Aldo – by which the absurd man is created. All that remains for Aldo, then, is the inevitability of

the pressing of time and the corresponding necessity to face reality and ultimately Death. This

loss of movement or the sense of direction of the subject is exactly the feeling of absurdity.

Aldo’s body is forced to revolt against time itself, for time is all that remains when the world

becomes irrational. Aldo is an absurd man in an absurd body, at the mercy of time. His body is

absurd in the sense that the absurd condition can be read in the dynamics of the position of his

body in relation to its surroundings. Through the depiction of Aldo's surroundings time excavates

the subject from within, as a result of which Aldo’s body despairs in the face of the temporality

of existence.

1.3 Becoming-strange(r)

The way the absurd man relates himself to the world in Il Grido (as time excavates the subject) I

argue is a recurring aesthetic throughout Antonioni's work. In all his films an existential event

brings to the surface the preconceived notions and truths about reality for the subjects of the film.

The actor becomes divorced of his once familiar setting (Camus, 2009: p. 5). In Il Grido this

divorce was caused by the break-up of Aldo with Irma, where the event forced Aldo to face the

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absurdity of existence. In a process of becoming-strange(r) of the subject such an existential

event poses the problem of finding a way of dealing with the Absurd to the subject. This concept

of becoming-strange as set into motion by an act which obstructs a subject's movement and opens

him up to the absurdity of reality is paramount to all of Antonioni's films. For Antonioni the

absurd man is in a perpetual state of becoming-strange. Becoming-strange is the ultimate

manifestation of the Absurd.

The concept of becoming-strange(r) can be compared to Deleuze's notion of

deterritorialization as it is applied to the human subject's relation to the world. As the existential

event occurs the subject is deterritorialized, for his previous set of determined relations to the

world are decontextualized, or rendered virtual (Deleuze, 2004: p. 37). The process of becoming-

strange(r) in Antonioni's films is thus concerned with opening up the subject to its virtual,

potential ways of relating to the world. However, as the potentials for the reterritorialization of

the subject cannot be actualized in the present, the subjects of Antonioni's cinema are faced with

the absurdity of existence. The process of becoming-strange(r) is thus the deterritorialization of

man, leading to the prevalence of the absurdity of existence: it is deterritorialization without an

actualizing potential. In this sense, then, becoming-strange(r) in cinema – as the specific

deterritorialization leading up to the Absurd – marks the death of the action-image. Cinema itself

thus seems to have the capacity to deterritorialize through the depiction of a subject as an absurd

man, living through an existential event.

Visually this subject as an absurd man is communicated to the viewer by the discussed

prevalence of time within the image. However, the Absurd itself as the product of the two

elements of human thought and the world evades representation. A sense of the Absurd can only

be achieved by either the juxtaposition of the two constitutive elements within a single image, or

through a succession of images. The moving image has an inherent capacity to touch upon the

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absurd man in his surroundings. Since absurd man as such can not be understood as being-in-the-

world, but rather only as becoming-strange in relation to the world, the Absurd itself will

manifest itself visually as the process of estrangement becomes apparent. By depicting the

dynamic change of man in relation to the world, the absurd man can uniquely be called into being

by cinema. The temporal nature of cinema is thus the most significant factor in 'representing'

absurd man. By directly calling attention to the passing of time within Il Grido Antonioni opens

up our vision to the Absurd 1. The emphasis of time which weighs on the subject is mainly

acheived through the combination of the type of shots, the previously mentioned lack of

movement (or purpose) of the actors themselves and the editing of the film.

First, the shots in Il Grido (and most of Antonioni's films) mainly range from medium

shots to long shots. This has two effects – it compounds the body and the subject, while it places

the body within the broader context of his surroundings (that is, the barren mise-en-scene in

general). Second, the editing of Il Grido serves two purposes. It both creates gaps in the narrative

– and thus cause and effect is done away with – while at the same time it leaves certain segments

or scenes of the film gapless. So-called 'dead time' emerges, for the direction of the body is not

given by the vector of the body's action. Instead, the body is confronted with time as a separate

entity. The passing of time itself thus becomes noticeable and presses upon the subject's body. In

other words, man becomes absurd man, for the comforts of reason are (momentarily) lost within

an absurd existence, one excavated by time. Time overtakes man and makes him into absurd

man. The resistance of man's thought or his grip on the world through the system of language is

nullified by the prevalence of time. In this sense, time thus forces the absurd man to come to

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Time itself is in this sense not to be misunderstood as a succesion of moments. Instead, as Deleuze has argued, time
is constitued by the dynamics of the actual as the present and the virtual as the past and future. By calling attention to
the way the virtual haunts the actual within Il Grido, Antonioni opens up our vision to the Absurd. For when the
actual only exists in the looming shadows of the virtual, man is haunted by the past and he becomes estranged from
the actuality of the present moment.

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terms with the Absurd or to despair in the face of it, and commit suicide. Aldo ultimately, in

direct opposition with his body’s will to live, chooses the later, as he is, as previously mentioned,

unable to revolt against the Absurd. Instead of facing the Absurd with a complete lack of hope for

a better future, Aldo despairs his own absurd existence as an absurd man. He commits both

physical and philosophical suicide by not accepting the only things he knows to be true; his drive

for unity and the apparent chaos of an unreasonable world. Once absurd man (Aldo) denies these

two defining factors of existence he ceases to truly be absurd man. As absurd man continues to

despair the Absurd is no longer fully acknowledged, for despair is a denial of the irrational nature

of reality and its lack of sought after unity.

In Chapter 3 the idea of freedom, revolt and passion in relation to man's relation to the

Absurd will be further explored. For now it will suffice to note that the aesthetic mode of

representation of Il Grido sets up man to be absurd man.

The described absurd set-up of the aesthetic mode of representation as becoming-strange can also

be found in Professione: Reporter (1975). The becoming-strange of the subject which opens the

vision of the film up to the Absurd exists in this movie not in reason being swept away by a flood

of negative emotions, as was the case with Aldo in Il Grido. Rather, the protagonist and journalist

David Locke 2 is doing research in the Sahara Desert, when he meets a gunrunner named David

Robertson who dies in his hotel room. For only hinted at reasons Locke, who looks very similar

to Robertson, decides to switch identities with the deceased Robertson, staging his own death

instead. As was the case with Il Grido's Aldo the motivation of David remains unclear throughout

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It is worth noting that the name David Locke is a contraction of the names of the British empiricists David Hume
and John Locke. David Locke the reporter presents us with a scientific, empirical way of knowing the world. For
David Locke, knowledge is primarily gained through the observation and research of reality through the senses. This
stance towards the world is in stark contrast with the progressively alien life of David Locke as Robertson, unable to
fully make sense or meaning of his own sensory experience.

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the movie. Whereas Aldo is haunted by his past life, as a result of which he can not grasp the

present in all its irrationality, David willingly lets go of his own past and all its truths. The

structural aesthetic of becoming-strange of the subject, however, remains a constant. It is

precisely the act of staging one's own death which turns the subject of David into a stranger to his

surroundings, as a result of which the Absurd reveals itself to him. David makes himself into an

absurd man, by making his own the body of someone else. He literally becomes the actor which

is divorced from his surroundings, thus forcing himself to face the Absurd. David becomes his

own illusion as Robertson and consequently occupies the space between Robertson and his once

lived-in world. A space in which the Absurd manifests itself. As exemplified by the several

meetings David has in unknown places with unknown people, doing unknown business, the

setting which David, the absurd man, lives in becomes strange to him. However, the true nature

of his old life – the relation with his wife, his work as a journalist – becomes knowable to David.

By having positioned himself in the domain of the Absurd, external to his former self, David's

life can now be revealed to his true self. While David at first appears to be completely free of

despair, as the movie progresses his way of dealing with the Absurd falls short. As he slowly fails

to run away from his old existence, and thus his former self catches up with him, he is again tied

down to the truths from his past. The act of becoming-strange of the staging of his own death has

momentarily forced a (partially spatial) gap between David and his relation to the world, but

eventually this gap closes in on him. As reality tightens its grip and the confrontation with his old

life is inevitable – the police and his former wife and boss have chased him down – David can no

longer live in the pure absurdity of existence. David has failed to live the truly absurd life.

This (conclusion of the) process of becoming-strange in Professione: Reporter is

effectively conveyed through the aesthetic device of the long take. In the final scene of the film a

seven minute-long take establishes the convergence of both the physical, mental and temporal

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spaces of the film. As the camera tracks from inside the hotel room through the window, outside

to the square to reveal the police and Mrs. Locke and the girl arriving, and back inside to the

deceased David Locke, the film gives a distanced, non-dramatic account of the space of the

Absurd being reterritorialized. The dynamic force of David's escape from his former self – his

line of flight, if you will – is finally halted via the use of the long take, which allows for David's

subject to be recontextualised through its ultimate actualization in the present, by the others

becoming present. The long take is the formal device which allows for the viewer to perceive the

way in which the different forces – David's personal relations of his former identity, Robertson's

relations, and David's relations as a performer – come together simultaneously and subsequently

hone in on his estranged self. The long take allows for the breaking away of the bars or confines

in front of the window, resultingly opening up and again fully relating David's former enclosed

(mental) space to the world. The process of becoming-strange is thus taken to its conclusion via

the formal devices of (Antonioni’s) cinema.

Il Grido and Professione: Reporter Antonioni thus seem to present us with a conception of the

Absurd which can be lived in by absurd man, but with huge difficulty. For when one realises the

absurdity of existence either the past or the future (i.e. the promise of Death) will haunt the

individual. David appears to us as an absurd man by his own choosing, who is trying to escape

from his past, but eventually is suffocated by time itself; for the gap between his past truths and

his future and present truths – or more specifically, Robertson's absurd truths – can never truly

materialize. The Absurd, the chaos of Robertson's surroundings and Locke's drive for unity, can

not be embraced, simply because David is forced to constantly reconsider his future plans – the

longing for tomorrow thus seems to have not yet (completely) been eradicated in Antionioni's

cinema. In Il Grido Aldo also (but involuntarily) got caught between the past and the future

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which haunted him. As a result the present absurdity of existence could not be fully lived with. In

Antonioni's work time seems to excavate the subject, ultimately forcing them to despair in the

face of the Absurd.

Conclusively, then, on the basis of the two presented cases, the films of Antonioni are

characterised by their specific absurd aesthetics in presenting and consequently dealing with the

Absurd. First of all, the Absurd itself is forced upon the protagonists of the films, by dislodging

the subjects from their own previously known, but now illusory selfs. As a result, secondly, the

newly formed selfs lose their bearing on the world. In other words, they strive for the same unity

as they used to, but this undertaking has become futile. Once the existence of the two prime,

mutually disharmonic truths are acknowledged – man's own drive for unity and the irrational

world – the subjects have become absurd men, living in an absurd and strange world. The absurd

man in Antonioni's films is thus founded in the absurd aesthetic of becoming-strange. This is the

first principle towards a cinematic aesthetic of the Absurd, which will be complicated and

expanded in chapter 3 by looking at Camus' proposed philosophy for the absurd man and the

absurd life he should live, if he is to remain true to the Absurd.

However, in order to truly understand what dynamic changes Antonioni envisions in a

world we can no longer perceive as we did before, first the surroundings themselves which make

man into absurd man will have to be scrutinized more closely.

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2. Antonioni and the absurd landscape

Moving towards the depiction of the world in Antonioni's films, both Blow-up (1966) and Il

Deserto Rosso (1964) stand out in their distinct portrayal of landscapes and their relation to the

human subject 3. By focusing on the way in which the world is depicted in Antonioni’s films, this

chapter will be provide the second element by which the absurdity of existence reveals itself. In

the previous chapter man was shown to be absurd man. This chapter will expand on the nature of

the world that absurd man has to face, as a result of which the Absurd emerges. When the absurd

aesthetics of man’s relation to the world have become clear, the third and final chapter will move

toward the potential of film to be a (truly absurd) philosophical partner.

The usage of the notion of the world in this chapter is rooted in the existentialist tradition

of viewing the world itself as having no meaning. The existentialist Sartre introduced the idea of

existence preceding essence, effectively opposing the traditional idea of the nature of a thing

being more important than its existence. Instead, as Sartre puts it, “man first of all exists,

encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards” (Sartre, 1946: p. 3).

This idea of the primarity of existence is based in the essential meaningless of the world. As a

result, human existence is not already defined by one’s existence in the world. The world itself is

thus to be seen as being maleable and its meaning as existing outside of man’s consciousness of

it.

3
The idea of ‘landscape’, as it used throughout, is to be conflated with the concept of the world that exists outside of
man.

17
2.1 Indeterminate reality

The existential event of becoming-strange of the human subject, as it has already been found in

both Professione: Reporter and Il Grido, can also be recognized in Blow-Up. Whereas the

protagonists of the previously discussed films have been shown to become-strange due to an

event at the beginning of the film, in Blow-Up the London photographer Thomas – modelled after

the iconic British photographer David Bailey – is shown to become-strange as the movie ends.

Resultingly, Blow-Up allows for the revealing of the changing relation of modern man to his

surroundings, while for example Il Grido is mainly focused on the already-strange absurd subject,

living in an already-strange world.

Blow-Up tells the story of a photographer obsessed with controlling the world, either by capturing

its reality through a lens, or by directing the humans around him; Thomas is constantly trying to

gain a firm grip on his surroundings, through the exertion of power. As the story progresses and

Thomas strolls around a park, he takes several snapshots of the environment, by chance capturing

a man and a woman in each other's arms. From the moment Thomas develops the pictures at

home his process of becoming-strange has begun. From this point onward Thomas gradually gets

dislodged from reality and he is ultimately faced with the disharmony between his drive for unity

and the irrational world. At first he believes he has obstructed a murder in the park by the act of

photographing and scaring away the potential murderer. However, when Thomas discovers a

body at night in the park, a murder does seem to have happened and Thomas has ultimately been

proven to be powerless. This feeling of powerlessness is enlarged when Thomas returns to the

park the next day, only to find the body missing. As Thomas finds out that his previous assertions

about his prevention of a murder appear to be false, the veracity and power of his own drive for

unity are questioned. When, secondly, Thomas finds the body missing the next day, his grip on

18
the world has been further loosened. The power which Thomas asserts over the world through his

use of the photographic camera is thus reduced as the landscape reveals its own dynamic meaning

on its own terms to Thomas.

The process of becoming-strange coincides with the shift in the status of the photographic lens

and its capacity to represent reality. When Thomas photographs the couple in the park, the film at

first presents the possibility of the photographic lens as an intrusive and powerful recording

device. That is, the photographer is able to exert his power over the world through the power of

capturing objective reality via the photographic lens, in accordance with Bazin’s ontology of the

moving image (Bazin, 1960). The status quo of the image in Blow-Up, as it is being produced and

used by Thomas, can thus be described as an indexical image, determined by reality. In the

subsequent scenes of Thomas developing his film and enlarging the photos in order to trace the

gaze of the woman in the park, and to reveal the possible killer lying in the bushes, a narrative (to

be projected onto reality) is construed. The photocamera in Blow-Up, then, turns out to be a

device which is more powerful than the eye, in the sense that it can open up our vision to the

entire breadth of meaning, lying dormant in the landscapes of the world. The photocamera thus

allows for the fulfilment of Thomas' inexhaustable drive for unity via his personal scrutinization

of the image. As a result of the camera being the device used to construct the narrative of the

film, the status of the landscape, then, is that of a landscape that can be captured and

subsequently analysed by the human rational mind.

This premise of determinate representation, however, is refuted as the existential event

occurs and the world becomes alien to Thomas. In the final scene, when Thomas returns to the

park to see if the body is still lying there, and he finds it is missing, the possibility to represent

reality falls apart. While Thomas walks to the park, point-of-view shots are shown of the location

19
which we previously saw captured on film. The park is now empty and only vague traces of the

once projected meaning remain visible within the landscape. A sense of confusion arises, for the

narrative which Thomas (and partially the viewer) had become enthused about appears to have

been an illusion, in no sense grounded in reality itself. The landscape has thus become absurd in

the sense that now only two truths remain about the world. First, there exists a human drive for

unity of reality. Second, the world is indeterminate and evades this drive to fully come into being.

The absurdity of existence is the impossibility of objectifying reality and simultaneously reducing

it to some truth other than its unreduced, bare self. The shift which occurs in the status of the

landscape (or reality in general) is thus a shift from the possibility of the direct, determined

recording of reality to an indeterminate presentation of reality. Blow-Up proposes an image

which “presents a stand-in or a proxy of a model: it does not re-present either the model or the

sight of the model” – i.e., the presentation is always essentially indeterminate (Caroll, 1996: p.

44).

The ending of Blow-Up further substantiates this claim of the shift to an indeterminate

presentation of reality, of which the “real” nature is unable to be predicted, calculated or deduced.

A car filled with mimes arrives at a tennis field and starts to play a game of pretend tennis, when

Thomas stumbles onto the scene and watches the illusionary match. The camera tracks the

imaginary ball as it is being played back and forth between the two mime players. Once the ball

is shot over the fence of the tennis field, Thomas is asked, without words, to retreive the ball.

Convinced by the whole of the imaginary parts – each tennis player performing his expected part

in the whole of the tennis game – the existence of the imaginary ball is implied, and Thomas runs

into the field and picks up the ball. As he throws the ball back, off-screen, over the fence, a

definite meaning has been attributed to reality, where it shows there to be none. Reality itself is

indeterminate. In other words, the human mind itself is shown to be capable of projecting

20
meaning onto an essentially uneventful reality4: while reality itself could have a distinct meaning,

human thought is not able to reach it. Finally the camera lingers on Thomas in a medium close-

up. As he continues to watch the game from a distance, his eyes moving from left to right, the

imagined scene comes to life and the stand-in sounds of a tennis game become audible. The

meaning which is being attributed to reality is thus not actually truthful to reality itself, for the

existence of the ball is a pure construction. The reality to which the representation of reality – in

this case, the sound – refers, is in fact absent. As a result, the ending reveals, in the same sense as

Thomas' photographs did, that man's drive for unity and meaning is similar to chasing ghosts and

fooling ourselves in thinking these ghosts are real. The movie shows that man imposes his own

truth onto reality, while in reality our surroundings will not let themselves be pinned down –

reality is not a thing to be represented, but an indeterminate presentation. The indetermination of

reality thus stems from the way in which Blow-Up makes Thomas and the viewer aware of both

the human drive and the subsequent failure to fulfill that drive. The film, then, garners a

consciousness of the absurd human condition, living in an indeterminate reality, while striving for

the determination of that same reality.

Visually, this indeterminate nature of reality is famously depicted in Antonioni's Il Deserto

Rosso. The film portrays the protagonist Giuliana, a woman who has lost her grip on reality as a

result of the existential event of a traumatic car accident – she has become a stranger, for the

world is no longer a thing to be reduced to a certain truth.

4
In this sense, the film evokes the existence of a Cartesian divide between body (the world) and mind. However,
while for Descartes the self-refuting method of doubt leads to a possible rational understanding of the world, Blow-
Up shows the world’s own evasion of such an understanding. The doubt supplied by the absurdity of existence does
not settle for its methodic refutation, for it has to be faced on its own terms (see Abraham Sagi, 2002: p. 46).

21
In the opening of the film the world appears in an indeterminate and irreducible state. As

Giuliana and her son wander about the factory, smouldering, blackened, and polluted landscapes

are shown. The grim, dull colours of the landscape are contrasted with Giuliana wearing a bright

green coat, while she is in a state of panic. Nature is overgrown with industry and the landscapes

are indelibly marked by a sense of looming death or decay. As Matthew Gandy has argued,

“these disordered spaces provoke deep ambivalence in their inhabitants as they traverse the

remnants of familiar landscapes strewn with the debris of modernity” (Gandy, 2003: p. 231).

Quoting Zygmunt Bauman, he characterizes Il Deserto Rosso’s landscape as defining an

obsolete, always wanting present, through which the coveted future “is poisoned by the toxic

effluvia of the wasted past” (Gandy, 2003: p. 231). In other words, the debris of modernity,

inscribed within the landscape, has halted the progress of existence into the future, establishing a

constant sense of one’s own mortality, through our perception of the now meaningless landscape.

Sound plays a major role in further establishing this sense of mortality or decay within the

landscapes themselves; a sense of reality ultimately resulting in the disharmony between

Giuliana, an absurd human being nonetheless, and the landscape. By accompanying moments of

pure terror and panic – which Giuliana experiences in the face of the absurd and the

indeterminate, ungraspable world – with a high-pitched buzzing sound, (early on in the film) the

connection is made between sound and the indeterminate feeling of the barren, industrial

landscape. For example, as the movie ends and Giuliana has still not resolved how she can deal

with the overwhelming reality, electrical buzzing is heard, which then immediately evokes the

absurdity of living in such an irrational world. The industrial, desolate state of the landscape

envelops Giuliana and comes to reflect her subjectivity.

Similar to the way in which reality was presented in Blow-Up, reality only becomes

daunting in its indeterminacy when the human mind opens itself up to its true nature. Making

22
meaning of the world as it presents itself in Il Deserto Rosso boils down to either dealing with or

escaping the Absurd. Thus, when Corrado and Giuliana's husband traverse the factory and they

are faced with huge billowing clouds of vapor that envelop the world, silos towering to the sky,

ear-deafening shreeks and the noise of machines, they do not respond; the Absurd is foreign to

them. To Giuliana, however, as illustrated by a cut from the huge vapour cloud to her waking

from a nightmare in panic, the bare, naked world is horrifying. As she states near the end of the

film, “there's something terrible about reality, and I don't know what” – she is directly open to the

absurd landscape, an openness engendered by a past existential event which has allowed time to

excavate her subject from within (as previously discussed). In other words, the Absurd has

Giuliana in its grip and the landscapes themselves increasingly become indeterminate expressions

or reminders of her own mortality.

The landscape of Il Deserto Rosso, then, is an absurd landscape in the sense that it is

confronts the characters with their own mortality, especially when they have no previously

established truths about the world to fall back onto (as is the case with Giuliana). As was the case

in Blow-Up, the indeterminacy thus stems from the landscapes’ unwillingness to let themselves

be signified and the Absurd follows from one's acknowledgement of this reality of the

landscapes.

2.2 The absurd viewing experience

Up until this point the focus of our discussion has been on the ways in which the Absurd exists in

between the absurd man and the absurd world. The Absurd has proven to manifest itself in

relation to one's way of being in the world, in our case the characters in Antonioni's films. The

characters which are depicted, are in a process of becoming-strange(r) in an indeterminate world,

as a result of which the Absurd becomes manifest. But how is this feeling of absurdity, stemming

23
from these two depictions, related to the spectator of Antonioni's films? What filmic logic

effectively communicates the Absurd to the viewer?

In order to answer these questions, I will demarcate three, cumulative, defining elements of

Antonioni's cinema, as related to the spectator's position, on the basis of which an absurd logic

emerges.

The first premise of an absurd logic is the idea that the spectator of cinema, first, pre-

objectively engages with the movie, and second, reasons with the movie as a whole and all its

constitutive parts. The combination of these two tendencies of the human perception of art

constitutes the basis for the absurd logic of cinema. The pre-objective engagement with film

consists of our affective, bodily relating with the diegetic world and its characters. As Merleau-

Ponty has emphasized in his work The Film and the New Psychology, “a movie is [primarily] not

thought, it is perceived” (Merleau-Ponty, 1964: p. 58). That is, the entirety of our sensory

experience attributes to the synesthetic experience of a film. For instance, when we watch

Giuliana wake up from a terrifying nightmare, this sense of terror is directly felt in the body of

the spectator, before the viewer is capable of consciously reflecting upon what has occured before

his own eyes. Another example is when Aldo's existential event occurs and he has to face the

world alone – the tension in the bodily posture of Aldo is felt in the body of the spectator. The

succession of these kinds of affective moments are felt by the viewing subject as the mood of the

film. The mood of the film is what Greg Smith calls the “orienting emotion state” and

“tendencies toward expressing emotions” (Smith, 2003: p. 113). The experience of Antonioni’s

films is thus one in which the absurd mood of the film primes the viewer to experience certain

(affects as) local emotions, engendering a consistent expectation to encounter the absurdity of

existence emotionally. Secondly, reason steps in as the human tendency to intellectually make

24
sense of one's own pre-objective relation to the filmic image. Our cognitive engagement with a

film is constantly informed by our bodily affective, possibly shared experience of a film. The

result of these two human tendencies in the experience of a work of art grounds the absurd logic

of film, because the human drive for unity of the work of art – a unity both felt and known – lays

the foundation for the absurd experience of film. As Camus has argued, it is exactly this drive for

unity, conclusion or explanation which is most inevitable in (the understanding of) any fictional

creation (Camus, 2009: p. 96).

The drive to reason and to construct a narrative from the seperate parts of a film (our inner

perceptual workings already forbear this tendency), however, cannot be fulfilled through

watching Antonioni’s films. The basic human drive for unity 5 is countered by the previously

described process of becoming-strange of the absurd characters and the distinctive indeterminate

landscapes. The second element of the absurd logic is the resulting indeterminate status of the

image itself in the work of Antonioni. Whereas the status of the image of a classical Hollywood

film is mostly defined by the illusion of a structural, complete coherence, Antonioni’s cinema is

characterised by the lack of such a coherence or by an incongruence, as the image directly

adresses its own illusionary status. The image itself, for Antonioni, has become the epitome of

the possibilities of its own indetermination. Within the image an absurd incoherence of its parts

results in the irrationality of the whole. In other words, the lack of causality within the narrative,

alienated man, the indetermination of the landscape, the accompanying disaccordant sounds, and

the depleting force of time itself, are marked by the incongruence of their coexistence within the

moving image. This incongruence is rooted in the spectator’s inability to give a definitive

meaning to the depicted events of Antonioni’s films and to how the successive events relate to

5
This premise is based on Camus’ understanding of man’s relation to the world and the possible absurdity of
existence which sprouts from man’s interaction with the world.

25
one another 6. While our perceptual bodies tend to align themselves with the main characters of

the films, the existence of these characters within the diegetic world and the image as a whole is

problematized by its incongruent parts. As a result, our own alignment with the characters

becomes problematic, for the Absurd reigns supreme in the characters’ relation to the world. The

absurdity of the image surfaces due to the described disharmony between absurd man and his

surroundings, which is instilled upon the spectator as he attempts to find coherence through

reason. The spectator, then, fails to truly understand his position as aligned with the bodies of the

absurd characters in an indeterminate world.

Resultingly, the spectator himself is faced with the process of becoming-strange, for the

moving image becomes unreasonable and alien to him. This is the third basic element of the

absurd logic of Antonioni’s cinema. The drive for unity is reflected back at the spectator as the

filmic image refuses to be pinned down to certain (unifying) truths. The only truths which, as has

become clear, are allowed for Antonioni are meta-truths about one’s relation to reality and each

other, as opposed to truths concerning the temporal, causal unity, and unity of meaning in the

world. A direct access to man or the reality he lives in itself are made impossible by their own

indetermination. On the basis of these three cumulative elements, then, the experience of viewing

Antonioni’s films is an absurd viewing experience. Between our drive for unity and a filmic

reality which won’t allow for the unity of its seperate parts, the viewing experience becomes an

absurd viewing experience. The status of the image is thus directly related to the manifestation of

the Absurd within the diegesis, as a result of which the spectator’s way of relating to the world is

questioned. Antonioni’s cinema is an absurd cinema because it throws the spectator back onto his

own absurd human nature. For example, as the spectator tries to come to terms with the death of

6
See Pamerleau’s Existentialist Cinema for a detailed (existentialist) account of the resistance of the world to be
meaningful in Antonioni’s cinema, as a result of which the spectator is never sure if he’s right about what’s going on
(Parmerleau, 2009: p. 85-110).

26
David in Professione: Reporter the image itself refuses being attributed a definitive meaning.

Instead, the death of David is an expression of the absurdity of existence and this absurdity is

communicated to the spectator via the death’s indeterminate nature. The spectator is then faced

with the absurdity of his own existence, because the filmic Absurd seeps out into the real world,

as its infectious lack of meaning cannot be contained by the image. The image itself is merely the

bearer of the dynamics of the Absurd, unable to point toward anything of definitive meaning

within the image, thereby forcing the spectator’s reflection on his own absurd human tendencies.

In short, the crisis of faith within Antonioni’s films is instilled into the viewer.

The absurd logic of Antonioni’s cinema can thus be described by a redefinition of the

object-subject relations evoked by the image. In this sense, the films embody a philosophical

stance towards the world as they criticize the subject’s ability to perceive an objective truth or to

construct a pragmatic truth. Instead, Antonioni seems to propose an (almost) insurmountable

distance between the object and subject, due to the absurdity of the disharmonic gap between the

two. The way in which film relates itself to philosophy will be further discussed in Chapter 4.

First, however, the position of the absurd man in the face of the Absurd has to be analysed further

in relation to Albert Camus’ own thoughts on the most true way of dealing with the Absurd. Are

Antonioni’s films truly absurd creations, in the sense of the stance they adopt towards reality? Do

his films deal with the Absurd without offering any hope for meaning whatsoever? How should

one deal with the insurmountable distance between object and subject, according to Antonioni?

Once the spectator is faced with the absurdity of the image itself, what is the prescribed way to

deal with this absurdity?

27
3 The absurd aesthetics of revolt, passion and freedom

In order to follow through the absurd reasoning of Antonioni’s films it has to be explored how the

basic, absurd condition of human existence (as discussed in the previous chapter) is dealt with by

the films themselves. What reaction to the absurdity of existence do the films of Antonioni

formulate? As it has already been pointed at in the previous chapters, there exist multiple ways to

deal with the feeling of the absurdity of existence. However, the question remains if Antonioni’s

films truly imagine Sisyphus happy, in the way that Camus has in mind. By analysing how the

films deal with the Absurd, the way will be paved towards thinking of the potential of film as

doing philosophy.

3.1 A leap from the Absurd

As the truly absurd man is faced with the feeling of the absurdity of existence, he demands of

himself to live solely with what he is certain of. According to Camus the truly absurd man is

assured of “his temporally limited freedom, of his revolt devoid of future and of his mortal

consciousness”, each prompting him to live out his live within the limits supplied to him by

reason in the face of the absurd (Camus, 2009: p. 64). Any other form of certainty forces him to

take a leap and denies man’s own awareness of the absurd facts of existence. The absurd man’s

only true concern is thus “to find out if it is possible to live without appeal”, as it is informed by

his courage to live (Camus, 2009: p. 51).

There exist several ways of dealing with the Absurd, through taking such a leap. Many

existentialist philosophies, according to Camus, suggest an escape from the conditions which the

Absurd offers man. As Camus states, “they deify what crushes them and find reason to hope in

what impoverishes them” (Camus, 2009: p. 31). Karl Jaspers for example takes a religious leap

28
by explaining the failure of man's capacity to explain the irrational universe as the revelation of

the existence of transcendence (Camus, 2009: p. 31). In other words, the crushing reality of the

limits of reason forces the hopeful assumption of the existence of the transcendent (Camus, 2009:

p. 31). Through an understanding of the feeling of the Absurd as the experience of the

transcendent, the existence of an universe beyond reason is posited. This transcendent universe,

however, can never be reached as it is defined by the absurd gap between the powers of

explanation and “the irrationality of the world and of experience” (Camus, 2009: p. 32). The

experience of the Absurd – the ruins of reason – thus becomes the experience of god and is a leap

away from the reality of the Absurd itself. For Camus, however, as soon as the notion of the

absurd is used as a springboard to the eternal, “it ceases to be linked to human lucidity” (Camus,

2009: p. 33-4). That is, the Absurd is no longer characterised by the opposition, laceration and

divorce; the struggle of the Absurd, as the only evidence that man ascertains without consenting

to it, is eluded (Camus, 2009: p. 34). The absurd man lives without the eternal in mind, refusing

to take a leap away from the absurd itself (Camus, 2009: p. 64). Taking such a leap effectively

scorns all of reason, through the deification of the irrational, while the absurd man adheres to

reason, conscious of its limits in understanding the world. His alert awareness of the entire set of

data of experience – the absurd struggle between reason and the irrational – does away with the

necessity for hope (Camus, 2009: p. 35).

In response to the lacking leaps of faith of existential philosophy (and also of

phenomenology) and through his discussion of suicide in the face of the Absurd, Camus comes to

three consequences of the Absurd, necessary to truly live without appeal; namely, passion, revolt

and freedom. Through these consequences of the absurd reasoning, the Absurd can truly be

acknowledged on the basis of its supplied limits of reason and the irrational alone.

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3.2 Antonioni and the passionate flames of human revolt

For Camus the mentioned absurd consequences of passion, revolt and freedom are ultimately the

defining aesthetic forms for the absurd work of art. Thus, in order to gain an insight into cinema’s

specific (aesthetically) absurd potential, these aesthetics of the passionate flames of human revolt

are to be explored in the work of Antonioni. In this chapter, then, it will be argued that cinema

has the potential to abandon the hope for the eternal, by evoking an absurd awareness of

existence without appeal (Professione: Reporter being the prime example of such an awareness).

3.2.1 Revolt

The first consequence is revolt against the Absurd, or the certainty of a crushing faith, “without

the resignation that ought to accompany it” (Camus, 2009: p. 52). According to Camus, for the

absurd man, the only truth can be defiance (Camus, 2009: p. 53). In order not to escape the

Absurd, through either its deification, reconciliation, negation, or renunciation, absurd man has to

attempt to be at grips with a reality that transcends human intelligence (Camus, 2009: p. 53). The

very fact of defiance for the inhumanity of the Absurd, which impoverishes him, returns the

majesty of man to himself. Through the impoverishment of the Absurd itself, man only further

impoverishes himself (Camus, 2009: p. 53). It is precisely through his day-to-day struggle, by

carrying one's own weight of life, that the absurd man can give his life value. The revolt of man

against his own obscurity “challenges the world anew every second”, insisting upon an

“impossible transparency” (Camus, 2009: p. 52).

In the films of Antonioni the absurd characters themselves revolt in various degrees

against the absurdity of existence. In both Professione: Reporter and Blow-Up Thomas and

David can be temporarily seen as truly absurd men in revolt in two distinct ways.

30
Firstly, David is a man who at the outset continues – or rather again embarks on – his

search for meaning regardless of its inherent impossibility. David takes on the role of the actor, in

the sense that he simulates the life of David Robertson absolutely (see Camus, 2009: p. 75-82).

By discarding his own identity, David has abandoned the hope for being able to objectively

report on reality and its events. In place of this hope, David chooses the most fleeting of

experiences, by projecting “himself as deeply as possible into the lives that are not his own”

(Camus, 2009: p. 77). David becomes a conscious 'mime of the ephemeral', as a result of which

the body itself becomes the source of knowledge (Camus, 2009: p. 78). The revolt of David

against the Absurd thus exists in the choice to remove himself from his former self, as a result of

which the disharmony between the irrational world and David's reason is acted out and felt in

every alien moment. For David, the Absurd maintains its incoherent nature, while the role of

actor allows him to defy this nature regardless, without feeling the need to resign to it.

Aesthetically David’s revolt is communicated to the viewer through reversing the notion

of the characters as agents, pursuing their goals in a diegesis of spatial and temporal continuity.

Instead, Antonioni subordinates the narrative to the aesthetic dimensions of the film, in order to

communicate the theme of David’s loss of identity to the viewer. The narrative importance in

explaining this theme is effectively undermined through, for instance, the independence of the

camera’s movement from the character’s actions; i.e. the emphasis lies on the aesthetic devices

themselves (Ross, 2008: p. 48). As a result, the character of David becomes the actor as a mere

part of the depicted space itself – acting out his role from one episodic meeting to the next, or

experiencing “life without a code” (Ross, 2008: p. 48). In Antonionio’s films, the spirit of revolt

thus lies in the potential of the moving image to challenge the cinematic world anew every

second, by “minimizing the presence of causal [narrative-based] frameworks, such as motivation

to code the film’s narrative, and by complicating the spatial and temporal logics between and

31
within sequences” (Ross, 2008: p. 46). By doing so, our interpretations of the film are limited to

and in accordance with David’s own ephemeral experience – an experience which is (forcedly)

disjoined from our own habits or codes of making meaning (Ross: p. 46). The cinematic form

itself is thus the basis for its own defiance against the Absurd. A prime example of aesthetic

defiance can be seen in the sequence of episodic scenes where at first David is seen on a gondola

lift, travelling to an undisclosed location. In a top-down shot David is seen to be hanging out of

the window, with the ocean underneath him, as if he is flying. From this shot the film then

immediately cuts to an urban garden where Robertson is ‘waiting for someone who hasn’t

arrived’. The legs of an unknown figure approach him, which in turn turn out to be those of an

old man, whose life story David is more than happy to listen to. Then, the film provides another,

equally ephemeral experience by cutting to documentary footage of the execution of a young

African man and after an indistinct amount of time back again to David and the architecture

student sitting in a car on their way to Barcelona. In other words, the spatial and temporal

discontinuity overrule the narrative importance in the conveyance of David’s loss of identity, as a

result of which David’s subject is reduced to an actor, in service of the film’s ephemeral

aesthetics.

In Blow-Up Thomas' revolt is primarily defined by the ending of the film. When his

assumptions about the murder have been proven false by an irrational reality, Thomas happens

upon the mimes playing tennis. While his drive for meaning has been shattered by his inability to

find coherence, the subsequent audible sound of the imaginary ball point towards Thomas'

defiance for the Absurd. The combination of this sound – its existence acknowledged in a

medium close-up – with a cut to an extreme long shot effectively forces the viewer to confront

himself with the absurd relation of man to his surroundings. While his own limits of reason have

been demarcated, Thomas continues to insist upon its 'impossible transparency' (Camus, 2009: p.

32
52). Even when the world has shown its limits to be understood, Thomas will not resign himself

to an irrational faith. Instead, he searches on for meaning, possibly exclusively meaning of a

personal nature. The conclusion of Blow-Up thus seems to be a truly absurd conclusion, in the

sense that Thomas revolts against the absurd condition.

While these films exhibit or at least point to a stance of defiance towards the Absurd, as

Camus envisioned it, not all of Antonioni’s films contain characters in revolt. For example, Il

Grido is a movie in which the desperation of Aldo after he has become-strange takes a strong

hold of him. Aldo does not succeed in overcoming the feeling of hopelessness, which he feels as

a result of his inability to continue the search for meaning in an indeterminate world. In the end

of the movie he decides to take his own life. Camus states that “suicide, like the leap, is

acceptance at its extreme” (Camus, 2009: p. 52). In other words, suicide is the opposite of

revolting against the absurd condition and is thus not the true required response to living with the

Absurd’s demands.

In Professione: Reporter one could argue that the sudden death of David is also a

desperate act of suicide. However, in light of the revolt depicted after David faces the Absurd, the

possibility that the death of David is merely the natural conclusion of the life of an actor now also

emerges. While in the previous chapter the death of David has been discussed as the past

haunting the absurd man, by which the longing for tomorrow or hope for a completely free future

is obstructed, a second explanation now surfaces. As Camus argues, the actor has lived his rich

life in time, “what he has lived faces him” and he feels that his adventure has been of an

irreplaceable quality (Camus, 2009: p. 82). The death of David thus can also come to symbolize

the end of an absurd life which has to be terminated prematurely, for the search for meaning has

been exhausted. The result of this tension between the prevalence of time in Professione:

Reporter and the attempt at defiance by David is an absurd actor in revolt, while he is weighed

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down by the burden of eternal values. This ambiguity of David’s character (or Aldo's despair),

which will be discussed later, however, does not necessarily imply that the films of Antonioni can

not be considered as absurd creations.

3.2.2 Freedom

The second consequence is an absurd freedom. As the inevitability of death presses upon the

absurd man, he is liberated from the illusions of his former freedom. The former illusory liberty

of absurd man, existed of the enslavement to the assurance of eternal meaning or existence

(Camus, 2009: p. 55). When death crushes the promises of eternity, man is at the same time

liberated as his consciousness is opened up to the freedom of action and experience (Camus,

2009: p. 55). Camus argues that the promises of eternity imprisoned absurd man, for he was

hopeful for the existence of meaning (outside of himself) – a hope which ultimately enslaved

absurd man to his own eternal truths (Camus, 2009: p. 55). When the future is obliterated by the

awareness of the Absurd, this hope is refused and man is free to “use up everything that is given”

within the limited span of his existence (Camus, 2009: p. 58). As absurd man accepts the Absurd

– i.e. 'the frigid, transparent and limited universe' – he thus draws his strength to live a life

without consolation from it (Camus, 2009: p. 58).

This consequence of freedom in Antonioni's films follows directly from the tension

between despair and revolt. For when the characters themselves despair, they fail to attain the

complete awareness of a universe where no hope for a higher meaning exists. The true revolting

men, such as David and Thomas, are (momentarily) liberated from their search for such a

meaning. The search for meaning is redirected to the realm of personal experience, in spite of the

irrational signs of the universe pointing towards the opposite meaning. This kind of prevalence of

the individual through his or her revolt does not come into full fruition in for example Il Deserto

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Rosso. In this film the glaring reality of the irrationality of the world overwhelms and

consequently obstructs personal freedom. As it has been discussed in the second chapter, the

landscapes instill a sense of terror in the character Giuliana. This terror alienates the character

from her surroundings and the landscape thus becomes the bearer of the despair felt by Giuliana.

From this feeling of despair the possibility to feel an absurd freedom is obstructed. Like Aldo,

Giuliana's longing for consolation cannot be fulfilled. The full acceptance of the Absurd and its

demands would entail that Giuliana would be liberated from the enslavement of the eternal by the

experiences of the inevitability of death. However, for Giuliana, this sense of liberation does not

follow from death, i.e. the looming presence in the world around her. On the contrary, death

merely crushes Giuliana and the freedom to act, experience and to make one's own meaning is

not fully embraced. Giuliana's entire being is marked by an existential crisis. That is, the

hopelessness of the absurdity of existence frightens Giuliana. Her attempts to embrace the

possibility of absurd freedom, by opening up a shop, by connecting with friends in a game of

(sexual) play – similar to that of the absurd actor in Professione: Reporter –, or by turning to the

affection of Corrado, each in their own turn seem to fail, exactly due to her despairing mode of

being.

The story that Giuliana narrates to her son Valerio further illustrates the notion of

Giuliana's inability to embrace absurd freedom. Giuliana tells of a young girl who spends her

days on a beautiful isolated beach, surrounded by a crystal clear blue ocean and pink sand. As

Giuliana states, “nature's colors were so lovely, and there was no sound”. Until one day, when a

sailing ship appeared on the horizon. While it looked splendid from afar, as it grew nearer the

ship became mysterious. As the girl was used to people's strange ways, she thought nothing of it

and the ship disappeared again. However, soon after a second mystery occured. Singing was

heard on the deserted beach. Who is singing? “Everybody, everything”, Giuliana answers. In

35
contrast with the harrowing landscapes of reality, this story is telling of the inner longing of

Giuliana. In this idyllic sequence a way of dealing with the world through absurd freedom seems

to be posited, as opposed to the despairing mode of dealing with the world which Giuliana can

only seem to adopt. The girl on the beach seems to be at peace with the world. As the two absurd

mysterious events occur, effectively unsettling her rational understanding of the world, the girl is

not distressed by their unfamiliar nature. On the contrary, the girl actively seeks out the source of

the singing, trying to understand the phenomenon, without either resigning herself to the crushing

faith of a lack of meaning, or attempting to console herself with the need for some kind of

personal, ultimately granting eternal freedom. In the same vein as an happy Sisyphus, the girl in

the story comes to enjoy the alien sound. Once she has scoured the beach for its source, but can

not find it, it is simply concluded that “the voice at that point was so sweet”.

The Absurd in Il Deserto Rosso thus exists in the longing for a freedom of action and

experience. However, for Giuliana this longing cannot materialise itself, for the mysteries or

unknown wordly forces of her imaginary, idyllic inner reality remain terrifying to actually

encounter in the real world. Several links between the story and the real world substantiate this

claim. For example, the boats of the real world haunt Giuliana, while the girl on the beach

actively pursues the sail boat. Similarly, the industrial sounds and the inability to communicate

(e.g. with the foreign worker at the end of the film) are paralleled with the longing for a universe

without sound in the realm of the story.

In Il Deserto Rosso the contrasting cinematographic modes – of the real world and the

mise en abyme – are telling of the cinematic potential to portray the aesthetic of absurd freedom.

The cinematographic mode of the mise en abyme is primarily characterised by a freedom of

action and experience. This freedom is communicated aesthetically by a clarity of cinematic

vision. That is, firstly the camera clearly reveals the space of the beach and the girl’s place in this

36
space. This is achieved by switching between (medium) long shots and medium (close) shots of

both the girl’s own point-of-view and of the girl on the beach. As a result, the dynamic distance

between the camera and the depicted subject is enlarged and the subject is shown to have a great

freedom of action and experience. The framing or the camera movement itself does not constrict

the subject’s freedom to actively explore the world. This is directly opposed by the

cinematographic mode of the film’s real world, namely, the mode of despair. Throughout the film

Giuliana is constricted in her freedom by the camera’s usage of mainly medium close-ups.

Through the camera’s closeness to the character Giuliana is not allowed to escape the confines of

a world that terrifies her. Whereas the world in the mise en abyme was depicted through vivid,

organic colours, the world that Giuliana lives in is marked by obscurity and alien objects. The

sharp lines of architecture and the synthetic shapes of an industrial society effectively fragment

the frame in which Giuliana exists, further making her a prisoner of her own incapability to make

sense of the world. Through the fragmentation of framing and the subsequent obstruction of

movement a freedom to act and to experience the world in its entirety is made impossible.

Resultingly, the cinematographic mode is one of despair, for Giuliana is not opened up to the

world, to ‘use up all that is given’.

3.2.3 Passion

The third consequence is passion. For Camus the only way to live, is passionately and lucid,

conscious in every lived moment. As hope is rejected and man continues his search for meaning

within the limits of reason, not the best living, but the most living is what counts (Camus, 2009:

p. 58). Death prompts the absurd man to be constantly conscious of his own experiences (Camus,

2009: p. 61). Man itself does not choose between one or the other experience, as one being more

qualitative than the other. Instead, a maximum of living is achieved only through the largest

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quantity of experiences possible (Camus, 2009: p. 60-2). Passionate, lucid living in this sense

does not depend on man's will to live, but on the foreshadowing of death, ever present in the

absurdity of existence (Camus, 2009: p. 61).

Concluding from the previous analysis, Il Deserto Rosso seems to oscillate between the

aesthetic mode of lucidity and obscurity of the world. The film presents a longing for a

passionate, lucid experience of the world and the inability to do so, due to an obscure world. The

third consequence of passion is thus not fulfilled in the modern world of Il Deserto Rosso. In

other words, Giuliana fails to experience the present in its pure ephemeral form, as she is

preoccupied with the crushing faith of death. As a result, Giuliana is distanced from the world, as

it passes her by, effectively charging directly toward death. This obscurity of Giulana’s

experience is clearly visualised in the scene wherein Giuliana and her friends are standing on the

docks. When Giuliana follows Carrado to the end of the docks, she gets seperated from the four

remaining friends. As she returns to the group of friends, they are slowly enshrouded in an haze

of thick mist. From a medium close-up of Giuliana’s face the film switches to a point-of-view

shot of Giuliana. In this shot a long shot reveals the four individuals as they slowly become lost

in obscurity. Since the landscapes in Il Deserto Rosso come to reflect the inner reality of

Giuliana, her experience of the world itself thus becomes obscure. The disconnect between

subject and object (as it has been previously described) exists in this inability to experience the

world in a lucid, passionate manner. One could say that Giuliana continues to search for a

definitive, qualitative meaning of the world, while the Absurd will only supply a diversity or a

quantity of experience.

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3.3 Antonioni’s films as absurd awareness

Now that the dynamics of the logical consequences of the Absurd – revolt, freedom and passion –

have been delineated in the films of Antonioni, the question of the work of Antonioni as truly

absurd creations can be answered.

For Camus the work of art is to be understood as “a sort of monotonous and passionate

repetition of the themes already orchestrated by the world” (Camus, 2009: p. 92). Art is the

recreation and the reconfrontation of man with the absurdist tensions of the world. For Camus,

fictional creation is thus not distinct from everyday experience, but a certain configuration of it.

In other words, “creation is the great mime” (Camus, 2009: p. 91). Camus argues that the work of

art is the place where absurd reasoning stops and absurd, ephemeral passion starts (Camus, 2009:

p. 92). For Camus, the very act of creation is the result of indifference and discovery; creation is

the “absurd joy par excellence” (Camus, 2009: p. 90). Camus is concerned here with the act or

experience of creation itself as a lucid act. Like the creation of an ephemeral experience on stage

of the actor, the artist diversifies the myriad of experiences of the world quantitatively. While

there are many creations which are not rooted in an absurd awareness and which concern

themselves with ‘explaining and solving’ the world through their works, this does not apply to

the absurd artist’s rules of thought (Camus, 2009: p. 91). Rather, for the absurd man it is a case of

creation as the constantly conscious description of the world – description being the last ambition

of absurd thought (Camus, 2009: p. 91). The truly absurd work of art is thus characterised by its

extension of the endeavours of the absurd man in an absurd world. Consequently, absurd art does

not offer an explanation of the absurd, for this would entail the fictional creation of a truth about

reality. Instead, while absurd art is a work of intelligence, “its rational achievement consists in

nothing other than the acknowledgement of its own nullification in fathoming reality” (Sefler,

1974: p. 416). The limits which the Absurd thus poses onto man, are mirrored in the absurd work

39
of art. As a result, for Camus, the status of the truly absurd work of art is that of miming the three

aforementioned consequences of the absurd reasoning – i.e. miming those passionate flames of

human revolt through describing them, and nothing more. The aesthetics of the absurd thus

consist of the spirit of revolt against it; the search for personal meaning regardless; a limited life

devoid of hope, lived in freedom of action and experience; and the most, lucid living possible

(Camus, 2009: p. 113). On the basis of cinema’s utilisation of these aesthetics, cinema has the

potential to supply the aesthetic lucidity which the Absurd demands.

When we now turn back to the work of Antonioni, it becomes clear through the previous analysis

of his films that his work are truly absurd works of art to different extents. If the analysed films

of Antonioni are put in their chronological order, the different categories of absurdity follow the

development of Antonioni as a creative artist 7. Starting at the clearly depicted suicide of Aldo in

Il Grido and ending at the mystery surrounding David’s death in Professione: Reporter,

Antonioni seems to mime or describe the absurdity of existence in an increasingly ephemeral

way. Whereas Aldo’s suicide can be explained as the expression of the definitive end of a path of

suffering and of desperation, caused by the divorce of him and his wife, David’s death is

shrouded in obscurity and ambiguity. That is, Professione: Reporter seems to consciously limit

itself to its own inability to rationalise the events of the world – an inability already aimed at by a

lucidity of its aesthetics. As an alternative, the film offers a mere description of the fact of

David’s passing. The film thus seems to take the philosophical stance or reasoning, drawn from

the rules of the Absurd itself. Blow-Up is another example of a film that makes this absurd

7
The point here is not to disregard the role of the other people involved in the making of Antonioni’s films. It is
merely to be said that “a man’s sole creation is strengthened in its successive and multiple aspects: his works"
(Camus, 2009: p. 111). In this sense, Antonioni’s work is in essence in a state of becoming, moving towards a
lucidity from Il Grido to Professione:Reporter, regardless of whether Antonioni himself is the true sole creator.

40
reasoning its own at the end of the film. While the character of Thomas maintains the hope or

longing for the eternal throughout the film, the ending is what eventually solidifies the absurdity

of the film’s being as a lucid whole. Blow-Up, in other words, provides the spectator with the

description of the absurd human condition, as it discontinues or breaks off the search for absolute

meaning in the world. The endings of the films of Antonioni thus reveal their (increasingly) true

absurd stance towards the world. It is notable that a freedom of action and experience is achieved

in an increased amount, standing in direct correlation to the chronological progression of

Antonioni’s work. That is, the early films of Antonioni, such as Il Deserto Rosso and L’Eclisse

depict a greater sense of despair than the later films, such as Blow-Up and Professione: Reporter.

However, while it is true that Il Deserto Rosso depicts the adventure of the despairing

Giuliana, ultimately failing to do away with the disconnect between herself and the world, the

ending of the film removes the film’s being from this despairing mode. As Giuliana and her son

Valerio end up in front of the factory, in a setting similar to where they started at the beginning of

the film, Il Deserto Rosso points towards a future devoid of hope and absolute meaning – limiting

itself to mere description of the absurd mode of being in the world. For when Giuliana and her

son continue their senseless journey, nothing has changed – all attempts of explanation have

turned out to be futile. Like the birds Giuliana tells of, one has to simply learn not to fly too close

to the poisonous yellow smoke of the irrational Absurd, which ultimately only leads to despair

due to the failure of the effort; trying to attribute any further meaning to reality is senseless.

While the possibility to resign oneself in the face of the Absurd is explored, this is not shown to

be a viable option. As the story of the girl on the beach portrays, one has to accept the Absurd in

order to be happy or the Absurd will turn you to despair.

The end of Antonioni’s L’eclisse (1962) also point towards an awareness of the absurdity

of existence and the necessity for a life without appeal to absolutes. The rendez-vous between

41
Piero and Vittoria does not take place. Instead, the camera merely descriptively lingers on the

world in a series of tensionally edited of shots; a woman and her baby stroll down the street,

water flows out of a barrel, night falls, a streetlight flickers on, a bus arrives, people get off, Piero

and Vittoria are nowhere to be found, the streets are empty and all that is left is a luminous orb

enveloping the entire world. Any explanation about the meaning of these events remains non-

existent. Only the quantity of lucid experience, an absurd awareness of the world remains. As

was the case with Il Deserto Rosso, Professione: Reporter and Blow-Up the film offers no

conclusion but the continued existence and (forced) awareness of the Absurd, through its

(primarily visual) description. In other words, the world remains unreasonably silent in the work

of Antonioni’s films.

In the first two chapters it was argued that the films of Antonioni set up the depicted individuals

to experience the Absurd through their process of becoming-strange in an indeterminate reality.

This individual experience of the Absurd now turns out to be the basis for the absurd nature of

Antonioni’s films. While not every character is the truly absurd man, the films of Antonioni are

reflections upon the ways one can deal with the Absurd itself. Instead of being mere explanations

of the world, the films mimic reality, in so far that they are repetitions of the absurd tendencies of

existence. In the words of Camus, “the absurd work illustrates thought’s renouncing of its

prestige and its resignation to being no more than the intelligence that works up appearances and

covers with images what has no reason” (Camus, 2009: p. 95). It is exactly this lack of reason

that the films of Antonioni point towards in the depiction of the Absurd; Antonioni’s films are the

absurd awareness as description of the disharmony between man’s unity and the inhuman world.

On the basis of this insight, then, it can be concluded that Antonioni’s films are true absurd works

of art.

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The absurd viewing experience of essential incoherence communicated to the viewer, as it

has been discussed in chapter 2, is thus reinforced by the conclusive, absurd nature of the works

of art themselves. To be more precise, the lack of unity of meaning in the world which the absurd

viewing experience entails – on the level of the described cinematic relation between subsequent

images – is also established through the spirit of revolt ultimately present within the contrasting

lucid and despairing aesthetics of the image.

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4 Film, philosophy and the Absurd

The aesthetics of Antonioni’s films have been proven to be absurd aesthetics in their reflection

upon human nature in an inhuman universe. However, the question remains in what way the

absurd aesthetics of Antonioni’s films relate themselves to the contemporary discussion of film

and philosophy. How should film’s being as a doing philosophy be theorised in light of its

(potential for an) absurd aesthetics?

Camus has said about the work of art that it does not offer an escape from the intellectual ailment

(of absurd discovery), but “for the first time it makes the mind get outside itself and places it in

opposition to others, not for it to get lost but to show it clearly the blind path that all have entered

upon” (Camus, 2009: p. 92). In other words, in art the mind is mirrored and through it the

possibility emerges to open up the world to the absurdity of existence. While Camus mainly

concerns himself with literary creation and its difficulties to remain true to acknowledging one’s

own limits of thought – i.e. the need for explanation remains greatest in literary works – I argue

that cinema has an immense potential to confine itself to description of human experience. As it

has been described in the previous chapter, cinema has the capacity to move beyond the human

structures of thought, and to consequently become aware of the absurd nature of existence. The

moving image effectively stays close to the Absurd in its potential to have the concrete signify

nothing more than itself (Camus, 2009: p. 94). An exploration of the key notion of art as the great

mime of the mind will offer the insight into the nature of this potential. How is the absurd mind

mirrored in the ‘mind’ of the film? And by what dynamics can this ‘mind’ open up the viewing

experience to the Absurd?

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Daniel Frampton posits the notion of filmosophy as the description of the being of film. Through

this concept Frampton critiques the phenomenology of film’s idea of film as a subject, that can

show the viewer human thought itself, through the (mimicking) expression of its perceptual

system. Rather, film is a form of philosophy, namely filmosophy. Film does not show us human

thought, it shows us ‘film-thinking’; film is not a human mind, it is a ‘filmind’; “filmind is the

film-world, though from a transsubjective no-place” (Frampton, 2006: p. 47). Frampton thus

abandons the idea of film as a subject, in order to replace it with film as filmosophy, existing in

its own right. The resulting theory of film-being does away with the need for the distinction

between film and philosophy. Film itself is capable of thought and of expressing its own

philosophical stance. This conception of film is in accordance with Camus’ idea of art as the

great mime. Filmosophy reinstates the disconnect between the film’s viewing subject and the

object of the filmind as the film-world, allowing for the Absurd to surface in the unique film-

world. The absurd aesthetics of revolt, freedom and passion become the possible expression of a

specific filmind. As Camus clarified in The Rebel one should not mistake the aforementioned

mirroring of one’s mind in the form of the work of art as the duplication of the mind outside of

art. Camus states that “art is the activity that exalts and denies simultaneously” (Sefler, 1974: p.

416). While the truly absurd work of art is the mind outside itself as the description of “man’s

absurd relation to the world and the preservation thereof”, this description is a specific,

distinctive description of the world (Sefler, 1974: p. 416). Thus, art does not deny the world in so

far that it fully renounces it. Rather, the work of art imposes a loose cohesion on the content of

the work derived from reality – a specific cohesion which is itself not found in life. The work of

art structures life, but it does not deny it. “Life is without structure, without design” (Sefler, 1974:

p. 416). It is the aesthetic style of the artist which structures the work as the descriptive derivative

of life. Thus, the filmind as Frampton proposes it is not distinct from Camus’ conception of the

45
absurd work of art. The filmind is different from human thought, in the same way that the mind

mirrored in art and ventured outside of itself takes on a distinctive, aesthetic (cinematic)

structure. It is this structure in which the denial of an essentially unstructured reality lies,

necessary to exalt reality and to ultimately expose the absurdity of existence. In a similar way, the

film-world of film’s being presents a world unlike that of reality, but nevertheless capable of

exalting its absurd truths.

Through this conception of film’s being as filmosophy the possibility for film’s absurdist

philosophical expression remains intact. As it has been shown in the previous chapters, film does

philosophy not through the illustration of a certain philosophical theory (Wartenberg, 2007: p.

76). Rather, the elements constituting the Absurd are supplied by the filmic works of art as

filminds themselves. One example is the depicted search of meaning by Thomas in Blow-Up.

While Camus’ philosophy of the Absurd helps our understanding of Blow-Up as working towards

an awareness of the absurdity of existence, the film itself is an unique, distinct configuration of

the elements of the Absurd, leading to the Absurd. The films of Antonioni as philosophy, then,

give rise to certain philosophical inquiry, but they can and do not become mere illustrations of it,

as this would imply the existence of the work of art as pure, unadultered absurd thought itself –

which has been proven to not be the case.

Rather, filmosophy points towards film as an act of philosophizing that transforms

philosophy itself. For it is the filmind that can depict a unique mode of thought, by which,

through its dynamics, the film can reveal the illusory nature of one or more ways of thinking. In

the words of Robert Sinnerbrink, “works of cinematic art do not generally make abstract

universal claims in theoretical or argumentative terms. Rather, they aesthetically (that is to say,

cinematically) disclose novel aspects of experience, question given elements of our practices or

46
normative frameworks, challenge established ways of seeing, and open up new paths for

thinking” (Sinnerbrink, 2011a: p. 141). This approach to cinema as a philosophical partner (to

philosophy itself) is what Sinnerbrink calls romanticist film-philosophy. That is, in contrast to a

rationalist account of a philosophy of film, the romanticist approach argues for the mutual

rejuvenation of art and philosophy. Philosophy in this sense is not “about framing arguments,

giving reasons, developing theories that seek to account for or explain various phenomena, or

else critically analysing the ways in which such theories are framed, applied, or defended”

(Sinnerbrink, 2011b: p. 39). Instead of being a representational kind of writing, philosophy is

performative, by which the style of philosophy comes to determine the thought of philosophy.

From this perspective, then, the filmic language itself is capable of reflecting upon and adding to

a certain way of doing philosophy. A romanticist film-philosophy thus argues for the

combination of aesthetic and poetic means of expression “to supplement, and transfigure,

rationalistic theoretical discourse” (Sinnerbrink, 2011b: p. 39).

Resultingly, in accordance with Camus’ theory of art, from this perspective cinema

ultimately adds to the ‘the intellectual drama of man’ (Camus, 2009: p. 95). Through specific

aesthetics – such as the described cinematography of freedom versus cinematography of despair,

and lucid versus obscure aesthetics for Antonioni – cinema can re-create the absurdity of the

world in the most ephemeral way. Namely, the described aesthetics express the experience of the

Absurd and reflect a way of thinking about the Absurd. It is the lucidity of film’s challenging

aesthetics of the filmind, which itself is a potential act of passionate defiance against the Absurd.

The cinematic creation as doing philosophy puts forth a distinct cinematic meaning, effectively

portraying the overcoming of the inhuman demands of the Absurd. While literary creation

provides a similar possibility for such a renewal or reconfiguration of thought, cinematic creation

distinguishes itself by the way it presents itself as philosophy through its visual aesthetics.

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As Stanley Cavell has argued – a romanticist film-philosopher himself, the ontological status of

the moving image is the expression of skepticism as the realization “of human distance from the

world, or some withdrawal of the world, which philosophy interprets as a limitation in our

capacity for knowing the world” (Cavell, 1985; p. 116-117). Film is the moving image of

skepticism in the sense that it presents the viewer with its own distanced perceptual condition,

while the “almost perfect realization of skeptical perception is a way, paradoxically, of

reconnecting us to the world and asserting its causal presence” (Rodowick; p. 3). Cinema thus

expresses both the problem of skepticism through the expression of the dynamics of different

modes of thought, and through acknowledging the possibility to once again become present to

ourselves, to our own relating to and way of relating to the world (Rodowick; p. 3) The moving

image thus has the capacity to present the dynamics of a filmind and to subsequently enhance the

viewer’s skeptical, philosophical stance to the world. Film as the act of philosophy, then, both

denies and exalts reality (in Camus’ sense) by positing certain dynamics of thought, as a result of

which the Absurd can surface within film. Through engendering a realization of the human

distance from the world, film has the potential to make lucid our own limitations in knowing the

world. In this sense film is filmosophy, for it can present us with a counterexample to our own

philosophical stance in the world, by which the world can be thought through in a new cinematic

mode of thought. As a result, the filmind has to be thought of as a dynamical film-thinking,

which through the presentation of certain ways of being in the world, (as the philosophical

stance) in contrast with or in opposition to other ways of being in the world, can make the viewer

skeptical of the limits of a certain (personal) philosophical stance.

The moving image as the expression of skepticism thus opens up the way to a new

relation between film and philosophy – and ultimately, absurdist philosophy – as film-

philosophy. As Camus has argued, true absurd art refudiates thought itself. In other words, the

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work of art presents the viewer with a filmind, which puts forth a process of refudiation, in its

expression of a possible skeptic stance towards our relation to the world. It is exactly this

presentation of the refudiation of thought, which entails the absurd reasoning. When it is taken to

its logical conclusion, this absurd reasoning of film reveals the bare reality of the Absurd to the

viewer; this bare reality is the last skeptic stance which thought is allowed to entertain. The

process of skepticism, or the refudiation of thought, of the moving image becomes clear in

Professione: Reporter. The first mode of thought which the film presents is that of the journalist,

trying to objectively search for meaning in the world. The film however proves to be skeptical

towards this pursuit, as it is being acted out by David Locke. His search for a war to be covered

fails early on in the movie and David Locke consciously becomes-strange as he takes on the

identity of arms dealer David Robertson. This instance of identity theft is the basis for a skeptical

mode of cinematic thought as the freedom of action and experience. David’s pursuit as the absurd

actor effectively lays bare the impossibility of man’s drive for unity to be fulfilled. A skepticism

is thus engendered towards David’s life as a journalist and the sense of hope which accompanies

it. As a result, the absurd nature of the world is acknowledged and the need for hope, and for the

eternal is done away with. David fully embraces his life as the absurd actor and the filmind

exposes the distance between human thought and the world. The death of David thus becomes the

conclusion to the internal (aesthetic) dynamics of the filmind, in the sense that, as it has been

argued, the life of the actor as a skeptical stance towards the meaningful world has been

exhausted. What is left of thought, in accordance with Camus’ conception of truly absurd art,

then, is the mere description of the absurd tendencies of the world. Through the refudiation of the

possibility of thought in the face of an irrational world film has the capacity to uniquely expose

the absurdity of existence and to ultimately be an act of absurd film-philosophy in itself.

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Conclusion

The aim of this thesis has been to relate Albert Camus’ philosophy of the Absurd to the films of

Michelangelo Antonioni, in order to gain a better understanding of how the Absurd manifests

itself in the cinematic arts and of how film relates itself to philosophy.

As a result, the films of Antonioni have been given a new valence through their analysis

as absurd works of art. The essential disharmony between man and the world can be accepted and

reflected upon by Antonioni’s films. It has been shown through the works of Antonioni that films

in general harbour the potential to present the dynamics of different modes of thought in a

philosophical and skeptical way. This potential has opened up the conception of certain films as

absurd films: cinema has the potential to imagine Sisyphus happy.

The importance of the endings of films has been proven to be essential to this potential to

take cinema to its absurd conclusion. The lucidity of experience which the absurd work of art

requires is hinted at throughout the films and is ultimately present in Antonioni’s film endings.

By taking the absurd aesthetics of revolt, freedom and passion to their natural conclusions, the

endings solidify the absurd nature of the films, as they are ultimately rooted in the process of

becoming-strange in an indeterminate reality.

Most importantly, through this cinematic potential as the awareness of absurd, lucid

thought film has been shown to be capable of both doing and reflecting upon absurdist

philosophy, by way of doing of film-philosophy. Through its several aesthetic modes Antonioni’s

films and film in general transform the philosophical conception of the experience of the Absurd

itself, by supplying an unique perception of the Absurd.

Further research on the subject of film and philosophy – specifically, absurdism – would

resultingly benefit from an inquiry into the way in which different films (from different genres)

50
provide different conclusions as to the absurdity of existence, ranging from a complete

refudiation of thought to an embrace of the eternal. Arriving at different categories of absurdity

throughout the entire landscape of film would further enrich the conception of the relation

between film and philosophy. Suggestions for films in which the Absurd reveals itself are, among

others, the work of Bela Tarr – the absurdism bordering on nihilism in A Torinói ló (2011)

springs to mind –, Anders Thomas Jensen, and his absurdist comedy De grønne slagtere (2003),

or the work of Hiroshi Teshigahara, such as his Woman in the Dunes (1964). Furthermore, films

like Woman in the Dunes or The Face of Another could begin to extend the project of scrutinizing

the mutually informing relationship between film and philosophy into the entire history of film.

The treatment of the Absurd by cinema throughout its history has the potential to shed a new light

on the dynamics between philosophy and visual culture and the prevalence of a (potentially

novel) absurd mode of thought in (popular) visual culture.

51
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