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Deleuze and

Edited by David Martin-Jones and William Brown

Deleuze and Film

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd i 17/02/2012 16:59

Deleuze Connections
‘It is not the elements or the sets which define the multiplicity. What
defines it is the AND, as something which has its place between the
elements or between the sets. AND, AND, AND – stammering.’
Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues
General Editor
Ian Buchanan
Editorial Advisory Board
Keith Ansell-Pearson Gregg Lambert
Rosi Braidotti Adrian Parr
Claire Colebrook Paul Patton
Tom Conley Patricia Pisters
Titles Available in the Series
Ian Buchanan and Claire Colebrook (eds), Deleuze and Feminist Theory
Ian Buchanan and John Marks (eds), Deleuze and Literature
Mark Bonta and John Protevi (eds), Deleuze and Geophilosophy
Ian Buchanan and Marcel Swiboda (eds), Deleuze and Music
Ian Buchanan and Gregg Lambert (eds), Deleuze and Space
Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sørensen (eds), Deleuze and the Social
Ian Buchanan and Adrian Parr (eds), Deleuze and the Contemporary
Constantin V. Boundas (ed.), Deleuze and Philosophy
Ian Buchanan and Nicholas Thoburn (eds), Deleuze and Politics
Chrysanthi Nigianni and Merl Storr (eds), Deleuze and Queer Theory
Jeffrey A. Bell and Claire Colebrook (eds), Deleuze and History
Laura Cull (ed.), Deleuze and Performance
Mark Poster and David Savat (eds), Deleuze and New Technology
Simone Bignall and Paul Patton (eds), Deleuze and the Postcolonial
Stephen Zepke and Simon O’Sullivan (eds), Deleuze and Contemporary
Laura Guillaume and Joe Hughes (eds), Deleuze and the Body
Daniel W. Smith and Nathan Jun (eds), Deleuze and Ethics
Frida Beckman (ed.), Deleuze and Sex
David Martin-Jones and William Brown (eds), Deleuze and Film
Laurent de Sutter and Kyle McGee (eds), Deleuze and Law

Forthcoming Titles in the Series

Rebecca Coleman and Jessica Ringrose (eds), Deleuze and Research
Inna Semetsky and Diana Masny (eds), Deleuze and Education

Visit the Deleuze Connections website at

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd ii 17/02/2012 16:59

Deleuze and Film

Edited by David Martin-Jones

and William Brown

Edinburgh University Press

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© editorial matter and organisation David Martin-Jones and William Brown, 2012
© in the individual contributions is retained by the authors

Edinburgh University Press Ltd

22 George Square, Edinburgh

Typeset in 10.5/13 Adobe Sabon

by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire,
and printed and bound in Great Britain by
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ISBN 978 0 7486 4121 5 (hardback)

ISBN 978 0 7486 4120 8 (paperback)
ISBN 978 0 7486 4746 0 (webready PDF)
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has been asserted in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Acknowledgements vii

Introduction: Deleuze’s World Tour of Cinema 1

William Brown and David Martin-Jones
1 An Imprint of Godzilla: Deleuze, the Action-Image and
Universal History 18
David Deamer
2 Philosophy, Politics and Homage in Tears of the Black Tiger 37
Damian Sutton
3 Time-Images in Traces of Love: Repackaging South Korea’s
Traumatic National History for Tourism 54
David Martin-Jones
4 The Rebirth of the World: Cinema According to
Baz Luhrmann 71
Richard Rushton
5 ‘There are as many paths to the time-image as there are films
in the world’: Deleuze and The Lizard 88
William Brown
6 In Search of Lost Reality: Waltzing with Bashir 104
Markos Hadjioannou
7 The Schizoanalysis of European Surveillance Films 121
Serazer Pekerman
8 Fictions of the Imagination: Habit, Genre and the Powers of
the False 137
Amy Herzog
9 Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 155
Elena del Río

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vi Deleuze and Film

10 The Daemons of Unplumbed Space: Mixing the Planes in

Hellboy 173
Anna Powell
11 Digitalising Deleuze: The Curious Case of the Digital Human
Assemblage, or What Can a Digital Body Do? 192
David H. Fleming
12 The Surface of the Object: Quasi-Interfaces and Immanent
Virtuality 210
Seung-hoon Jeong

Notes on Contributors 227

Index 231

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We would very much like to thank our friends and contributors for
their hard work, patience and collegiality with the development of this
project. Thanks also to Ian Buchanan for encouraging us to take up the
project with Edinburgh University Press.
Chapter 3 is a developed version of an article that previously appeared
in the journal Asian Cinema: David Martin-Jones, ‘Traces of Time in
Traces of Love (2006): South Korean National History and the Time-
image’, Asian Cinema, 18 (2) (2007): pp. 252–70. It is reprinted here
in a modified form with the kind permission of Professor John A. Lent,
editor of Asian Cinema and Chair of the Asian Cinema Studies Society.
Our thanks to John A. Lent and ACSS for kindly granting permission for
this piece to be reprinted in developed form.

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Introduction: Deleuze’s World Tour of

William Brown and David Martin-Jones

In Deleuze and Film, Gilles Deleuze’s ideas, particularly though not

uniquely those outlined in his Cinema books, are taken on a world
tour during which they encounter cinemas from around the globe. To
paraphrase the title of William Brown’s contribution, the purpose of
this tour is to demonstrate that there are as many roads into Deleuze’s
film-philosophy as there are films in the world. This collection, then,
creates Deleuze and Guattarian assemblages through encounters with
films from various countries, and spanning a range of genres. They
include: a Japanese monster movie; a Thai western; a South Korean
disaster-cum-road movie; Baz Luhrmann’s Australian and American
auteur pictures; a popular Iranian comedy; an Israeli animated docu-
mentary; transnational European art films; European and American
melodramas; American film noir; and two chapters on digitised pro-
ductions from contemporary Hollywood. The notion of a world tour,
albeit a whistle-stop one, is not intended to suggest a tourist’s interac-
tion with different cinemas (the complexities of such encounters being
something we discuss below), nor that this collection is intended as a
totalising cinematic map of the world. Rather, the tour carries the reader
to a (modest) range of different portals, doorways, or pathways into
Deleuze’s film-philosophy.
The globally inclusive approach of Deleuze and Film continues the
process of opening up new frontiers in the interdisciplinary research area
of Deleuze Studies, which is a feature of the Deleuze Connections series.
Thus the focus of this particular collection on cinema adds a visual
dimension to existing work in the series on such related topics as music,
space, literature, politics, history and the contemporary world.
The new transnational, film-philosophical assemblages constructed
herein indicate the current state of an ongoing interrogation of the find-
ings of Deleuze’s exciting, stimulating, brilliant, but at times Eurocentric

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2 Deleuze and Film

and ahistorical conclusions regarding cinema. Accordingly, Deleuze

and Film not only explores the myriad ways in which films can be said
to ‘think’ (about such topics as history, national identity, geopolitics,
ethics, gender, genre, affect, religion, surveillance culture, digital aes-
thetics, the body, and our philosophical interface with the image), it
also explores the international diversity of forms taken by this process
of ‘thinking’ through cinema. Critically engaging with Deleuze in this
globally oriented manner, Deleuze and Film demonstrates the continued
relevance of Deleuze for our understanding of cinema worldwide.

From Collected Editions to Edited Collections

It is now thirty years since Deleuze’s Cinema books were published in
France. Scholarly work on Deleuze and film is around two-thirds that
age. Dudley Andrew (2008) has outlined the emergence of three gen-
erations of scholars in Anglo-American academia who have worked
on Deleuze and cinema during this period. To provide our own history
of English-language work on Deleuze and film, we might principally
mention Steven Shaviro, who pioneered the appliance of Deleuzian ideas
to cinema with The Cinematic Body (1993), and D.N. Rodowick, whose
Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine (1997) marked the first major philosophi-
cal investigation into Deleuze’s thoughts on film. There has followed an
impressive bibliography of Deleuzian film scholarship, an extensive if not
exhaustive list of which might include work by Laura U. Marks (2000),
Barbara M. Kennedy (2000), Alison Butler (2002), Patricia Pisters
(2003), Ronald Bogue (2003), Anna Powell (2005; 2007), David Martin-
Jones (2006; 2011), Martine Beugnet (2007), Garrett Stewart (2007),
Elena del Río (2008), John Mullarkey (2008), Patricia MacCormack
(2008), Timothy Murray (2008), Paola Marrati (2008), Amy Herzog
(2009), Damian Sutton (with Martin-Jones 2008; 2009), Gregg Redner
(2011), Felicity Colman (2011) and Richard Rushton (2012). This is in
addition to three other edited collections by Gregory Flaxman (2000),
Patricia MacCormack and Ian Buchanan (2008), and D.N. Rodowick
(2010); work on film that uses Deleuze without it being the primary
focus; and the wealth of journal articles on Deleuze and cinema, includ-
ing many published, since 2007, in Deleuze Studies.
The above list may seem excessive, but we deliberately foreground it
here for the very reason that it is so rarely seen in print. By emphasis-
ing the substantial and still growing body of work on Deleuze and film,
we want not only to demonstrate the ongoing influence of Deleuze’s
work, but also to point out that Deleuzian film studies have extended

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Introduction 3

far beyond Deleuze’s initial ideas, a process that the chapters collected
herein continue to develop.
Deleuze and Film provides further consolidation of this field, in
particular by introducing works from a fresh-faced and vigorous
‘fourth generation’ – if we follow Andrew’s terminology – represented
here by William Brown, David Deamer, David H. Fleming, Markos
Hadjioannou, Seung-hoon Jeong and Serazer Pekerman. Being an
assemblage of authors from different, but recent, ‘generations’, each of
whom inevitably brings their own temporality to Deleuze’s work, the
essays in Deleuze and Film therefore manifest the various ways in which
the field continues to grow. Many of the routes into Deleuze’s film-
philosophy on offer here develop upon the existing lines of flight that
individual authors are pursuing in their independent research. However,
as befits the newer generations, Deleuze and Film also offers novel inter-
pretations of and approaches to Deleuze.
The diversity of films explored, in combination with the novelty of the
approaches offered, means that Deleuze and Film is noticeably different
from the three existing edited collections on Deleuze and cinema. Most
apparent is this collection’s emphasis on films from beyond Europe
and America, the two geographical regions that provide the primary
structuring groupings of both the Cinema books and the three previous
anthologies. This is not to claim that we have comprehensively covered
the entire planet. We are conscious, for instance, that films from Latin
America and Africa do not appear. This is due in large part to the exper-
tise of those currently engaging with Deleuze and cinema, although
work is beginning to emerge on such cinemas (for example, Pisters 2006:
180–91; Martin-Jones 2011: 69–99). It also speaks to the relative lack
of international distribution that the cinemas of these regions receive,
at least in comparison to those from the global north. Nevertheless, an
attempt geographically to expand Deleuze’s film-philosophical connec-
tions has been made.
This distinctive approach is joined by a marked emphasis on popular
cinemas, which stands as a direct challenge to the oft-held belief that
Deleuze’s Cinema books are most directly applicable to European art
cinema. This filmic style was the primary focus for Deleuze’s develop-
ment of the concept of the time-image in Cinema 2, against which the
negative foil of the movement-image is sometimes thought to have been
developed in Cinema 1 (the writing of Cinema 1 necessitating the pre-
existence of the idea for Cinema 2, after all), and in contrast to which
the greater philosophical complexity of the time-image was arguably
made to shine brighter in Cinema 2.

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4 Deleuze and Film

Therefore, in line with the current realities of cinema worldwide, and

as per the original dual emphasis of the Cinema books themselves, the
movement-image (especially the action-image) has as central a presence
in this collection as the time-image. However, as these image categories
are explored in relation to various films from around the world, the very
distinction between them is also reconsidered and somewhat refined,
this being one major advantage of the world tour. In this way Deleuze
and Film adds a further dimension to the assemblages made between
Deleuze’s concepts and ‘philosophical friends’ (Rodowick 2010: xiv) in
Afterimages of Gilles Deleuze’s Film Philosophy, through the construc-
tion of new assemblages with a range of international ‘filmic friends’.

Deleuze Visits Hong Kong

When taking such a deliberately expansive approach to a global range
of cinemas there is an immediate concern raised over the Eurocentrism
of Deleuze’s conclusions, which were developed in relation to what
would now be considered a rather old-fashioned US/European cinematic
canon. Further issues are raised by Deleuze’s reliance upon a similarly
Western heritage of philosophical friends, or conceptual personae
(Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 64), to explore cinemas from ‘Other’ coun-
tries. These are very legitimate concerns, forming part of an ongoing
debate in film studies related to the particular difficulties that arise – for
example, accusations of elitism or cultural imperialism – when studying
world cinemas (Martin-Jones 2011: 1–19).
The theoretical debate over Western interpretations of Chinese
cinema enables us to begin to outline what we consider to be the ben-
efits of the approach taken by Deleuze and Film. A prominent scholar
of Chinese cinema, Rey Chow, observes that Western film critics can
‘produce studies of films from cultures whose languages they do not
know, whereas it is inconceivable for non-Western critics to study
the French, German, Italian, and Anglo-American cinemas without
knowing their respective languages’ (Chow 1995: 27). Bearing this
imbalance of what we might term critical legitimacy in mind, Chow goes
on to apply Western methods of close reading to Chinese-language films.
Chow is not Western, per se, since she identifies herself as being from
colonial Hong Kong. In her own words, however, she is ‘a foreigner,
who, while having been born and raised in the languages and cultures of
modern China, will nonetheless always remain a kind of outsider, a bar-
barian whose interpretations carry within them the risk of illegitimacy
and impropriety’ (Chow 1995: 51). Yet, particularly in light of criticism

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Introduction 5

from Esther C.M. Yau (1987), who rails against readings of Chinese
films that use Western theories, Chow asks:
[W]hy should ‘native’ critics reading with the instruments they have at hand
– even though these instruments are Western – feel guilty about what they
are doing? If these instruments are bloodied with the history of Western
imperialism, it is our task to confront that history rather than pretend that
there is some pristine, as yet uncorrupted, ethnic ‘raw material’ on the other
side of the Western world. Pushed to its extreme, the guilt-ridden logic of
Yau’s rhetoric would have to mean only one thing – that we should not and
cannot read a Chinese text in the West at all. (Chow 1995: 86)

This seems a legitimate question, not least because in a globalised world

in which ideas and texts travel with greater freedom than ever before, it
arguably becomes possible to talk about ways in which ‘transnational’ or
global levels of culture exist, which include not only films themselves, but
also the theoretical frameworks that we might use to talk about films. In
other words, why would a scholar not use transnational methods of film
criticism that can help her to evaluate cinema from her ‘native’ culture?
It does not seem inappropriate, for example, when Stephen Teo invokes
Deleuze to describe the ‘irrationality’ of the cinema of Johnnie To:
[To’s cinema is] an idiosyncratic, irrational cinema: irrational by virtue of
culture and locality (Hong Kong as the intersection of East and West is by
this very fact an irrational culture and place) but also irrational by dint of
a formal structure where the ‘images and sequences are no longer linked
by rational cuts . . . but are relinked on top of irrational cuts,’ as Deleuze
defines the ‘regime of the new image.’ While Deleuze is referring mainly
to the post-war cinema of the West, he might as well be talking of con-
temporary Hong Kong cinema, a cinema of irrationality that is inherently
postmodern. (Teo 2007: 209)

Indeed, Teo is not the only scholar to use Deleuze to look at Hong Kong
films; Ackbar Abbas (1997), Ka-Fai Yau (2001), Janice Tong (2003),
Gina Marchetti (2007), Meaghan Morris (2007) and Martin-Jones
(2006, 2011) have all also used Deleuze in their considerations of Hong
Kong cinema. However, since Hong Kong occupies a very intricately
intertwined position between China and the West, any discussion of
the applicability of Deleuze’s work to its cinema is extremely complex.
How can we untangle the local and global histories that intermingle in
the colonisation and development of the territory as a British Crown
Colony, or indeed in its current status as a global financial powerhouse,
sufficiently to say that an interpretative framework drawn from Deleuze
is an appropriate tool for analysing its cinema?

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6 Deleuze and Film

Yet it is because such an exploration of Hong Kong provides pre-

cisely a Deleuzian ‘limit situation’ (Deleuze 1989: 18), in which it can
seem almost impossible to know how to act, that it is informing for this
discussion. For Deleuze and Félix Guattari, an example seemingly as
innocent as the mutual becoming of the orchid and the wasp is in fact
far from innocent with respect to the relative de- and reterritorialisa-
tions that each party acquires through their interaction (Deleuze and
Guattari 1987: 10). With this in mind, even though any theoretical
assemblage between Deleuze and Hong Kong is more than likely to lead
to some form of unequal exchange – not least because of the spectres of
neo-colonialism, Eurocentrism, ethnography and cultural tourism that
haunt any such move – nevertheless dialogue should still be attempted.
Such an interaction, after all, has the potential mutually to enhance
each side of the assemblage. We might even go so far as to argue that
such an interaction is the only way in which we can begin to become
aware of how we can engage in the ‘unthinking’ aspect of our otherwise
‘unthinking Eurocentrism’, as Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (1994) have
so influentially advocated. More to the point, perhaps, nowadays a great
many films are designed precisely to engage international audiences,
both to enable them to recuperate costs of production, and/or to turn a
Like most films from Hong Kong, the films discussed in this collection
reach out around the globe to make contact with various audiences. In
many cases they are made specifically with a view to seeking out inter-
action with Western audiences, while Western audiences are nowadays
rarely the sole target market for any film industry, including Hollywood.
Admittedly, production possibilities remain unevenly distributed world-
wide. The international distribution network is massively uneven in
terms of the global film industry’s centres and peripheries. Not only do
the transnational conglomerates that own the Hollywood studios play
a part in this network, but so too do the film festival circuit, the inde-
pendent cinema chains, DVD and all other forms of distribution – each
of which constitutes a market. In addition there is an ongoing struggle
intellectually to determine the extent to which filmmakers conform to
the demands of these markets in a way that once again provokes the
return of arguments concerning Eurocentrism, neo-colonialism, auto-
ethnography, the co-opting of oppositional forms of articulation, canon
formations, cultural tourism, and various other complex political posi-
tions in which the identification of agency on the part of the peripheral
filmmaker is tricky at best. Nevertheless, the films have been made, and
will be seen worldwide.

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Introduction 7

In such a context it is inevitable that we will view a film through

the lens of our own experiences (which are culturally and historically
relative), and it is perhaps equally as inevitable that our philosophical
interpretation of cinema will be inflected as a result. What we receive
in exchange for our interpretative efforts, however, are revelations per-
taining to our own ways of thinking, which are fed back to us by the
films with which we engage. It is at this point that the unequal exchange
inherent in such dialogue has the potential to shift our thinking. Whilst
it might be too idealistic or naïve to believe that our learned beliefs in
our respective cultures may be shaken to the core by such exchanges,
there is the possibility, at least, that they will be expanded to incorporate
a new awareness, if not understanding, of something ‘Other’.
What prevents this process from being uniquely a capitalist one of
expansion through cultural colonisation is that it is not simply one-way.
If watching a film broadens one’s centre, the experience that one has with
the film also broadens its ‘centre’. A reading of a film deepens the range
of meanings that that film has. Furthermore, if a film does represent a
worldview that is somehow beyond (and no doubt only imperfectly cap-
tured by) the film itself, then readings of what is represented deepen the
film’s range of meaning, too. In short, the film expands our worldview;
we expand the film’s worldview. Whilst inevitably to some degree an
unequal exchange, this is nevertheless a process of mutual becoming in
which, from Deleuze and Guattari’s position in What is Philosophy?,
‘Dionysus becomes philosopher at the same time that Nietzsche becomes
Dionysus’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 65).
Ultimately it is in this spirit of dialogue and friendship that the col-
lection’s many chapters on diverse cinemas beyond Europe and the USA
should be read. As the contributions that follow demonstrate, each film
has myriad possible interpretations many of which can productively and
affirmatively include Deleuze. It is precisely because all films can affect
us in new and unique ways that they can inspire in us new modes of
thought. Put another way, there are as many pathways into Deleuze’s
film-philosophy as there are films in the world.

Deleuze and Film as Singular Multiplicity

To make such a claim for the rhizomatic or labyrinthine nature of
Deleuze’s film-philosophy is to acknowledge that there are now many
interpretations of, and opinions about, the Cinema books. Amongst
scholars who work with Deleuze in relation to film, in whichever disci-
pline they may be based, there are various readings, or perhaps, versions,

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8 Deleuze and Film

of the Cinema books. As the diverse range of approaches taken by the

authors listed above illustrates, there are different Cinema books for
those who apply and develop his ideas and for those who seek to chal-
lenge them; different Cinema books for those whose concerns are more
broadly philosophical and for those who are drawn to the aesthetic, or
the political; different Cinema books for the art film, for genre movies,
and for modern political or minor cinemas; different Cinema books for
those interested in questions surrounding body/mind distinctions and
for those more stimulated by affect; different Cinema books for those
who like the rigour of taxonomies and for those who prefer explorations
of time and movement.
Indeed, it is noticeable that many of the authors collected herein
also take inspiration from Deleuze’s two-volume Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, co-written with Guattari (1984; 1987). For del Río,
Powell, Sutton and Pekerman, concepts as diverse as the body without
organs, the rhizome, non-Oedipal desire, nomadism, schizoanalysis
and multi-plane existence enable provocative assemblages with the
Cinema books. In each case there is a prominent emphasis on Deleuze
and Guattarian deterritorialisation, which can take on a gendered (del
Río), historical (Sutton), geopolitical (Pekerman) or aesthetic (Powell)
role depending on the films explored. Thus, just as there are multiple
entrances to the Cinema books, so too are there numerous ways into the
labyrinth of Deleuze’s oeuvre more generally, at a rhizomatic intersec-
tion with which the Cinema books can here be seen to sit.
In Deleuze and Film, the Cinema books continue to proliferate with
the range of films explored. The volume begins its world tour with three
pieces that focus on history, exploring how Deleuze’s image categories
function to construct national histories in Japan, Thailand and South
Korea respectively. As all three demonstrate, although discussion of the
cinematic construction of history is a submerged element of the Cinema
books, it is in fact integral to our understanding of the function of the
action-image (Deamer and Sutton) and the time-image (Martin-Jones).
The tour commences in Japan with David Deamer’s exploration of
Gojira/Godzilla (Ishirô Honda, Japan, 1954). For Deleuze the decades
immediately following the Second World War were those in which the
European new waves explored the any-spaces-whatever (Deleuze 1989:
xi) of the emergent time-image, commencing with the cities in ruins so
famously explored by the Italian neorealists. In this historical moment
Japanese filmmakers found themselves subject to the censorship and
strictures of the US occupation. Akira Kurosawa, for example, omitted
an originally planned scene of a thriving black market at the start of

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Introduction 9

the now world famous Rashômon/Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, Japan,

1950) (Yoshimoto 2000: 189), presumably due to fears that this his-
torical allegory probing the reasons for Japan’s defeat would otherwise
be too easily spotted and censored as a result (Davidson 1969). The
mainstreaming of such direct depictions of the post-war Japan in ruins
had to wait until the 1960s and 1970s in yakuza movies like Jingi naki
tatakai/Battles Without Honour and Humanity (Kinji Fukasaku, Japan,
1973). In Godzilla, however, we do encounter Japanese cities in ruins,
the devastation of the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki being
replayed by the stomping feet of a giant prehistoric reptile. As Deamer’s
chapter intricately teases out, a Deleuzian understanding of the way in
which such action-images function demonstrates just how effective they
are at negotiating history through popular devices like the monster.
Deamer’s three readings of the film, following the three versions of
history that Deleuze identifies in action-image cinema, culminate in a
surprising and original interpretation of Godzilla as an ethical image
that enables a reconsideration of the morality of the Japanese military,
imperial past.
Damian Sutton continues this examination of the ethical nature of the
action-image, again in relation to a national past, in this instance that
of Thailand. Recent Thai history is, like Japan’s, marked by a conver-
gence of modernity and military rule. Like Deamer, Sutton also offers
three readings of one specific popular genre film, Wisit Sasanatieng’s
western Fa Thalai Jone/Tears of the Black Tiger (Thailand, 2000).
Assembling the Cinema books with the two volumes of Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, utilising in particular the concept of the body without
organs (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 10), Sutton proposes three ways of
considering how Thai history is negotiated in the very versatile, at times
aesthetically sophisticated, action-image. That is, history can be negoti-
ated in such a way that the result is one or a combination of civilisation,
totalitarianism or anarchy.
Sutton’s chapter includes an examination of the way such Asian films
are received by Western critics that again points to the need to situate
world cinemas historically and contextually when exploring them
through Deleuze’s work. This is a point taken up by David Martin-Jones
in his analysis of the South Korean disaster-cum-road movie, Gaeulro/
Traces of Love (Dae-seung Kim, South Korea, 2006). Martin-Jones
details how the time-image functions in this film to engage with national
history, and to emphasise the curative possibilities of heritage tourism
(both psychologically and economically), in the wake of the Asian eco-
nomic crisis of 1997. Using this specific example, Martin-Jones argues

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10 Deleuze and Film

for a reconsideration of the Eurocentric nature of Deleuze’s conclusions

regarding the ramifications of the shift from movement-image to time-
image that he observed in American and European cinemas before and
after the Second World War.
Deleuze and Film then heads south to Australia, as Richard Rushton
looks at the feature films of Baz Luhrmann through the Deleuzian lens.
A central contribution to the collection, Rushton notes early on in his
chapter that ‘there is more than one Deleuze in the Cinema books’,
building around this position a considered argument as to why the
widely held view that Deleuze thought the time-image aesthetically
superior to the movement-image does not necessarily do justice to
Deleuze’s love of movies more generally, including movement-images.
Here, then, is further evidence of the proliferation of Cinema books that
turns on the much-debated question of whether the distinction between
movement-image and time-image across the two volumes demonstrates
a linear history, an epistemic break, a qualitative judgement or an ethical
Initially considering how Deleuze’s admiration of Vincente Minnelli
ensures that his films span both volumes of Deleuze’s Cinema project,
Rushton joins Martin-Jones in troubling the split between movement-
image and time-image cinema. For Rushton, neither type of image is
the exclusive patrimony of any one type or period of cinema – as both
Minnelli and Luhrmann’s films testify. Even though Luhrmann’s films
might typically be thought of as movement-images, they are also capable
of opening up into what Rushton defines, after Deleuze, as ‘other worlds’.
That is, his films feature characters who are trying to create the condi-
tions in which another world can be brought into existence – another
world that is of their own creation as opposed to having been imposed
upon them. Rather than this simply being an excuse for solipsism,
though, these other worlds are crucially brought about, or completed,
by another. Since the other worlds of Baz Luhrmann are completed not
just by the main protagonists but by them having affirmative experiences
with others, his films involve the potential not just to change the world,
but, ethically speaking, also to create an inclusive, but not necessarily
homogenising, collectivity rather than a world based on exclusion and
The next two essays in the collection bring us to Western Asia, or the
Middle East, the diverse cinematic nature of which is reflected in the
popular Iranian comedy and the animated Israeli documentary that they
discuss. William Brown’s essay follows on from Rushton’s in arguing
that mainstream cinema is capable of bringing about change in the

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Introduction 11

Iranian context. Looking at Kamal Tabrizi’s Marmoulak/The Lizard

(Iran, 2004), Brown argues that this popular comedy, which is in part a
critique of the Iranian clergy, serves what Deleuze would term a ‘minori-
tarian’ function both in terms of its content and in terms of its recep-
tion. That is, the film sees a thief disguised as a mullah bring together a
community otherwise divided along class and gender lines. Furthermore,
The Lizard’s popularity in Iran suggests that the film’s vision of Islam
as a tolerant and progressive religion resonated with spectators, even if
it did not with the authorities, who banned the film one month after its
release. As such, this film, like Luhrmann’s oeuvre for Rushton, also has
an ethical dimension in suggesting that there is in Iran the potential for
an inclusive, tolerant and diverse society. Brown, however, differs from
Rushton by suggesting that not only might Deleuze have drawn too
sharp a distinction between the movement-image and the time-image,
but also that the potential for original thought can be found in any film.
As such, and in a manner that echoes one of the main refrains of The
Lizard, Brown concludes that there are as many paths to the time-image
as there are films in the world.
Markos Hadjioannou’s essay on Wals im Bashir/Waltz with Bashir
(Ari Folman, Israel/France/Germany/USA/Finland/Switzerland/Belgium/
Australia, 2008), meanwhile, synthesises and takes in different direc-
tions aspects of Rushton and Brown’s essays. Most noticeably, like
Brown, Hadjioannou invokes Deleuze’s concept of the ‘powers of the
false’. Brown explains how, in the unlikely context of Iranian popular
cinema, Deleuze’s Nietzschean concept of the powers of the false can
serve a political function by helping to create an integrated and progres-
sive community. Hadjioannou, moreover, offers a compelling account
of how in Waltz with Bashir both the falseness of memory and the
apparent falseness of the digital animated image can also help to induce
new modes of thought. Thus he contends that cinema can allow us to
see the world not simply as a representation of a space made up of fixed
spatial and temporal coordinates, but as a dynamic and ever-changing
flux. Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary, and as such we
might be inclined to think of it as at the very least ambiguous with
regard to its objectivity. However, Hadjioannou successfully posits a
Deleuzian reading whereby the film is not so much interested in defin-
ing a strict boundary between the true and the false, or the real and the
imaginary, in its investigation into director Ari Folman’s personal expe-
riences as an Israeli soldier in Lebanon. Rather, the film productively uti-
lises the ‘false’ and the digital images of which it is primarily composed,
in order to question precisely the nature of what we might consider to

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12 Deleuze and Film

be ‘objectivity’. An animated documentary is not the objective truth; but

objectivity supposes a separation from the self and from the world that
is simply not possible. As a result, Waltz with Bashir is not simply ‘sub-
jective’ either. As Rushton and Brown argue for mainstream Australian
and Iranian films respectively, then, Hadjioannou argues that an ani-
mated documentary, too, has a role to play not simply in the observation
of reality, but in the ongoing creation of reality.
Serazer Pekerman’s chapter on surveillance films brings the world tour
to Europe, where the common thread that weaves throughout many of
the essays remains the potential for change via productive encounters
with the Other. To do this, Pekerman turns us away from the Cinema
books once more, and back towards Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
Elaborating upon the concept of the nomadic subject, whose exist-
ence is one of permanent deterritorialisation, Pekerman analyses three
European art films, Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK/Denmark, 2006),
Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von
Donnersmarck, Germany, 2006) and Salmer fra Kjøkkenet/Kitchen
Stories (Bent Hamer, Norway/Sweden, 2003). In each film, the main
protagonist is a surveillance expert who has a deterritorialising encoun-
ter with the people they observe. This in turn leads them to reject the
imposed system of governance for which supposedly they work. As a
result of this deterritorialisation, they are able to forge new partnerships
and modes of existence with the Other. What is more, the plots of these
films are reflected on the level of their production history: each being a
European co-production, which also reflects upon the creative interac-
tions that come about when filmmakers from different countries come
into contact with their friends and neighbours.
The three chapters that follow turn our attention back towards genre
cinemas. Amy Herzog’s discussion of genre through the melodramas
of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder provides further transi-
tional points in the collection (from art house back to popular cinemas
once again, as well as from European to North American cinema), by
exploring how both filmmakers encounter the conventions of melo-
drama in such a way that they produce original, affective cinema. While
genre is often viewed as a stable or stabilising method for categorising
films, Herzog unsettles this definition by arguing that the very stabil-
ity of a genre sows the seeds of its becoming-other. Like Brown and
Hadjioannou, Herzog uses the powers of the false as a means to clarify
this. If it is the repetition of certain types of image that allows viewers to
categorise films according to genre, then the forger is a figure who can
manipulate this process in order to create images that seem to repeat,

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Introduction 13

but which in fact do not. ‘False’ images, then, might initially appear
to reaffirm that which superficially they repeat – that is, to be clichés.
However, this false repetition in fact opens up the possibility for subtle
and intricate new modes of thought. If, as Herzog argues after Deleuze,
repetition also changes the mind of the person contemplating that which
is repeated (Deleuze 1994: 70), then the ‘false’ repetition only does this
more so. Herzog here synthesises the powers of the false and the poten-
tial for change in repetition with the notion that Sirk and Fassbinder
work within melodrama as a set of conventions to create clichés that do
not simply ‘represent’ the genre, but which, through the use of light and
the other affective qualities of the medium, have affects of their own. It
is not, then, that these images are devoid of a representational, or clichéd
element; in fact, it is the falseness of their images, their resemblance to
the cliché, that allows them to subvert the genre that enabled them to
exist in the first place.
Herzog engages with work by Elena del Río (2008) in her Atlantic-
spanning analysis of affect in melodrama, and in the chapter that follows
del Río further illustrates the closeness of European and US cinemas that
is pivotal to the distinction Deleuze draws between movement-image
and time-image. Indeed, as in Deamer’s chapter, del Río returns us to
the moment in time just after the Second World War in which Deleuze
posits the gradual emergence of the time-image in European cinemas, in
a way that provides an additional international dimension to Deleuze’s
argument. Exploring US film noir as a counterpart to Italian neorealism,
del Río uncovers the same loosening of spatio-temporal coordinates
of the emergent time-image that Deleuze observed in neorealism, only
in film noir the psycho-social crisis that this depicts is focused around
the uneasy dividing line of the law. Here the role of the femme fatale is
crucial, her channelling of libidinal desires allowing an exploration of
the ‘ethical possibilities of the powers of the false’ in a popular format.
Thus del Río places gender at the heart of a chapter that illustrates pre-
cisely how the US action-image experienced its own crisis and transfor-
mation at the same time as the time-image was emerging in Europe.
Anna Powell continues the process of recuperating the Cinema books
for a positive reading of genre cinemas. Utilising Deleuze ‘against the
grain’ of what many would agree is an elitist disdain for the popular,
Powell focuses on the usefulness of Deleuze’s image categories for
exploring different kinds of contemporary popular films, including
Hollywood productions. The ‘mixed planes’ of Hellboy (Guillermo del
Toro, USA, 2004) are seen to mix various of the ideas that run through-
out Deleuze and Film. First, the chapter offers, like Rushton’s and

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14 Deleuze and Film

Brown’s, a consideration of how Deleuze’s film-philosophy and popular

cinema are not mutually exclusive, although here Powell turns her atten-
tion specifically to Hollywood cinema. Second, in so doing, she opens
up a line of investigation into Hellboy’s specifically digital imagery, a
line also pursued by Hadjioannou and, as we shall see, by Fleming. For
Powell, digital imagery demands new ways of thinking. Third, as the
films analysed by Pekerman involve productive becomings on the level
of their diegesis, Powell analyses how Hellboy mixes steampunk, gothic,
comic books, sci-fi and horror influences such that it, too, functions on
what Deleuze and Guattari term in What is Philosophy? (1994) mixed
planes. Like Pekerman, Powell delves also into A Thousand Plateaus to
argue that Hellboy is a mixture of root, radicle and rhizome. Like the
root, the film imitates the world (that is, it works on the level of repre-
sentation). Like the radicle, Hellboy also self-consciously explores its
roots, revealing its comic book origins within the film’s diegesis. Finally,
like the rhizome, the film also makes conjunctive, inclusive and pro-
ductive connections, in that it mixes these ‘planes’, shifting its level of
meaning from the representational to the sensational, not least through
‘anomalous’ and hard-to-define images. The result is that Hellboy, like
the classical melodramas and films noir analysed in the chapters preced-
ing this one, produces new modes of thought.
David H. Fleming’s contribution takes up the reins of Hadjioannou’s
and Powell’s essays, offering a substantial analysis of digital technol-
ogy’s power to create new forms of time-image. Using David Fincher’s
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (USA, 2008) as a template,
Fleming investigates the way in which digital technology also unsettles
the representational elements of performance. Benjamin Button pro-
vides us with recognisable images of Brad Pitt in the lead role, but these
are also combined with various other elements, including the software,
or digital-beings, that are used to change Benjamin’s age. As a result,
Fleming demonstrates that Pitt is not the shining star of the film, but
that Benjamin instead constructs a twinkling constellation. The result
of these conjunctions between flesh-world and digital-beings is that we
encounter digital bodies that can affect us in new and unique ways. This
happens not least because they conflate the boundary between such
binaries as: actual-virtual, realism-surrealism, actors-animation, mime-
sis-abstraction, human-machine, subject-object, and viewer-character
– once again, opening us up to new modes of thought.
Finally, Seung-hoon Jeong brings the world tour to a close by explor-
ing how ‘interfacial’ objects, reminiscent of the technology associ-
ated with the filming and screening of films, appear across a range of

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Introduction 15

cinemas internationally. These interfaces provide gateways through

which viewers can pass from the actual world into the virtual, and in
this way cinema provides us with a broader interface with the plane of
immanence. Like Sutton, Pekerman and Powell before him, Jeong draws
on A Thousand Plateaus, specifically the concept of the body without
organs, to develop his argument for the existence and purpose of ‘quasi-
interfaces’ through which spectators gain access to the virtual worlds of
film. Jeong’s varied filmic examples recapitulate much of the geographi-
cal terrain covered in previous chapters – from Thai, Hong Kong and
Taiwanese, through European, to US films – ultimately demonstrating
that for all the cinematic pathways into Deleuze’s Cinema books (the
myriad possible filmic routes into his film-philosophy), there are equally
as many Deleuzian interfaces with film as there are spectators in the
Deleuze and Film sets out to offer essays that not only illustrate
Deleuze’s film-philosophy, but which also take it in new directions. For,
as much as Deleuze’s film-philosophy is presented as the container that
encompasses all cinemas (paths ‘into’ the Cinema books), in fact it is a
catalyst for the uncontainable. Deleuze is a suitable framework through
which to analyse various cinemas, but the conjunction of Deleuze and
cinema produces new analyses that Deleuze himself might not have
expected, particularly in the age of electronic and digital imagery of
which Deleuze was so suspicious (Deleuze 1989: 265–6). As such, our
tour of world cinema ostensibly ends in the USA, which many might
feel is the home, or container, of globally dominant and predominantly
movement-image cinema. Yet this is neither to suggest the inevitable
reterritorialisation of Deleuzian film-philosophy within hegemonic film-
making practices, nor is it to affirm the supposed aesthetic inferiority
of the movement-image to the time-image. Rather, Deleuze and Film
seeks to show that Deleuze can be put into productive partnerships with
cinemas from all over the world, including Hollywood, such that the
movement-image/time-image binary is repeatedly unsettled, and such
that Deleuze’s film-philosophy is not a container but a catalyst for new
ways of thinking.
The pan-global approach adopted here also takes us to a more meta-
physical level. From Asia to Australia, from the Middle East to Europe
to the USA, and by extension we would argue from Latin American to
Africa to Antarctica, Deleuze and Film speaks not of how certain images
are more powerful than others, but of how there is infinite potential for
thought and change in every image. Deleuze and Film conjunctively,
affirmatively and productively explores the potential not of some, but

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16 Deleuze and Film

of all cinemas. Rather than saying yes to some cinema and no to others,
rather than containing anything at all, Deleuze and Film opens up these
containers and celebrates what spills out.

Abbas, A. (1997), Hong Kong, Minnesota: Minnesota University Press.
Andrew, D. (2008), ‘La réception américaine’, in F. Dosse and J-M. Frodon (eds),
Gilles Deleuze et les images, Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, pp. 145–62.
Beugnet, M. (2007), Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Bogue, R. (2003), Deleuze on Cinema, London: Routledge.
Butler, A. (2002), Women’s Cinema: The Contested Screen, London: Wallflower.
Chow, R. (1995), Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography and
Contemporary Chinese Cinema, New York: Columbia University Press.
Colman, F. (2011), Deleuze and Cinema: The Film Concepts, Oxford: Berg.
Davidson, J. (1969), ‘Memory of Defeat in Japan: A Reappraisal of Rashomon’, in
D. Richie (ed.), Rashomon, New York: Grove Press, pp. 209–21.
del Río, E. (2008), Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1986), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and
B. Habberjam, London: Athlone Press.
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. by H. Tomlinson and
R. Galeta, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. (1994), Difference and Repetition, trans. P. Patton, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1984), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1987), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1994), What is Philosophy?, trans. G. Burchell and H.
Tomlinson, London: Verso.
Flaxman, G. (ed.) (2000), The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of
Cinema, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Herzog, A. (2009), Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment
in Film, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kennedy, B.M. (2000), Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation, Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
MacCormack, P. (2008), Cinesexuality, Aldershot: Ashgate.
MacCormack, P. and I. Buchanan (eds) (2008), Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of
Cinema, London: Continuum.
Marchetti, G. (2007), Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs – The Trilogy,
Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Marks, L.U. (2000), The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and
the Senses, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.
Marrati, P. (2008), Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy, trans. A. Hartz,
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2006), Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity: Narrative Time in
National Contexts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2011), Deleuze and World Cinemas, London: Continuum.
Martin-Jones, D. and D. Sutton (2008), Deleuze Reframed, London: I.B. Tauris.
Morris, M. (2007), ‘Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema: Hong Kong and

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Introduction 17

the Making of a Global Popular Culture’, in K.-H. Chen and C.B. Huat (eds), The
Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 427–48.
Mullarkey, J. (2008), Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image,
London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Murray, T. (2008), Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Patricia, P. (2006), ‘Arresting the Flux of Images and Sounds’, in I. Buchanan and
A. Parr (eds), Deleuze and the Contemporary World, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, pp. 175–93.
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Powell, A. (2005), Deleuze and Horror Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Powell, A. (2007), Deleuze, Altered States and Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.
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Between Film Theory and Music, Bristol: Intellect.
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Rodowick (ed.), Afterimages of Gilles Deleuze’s Film Philosophy, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, pp. xiii–xxiv.
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Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
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Chapter 1
An Imprint of Godzilla: Deleuze, the
Action-Image and Universal History

David Deamer

Cinema is not a representation. We just tend to think of it as such.

Cinema does not reproduce. Cinema does not reflect. Rather, cinema
is machinic. Films (be they classical realist, impressionist, expression-
ist, neorealist, modernist, postmodernist, avant-garde, or whatever) are
little machines. And machines produce. This is how Deleuze understands
cinema. And the task of a Deleuzian encounter with film is ‘a productive
use of the . . . machine’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 106). To enable the
film machine to produce we must conjoin it with other machines: ‘it is at
the level of interference of many practices that things happen’ (Deleuze
2002: 280). And it is for this reason that Deleuze explores cinema
through the philosophy of Henri Bergson and Friedrich Nietzsche, the
semiotics of C.S. Peirce, and the film theories of Pier Paolo Pasolini and
Sergei Eisenstein, amongst others. Writing about cinema should be ‘a
montage of desiring-machines’, with the result that film theory becomes
an ‘exercise that extracts from the text its revolutionary force’ (Deleuze
and Guattari 2003: 106).
This task seems particularly urgent with popular cinema. Take Ishirô
Honda’s Gojira/Godzilla (Japan, 1954). Writing in the early 1960s,
Donald Richie asserts that the mainstream Japanese film industry ‘has
naturally used Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the [atom] bomb; but it has
not done so in any constructive or convincing manner’ (Richie 1996:
28). Paradigmatic, for Richie, is Godzilla, a film ‘about’ the atom bomb
that went on to spawn a popular action genre, the kaijū eiga (mysteri-
ous creature film). None of these movies, Richie believes, digs deep into
the Japanese nuclear event ‘in order to come to terms with it’ (Richie
1996: 30). This problem has its origin in narrative strategies that require
‘story-line’ films to ‘dramatise’, ‘distort’ and ‘falsify’ in order to enter-
tain (Richie 1996: 30). Slightly more recently (though certainly not
eclipsing such elitism) critics have begun to take popular cinemas far

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 19

more seriously, engaging with these texts using, for example, linguistic,
psychoanalytic, Marxist, feminist and postcolonial theory as a template.
Given Godzilla was the first mainstream Japanese film to examine the
atom bomb, such ongoing re-evaluations remain vital. Yet all these
approaches, diverse as they are, share a tendency, or a common prin-
ciple, namely, that of discovering the ‘truth’ of any film. Film theory is
here conceived as an unveiling. The critic deciphers or decodes a repre-
sentation (a re-presentation) in order to discover what lies beneath (or
what could not be presented). Theory therefore establishes what is going
on behind the entertainment.
In Anti-Oedipus, however, Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘reading
a text is never a scholarly exercise in search of what is signified, still less
a highly textual exercise in search of a signifier’ (Deleuze and Guattari
2003: 106). Instead, reading a text, be it cinematic or otherwise, is a cre-
ative process. If the film is a machine, it should be conjoined with other
machines in order to produce new readings. Deleuzian film theory does
not therefore reveal meaning; it produces it. This essay, then, attempts
such a Deleuzian encounter with Godzilla. I will begin by briefly con-
textualising the movie with respect to post-war Japanese history, as well
as exploring some more recent critical reactions to the film. Rather than
dismissing Godzilla (à la Richie), these responses (aesthetic, cultural-
ist and psychoanalytical), as I shall show, all offer trenchant readings.
And despite treating Godzilla as a representation, the crucial aspect will
be that these differing approaches, through their divergent unveilings,
indicate the productive forces at work in the movie, forces which can be
brought into play through a Deleuzian approach. This will lead me to
sketch an outline of the cinematic concepts (that is, the types of image
and the component signs) that Deleuze creates in the Cinema books.
This, as we shall see, is crucial, since each sign is also a little produc-
tive machine. Godzilla, I will claim, can be read through the sign of
the ‘imprint’, a component of what Deleuze calls, in response to realist
narrative strategies, the action-image (Deleuze 2002: 33). I will then go
on to investigate how the action-image imprint can be conjoined with
concepts from Nietzsche’s ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History
for Life’ in Untimely Meditations (2006). My aim is to explore how
Godzilla can be used to gather up vast historical forces, forces that
can be extracted from the text and used to productive effect to create a
universal history through cinema.

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20 Deleuze and Film

The Atom Bomb, Godzilla, Critical Responses

Many stories circulate about the origins of Godzilla. There is Tôhô
producer Tomoyuki Tanaka flying over the Pacific during the Cold
War hydrogen bomb tests, wondering about the effect on the oceans
below (Verbeeck 2008; Roberto 2000/2003). Or there is the director
Honda returning home as a prisoner of war, not in the sky above, but
on the ground, passing through Hiroshima on his way back to Tokyo
(Verbeeck 2008). Cinematic inspirations have been cited, such as the
American film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Eugène Lourié, USA,
1953), a movie about the awakening of a monster after nuclear testing
in the Arctic (Noriega 1996). All these contested beginnings have one
thing in common: Godzilla is an expression of Hiroshima-Nagasaki and
the nascent Cold War between the USA and USSR – one of the original
designs for the monster had a mushroom-like head, to bring to mind the
cloud of an atomic explosion.1
On 15 August 1945, in a radio announcement, the Emperor of Japan
stated the decisive reason for his nation’s surrender: ‘the enemy has
recently used a most cruel explosive’ (Hasegawa 2005: 249). Nine days
previously the USA had destroyed the city of Hiroshima with a uranium
bomb, and three days later a plutonium bomb had been detonated over
Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of people, military and civilian, men,
women and children, were vaporised instantaneously in the intense heat
of the explosions and burned alive in the firestorms that raged through
the cities.2 And this was just the beginning of the suffering. Soon the
effects of the radioactive fallout would be felt. Nine years on: Honda’s
Godzilla hits the Japanese screen. Finally, popular Japanese cinema was
able to address the atom bomb, using a man in a rubber suit. Yet we
must resist dismissal. After surrender the country was occupied by the
Allies until 1952. Dominated by an American leadership spearheaded
by General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of the Allied
Powers (SCAP), the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) was created to
enforce media prohibitions. No mention of the war or the atom bomb
was allowed (Hirano 1996: 103–19). When the USA finally returned
sovereignty to the Japanese people, it might have been expected that
many filmmakers would immediately turn, en masse, to this pro-
scribed subject.3 However, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty made
Japan an ally of the USA and a vital strategic base for the Korean War
(1950–1953). The funding of atom bomb films was not something the
re-emerging mainstream Japanese cinema industry would encourage,
dependent as it was upon government subsidies (Richie 1996: 20–37).

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 21

With Godzilla, Honda therefore overcame a matrix of problems in

exploring the atom bomb by using an indirect presentation.
The story involves the awakening of a mythical Japanese monster
after hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific. Godzilla first attacks the
Japanese fishing fleet, then the rustic Odo island, before discovering the
Japanese mainland and destroying Tokyo – twice. The Japanese people
must defeat this menace and it ultimately falls to one man, Ogata (Akira
Takarada), to fulfil this role. However, Ogata faces opposition. There
is the aging palaeontologist Dr Yamane (Takashi Shimura), who wants
to study the beast. Then there is the reclusive experimental scientist, Dr
Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), the inventor of a terrifying new technology,
the oxygen destroyer, which he believes should never be brought to the
attention of the military. There is also Emiko (Momoko Kôchi), who, in
the wonderful narrative economy of the film, is Dr Yamane’s daughter,
Dr Serizawa’s fiancée and in love with Ogata. Over the course of the
movie Ogata manages to convince Yamane that the monster is too dan-
gerous to be studied, persuade Serizawa to use the oxygen destroyer, and
then finally to kill Godzilla. In the process Serizawa dies and Ogata gets
the girl.
Jerome F. Shapiro, attuned to Japanese aesthetics, believes the film
‘explores . . . the depths of the human condition in the early post-war
environment’ (Shapiro 2002: 275). For Shapiro, two traditional com-
plementary Japanese concepts inspire the organisation of the narrative.
Taking Hayao Kawai’s definitions of mono no aware, which is defined
as the ‘sorrow . . . directed at something disappearing’, and urami,
which ‘looks toward the continuation of a process and is born out of the
spirit of resistance’, Shapiro argues that the film achieves ‘completeness’
(Shapiro 2002: 274). In other words, Godzilla is an authentic Japanese
attempt at representing a nation’s hope of achieving a ‘restoration of
balance and harmony’ (Shapiro 2002: 275).
Chon A. Noriega, meanwhile, takes a psychoanalytical approach to
the film. Here the monster ‘comes to symbolise Japan (self) as well as
the United States (other)’ (Noriega 1996: 60). Godzilla is not simply an
embodiment of the atom bomb, but is both an effect of the bomb and is
ultimately destroyed by atomic technology, thereby representing the ‘cir-
cuitous logic of the arms race’ (Noriega 1996: 60). Yet Godzilla is also
a Japanese monster. For Noriega, this is the power of psychoanalysis as
the ‘privileged critical tool’, since the film represents the ‘compulsion to
repeat a traumatic event in symbolic narrative’ (Noriega 1996: 56 and
61). Ultimately the movie is ‘an attempt to link the “thinkable” monster
to the “unthinkable” nuclear environment . . . [and it] allows Japan to

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22 Deleuze and Film

examine repressed anxieties within a historical context’ (Noriega 1996:

In contrast to Shapiro and Noriega, Samara Lea Allsop believes the
film to be thoroughly historical. Accordingly, Godzilla is a representa-
tion of Japanese post-war pacifism, ultimately located in the anti-war
and anti-nuclear lobby that emerged in the years following the events at
Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Allsop 2004).
All of these readings of Godzilla represent astute, compelling
engagements with the film. They share a willingness to see a main-
stream, popular monster movie as something more than entertainment.
Moreover, each discovers something different in the text. For Allsop it
is a direct representation of the Japanese peace movement. For Shapiro
this reading is reductive, and the power of Godzilla lies in its narrative
strategies of mono no aware and urami, which are embodied by the
characters and played out in their actions which follow a trajectory
from the chaos of reactionary Japanese militarism to a new post-war
concord. For Noriega the narrative resolves nothing, and is instead
marked by an axiological imperative to retain and spread ambiguities
from monster, to characters, to climax – and these enigmas reveal, and
engender, a substratal psycho-historical mass anxiety, the unconscious
of the text. It is no doubt tempting to debate these readings, to decide
which is ‘true’, which is ‘false’. A Deleuzian approach, however, will not
provide succour. As Slavoj Žižek has noted: ‘Deleuze was well known
for his aversion toward debate’ (Žižek 2004: ix). Indeed, as Alain
Badiou explains, Deleuze prefers ‘ “collaboration” . . . in a context of
convergence . . . [or] divergence’ (Badiou 2000: 5).
So, for instance, we might argue that Deleuze would be interested in
the way in which Shapiro sees Japanese traditional concepts at work in
the organisation of filmic images. Deleuze would presumably not shy
away from Allsop’s reading where actual onscreen images allow the
story to be appreciated as simple allegory. Yet this surface text can be
used, as in Noriega, to investigate complex and ambiguous forces at play,
an essential Deleuzian procedure where actual onscreen images have a
virtual offscreen adjunct. When we read the Cinema books, it is clear that
Deleuze is open to prior cinematic readings. Indeed, he is a generous host.
The crucial aspect, however, is that no ‘technical determination, whether
applied (psychoanalysis, linguistics) or reflexive is sufficient’, either to
exhaust the text or to ‘constitute the concepts of cinema itself’ (Deleuze
2005: 269). Rather, as we shall see, it is the concepts of cinema, little sign
machines, that conjoin in strategic and tactical alliances with philosophi-
cal theory and other events to produce new readings of a film.

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 23

A Deleuzian Cineosis
Deleuze’s Cinema books explore film through the creation of audiovis-
ual signs. Deleuze produces a catalogue of these signs and defines their
distinctive features as well as their relationships and correspondences. In
this way a taxonomy is made possible, a sign system that describes cin-
ematic processes, or what I have elsewhere called a cineosis.4 Deleuze’s
starting point, inspired by Bergson’s Matter and Memory (1991), is the
sensory-motor process. In cinema characters appear through images in
which they see and are seen, in which they feel, think, act and react.
Correspondingly, the spectator, when encountering these images, is ori-
entated into this cinematic flow to see, feel and think with the film. This
is the movement-image. Deleuze initially decomposes the movement-
image into three domains: perception-, affection-, and action-images.
Perception-images describe a cinematic seeing through camera elision,
a character point-of-view shot or, more commonly, a looking at char-
acters in environments. Affection-images express the intensive, which in
its most common cinematic form is a close-up of the face. Action-images
are the ways in which characters physically act in or react to the situa-
tion that encompasses them. Deleuze goes on to expand this cineosis in
two ways: first by increasing the number of images, and then by giving
each of the images a number of component signs.
The categories of perception, affection and action come from
Bergson’s unfolding of habitual memory, where the human body/brain
is caught up in the logic of the sensory-motor process. Deleuze sees a
correspondence to, and so aligns this with, the semiology of C.S. Peirce.
For Peirce there are three states: feeling, reaction and thought (Short
2004: 214–40). Deleuze first overlays Bergson’s categories of affec-
tion and action with Peirce’s states of feeling and reaction, which then
allows him to use Peirce’s state of thought to describe Bergson’s process
of habitual memory. In this way Deleuze creates the relation-image, a
way in which the movement-image expresses thought through onscreen
images. The Peircian semiotic also allows Deleuze to create intermediar-
ies, reciprocals and extensions of these images. So, between affection-
images and action-images there are impulse-images (which Deleuze
aligns with naturalism and surrealism). The relation-image appears in
a whole domain of onscreen mental images that include recollection-
images (flashbacks) and dream-images. It is the action-image, or realism,
which comprises the largest domain and in so doing becomes the very
centre of the movement-image. Large form action-images (where situ-
ations generate actions) interact with small form action-images (where

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24 Deleuze and Film

actions reveal situations) and create images that transform each through
allegory and theatricality, by reversing procedures and through ques-
tioning their own composition (attraction-images, inversion-images and
discourse-images respectively). Realism, for Deleuze, is thus not a simple
homogeneous cinematic procedure, but a complex interweaving series of
Time-images, however, break from movement-images. Again taking
inspiration from Bergson’s Matter and Memory, cinema can describe
the collapse of the sensory-motor process though a crisis in the action-
image, where situations and actions, or actions and situations, no longer
flow into each other. Correspondingly, the film is no longer organised
through identifiable perception-, affection-, action- and mental images.
Instead we get pure optical and audio signs, opsigns and sonsigns. The
crucial aspect is that while the movement-image foregrounds the actual
side of onscreen images through a cinematic flow, opsigns and sonsigns
set free the potentials of the virtual. The virtual can be conceived as gen-
erating lectosigns, images that require the film to be read, rather than, as
in the movement-image, simply be seen. Opsigns and sonsigns become
the building blocks of a new taxonomy of images: hyalosigns, chrono-
signs and noosigns. Although the mechanism for the generation of the
time-image remains opaque, we can say that images-in-and-of-them-
selves become hyalosigns; narratives become re-organised in complex
forms as chronosigns; and narration is reconstituted through bodies and
environments, creating noosigns. Noosigns inaugurate a new image of
thought, positioning the spectator in a lectosignic relationship with the
opsigns and sonsigns of the film: the time-image is thus a noosphere.
Deleuze’s second expansion of this twofold taxonomy gives each
image of the cineosis a triadic system of component signs. These signs
are the way in which each image can be seen to move from its most
chaotic aspect to its most organised. In other words, every image of the
cineosis is a chaosmos, that is, every image is suspended between order
and chaos, between the molar and the molecular, between territorialisa-
tion and deterritorialisation, between the compositional and the genetic.
Deleuze specifies one genetic sign and two signs of composition, this
compositional dyad itself describing a process of directional territori-
alisation/organisation. The crucial aspect in all this is that the cineosis
does not place mainstream popular realist cinema and the modernist
avant-garde in a hierarchy: ‘it cannot be said that one is more important
than the other, whether more beautiful or profound’ (Deleuze 2005:
259). Nor can it be said that there is a homogeneous movement-image
and a homogeneous time-image. Rather, what we get is a network of

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 25

movement-images and time-images that perform territorialisations and

deterritorialisations within both taxonomic domains and within the
very images themselves. Some image-signs will be highly deterritorial-
ised (the genetic signs of time-images); while some image-signs will be
highly territorialised (the signs of composition of large and small form
Finally, any number of different signs can describe a film. A film is an
accumulation or assemblage of signs. This occurs at every level: a single
framed image is an assemblage of signs; a shot is an assemblage of signs;
and so are both a sequence and an entire film. However, one sign will
always dominate at the level of image, shot, sequence and film. In this
way, we can say a film is dominated (but only dominated) by a certain
The first task of a Deleuzian exploration of cinema can be to designate
the dominant sign of a film. Godzilla, it is clear, is a movement-image
film; we can see defined moments of perception-, affection-, action- and
mental images. The first appearance of the monster on Odo island is
captured in an extreme wide shot, followed by a medium close-up of
the faces of the characters. In Deleuze’s terms, a perception-image cuts
to an affection-image. Then people scatter, running, falling, hiding:
action-images. Later in the film Emiko tells Ogata about the oxygen
destroyer, and the event is shown onscreen in flashback, or recollection-
images. In other words, the film is organised through the sensory-motor
process, designed to create a smooth surface to ensure cinematic flow.
The question thus becomes: which type of movement-image dominates?
Mental images are, on the whole, limited to a single flashback sequence.
Affection-images assemble around the Tokyo hospital scene, where the
emotions generated by the dying parent and small child are expressed
through the face of Emiko. We may believe perception-images to pre-
dominate when the monster is destroying Tokyo. However, these images
depict monster-movements, collapsing buildings, people screaming,
running, dying. Action pervades these sequences and in this way goes
on to dominate the entire film. As we mentioned above, action-images
have two primary reciprocal forms, the large and the small. The small
form describes how actions reveal situations and is organised through
the unveiling of events. The large form describes how situations engen-
der actions which are organised through duels between characters, for
example, the hero and the nemesis. Godzilla, with the duel between the
monster and the Japanese people is clearly dominated by the large form
of the action-image. Deleuze notates this as S→A, where a situation (S)
creates forces that spiral down to produce character actions (A). These

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26 Deleuze and Film

actions in turn reconstitute the situation (S⬘), hence Deleuze’s full nota-
tion, SAS⬘. As we can see in Figure 1, the trajectory from S to S⬘ occurs
for Deleuze through five laws which go on to create the triadic sign
structure of the large form action-image.

Godzilla and the Action-Image

Early on in Godzilla a map of Japan locates the last known position of
a lost fishing boat, the Eiko. A radio voice announces the time ‘19:05
on 13 August’. A little later in the film we witness an exchange between
commuters on a train:
Woman: Godzilla! What if it attacks Tokyo?
Man: You’ll be the first victim!
Woman: Not me . . . not after what I went through in Nagasaki.

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 27

Space-time is coherently identified. The setting is contemporary post-

atomic Japanese civilisation, early 1950s. This determined milieu is
the first law of the action-image. Deleuze describes the passage from
situation to restored situation (S→S⬘) as a ‘great respiration’ at the
level of montage (Deleuze 2002: 151). So, for instance, while Godzilla
encompasses the entire Japanese nation, the film also distils the conflict
down to the level of micro-situations: ‘the whole incurves itself around
the group, the character, the home’ (Deleuze 2002: 151). At one point
during the film Dr Yamane is asked the question ‘why has this monster
suddenly appeared in Japan?’ His answer is that the American ‘H-bomb
tests disturbed its peace’. A conflict erupts between a group of male gov-
ernment officials and female peace activists. While the officials want to
keep Dr Yamane’s evidence a secret, the peace-activists want to inform
the public. The male officials think it will trouble ‘international rela-
tions’, the women activists feel the truth must be exposed. This whole
sequence – described in the milieu of a courtroom – funnels the situation
of the post-Occupation Japanese polity, international relations, home
affairs and gender roles into a delimited space. The crucial aspect in
all this is that the passage from situation to restored situation (S→S⬘)
is organised through alternative parallel montage, cutting between the
milieus of different sets of characters. In Godzilla, the restored situation
will be one that results in Japan surmounting the problems of the atomic
Deleuze’s second law of the action-image traces the way in which
the passage from situation to restored situation is embodied in action
(S→A). If the first law depended upon parallel montage, here another
aspect of alternate montage comes to the fore: convergence. As Deleuze
puts it: ‘the global situation is first displayed in a determined and indi-
viduated space-time . . . but very quickly two points emerge from this
milieu, then two lines of action which will alternate . . . from one to the
other and form a pincer’ (Deleuze 2002: 152). The conflicts at the level
of the situation are crystallised at the level of action, and it is here where
the resolution (by confrontation) is achieved. In Godzilla, two primary
lines are simple to identify. If the conflict between the nuclear threat
and civilisation (chaos and cosmos) is the global situation, the lines
of force that emanate from this are embodied in the monster and the
action hero, Ogata. The first images of the film are of the Eiko, a fishing
boat engulfed in flames. Inside the hull a radiographer sends a Morse
code message to the coastguard for help before the boat slips beneath
the water. Images trace a line from the situation (located at sea) to the
embodiment of action (Ogata): the camera pans down a mast . . . then

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28 Deleuze and Film

the interior of the coastguard station . . . the coastguard picks up a

phone and dials . . . elsewhere, a close-up of a black phone ringing . . .
a man answers: ‘Ogata, Nankai Salvage’. Correspondingly, the global
situation of the nuclear threat extracts the monster, Godzilla, by first
having it awakened by the hydrogen bomb tests, then trouble the fishing
fleet, and finally attack Odo island during a raging storm.
The third law, for Deleuze, ‘is like the reverse of the second’; while
alternate convergent montage is necessary for the passage from situation
to action, ‘at the very root of the duel, there is something which rebels
against any montage’ (Deleuze 2002: 153). This is the logical conclu-
sion of convergent montage. The lines of force embodied in the different
sequences must meet: there must be a confrontation between the action
hero and the monster. The second law traced the forces which embodied
the situation in characters, and these characters must clash at A. And
A – the final showdown – must necessarily come very close to S⬘. In
Godzilla, Ogata destroys the monster in a final underwater battle. He
emerges from the Pacific Ocean and claims the girl. The film ends.
The characters of doctors Yamane and Serizawa introduce Deleuze’s
fourth law, where ‘the duel is . . . not a unique and localised moment’
but rather ‘polynomial’, and so it is ‘difficult to mark out its boundaries’
(Deleuze 2002: 153). This is An, where a predilection for duels compli-
cates the action, in that it is difficult to say which duel is the most impor-
tant. For example, the centrality of the Godzilla-Ogata duel is decentred
by Dr Yamane and Dr Serizawa who oppose the violent action proposed
by Ogata. There are many duels within the economy of the film.
Finally, in the fifth law, the duels ‘dovetail’ (Deleuze 2002: 154). All
the duels are resolved in the final frames: Yamane realises that it is ridicu-
lous to imagine that the monster can be controlled and studied, Serizawa
dies, Godzilla is destroyed, and Ogata and Emiko come together in an
embrace. In short, the space-time between the first and final moments of
the film constitutes a gap (→) in which the protagonist discovers powers
equal to that of the situation. When equal, actions create a new, modi-
fied situation.
From these five laws we can see how the tripartite sign structure of
the action-image will emerge. The second law (S→A) and fifth law (→)
introduces a polarity into the composition of the action-image, the move
from the situation-for-itself to action-in-itself. In this way the two signs
of composition, the molar organisations, will be the milieu (S) and the
binomial (A). The genetic sign, the molecular organisation, will accen-
tuate the fourth law (An), where the polynomial will multiply the duels
and in so doing introduce fractures back into the milieu, creating multi-

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 29

ple milieus. This is what Deleuze refers to as the imprint. As per Figure
2, the signs of the milieu, the binomial and the imprint are distributed
across the cinematic images and structure of the large form action-image
through its five laws.
In Godzilla it is clear that while a defined milieu is established and
immediately generates an initial binomial, the film tends towards the
polynomial. In other words, while it might seem that the great duel
between the monster and the people (as embodied by Ogata) dominates
the film, in actuality it is the polynomial duels between Ogata and
Yamane, and between Ogata and Serizawa, that drive → and structure
S→S⬘. We could thus designate Godzilla as being an action-image film
dominated by the sign of the imprint where An structures the action
and divides it ‘into successive and continuous local missions (s1, a1, s2,
a2, s3 . . .)’ (Deleuze 2002: 157). The multiple duels give the trajectory

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30 Deleuze and Film

of the film a staccato feel, creating a series of determinate space-times

(the ocean, Odo island, Tokyo). However, the imprint does not simply
fragment; there is a secondary, but far more important phenomenon.
Deleuze writes, with respect to the move from action-image composition
to genetics, that ‘the cinema of behaviour is not content with a simple
sensory-motor formula . . . It is a much more complex behaviourism
which essentially took into account internal factors’ (Deleuze 2002:
158). Deleuze continues by saying that the imprint ‘is the inner, but
visible, link between the permeating situation and the explosive action’
(Deleuze 2002: 159). This link, between milieu and behaviour, is made
visible through a nexus of emotion and an object, creating an emotional
object that links the characters to the situation. Godzilla, in this way,
becomes the emotional object, a liminal entity, appearing as an imprint,
a physical embodiment of the forces that describe the milieu and encom-
pass character actions.

Godzilla and Universal History

The designation of Godzilla as being dominated by the sign of the
imprint is simply an initial move (and one we must hold in momentary
abeyance). More immediately, the film-image-sign-machine must be
conjoined to other machines, and for Deleuze the action-image emerg-
ing from the five laws can be seen as ‘putting forward a strong and
coherent conception of universal history’ (Deleuze 2002: 151). Deleuze,
here, is invoking Nietzsche’s analysis of late nineteenth-century histori-
cal practices in ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’. In
this study Nietzsche identifies three tendencies: the ‘monumental’, the
‘antiquarian’ and the ‘critical’ (Nietzsche 2006: 67). From monumental
history mankind learns that ‘the greatness that once existed was in any
event once possible and may thus be possible again’ (Nietzsche 2006:
69). Crucially, then, it ‘makes what is dissimilar look similar’ and ‘it
will always have to diminish the differences of motives and instigations’
(Nietzsche 2006: 70). In contrast, antiquarian history venerates the past
in order to conserve it. In this way it can be seen to construct the tradi-
tions of a nation and national identity: mankind, ‘by tending with care
that which has existed from of old . . . preserve[s the past] for those who
shall come into existence after him’ (Nietzsche 2006: 73). The third
tendency, the critical or ethical aspect, brings the past ‘before a tribunal,
scrupulously examining it and finally condemning it’ (Nietzsche 2006:
76). It designates good and evil with regards to the past, from the per-
spective of the present for the future. As in Figure 3, these three aspects

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 31

of universal history can be conjoined with the five laws of the action-
image in order to read a film (Deleuze 2002: 151).
Monumental history can be assembled with the first and second laws
of the action-image (Deleuze 2002: 150). Situations appear initially
static but under threat. The threat thus constitutes the beginning of the
monumental narration, which will continue until the threat is either van-
quished or triumphant. In this way it marks the passage from situation
to restored situation (S→S⬘). However, this passage is always described
through the deeds of great historical figures – the passage from situation
to restored situation embodied in action (S→A). The tendency is that
the structure is repetitive: these forces clash continually, form peaks and
describe homogeneous phenomena. In Godzilla the conflict between
Japan and America during the Pacific War and the Allied Occupation
can be seen to provide one of the basic environmental coordinates of the

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32 Deleuze and Film

film. In this way, Godzilla becomes an invading force. Yet these coordi-
nates take on a monumental aspect through the very indirectness of the
presentation. In other words, the very method by which the film loosens
the coordinates of its historical engagement serves to universalise rather
than particularise. Thus, the duel between Godzilla (a returning mythi-
cal invading force) and Ogata (the current embodiment of Japanese resil-
ience) is just one embodiment of Japanese-American relations from the
mid-1850s onwards. An embodiment that starts with the ‘awakening of
Japan’ occasioned by the arrival, in 1853, of four kurofune (black ships)
at Edo (now Tokyo) Bay (Jansen 2002). These ships were captained by
Commodore Perry and their mission resisted by Abe Masahiro, daimyo
(domain lord) of Fukuyama and head of the ruling Tokugawa power
structure (Jansen 2002: 277). Monumental history gathers up the energy
of this and other great Japanese-American conflicts (S→S⬘ and S→A)
and disperses them through the indirect presentation of Godzilla. As a
result we discover repetitions of this ‘awakening’, repetitions that annul
difference. For instance, the economic embargo of Japan which came
about as a result of the US State Department’s concern in 1941 that
‘Japanese superiority in the Far East would . . . mean the closing of the
Open Door’ to Asia for American trade (Smith 2003). This, as Smith
sees it, was a deliberate provocation to war, the only unexpected result
being the success of the attack on Pearl Harbor later that year. This in
turn leads to the Allied Occupation under MacArthur and his head-
to-head with the Japanese Emperor. In this way, the conflicts between
America and Japan form a one-hundred-year parallel montage: inter-
connections through historical regress. Godzilla captures these forces:
Godzilla-Perry, Godzilla-embargo, Godzilla-MacArthur.
‘The antiquarian’, for Deleuze, ‘runs parallel to the monumental’
in that it explores effects without causes and the duels between those
forces. However, ‘antiquarian history is not satisfied with duels in the
strict sense, it stretches out towards the external situation and contracts
to the means of action’ (Deleuze 2002: 150). For Deleuze, then, it is the
third and fourth laws of the action-image that can be seen to constitute
an antiquarian perspective on history and thus to universalise. Duels are
taken in themselves as structuring events. But, of course, duels are also
polynomial and in this way antiquarian history selects events that – no
matter how different – map a civilisation (thus homogenising hetero-
geneous tendencies). These duels are the archival data of a nation, and
which are essentialised as traditions. Exploring Godzilla through the
analysis of antiquarian history conjoined with the third and fourth laws
of the action-image (A and An) describes a tension between homogene-

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 33

ous and heterogeneous forces internal to the Japanese state that existed
not only prior to the American Occupation but also prior to the ‘awak-
ening’ of Japan (Hasegawa 2005). Since the 1600s Japan had been fun-
damentally divided between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’: between Emperor
and Shogunate; between reactionary and progressive forces; between
‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ perspectives. Indeed, it is this internal division
that – paradoxically – provided a balance of forces that gave enough
cultural stasis to modernise Japan from within (see Jansen 2002). These
duels, binomial in essence but polynomial in their proliferation, form
the very foundations of a national identity. Godzilla takes this antiquar-
ian structuration as the basis for its internal constitution. The monster
embodies the ‘old’. In defeating the monster, Ogata reifies the ‘new’.
Thus it might be said that in one of its antiquarian dimensions Godzilla
embodies the Emperor system while Ogata embodies the Shogunate; in
another sense, Godzilla embodies the Shogunate while Ogata embod-
ies the democratic movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries; and/or Godzilla embodies the militaristic government of the
war years, while Ogata embodies the return of democracy, via American
intervention, to Japan. The monster is transformed from a monumental
external force to an antiquarian internal force that explores the dynamic
of the traditional and the modern. The crucial point here is that this
dynamic is the very essence of the nation.
Lastly ‘the monumental and antiquarian conceptions of history would
not come together so well without the ethical image which measures
and organises them both’ (Deleuze 2002: 150). This organisation, for
Deleuze, equates critical history with the fifth law of the action-image,
the gap (→) between situation and restored situation that organises all
action. This trajectory describes ‘Good and Evil’, where ‘a strong ethical
judgement must condemn the injustice of “things,” bring compassion,
herald the new civilisation’ (Deleuze 2002: 151). So, with respect to
monumental history, Godzilla as external threat must be defeated, and
any action towards this end is justified. Godzilla, then, answers ‘yes’ to
the use of the atom bomb in bringing a halt to the Japanese militaris-
tic enterprise. In the film all attempts to defeat the monster fail, so the
ultimate weapon – the newly invented, barely tested oxygen destroyer
– must be brought into play. The film, in this manner, positions the
atomic bombing as the only thing left for the Americans to do. Yet it is
antiquarian history (the Ogata-Yamane and Ogata-Serizawa duels) that
negotiates this response; and antiquarian history has transformed the
monster into the essence of Japan itself. In saying ‘yes’ to the atom bomb
and rejecting the ‘old’, militaristic forces, does not the ethical judgement

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34 Deleuze and Film

shift the monster to instead embody that which shames the nation? In
this way, Godzilla might be construed as becoming the image of the rape
of Nanking in 1937, which Lord Russell of Liverpool has described as
the ‘indiscriminate killing’ of 200,000 civilians of ‘both sexes, adults
and children alike . . . [and the] rape of girls of tender years and old
women’ (Russell 2005: 43). Godzilla becomes the forces that annexed
Manchuria, China, French Indo-China, British Malaya, the Dutch East
Indies, the Philippines, Thailand and Burma.5 Godzilla becomes that
which actioned the death marches, industrial slavery, sexual slavery,
cannibalism, vivisection and the mutilation of prisoners of war and the
peoples of subject nations. Godzilla captures, and puts before a tribunal,
the monstrous force of the Japanese militaristic regime.
These divergent readings of universal history, as a consequence of the
indirect presentation of the film, interweave throughout the five laws
of the large form action-image that structure Godzilla. Yet there is one
final move, concerning the way in which the genetic sign of the imprint,
the domination of polynomial duels, gathers up and organises the forces
of monumental, antiquarian and critical history.

Conclusion: Godzilla as Imprint

The Godzilla-film-machine connected to the Nietzschean-history-
machine through the Deleuzian-cineosis-machine produces a reading
of the film that transforms the monster from American atom bomb to
Japanese militaristic regime – and back again. And as we have seen,
while organised through the five laws of the large form action-image,
Godzilla tends towards the polynomial aspect and so the genetic sign
of the imprint. The imprint describes a complex form of realism which
extracts emotions and places them into an object. In Godzilla, this is the
monster itself. Again, as we have seen, the polynomial accentuates an
aspect of the antiquarian analysis of history, a reading that positions the
monster as an assemblage of the heterogeneous powers of the ‘old’, of
the reactionary forces, at different times, within Japanese society itself:
the Emperor, the Shogunate and the authoritarian Japanese militarist
regime of the war years. Godzilla, then, can be read as a radical attempt
to explore and attack the reactionary, fascistic, authoritarian forces that
threaten Japan from within.6 This is a markedly different conclusion to
that reached by Noriega, Shapiro and Allsop. Yet it remains just one
encounter with the Deleuze-cineosis-machine.7

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Godzilla, the Action-Image and Universal History 35

Allsop, S.L. (2004), ‘Gojira/Godzilla’, in J. Bowyer (ed.), The Cinema of Japan and
Korea, London: Wallflower Press, pp. 63–71.
Badiou, A. (2000), Deleuze: The Clamour of Being, trans. L. Burchill, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
Bergson, H. (1991), Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer, New
York: Zone Books.
Deamer, D. (2009), ‘Cinema, Chronos/Cronos: Becoming an Accomplice to the
Impasse of History’, in J. Bell and C. Colebrook (eds), Deleuze and History,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 161–87.
Deamer, D. (2010), cineosis, available at (accessed 26 July 2010).
Deleuze, G. (2002), Cinema 1: The Movement Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and
B. Habberjam, London: Athlone Press.
Deleuze, G. (2005), Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari (2003), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, London and New York: Continuum.
Goldberg, B. (2003), Barry’s Temple of Godzilla, available at www.godzillatemple.
com (accessed 4 February 2011).
Hasegawa, T. (2005), Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the Surrender of
Japan, Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University
Hirano, K. (1996), ‘Depiction of the Atomic Bombings in Japanese Cinema
During the U.S. Occupation Period’, in M. Broderick (ed.), Hibakusha Cinema:
Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Nuclear Image in Japanese Film, London and New
York: Kegan Paul International, pp. 103–19.
Jansen, M.B. (2002), The Making of Modern Japan, Cambridge, MA: The Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press.
Nietzsche, F. (2006), ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’, in
Untimely Meditations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 57–124.
Noriega, C.A. (1996), ‘Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When Them! Is U.S.’,
in M. Broderick (ed.), Hibakusha Cinema: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Nuclear
Image in Japanese Film, London and New York: Kegan Paul International, pp.
Richie, D. (1996), ‘ “Mono no aware”: Hiroshima in Film’, in M. Broderick (ed.),
Hibakusha Cinema: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Nuclear Image in Japanese
Film, London and New York: Kegan Paul International, pp. 20–37.
Roberto, J.R. (2000/2003), ‘Japan, Godzilla and the Atomic Bomb: A Study into
the Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Japanese Pop Culture’, History Vortex,
available at (accessed 5
April 2011).
Russell of Liverpool, Lord (2005), The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of
Japanese War Crimes, London: Greenhill Books.
Shapiro, J.F. (2002), Atomic Bomb Cinema: The Apocalyptic Imagination on Film,
New York and London: Routledge.
Short, T.L. (2004), ‘The Development of Peirce’s Theory of Signs’, in C. Misak (ed.),
The Cambridge Companion to Peirce, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
pp. 214–40.
Smith, A. (2003), ‘The Occupation of Japan’, International Socialist Review, 29
(May–June), available at
(accessed 23 October 2006).

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36 Deleuze and Film

Verbeeck, G. (2008), ‘Gojira: The Art of Stomping’, Cult Reviews, available at (accessed 4 February 2011).
Žižek, S. (2004), Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences, London:

1. An image of this design is included with the special edition Gojira: The Original
Japanese Masterpiece DVD.
2. There are many different estimates of the death toll. Ashley Smith writes that ‘the
atomic bombs killed over 220,000 immediately and 120,000 more from the effects
of radiation poisoning’ (Smith 2003). Donald Richie writes: ‘In [Hiroshima] some
240,000 were killed; in [Nagasaki] about 80,000. After the war those exposed to
radiation continued to die: between 1951 and 1955, some 3,730’ (Richie 1996:
3. There were a handful of atom bomb films prior to Godzilla. These were, however,
independently produced and with limited distribution, financed by educational
and political organisations not through any of the six major film studios of the
time. There were two trends, elegiac and Marxist. Neither found an audience
(Richie 1996: 20–37).
4. ‘Cineosis = cinema + semiosis’ (see Deamer 2010).
5. Manchuria (or more precisely Inner Manchuria which lay inside the Chinese
border, becoming Manchukuo, a putative independent state); French Indo-China,
now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; British Malaya, now Malaysia and Singapore;
the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia; Thailand, known as Siam up until 1939,
then once again between the years 1945 and 1949; Burma, now the Republic of
the Union of Myanmar.
6. Nietzsche’s analysis of universal history is ultimately the examination of a crisis.
The forces of monumental and antiquarian history annul difference, make history
a series of repetitions, and in so doing condemn the future to the same. The future
of the same positions critical history as fundamentally problematic: ‘every past . . .
is worthy to be condemned’ (Nietzsche 2006: 76). For Nietzsche, universal history
needs a forgetting in order to escape the repetition of the same and in order to
live: ‘it takes a great deal of strength to live and to forget’ (Nietzsche 2006: 76).
And it will take Deleuze’s time-image to explore this aspect of Nietzschean phi-
losophy. The Japanese New Wave of the 1960s, such an avatar of the time-image,
made no films about the atom bomb (see Deamer 2009). Correspondingly, at the
time of writing, there have been thirty-three Japanese sequels to Godzilla. These
divide into a number of series: Original Series (1954–74); Heisei Series (1984–95);
Alternate Reality Series (1999–2001); New Generation Series (2002–). Each series
returns to the origin of the monster and plays out a new timeline (Goldberg 2003).
In the context of this essay, it is interesting to note that the Original Series sees the
monster rehabilitated to become a friendly protector of the nation.
7. Thanks to William Brown, David Martin-Jones and Rob Lapsley for their assist-
ance during the writing of this essay.

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Chapter 2
Philosophy, Politics and Homage in
Tears of the Black Tiger

Damian Sutton

One of the most difficult features of film-philosophy as an emerging dis-

cipline is how it approaches the career of the philosopher as a dynamic,
mutating and often contradictory series of concepts expressed through
different writings, alone and in collaboration. The work of Gilles
Deleuze in this regard is no exception, and over the course of his career
he introduced such various and apparently conflicting concepts as the
body without organs (a theory of organisation that precedes form) and
the action-image (a theory of form in film that is reliant upon a highly
structured organisation of situation and action). The first concept speaks
openly to psychology and politics, as well as to philosophy, in offer-
ing a concept of organisation that disrupts the very idea of hierarchy.
The second is an exercise in poetics, and in understanding how cinema
developed a rhetorical system of its own during its first major wave of
industrialisation. Deleuze clearly enjoyed himself in writing Cinema 1:
The Movement-Image, a book in which he approaches cinema as both
sacred and profane: alongside passages on Akira Kurosawa and Werner
Herzog are commentaries on Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and bur-
lesque parody (Deleuze 1997: 169–77). However, both Cinema 1 and
its sequel, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, are heavily indebted to Deleuze’s
collaboration with Félix Guattari, and the concept of the body without
organs, an account of form and the individuation of radical political
In this chapter I explore the relationship between these two appar-
ently contradictory Deleuzian positions, the action-image and the body
without organs, through an analysis of Wisit Sasanatieng’s Fa Thalai
Jone/Tears of the Black Tiger (Thailand, 2000). Black Tiger stunned
critics and audiences alike with its strange fusion of distinctive Thai
references and its obvious homage to Hollywood westerns, especially
the films of Howard Hawks and John Ford, as well as the ‘spaghetti’

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38 Deleuze and Film

westerns of Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood. Set in 1950s

Thailand, the film depicts historical Thai characters from the post-war
period as western outlaws, complete with hand-tooled boots, embroi-
dered shirts, and a gunfight over a girl. This combination, together
with the film’s vibrant green-and-fuchsia colour scheme, immediately
suggested for many Western critics (e.g. Wood 2001) that Black Tiger
was a postmodern/postcolonial appropriation of Euro-American visual
culture, high on both pastiche (because of the cinematic references) and
camp. Western critics also floundered in locating the film’s message,
with film historian Edward Buscombe saying that: ‘far from offering
a commentary on sexual politics, late capitalism or any of the other
favoured topics of art cinema, it’s a movie, ultimately, about nothing at
all’ (Buscombe 2001: 35).
However, this view is contested by scholars of Thai culture (Harrison
2005), who question reviews of the film made within the framework
of postmodern irony and pastiche. In order to resolve this, Black Tiger
demands serious attention, not least because of its different acting,
editing and cinematographic styles, its unstable mise-en-scène, its
unusual range of music styles, and the fact that the film also burlesques
a true history of outlaw uprisings in Thailand in the immediate post-war
period. That is, Black Tiger is not simply a comedic attempt to appeal to
a knowledgeable art-house crowd, nor is it a film ‘about nothing at all’.
Instead, Black Tiger is the product of a rich and varied visual culture,
able to roll up past and present in a period setting, to disseminate a con-
sidered study of political possibilities. Black Tiger is a film that explores
ideas and concepts of political nationalism, class and gender, in order to
produce an ethical image, like those which Deleuze proposed.
In his exploration of the grander forms of American film from the
high point of the classical system, including genres such as the western,
the gangster film and the ‘psycho-social’ thriller, Deleuze describes how
they substitute the character of one person for the trials and travails of
a community, or people. This is the case, for example, in his discussion
of King Vidor’s The Crowd (USA, 1928), a story of the alienating effects
of the city and the world of office work. This ethical image describes the
future of the community, in demonstrating through the physical punish-
ment of one body how any attempt to resist or change will ultimately
return that body to its original situation. Gangster films, for example,
demonstrate the cycle of violence that will continue unless a new way
of thinking, and being, is found. This is often demonstrated through
the rise and fall of one character, such as Paul Muni’s Tony Camonte
in Howard Hawks’ Scarface (USA, 1932) – memorably followed by Al

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 39

Pacino’s Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake. Crucially, the

ethical form is an action-image in which the body of the individual and
the body politic merge and become metonymic: a movement from ‘the
collectivity to the individual and from the individual to the collectivity’
(Deleuze 1997: 144). The ethical form uses this movement to encourage
us to read the story of a character as standing for the possible destiny of
a community, a people or a nation. In this chapter I will argue that this is
exactly what occurs in Black Tiger, with the period setting evocative of a
critical moment in Thai history when it underwent a process of moderni-
sation, Westernisation and apparent ‘civilisation’. The ‘wild west’ trap-
pings allow the film to be read as a story of Thailand’s potential future
as a militarist state, a fulfilled, educated nation, or a criminal fiefdom
– all focused on the central figure of Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi), whose
role as the governor’s daughter offers a deep political significance. It is
through the character of Rumpoey that the ethical image offers a social
story; it has both a tale to tell and a warning to give.

‘Bomb the Mountains, Burn the Huts’

Black Tiger is set in the Thai province of Suphan Buri during the 1950s.
Bandits seua Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan) and seua Mahesuan (Supakorn
Kitsuwon) assassinate a rival bandit and his followers, before Dum rides
to a river sala (a sun or rain shelter) to meet his childhood sweetheart
Rumpoey. Since Dum is late for the appointment, Rumpoey reluctantly
leaves to become the fiancée of local army captain Kumjorn (Arawat
Ruangvuth). The jealous and resentful Mahesuan, who previously held
favour ahead of Dum, challenges him to a duel, but after Dum saves
his life the two reconcile and become blood brothers in a ritual at a
Buddhist temple.
In flashback, we learn how the young Dum and Rumpoey met, fol-
lowing her arrival from Bangkok to his father’s farm. Still in flashback,
we see Dum escort the spoilt Rumpoey, who breaks his flute, to a lotus
pond, where they discover the sala and where Dum fights off local
bullies as Rumpoey nearly drowns. Whipped by his father for return-
ing home late, Dum finds that Rumpoey has replaced his flute with a
Back in the 1950s present, Kumjorn stages an attack on the bandits’
camp. When this fails, the bandits’ leader, seua Fai (Sombati Medhanee),
tasks Dum with executing Kumjorn. However when Dum finds out that
Kumjorn is engaged to Rumpoey, he lets him go. Dum takes Kumjorn’s
photograph of Rumpoey, but is stabbed and injured in the process.

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40 Deleuze and Film

In another flashback, Dum and Rumpoey meet again at university,

only for Dum to be expelled after protecting Rumpoey from the same
bullies who attacked them at the sala. On his return to his village, Dum
finds his father assassinated. Saved from suicide by Fai, who is bonded
to Dum’s father through loyalty, Dum soon becomes the bandit leader’s
right-hand man, earning the title seua (‘tiger’), and hence ‘Black Tiger’.
Back in the present, Fai plans an attack on Kumjorn and Rumpoey’s
wedding, whilst Mahesuan – perhaps because of his letting the captain
escape – betrays and shoots Dum. The bullet is stopped by Dum’s har-
monica. Dum infiltrates the wedding to warn Kumjorn, who tries to
arrest him, and Dum is forced to hide whilst the bandit attack occurs.
Many are killed and, at the end of the battle, Fai is killed by Rumpoey’s
father (Pairoj Jaisingha). Mahesuan and Dum duel once again after Dum
discovers Mahesuan kidnapping Rumpoey. Dum kills Mahesuan, only
to be killed accidentally by Kumjorn, the bullet going through the pho-
tograph of Rumpoey.
The interest raised by what was seen to be Black Tiger’s ‘postmodern’
or ‘camp’ style should not distract our attention from what was intended
also to be an affectionate and meaningful period film, recalling for local
audiences at least the stories and names of real bandits from a genu-
inely lawless period in the history of Suphan Buri. The representation
of them as cowboy gunslingers is never taken seriously, and whilst the
vivid costume and histrionic acting of Supakorn Kitsuwon as the villain
Mahesuan is played for laughs almost from the outset, most allusions
to Ford and especially Leone are quite affectionate. A monsoon drowns
the first shoot-out, which is observed by a lone carabao/water buffalo,
whilst the bandits later outflank government troops using rocket-
propelled grenades. This might make the film seem half-baked to some
viewers, but its apparent amateurism should not be accepted ahead
of a representation of the more complex relationship that Thailand
has with Euro-American culture. Whilst Buscombe, for instance, criti-
cised the painted backdrops that dominate a key stand-off between
Mahesuan and seua Dum (which nonetheless borrows heavily from
Leone’s Dollars trilogy [Italy/Spain/West Germany, 1963–66]), he fails
to note their homage to Thai likay folk theatre. Similarly, Mahesuan
spits paan, or Betel nut juice, a Thai staple of masculinity but taken by
Buscombe as a reference to Eastwood in his own Outlaw Josey Wales
(USA, 1976). Similarly, ‘fa thalai jone’, Rachel Harrison reminds us, is
also the name of a herbal remedy – andrographis paniculata – which
is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory, and whose literal transla-
tion, ‘bandits attacked by rainy skies’, inspires the vivid image of seua

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 41

Mahesuan and seua Dum battling in the monsoon (Harrison 2005:

In fact, the film owes more to Thailand’s own brand of action films
from the 1960s onwards, particularly those of Rattana Pestonji, than it
does to classic and spaghetti westerns. Indeed, in the press notes sup-
plied by Magnolia Pictures, the film’s US distributor, a biography of
Rattana appears even before that of director Wisit and producer Nonzee
Nimibutr. Wisit’s use of elaborate staging and digital colour grading
combines both Hollywood and his own practice as a director and art
director for television commercials with a nostalgic re-imagining of
Rattana’s 1960s films:
I thought it should be possible to combine retro elements – faithful to the
old styles of filmmaking – with more modern pacing and film language . . .
Dozens of such films were made then, and the genre became known (con-
temptuously) as ‘Bomb the mountains, Burn the huts’ movies. The idea that
the hero should die, so that everyone cries on the way out, was a staple of
those movies too. (Wisit, interviewed in Rayns 2001: 8–9)

In addition, Harrison runs through a series of allusions made by the

film, which were lost on Western critics, and which serve to remind us
that Black Tiger is indeed trying to be a genre movie – just not of the
kind of which Westerners are commonly aware. These allusions include
familiar shots of Parliament House and the beach at Bang Pu, publicity
images recalling screen-printed 1960s lobby cards, and obvious refer-
ences to the popular novel, Seua Dam/The Black Tiger (1995 [1948]),
by Por Intharapalit (Harrison 2005: 201–2). Added to this is the inclu-
sion of veteran Thai actors Sombati Medhanee, as bandit leader Fai, and
Pairoj Jaisingha, as Rumpoey’s father, the governor. In what is surely an
in-joke lost on most Western viewers, the governor/Pairoj, after killing
Fai/Sombat, asks: ‘What? Don’t you recognise an old hoodlum?’ – a
significant moment, as we shall see.
In spite of these ‘Thai’ credentials, however, Europe represented pos-
sibly the most successful market for Black Tiger, given that it was only
a modest success in Thailand and did not have a wide release in the
USA. Miramax picked the film up for release after it had appeared at
the Seattle and Sundance Film Festivals in 2001, only to shelve it until
2007. After winning the Tigers and Dragons award at the Vancouver
International Film Festival in 2000 and being included in Un Certain
Regard at Cannes in 2001, it was firmly pigeonholed as an art-house
film, to be viewed, reviewed and interpreted through a framework of
irony and camp. This exhibition history of Black Tiger is the result,

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42 Deleuze and Film

Harrison suggests, of there effectively being two films on release in

the public imagination. One film, Tears of the Black Tiger, did indeed
appear to be a kitschy, postmodern homage to the Hollywood western,
with surface-value visual allusions and a title intended to score off the
success of Ang Lee’s Wo Hu Cang Long/Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon (Taiwan/Hong Kong/USA/China, 2000). The other, however, is
Fa Thalai Jone, a nostalgic period romp through Thai popular culture,
drawing upon real and fictional histories, folk theatre and society, with,
as we shall see, a warning to give about the political and class system.

Palimpsest, Kalatesa and the Modernist Text

It is perhaps because they only consider Tears of the Black Tiger instead
of Fa Thalai Jone that Harrison attacks reviews such as Buscombe’s,
which view the film through a postmodern, art-house lens. Its mixed
parentage of distant Thai action movies and Hollywood westerns gives
the lie to interpretations of Black Tiger as a film which reflects a modern
nation looking back on an historical period of social turmoil, namely the
project of Siamese modernisation that occurred throughout the 1940s,
and for which turning a face to the West was essential (Harrison 2005:
198; Van Esterik 2000). For Harrison, this is reflected in the concept of
siwilai, an interpretation of the process of Western civilisation, mixing it
with an archaic and exotic culture (Harrison 2005: 198). If, as Harrison
says, the film’s allusions are ‘not indicators of a carnival of postmodern
intertextuality, but instead refer to the appropriation of US cinema as a
popular form of entertainment in twentieth century Thailand’ (Harrison
2005: 203), then the film’s appropriation of CGI to tell a story set in
1950s Thailand functions in a similar fashion.
There are further narrative layers that suggest a review of history on
the part of the film. The presence of Kumjorn’s governmental troops
reflects both the bloodless 1932 coup d’état (with its People’s Party led
by a military elite) and the political friction and bloody coup of 1975–76
(both are oddly prescient of the 2006 coup and subsequent political
crisis). The film is never far from a reminder that modernisation comes
with a militarised face, suggesting a particular kind of new world that
presents the darker side of modernisation as Westernisation (Rumpoey’s
scenes with Kumjorn are accompanied by the Largo from Dvorak’s New
World Symphony).
To brand the film as postmodern without taking into account the
specifically Thai elements of the story, then, is to apply to it a set of
concepts (particularly those of the modern and the postmodern them-

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 43

selves) that in the West are coterminous with a capitalism historically

reliant upon colonial trade and domination. As Penny Van Esterik
notes, however, Thailand was never a colony, and it has been free of
many of the conflicts that have troubled its neighbours during and after
empire. Nevertheless, the process of modernisation, and the Pan-Thai
movement, saw the end of Siam and the homogenisation of Thai culture
and identity with a specific emphasis on relations with the West (Van
Esterik 2000: 96). Van Esterik thus concludes that Thailand has been
‘informally colonised’ by the West, in a manner akin to what we might
call cultural imperialism. The effect of this ‘informal colonisation’, she
suggests, is better represented not through modernism or postmodern-
ism, but through the pre-modern concept of the palimpsest, particularly
the local use of the folded palm leaf, in which successive layers of writing
bleed or show through to new ones, suggesting an ‘embeddedness’ and
an ‘ “unfolding” of social time’ (Van Esterik 2000: 42). This perhaps
reflects the deeper meaning of the critic Chuck Stephens’ assertion that
Black Tiger is in fact a ‘modernist commentary’ on just the kind of
genre movies that the film affectionately mocks (Stephens 2001: 17).
Furthermore, instead of seeing the critical antagonism as being between
modern and postmodern, or between palimpsest and pastiche, it is
perhaps better to understand the ethical form in terms of America’s
modernity for which the action-image

develops as a solution to US cinema’s desire to express a narrative of

Manifest Destiny. Therefore, to understand the manner in which the move-
ment-image functions in its construction of national identity (the implicit
reading inherent in Deleuze’s work on the US western as action-image) it is
necessary to consider both form and content, both montage and narrative,
in ideological terms. (Martin-Jones 2011: 30–1)

For David Martin-Jones, an understanding of the ideological role of the

movement-image is essential to the analysis of the popular cinemas that
have developed in its wake (whether colonised formally or ‘informally’).
In adopting the schema of the movement-image, either via Hawks,
Leone or Rattana, Wisit cannot help but adopt its political potential as
an ethical image also.
The Pan-Thai movement was spearheaded by the Prime Minster
Phibun Songkhram (1938–44 and 1948–57) as part of a reinvention of
Siam in order to be economically independent. As Van Esterik notes,
‘Thai’ means ‘free’, in the sense of both independence and adaptability,
and Phibun’s politics involved embracing both Euro-American concepts
of civilisation and progress, especially where this involved material gain

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44 Deleuze and Film

and a growing middle class, and local/rural traditional concepts of pro-

priety, central to which was the principle of kalatesa (Van Esterik 2000:
Kalatesa can be understood crudely as meaning ‘timeliness’ or ‘time-
space’, or perhaps ‘appropriateness of time and place’, though it is
more closely linked to fate and destiny. For this reason it is also used
to refer to propriety and manners, rather than serendipity of being in
the right place at the right time, in the sense that to violate kalatesa
is wilful or neglectful, involving a loss of face (barami) (Van Esterik
2000: 39). Therefore much relies upon a person’s awareness of kalatesa.
While not explicitly referencing kalatesa, the central plot of Dum and
Rumpoey meeting across class boundaries in Black Tiger is an example
of this, since Rumpoey is intended by her governor father to move in
higher circles, while Dum is employed through his local chief father
to be Rumpoey’s factotum. This is why Dum takes a beating from his
father during the film’s first flashback, for whilst he saved Rumpoey
from attack and from drowning, his trip with her to the sala violates
Kalatesa was central to education for all children during the period
of modernisation, but was especially important for women because it
enabled many to fulfil the expectations placed on them via courtly life
and its wider customs. It was also less culturally acceptable for women
to withdraw or ‘escape to the forest’ than for men, who could make use
of this outlaw identity as a specific means (as nakleng, or thug) (Van
Esterik 2000: 41). As a story of love across class boundaries, Dum and
Rumpoey’s romance hinges upon Dum being able to elevate his status
by attending university, and succeeding in obtaining the wherewithal of
kalatesa. When we first meet Dum, and he has already become nakleng,
it is his behaviour as a bandit that traps him and causes him to miss his
meeting with Rumpoey. He fails to comprehend both time and place at
the sala. Nevertheless, it could be argued that this has greater import
for Rumpoey. Caught between Dum and Kumjorn, and also Mahesuan,
Rumpoey’s misfortune is to be the focus of three powers that reflect the
situation of Thailand in that critical historical moment of the 1950s,
represented by the university, the military state, and the bandit fiefdom:
civilisation, totalitarianism and anarchy.
In her study of Satyajit Ray and Chen Kaige, Sumita Chakravarty
suggests that there is a certain political power of the erotic, one which is
helpful in understanding Rumpoey’s position. Chakravarty asks ‘what
are the implications of treating history as if it were a woman?’ and goes
on to propose that the erotic, as an image of the

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 45

the patriarchal relations governing society . . . signifies a structural arrange-

ment of forces in which the scenario of love and longing takes on a meaning
only as part of a larger political project of self-understanding, simultane-
ously social and subjective. [In the historical film, the erotic] is the clash
of the old and the new on the semantic body of the woman. (Chakravarty
2003: 82)
With this in mind, two senses of kalatesa can be seen to emerge, which
suggest the philosophical potential of Black Tiger. The first is the prin-
ciple of kalatesa as it is related most closely to propriety and gender
roles. To Western eyes, this might be understood as the subordination of
women. This is the principle that forces Rumpoey to accept Kumjorn’s
offer and which allows Kumjorn to rape her on their wedding night.
Conversely, it is this same principle that justifies Fai’s attack on the
wedding night, and which provokes Mahesuan’s threat to carry off
The second sense of kalatesa refers to the specific idea of knowing the
right, or best, time to act, beginning in the film with Dum missing the
tryst with Rumpoey, his later escape into the forest, and his eventual
betrayal of Fai. His return to kalatesa, represented by his infiltration
of the wedding and his defeat of Mahesuan, in turn reflects the ethical
image that the film presents. The final stand-off, culminating in Dum’s
death, is witnessed by Rumpoey as the national body, as she remains to
‘bear the brunt of the vicissitudes of history [whilst] it is the men who
are actually sacrificed in history’s slaughterhouse’ (Chakravarty 2003:
97). The power of the film as an ethical image lies in the exchange
between the body of Rumpoey and the body politic, since the film’s
narrative ends with the political order restored, and with Rumpoey
unhappily in the position for which she was raised: in a good political
marriage within her class boundaries. But its crucial moment lies not in
the narrative’s conclusion but in its introduction, in medias res. Just as
the film ends with a particular ethical image (the triumph of the military
state), so it begins with the possibilities inherent in Rumpoey’s future as
she waits for Dum at the sala and contemplates an unhappy marriage to

Solving a Dilemma: The Body Without Organs

What does this wait represent? As an extraordinary, enigmatic scene,
Rumpoey’s waiting represents a considerable sensory gap, waiting
to be filled by the narrative. It is attenuated by the young Dum and
Rumpoey’s discovery of the sala, which prompts Dum to tell her a story

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46 Deleuze and Film

about a woodcutter. After falling in love with a rich man’s daughter, a

woodcutter begins to build a beautiful sala as a place for them to meet.
However, when the girl is locked in her room by her enraged father, she
takes her own life, and the woodcutter is left waiting for a love that will
never come. The sala thus becomes a potential figure for the narrative
to unfold, a glimpse of which we are given in the fairy tale. Films often
use spaces like this to present narrative potentiality, by exploiting spaces
that are un-formed. Examples can include open-plan office spaces, prison
yards and canteens, and of course city streets. These spaces remove the
constructed divisions and push people together, which results in the
space becoming a figure of potentiality. The sala in Black Tiger brings
its different time periods together – the present of Rumpoey’s wait gives
way to their childhood, which in turn dissolves into the virtual image of
the fairy tale. The sala is the body without organs of the film, the ‘full
egg before the extension of the organism and the organisation of the
organs’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1996: 153).
The principle of a narrative gap to be filled reflects a particular
contradiction in Deleuze that Slavoj Žižek observes as being poorly
resolved in his work with Guattari. For Žižek, the contradiction arises
when Deleuze’s different approaches to becoming and affect meet each
other in cinema. On the one hand, in Deleuze’s work affect (such as an
aesthetic affect in cinema) is impersonal, and exists independent of any
subjectivity. On the other hand, this affect is the product of material
creation; it is put into the world by creative forces and intention. Cinema
is the best example of this, since, for Deleuze,

in a work of art an affect (boredom, for instance) is no longer attributable

to actual persons, but becomes a free-floating event. How, then, does this
impersonal intensity of an affect-event relate to bodies or persons? [E]ither
this immaterial affect is generated by interacting bodies as a sterile surface
of pure Becoming, or it is part of the virtual intensities out of which bodies
emerge through actualisation (the passage from Becoming to Being). (Žižek
2004: 21)

The solution for Deleuze is the figure of the egg in cinema, the body
without organs as a ‘vegetative milieu from which the animal acts out’
(Deleuze 1997: 156). The character is permeated by the situation in
which they find themselves, and bursts out from it. It is this figure which
gives narrative agency to character itself, so that its best expressions are
in the Actor’s Studio and the films of Elia Kazan, in which the vegetative
social situation (such as America’s deep south, or New York’s dock-
yards) gives rise to an extraordinary animal outburst, as in the ripping

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 47

of the shell from within the egg. The egg is a figure of forces only, rather
than their shape or effects: ‘The egg is the milieu of pure intensity,
spatium not extension’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1996: 164).
The body without organs is a figure of organisation that Deleuze
returned to, and refined, on a number of occasions. Introduced in The
Logic of Sense (1990 [1969]), Deleuze returned to it with Félix Guattari
in Anti-Oedipus (1990 [1972]) and A Thousand Plateaus (1996 [1980]).
It reflects in Deleuze’s work a passage from the ideal (The Logic of
Sense) to the personal (as seen in the attack on psychoanalysis in Anti-
Oedipus) and then to the political (A Thousand Plateaus). The concept
addresses the subject and the organisation of identity as a process of
becoming. In this respect, identity (whether personal, social, or under-
stood as the object) is always coming into being through the production
of bodies.
‘Organisation’, or ‘to organise’, involves creating form from imma-
nent forces, creating strata or striations (chosen as figures of this organi-
sation perhaps because of the principle of hierarchy which comes with
layering). ‘To organise’ is to give an identity to forms within form – in
the manner that the heart is an organ with a particular role and func-
tion within the body, useless if separated – as a process of individua-
tion. Take these figurations away and one is left with only intensities or
waves. The body without organs on a wider scale is a body from which
societal organisation is produced, with larger and larger transhistorical
strata that make up a totality as ‘the plane of consistency’ (Deleuze and
Guattari 1996: 157). The political value of the body without organs as a
concept resides with the ‘socius’, in that the characteristics of society are
the organisms/organisation on the surface of the body without organs
(Deleuze and Guattari 1990: 10). This startling concept emerges early
on in Anti-Oedipus, but it takes Deleuze and Guattari’s exploration of
the subject in A Thousand Plateaus for it to have real effect. The move
from the personal to the political is made effective in the philosopher’s
move from the collective to the individual. In the processes of subjectiv-
ity, the body without organs ‘is already under way the moment the body
has had enough of organs and wants to slough them off, or loses them’
(Deleuze and Guattari 1996: 150). Social reorganisation begins with the
desire to slough off or lose societal organs, but it is the unanimism of the
community that enables this to take hold of the organs of the state and
to create a genuine revolution.
We can loosely summarise this in three points: the socius is always
coming into being; the socius will be organised and will become an
organism; and we have the capacity to change the organism. This is why

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48 Deleuze and Film

the body without organs becomes an attractive political concept, in that

it exists both as the surface on which the organism is inscribed (‘capital
is the body without organs of the capitalist’) and as the figure of the
socius before organisation – even though the latter was a conclusion
Deleuze and Guattari were careful to avoid (Deleuze and Guattari 1990:
10; 1996 164). So political change is a matter of acceptance and confi-
dence, but, they infer, to dismantle the socius completely would be to
leave an empty body without organs (a formless body politic). The final
alternative to this is another potentiality: to impose a new socius would
be to create a dictatorship in the image of a body politic (totalitarian-
ism based on the sign) as cancerous. Hence we might understand the
three routes for political change offered by the cancerous, the empty and
the full body without organs: revolution as a tyrannical reconstruction
(such as the reign of terror in France); revolution as an emptying out, or
sloughing off, of all organisation (as in the criminal or gangster state);
and/or revolution as a fulfilment, which keeps part of the organism from
which to start again:

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn . . .
if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances
demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to; and you
have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable
you to respond to the dominant reality. (Deleuze and Guattari 1996: 160)

In this way, the body without organs resolves the conflict between
immaterial becoming as sense event and becoming as the production of
beings. In the cinematic body without organs the sense event is never
emptied out, never entirely without something of the material that has
been dis-organised. This is one of the central features of the time-image,
since it emerges as a glimpse of duration from the dismantling, decon-
struction or ambiguation (as it were) of the form of cinema. This is why
the time-image cannot exist without the movement-image, since in most
respects it relies heavily on the intelligibility of the movement-image in
order to afford this glimpse. However, what is often neglected in many
analyses is the influence of this work with Guattari on Deleuze’s own
discussion of narrative structure he outlined in his analysis of the action-
image, particularly his discussion of situation and action. As I will argue,
the three possibilities that emerge in the action-image closely correspond
to the three states of the body without organs. And it is for this reason
that Rumpoey’s wait at the sala, and the rather drippy romance with
Dum that it outwardly projects, is the body without organs upon which
is written the story of the body politic as an ethical image.

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 49

The Ethical Image

In his analysis of the action-image, Deleuze explores linked forms –
large and small – that broadly correlate to particular genres and the
ways in which those genres present the world through the realist text.
The large form speaks to the collective imagination of US modernity
through the western, the gangster movie, and ‘psycho-social’ films
such as The Crowd. It is in this analysis that Deleuze introduces his
SAS⬘ narrative structure as a way of explaining the passage from one
state of affairs to another, through a narrative gap caused by a specific
action or character. For this reason the figure of the hourglass, like
the egg, is prominent as a structuring motif. Simply put, the narrative
begins with a determinate milieu, or situation (S), which incurves to
challenge a character (Deleuze 1997: 140). Such an ‘incurving’ is the
servitude and class taboo for Dum as he falls in love with Rumpoey,
but it is also the lawlessness of his father’s murder, since it encom-
passes or overwhelms him to the point of suicide. In the SAS⬘ structure,
the central character must find a new mode of being; he or she must
produce an action (A) in order to create a new situation (S⬘). Dum
has several attempts at this: in defending Rumpoey from the nakleng/
thug boys; in going to university; in joining seua Fai; and finally (and
tragically), in warning Kumjorn of the attack. Each, as we shall see,
represents a different aspect of a changed situation, and it is within
this realm of possibilities that the movement-image exists as an ethical
Perhaps the simplest semiotic form of the SAS⬘ structure can be
seen in the state of things as a synsign, in which it is the very nature of
the encompassing situation that generates the need for action – as in
the class taboo. The introduction of antagonistic characters leads to the
principle of the duel in which characters confront each other once (as a
binomial sign) or several times (or with several characters) in order to
lead to a new situation (Deleuze 1997: 142). It is for this reason that
Deleuze is drawn to the western in order to explain this in detail. In
the western, the very appearance and brutality of nature can be over-
whelming, especially if to this is added the threat of attack from without
(natives) or within (capitalists as carpetbaggers, fraudsters and specula-
tors, as well as fellow bandits):
The passage from situation to action is thus accompanied by a dovetailing
of duels in each other. The binomial is a polynomial. Even in the western,
which presents the duel in its purest state, it is difficult to mark out its
boundaries in the final instance. Is the duel that of the cowboy with the

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50 Deleuze and Film

bandit or the Indian [sic]? Or with the woman, with the boyfriend, with the
new man who will supersede him . . .? (Deleuze 1997: 153)

It is in those films in which parody or burlesque play a central role that

this is perhaps most evident, since they make the mechanics of storytell-
ing crack and split. When Deleuze turns to the small form, intending
mostly to cover comedy, for instance, he proposes a new model based
on unusual characters or actions (ASA⬘).
Deleuze’s analysis comes a little unstuck, however, when he approaches
Buster Keaton’s features, in which the burlesque arrives not through the
small/ASA⬘ form, but is instead inserted directly into the large/SAS⬘ form
(see Deleuze 1997: 173). In The General (Clyde Bruckman and Buster
Keaton, USA, 1926), for example, the narrative is propelled by the
immensity of the American Civil War and the overwhelming shame felt
by Keaton’s character at not passing the draft (he does not realise that,
as a locomotive driver, he has been passed as vital to the war effort in his
own job). If, in The General, the burlesque furthers the sense of Keaton
being overwhelmed by the world of the western (here, the American
Civil War), it should not be surprising that a film such as Black Tiger
should also adopt and exploit some of the semiotics of the western – and
in a burlesque manner. In so doing, the film finds a way to address its
own contemporary situation all the more keenly.
Deleuze also explores other modes of the large form and their rela-
tionship to narrative resolution. Although the majority of action-image
films adopt the SAS⬘ structure in keeping with Manifest Destiny and its
legacy in US culture, it does not follow that this is always the case. As
mentioned, ‘psycho-social’ dramas such as The Crowd, as well as epic
cinema more generally, involve the central character returned/returning
to the same oppressive state of affairs, often an overwhelming social,
familial and/or personal situation (SAS). This may mean that the fight
goes on (as in the revolutionary epic), that capitalism or modernity
wins (as in the executive thriller), or that the socius is dystopic (post-
apocalyptic science fiction). Alternatively, the figure of the downward
spiral or descent into anarchy (SAS⬙) occurs in gangster movies (with
its parallel hierarchy and rule of law) or disaster movies (when survivors
struggle to build new communities which are grotesques of the origi-
nal). These three possibilities that present themselves in the large form
action-image map on to the three socio-political possibilities of the body
without organs outlined above: full (SAS⬘), empty (SAS), and cancer-
ous (SAS⬙). This is what gives the ethical image its capacity for political
reflection, and what gives it the ability to tell a story about how a socius

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 51

might reorganise. This political reflection is predicated on the narrative

gap that exists ‘between the situation and the action to come [but which]
only exists to be filled’ (Deleuze 1997: 155, emphasis in original).
The narrative gap exists in Deleuze’s analysis because of the funda-
mental issue of the two conflicting positions regarding the impersonal
intensity of the affect event: the new ethical image is the result of this
conflict, rather than being its resolution. This is why Žižek focuses his
attention on it as a quasi-cause: ‘In the emergence of the New, some-
thing occurs which cannot be properly described at the level of corpo-
real causes and effects. [This] quasi-cause fills the gap in the corporeal
causality’ (Žižek 2004: 27). However, this is a natural contradiction for
Deleuze to hold, in that he acknowledges the self-existence of objects
that coincide with (but are not materially the same as) the subject’s
engagement. It is the gap created by this coincidence that exists to be
rent apart by new concepts or art works. For Žižek, Deleuze’s mistake
is to forget that this quasi-cause is the pure signifier (phallus) that comes
to stand for all other causalities: the organ comes before the body, in the
same manner in which, in the Hollywood western, the gun comes before
the body. However, as Jason Demers notes, Žižek ignores the function
of the ‘without’ in the body without organs, which replaces the Lacanian
Signifier with which Žižek tries to confront Deleuze and Guattari’s
concept (Demers 2006: 156). In this respect we might argue that the
body of the body without organs is the immaterial sense event – i.e. the
affect – that is organ-ised by the production of beings. To create an art
work is to expose the gap that realism outwardly seeks to bridge (even
if one produces a photorealist painting or a photograph, it serves only
to emphasise the gap as a potential ‘without’). To engage with political
change is to engage with the principle of ‘without’, as if to say ‘what
happens if we were without this organ of the state?’

We can conclude by mapping the threefold schema of the large form of
the action-image, as figures of the movement-image, on to Black Tiger,
and therein appraise the politically reflective tale that the film has to tell.
The film presents Dum with three narrative possibilities:
Firstly, the situation Dum finds himself in as Rumpoey’s factotum
requires a new mode of being (the pursuit of wisdom), which means he
transcends his social status in order to be reconciled with her. In this
scenario, he stays at university by avoiding the conflict with the nakleng
boys (S⬘ – the full body).

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52 Deleuze and Film

Secondly, the situation Dum finds himself in after the death of his
father requires a new mode of being (the outlaw code), which means
he either kills Mahesuan and takes Fai’s place, or he is murdered and
Mahesuan takes his place as Fai’s deputy and his place with Rumpoey
(S⬙ – the cancerous body).
Thirdly, the situation Dum finds himself in after Mahesuan’s betrayal
requires a new mode of being (an honourable intervention), which leads
to his death at the hands of the state, whose representative Kumjorn
claims Rumpoey as a prize (S – the empty body).
What is perhaps even more significant about these situations is that
they arise in sequence. Dum’s lapse of judgement in breaking the class
taboo at the sala (phit kalatesa) is reflected in his horrible situation at
university: to stand back from fighting the thugs might be appropriate,
but it leaves Rumpoey to a horrible fate. Similarly, an ‘honest’ mistake
out of misplaced loyalty to Fai causes Dum to miss his meeting with
Rumpoey, forcing her to abide by the strictures of propriety, sending
both towards their tragic destiny. The critical issue is revealed by the
aforementioned knowing comment from Pairoj Jaisingha as the gov-
ernor (‘What? Don’t you recognise an old hoodlum?’). This reminds
us of the fact that this situation has been played out before, not least
in the genre cinema of Rattana and others, and that it will be played
out again. Rumpoey remains acted upon, as the semantic body of
the Thai nation, which has also seen all of this before and will prob-
ably do so again. In this sense a whole narrative tradition (‘Bomb the
mountains, Burn the huts’) becomes an ethical and political image. If
we return to the principle of the narrative gap, which Žižek found so
problematic, we can see that any difficulty is created by our expecta-
tion that the gap will be filled. We wish for and hope that Dum gets
the girl, and that a new, different and more equitable society might
emerge as a reflection of their union. However, if Dum gets the girl
we have no tale to tell, no warning to give. For the ethical image, the
gap cannot, must not, be filled. Perhaps Deleuze’s discussion of the
SAS⬘ structure is only a practical framework created to afford him
the opportunity to discuss more intriguing aspects of the SAS/SAS⬙
This chapter has examined the role of naïve homage in Fa thalai jone/
Tears of the Black Tiger through Deleuze’s treatment of the movement-
image. The film employs homage to Hollywood and to Thai drama and
action cinema alike in order to mix the politics of nationhood and the
politics of gender into a prima facie postmodern western. Its protago-
nist’s situation reflects on the historical possibilities offered by different

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Philosophy and Politics in Tears of the Black Tiger 53

political aspirations and the nation states they might create: honour,
anarchy, order.
At first glance the potentialities represented in Rumpoey and Dum’s
desire reflect Deleuze and Guattari’s three states of the body without
organs: full, cancerous and empty. However in order to exploit in nar-
rative the political tragedy of such narrative trajectories, Wisit’s film is
required to engage with the structures of the cinema of the period he
examines, for instance the westerns of Ford and the movies of Rattana,
rather than simply to pastiche them. This suggests that a careful explora-
tion of Deleuze’s movement-image philosophy, in particular his analysis
of the SAS⬘ narrative structure, can facilitate an appropriate and mean-
ingful understanding of the role of homage as a tool of political as well
as emotional cinema.

Buscombe, E. (2001), ‘Way Out East’, Sight and Sound, 3–4 (September).
Chakravarty, S.S. (2003), ‘The Erotics of History: Gender and Transgression in the
New Asian Cinemas’, in A.R. Guneratne and W. Dissanayake (eds), Rethinking
Third Cinema, London: Routledge, pp. 79–100.
Deleuze, G. (1990), The Logic of Sense, trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale, ed. C.V.
Boundas, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. (1993), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. (1997), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and
B. Habberjam, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari (1990), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari (1996), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi, London: Athlone.
Demers, J. (2006), ‘Re-membering the Body without Organs’, Angelaki, 11 (2):
Harrison, R. (2005), ‘Amazing Thai Film: The Rise and Rise of Contemporary Thai
Cinema on the International Screen’, Asian Affairs, 26 (3): 321–38.
Martin-Jones, D. (2011), Deleuze and World Cinemas, London: Continuum.
Rayns, T. (2001), ‘Dinosaur, Get Out! An Interview with Wisit Sasanatieng’, trans.
Duangkamol Limcharoen, Magnolia Pictures press notes, available at www.mag- (accessed 5 April 2011).
Stephens, C. (2001), ‘Tears of the Black Tiger – Review’, Film Comment, 37 (3):
Van Esterik, P. (2000), Materializing Thailand, Oxford: Berg.
Wood, A. (2001), ‘Thai Ho Silver’, Sight and Sound, 4–5 (August).
Žižek, S. (2004), Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences, London:

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 53 17/02/2012 16:59

Chapter 3
Time-Images in Traces of Love:
Repackaging South Korea’s Traumatic
National History for Tourism

David Martin-Jones

This chapter explores how time-images are deployed in Gaeulro/Traces

of Love (Dae-seung Kim, South Korea, 2006) as a means of examin-
ing recent South Korean history. Traces of Love uses time-images that
deliberately confuse events in the past and present to explore the recent
trauma of national economic collapse and its potentially stultifying
effect on the present state of the nation. The time-image is also integral
to the film’s attempts to provide an upbeat message concerning South
Korea’s future, a process in which the depiction of several sites of tour-
istic beauty and national heritage are crucial.
Thus this chapter demonstrates that although Deleuze’s ideas are
rarely applied to Asian cinemas, they are key to understanding the way
Traces of Love manipulates narrative time to explore recent South
Korean national history. Moreover, this analysis of the specific func-
tion of the time-image in one particular Asian film gestures towards the
greater need for a continued reconsideration of the broader, seemingly
universal conclusions Deleuze draws in the Cinema books. This involves
a conceptualisation both of the way the time-image functions, and of the
reasons for its emergence in different contexts, that is somewhat differ-
ent from Deleuze’s original theorisations.

Deleuze and Asian Cinemas

Over the last decade a growing number of scholars have engaged
ideas from Deleuze’s Cinema books with Asian films (e.g. Tong 2003;
Chaudhuri and Finn 2003; Martin-Jones 2006: 188–221; 2011: 100–61
and 201–33). Even so, if one considers the rapid proliferation of books
on Deleuze and cinema that has occurred more generally during this
period, Deleuzian approaches to Asian films seem relatively few in
number. Perhaps this is with good reason: scholars may have been wary

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 55

of the pitfalls of imposing a European philosophy onto Asian cinemas.

The reticence may also have been due to the fact that Deleuze developed
his ideas by drawing primarily upon films from Europe and the USA.
The time-image is a case in point.
In Cinema 2, Deleuze argues that cinema demonstrates a shift in
its conception of time, from a classical to a modern temporality, a
shift brought about by the Second World War (Deleuze 1989: xi–xii).
Deleuze specifically credits Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu as being the
‘first to develop pure optical and sound situations’ (Deleuze 1989: 13),
which characterise many time-image films, and yet he rather rapidly
leaves Ozu behind as his explanation of the time-image develops in con-
nection with Italian neorealism and other post-war European new waves
and auteur cinemas. We are left to wonder how this Japanese precursor
of the post-war European directors fits into Deleuze’s conception of a
temporal shift that is seemingly evident in European and American films,
a lacuna indicative of the wider absence of discussion of Asian cinemas
in the Cinema books.
In Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity (2006) and Deleuze and
World Cinemas (2011) I have engaged directly with the applicability of
Deleuze’s conclusions to films from India, South Korea, Japan and Hong
Kong, variously arguing that at the intersection of these assemblages we
can witness the transformation of Deleuze’s conclusions. Rather than
extrapolating universal conclusions regarding any apparently globally
applicable understanding of movement and time from Deleuze’s two
categories (movement-image and time-image), I believe that we should
consider Deleuze’s conclusions as being derived more from a European,
or even a Eurocentric, position on cinema. After all, Ozu’s films are not
the only example of Asian filmmaking that displaces the centrality of
the American and European cinemas that lie at the heart of the distinc-
tion Deleuze draws between his two image categories. Undoubtedly
the biggest challenge to his division of images around the turning point
of the Second World War is popular Indian cinema (often referred to
as Bollywood cinema), an aesthetic with a long history that does not
conform to the movement-image/time-image distinction that Deleuze
theorises by analysing American and European cinemas (Martin-Jones
2011: 201–33). That said, it has never been my aim to debunk the
Cinema books. My point, rather, is to explore how Deleuze’s concepts
can be usefully applied to different cinemas from around the world,
including several different Asian cinemas, even if this means reconsider-
ing or adapting them in the process.
Accordingly, this chapter follows the direction I have taken in my

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56 Deleuze and Film

previous books, but here focusing specifically on the use of the time-
image to examine national history in the South Korean film Traces of
Love. Deleuze did not pursue this approach in his Cinema books, which
only sketched a broader Eurocentric notion of late twentieth-century
history against which to interpret film images, and in particular time-
images. I use Traces of Love, then, to show how the time-image enables
the cinematic exploration of a national past, and also to posit the
importance of tourism for national rebuilding and cinematic rebranding.
This nationally specific function of the time-image indicates the need to
consider the relative applicability of Deleuze’s conclusions regarding
movement and time in the Cinema books, which is brought into sharp
relief when his concepts are explored in relation to specific Asian films
that are seeking audiences at home and abroad.

The Time-Image and South Korean National History

In line with the model of time that Deleuze adopts from Henri Bergson,
the crystalline or multi-faceted structure of the time-image is created by
a matching, mirroring and indiscernible oscillation of the virtual past
with the actual present. In other words, the past is most easily accessed
when an image or event in the present triggers an association with a
similar image or event on another layer of the past. As past and present
merge in this recollection, the time-image appears. Thus, in contrast
to the causal, primarily truth-revealing flashbacks of action-images
(Deleuze 1989: 46), the time-image very often creates confusion between
past and present, due to the temporal coexistence of these two moments.
In the case of Traces of Love two techniques are primarily used to
shift imperceptibly across this border between past and present; namely:
a simple shot/reverse shot pattern (with the reverse shot revealing a
different virtual layer of the past), and a static camera position, with
characters leaving the shot in one time zone and other characters enter-
ing from another. Through these basic techniques of editing and cinema-
tography, past and present are shown to coexist, becoming indiscernible
in the time-image which they mutually inform. Yet it is also in this way
that the time-image is used to explore the effect on the present of events
of national significance in the past.
To find such a play with time and national history in Traces of Love
should perhaps not come as a surprise. Since the resurgence of South
Korean cinema in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a number of films
have emerged that explore the relationship between the recent national
past and the present. In particular, South Korean horror films and ghost

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 57

stories evidence the indiscernibility of the past and present that Deleuze
observes in the time-image. Consider for example the high school drama
Yeogo goedam II/Memento Mori (Tae-Yong Kim and Kyu-Dong Min,
South Korea, 1999), the haunted house movie Janghwa, Hongryeon/A
Tale of Two Sisters (Jee-woon Kim, South Korea 2003), and the Vietnam
War story Arpointeu/R-Point (Su-chang Kong, South Korea, 2004). All
three demonstrate the confusion over layers of the past that Anna Powell
describes in Deleuze and Horror Film as characteristic of the genre, in
which: ‘The past impregnates the present in a haunting which seeks to
block the flow of present into future. The past threatens to dominate the
present and also to shape the future in its own replicated image which
brings stasis’ (Powell 2005: 11).
Admittedly Traces of Love is not a horror film. Generically speaking
it is a hybrid of melodrama, disaster and road movie, although it was
packaged for international sales as an art film. Nevertheless, in Traces
of Love a similar impregnation of the present by the past occurs, only
without the stasis-inducing, retrogressive effect that Powell identifies
in the horror film. Instead, the past merges with the present in order to
inform it. Virtually visiting the past enables characters in the present
to rebuild their lives after a past trauma that affected the entire nation.
Indeed, it is this overt engagement with a traumatic event in the recent
national past that sets Traces of Love apart from the previous films of
director Dae-seung Kim – Beonjijeompeureul hada/Bungee Jumping of
their Own (South Korea, 2001), and Hyeol-ui nu/Blood Rain (South
Korea, 2005) – even though they both contain something of the confu-
sion of temporal periods seen most clearly in Traces of Love. Thus a
Deleuzian view of time is evident in Traces of Love, in which the co-
presence of different layers of the past is clearly constructed through the
editing and cinematography, and is used to explore national history in
order to posit a cure for a recent national trauma.

Traces of Love
Traces of Love symbolically reconnects a young man, Hyun-woo (Ji-tae
Yu) with his dead fiancée Min-joo (Ji-su Kim), through the physical
presence of another woman, Se-jin (Ji-won Uhm). At the beginning of
the film, Hyun-woo and Min-joo are a young couple, engaged to be
married. Tragically, Min-joo is killed when a department store col-
lapses. Hyun-woo lives with the knowledge that not only did he urge
this meeting place on Min-joo due to work commitments (Min-joo ini-
tially arrives to collect him from work), but so too did his professional

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58 Deleuze and Film

life delay his arrival at their rendezvous. Several years later, Hyun-woo
becomes a dedicated prosecutor, refusing to be bought off when investi-
gating high-level corruption and political lobbying surrounding a failed
building venture, the Hanyang Global case, which has seen investment
funds disappear offshore leaving many of its investors facing finan-
cial ruin. Although there is no loss of life involved, as there was with
the department store collapse that killed Min-joo, there are similarities
between the two cases in as much as it is ordinary people, this time the
investors, who are once again shown to be the victims of unscrupulous,
profit-hungry businessmen. However, due to his dogged pursuit of the
truth Hyun-woo is taken off the case and sent on an enforced vacation
before he can expose the high-ranking public officials implicated in
the scandal.
Just prior to leaving Seoul, Hyun-woo is given his deceased fiancée’s
battered journal by her father. He follows a route described by Min-joo
in the journal, retracing the steps of a journey she had planned for their
honeymoon. Whilst on this journey of personal discovery, Hyun-woo
meets Se-jin. Se-jin is following the same route as Hyun-woo. It tran-
spires that Se-jin was trapped in the ruins of the department store along
with Min-joo, and there inherited Min-joo’s journal, which she eventu-
ally sent to Min-joo’s father. As a tentative romance blossoms between
Se-jin and Hyun-woo they both face the traumas of their shared past,
and in so doing, begin to rebuild their lives. This interaction with the
past is depicted using the time-image.
The traumatic event of the department store collapse in Traces of
Love references the real life collapse of the Sampoong department store
in 1995, which killed over 500 people. Director Kim attempted to
reproduce the actual event, spending around £0.5m of the film’s budget
on building a one-fifth scale model of the department store to create
a realistic impression of the catastrophe (Joo 2006). The reference is
of essential importance to the film because the investigation into the
real-life collapse revealed that, alongside planning and design abuses,
bribery and corruption amongst city officials had contributed to the
disaster. The parallels between this event and the story of prosecutor
Hyun-woo are evident, ensuring that Traces of Love resonates with
broader, national concerns over high-level corruption and financial
mismanagement in public office. Hyun-woo and Se-jin’s confrontation
with the past is, then, of national significance as Traces of Love engages
allegorically with the aftermath of a national trauma. As I will further
demonstrate, the setting of this traumatic recovery of the past in several
beautiful tourist locations and other sites of South Korean national

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 59

heritage strengthens the national dimension of the allegory, whilst also

attempting to promote the nation’s touristic vistas, as does the use of
the time-image to explore personal traumas inextricably connected to a
recognisable, tragic national event.

Time-Images in Traces of Love

Time-images appear on numerous occasions in Traces of Love, the
majority of them concentrated in the middle of the film as Hyun-woo
and Se-jin retrace the journey outlined in Min-joo’s journal. After the
collapse of the department store Hyun-woo regains a certain sense of
direction to his life by becoming an incorruptible prosecutor, working
to expose the kind of high-level abuse of public office that led to this
disaster. However, Hyun-woo’s professional life is suddenly stalled
when his investigation threatens to uncover the fact that the corruption
may extend to very high-ranking public officials, possibly including the
Mayor. When his boss forces him to take a vacation, Hyun-woo’s life
begins to drift. He begins to wander through South Korea precisely as
we would expect of a meandering protagonist of the time-image. This
wandering takes him in search of an informing past that can cure his
Hyun-woo’s sense of direction is ultimately determined by the
presence of Min-joo’s battered journal, which provides him with a
guiding influence from his past. As Hyun-woo follows the directions
in Min-joo’s journal, his narrative is no longer his own. Following in
the footsteps of his dead fiancée, travelling roads she mapped out for
him in the past, his personal narrative is derailed and time invades the
present moment, bringing him into contact with Min-joo in the past.
Accordingly, it is here that the time-image begins to emerge, past and
present coming together most clearly in the film’s conflation of its two
female characters, Min-joo and Se-jin, as Hyun-woo encounters Se-jin
on precisely the same journey as himself.
The first time-image appears forty-five minutes into the film and
equates Se-jin in the present with Min-joo in the past. The first notable
disruption of narrative time by the time-image occurs when we cut from
Hyun-woo driving away from Seoul to Se-jin – a character who has been
briefly introduced to the viewer but whose narrative purpose is entirely
unknown – sightseeing amongst the sand dunes at Poongsung, on
Woohee island. We recognise Se-jin’s location because it was introduced
in the very first scene of the film by the video diary report being filmed
there by Min-joo and her colleagues.

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60 Deleuze and Film

Se-jin walks across the dunes towards the camera, and passes a group
of people setting up a video shoot very much like that seen the last time
the narrative visited this particular location. Se-jin stands looking out
at the sea. A reverse shot presents us with her point of view. This shot
of the sea slowly dissolves into a point of view shot seen through a
camera lens, which is gradually made obvious by markings that appear
at the edges of the frame. A click of a shutter is heard, but the ensuing
reverse shot reveals not Se-jin in the present, but Min-joo in the past.
Through the subtle use of a shot/reverse shot pattern and brief dissolve
we have slipped into the past in the time-image. The virtual nature of
this layer of the past is emphasised by our entrance into it through the
lens of a camera. We remain in the past to witness Min-joo apologise to
her fellow video diary crew members for making them miss the last ferry
off the island that night. A static camera shot shows the departing ferry
in the middle distance, as Min-joo and her colleagues leave the dock in
search of a hotel, departing from the shot past the static camera. The
shot remains static, with only a slow zoom in to indicate that time has
in any way passed, before Se-jin runs into the shot, in the present, realis-
ing that she has just missed the ferry. The reverse shot, when it finally
comes, reveals that now we are back in the present, as Min-joo and her
friends have entirely disappeared.
Through an unobtrusive use of a standard shot/reverse shot pattern
and a static camera with an almost imperceptible zoom, the time-image
has emerged. This simple use of editing and cinematography enables
the past to enter momentarily into a crystalline relationship with the
present. In this way, Se-jin is conflated with Min-joo, prefiguring her
ultimate status as Min-joo’s hand-picked replacement in Hyun-woo’s
life. It is only now, with this relationship between the women in the past
and present established, that Hyun-woo arrives on Woohee island.
Following Min-joo’s journal, Hyun-woo also locates the spot where
Min-joo took the photograph in the past. Although no time-image
immediately appears, Hyun-woo also establishes a matching relationship
between virtual past and actual present by comparing, and ultimately
matching, the photograph in the journal with the scenery. Min-joo’s
voice is then heard on the voiceover, narrating events in her journal. We
again shift imperceptibly into the past. As Hyun-woo looks out to sea
from the sand dune we cut to Min-joo, abruptly changing location to a
winter setting in the snow-covered Soswaewon Gardens, Damyang. The
sixteenth-century gardens are a popular tourist destination on the main-
land, their leafy beauty contrasting markedly with the dunes of Woohee
Island. Here, Min-joo drops a flower into a small stream. The camera

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 61

tracks the flower in close-up as it travels the course of the stream. The
setting shifts from snowy winter to golden autumn and, predictably, the
flower is retrieved at the end of its journey by Hyun-woo in the present.
Here a technique usually deployed to demonstrate spatial continuity
renders visible an easy slippage between sheets of time, from past to
present. This particular time-image returns the narrative to the present,
revealing an ellipsis in Hyun-woo’s journey (from Woohee Island to the
inland Soswaewon Gardens) and, indeed, demonstrating that Hyun-
woo and Se-jin are simultaneously occupying the same physical space,
only on different layers of time.
Time-images thus multiply in this middle section of the film in order
to drive the narrative forward in an extremely circuitous fashion, the
past emerging to propel Se-jin and Hyun-woo forward in the present.
The narrative only settles into the present when Hyun-woo and Se-jin
begin to travel together, after a series of coincidences thrown up by their
mutual adherence to Min-joo’s journal itinerary. As Se-jin now begins to
replace Min-joo in Hyun-woo’s life, the role of the past in propelling the
narrative also slowly decreases. The few remaining time-images focus on
exploring and purging the trauma suffered by Se-jin in the past, when
she was trapped in the ruins of the department store with the dying Min-
joo. As events in the past are thus investigated the two protagonists in
the present are able to grieve, and as a consequence their agency gradu-
ally returns. In this way Traces of Love draws together its exploration
of time through the time-image with its examination of the trauma of
collapse in recent national history.

National Trauma, Road Movie, Time-Image

The structure and progression of the narrative of Traces of Love hangs
on the collapse of the department store that occurs twenty minutes into
the film, as witnessed from across the street by Hyun-woo. In diegetic
terms this is the key moment in the lives of the three protagonists. It
also entirely derails Hyun-woo and Min-joo’s romance narrative and
facilitates the emergence of the time-image. Correspondingly, the film’s
pivotal moment is the long-awaited spectacle of devastation when the
department store collapses, as seen from the perspective of those within
its basement café. Thus when we finally do experience the collapse for
ourselves, it is as it is remembered by Se-jin. These two moments of
devastation bracket off the time-images, creating an extended temporal
hiatus in which the national past can be explored.
The film’s reference to the Sampoong department store collapse in

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62 Deleuze and Film

1995 actually evokes a larger ‘national economic collapse’ (Chang

1999: 31), which was the culmination of a period of exceptionally rapid
modernisation under military rule now commonly referred to as South
Korea’s experience of ‘compressed modernity’. Writing in the aftermath
of the Asian economic crisis of 1997, and discussing the general state of
‘collapse’ of South Korea in the 1990s, Kyung-Sup Chang notes that the
legacy of South Korea’s recent experience of compressed modernity was

South Koreans had to accept the unbelievable collapse of Seongsu Grand

Bridge over Han River, Sampung Department Store and many other huge
physical structures. While the immediate cause of most of these collapses
has largely been attributed to the personal, political and administrative
mistakes of the previous state leadership, a grave society-wide pessimism
about renewed long-term economic and social development is haunting
South Koreans. (Chang 1999: 31)

This view of the Sampoong disaster as a symptom of a larger national

crisis in the recent past is echoed by director Kim in an interview. Kim
notes his sensitivity towards the continued effect of the disaster on indi-
viduals who might see the film, emphasising the continued informing
presence of the recent past on the present-day life of potential viewers.
He initially alludes to the disaster as one of several ‘bizarre accidents
that have happened in Korea’ (Kim 2006: 37), before specifically posi-
tioning it as a direct consequence of compressed modernity, stating that
‘the collapse accident in Korea may have been in process for a long
period of time, perhaps since 1945. The history of the unforgivable
mistakes and the irrational decision-making systems that we failed to
eliminate ultimately resulted in this tragedy’ (Kim 2006: 37).
In Traces of Love, the legacy of economic collapse is the ghost that
haunts the lives of Hyun-woo and Se-jin through the temporal disrup-
tions of the time-image. As they struggle to come to terms with the past,
the film attempts to offer solutions to the widespread pessimism sur-
rounding South Korea’s economic resurgence, which Chang observed
during the International Monetary Fund (IMF) crisis. The evocation of
the Sampoong department store collapse establishes a past trauma that
is of national significance in spite of being represented through a melo-
drama of personal relationships.
Moreover, Hyun-woo and Se-jin’s respective journeys into the past
take place on their road-movie-like journey through various sites of
South Korea’s scenic historical and cultural heritage, thereby conflating
their personal routes to therapeutic recovery with that of the nation.

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 63

As Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark note, typically the ‘road movie
provides a ready space for exploration of the tensions and crises of the
historical moment during which it is produced’ (Cohan and Hark 1997:
2). Indeed, as Kyung Hyun Kim’s detailed discussion of Korean road
movies would suggest, Traces of Love is not the first film to explore
the issue of national identity. Like its predecessors from the 1980s and
1990s that Kim discusses, the film depicts characters searching for a
home ‘and by proxy a salient national identity’ in the context of Korea’s
‘painful and brutal history fraught with colonialism, war and moderni-
sation’ (Kim 2004: 53–4). Yet in this instance, the two wounded charac-
ters are ultimately granted the ability to return home at the end of their
journey, once they have confronted the past. At the close of the film,
Hyun-woo in particular is absolved of guilt by Min-joo’s father. This is
a markedly more resolved conclusion than is found in the previous films
Kim discusses, including Nageuneneun kileseodo swiji anhneunda/The
Man with Three Coffins (Jang-ho Lee, South Korea, 1987), Seopyeonje/
Sopyonje (Kwon-taek Im, South Korea, 1993), and Sae sang bakuro/
Out of the World (Kyun-dong Yeo, South Korea, 1994). Here the awe-
inspiring, picture-postcard settings of Traces of Love contrast most
clearly with the often brutal ‘overwhelming landscapes’ identified by
Kim in these previous films (Kim 2004: 53), as Traces of Love’s touristic
aspect is promoted to national and international markets.
Thus in Traces of Love, in contrast to the haunting of the present by
the past noted by Powell of the time-image in the horror genre – ‘which
seeks to block the flow of present into future’ – the pessimism that
Chang observed to be ‘haunting South Koreans’ is directly addressed
in order to posit a possible solution to stasis, a way of facilitating the
movement of the present into the future. The cure that enables Hyun-
woo to stand up to his boss, and return to his position as incorruptible
prosecutor (a future guardian against the causes of such collapses as
that of Sampoong), is directly effected through confrontation with the
traumatic past whilst on the road. Similarly, through her meeting with
Hyun-woo, Se-jin is also able to return to work. In this way the restored
economic agency of both characters after a period of reflection whilst
lost in the time-image is used to suggest the potential for ‘long term
economic and social development’ in South Korea after the ‘national
economic collapse’ of the 1990s.
The time-image, then, enables an exploration of the national past in
order to facilitate an articulation of the losses experienced under com-
pressed modernity: the lives lost in physical collapses like the Sampoong
disaster, the often-contested social transformations caused by rapid

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64 Deleuze and Film

modernisation, and the devastation wrought by sudden economic col-

lapse. It offers Hyun-woo and Se-jin the chance to delve into the past, to
explore its injustices (as prosecutor, this is Hyun-woo’s chosen profes-
sion, after all), and thereby to find a way of articulating the ‘incommen-
surable experience of modernity’. Notably, towards the end of the film,
Hyun-woo is finally able to express his great regret at insisting on the
department store café as the place to meet Min-joo after work. For her
part, Se-jin’s recounting of the department store collapse enables her to
release her sadness, as she speaks about the trauma for the first time with
Hyun-woo. These personal cures, however, are only possible through
the encounter with the past offered by the time-image, the pivotal such
image triggering the memory in which the store’s collapse is recalled.
The first clue that Se-jin was trapped in the ruins of the department
store when it collapsed is given when she and Hyun-woo drive through
a tunnel, and witness the aftermath of a car crash. Se-jin begins to hyper-
ventilate and has to leave the tunnel on foot. When Hyun-woo eventu-
ally realises the mutual link to Min-joo that exists between himself and
Se-jin, he confronts her, and she directly recalls the collapse. As this
initial allusion to her part in the trauma occurs in the underground
tunnel, it might seem tempting to view it as an expression of a Freudian
return of the repressed, an equation of the past with the subterranean
unconscious. Indeed, when Se-jin does finally come to recall the past it is
rendered as a flashback that is signalled in a very conventional manner
through a prolonged close-up on her traumatised face staring into the
middle distance, which then cuts to Se-jin and Min-joo buried in the
pitch black ruins of the department store. This is decidedly not the same
indiscernible mingling of the past and present in the time-image that we
have seen up until this point in the film. However, close analysis reveals
that, rather than a return of the repressed, Se-jin’s memory is actually
brought on by a Bergsonian, or more accurately Proustian, mirroring of
present with past.
The scene in the present takes place in a dark underground tunnel,
evoking Min-joo and Se-jin’s burial in the darkened ruins of the depart-
ment store. The bodies on stretchers, the ambulance crews, sirens, and
finally the banging of the ambulance doors (that resemble for Se-jin the
sound of her own hand futilely banging on the wall as she attempts to
reach the dying Min-joo) all mirror the previous scenes of rescue workers
digging in the rubble of the department store. These optical and sound
triggers illustrate the informing co-presence of the past with the present,
creating a crystal of time in which the virtual past and the actual present
begin to mirror each other. For the traumatised Se-jin they momentar-

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 65

ily become indiscernible (her hyperventilating body physically recalling

her near-suffocation in the ruins) as she finally recalls the past. Thus the
flashback to the collapse of the department store, although it is finally
delivered in a conventional manner, also illustrates the coexistence of
the past with the present found in Deleuze’s time-image. The function
of this time-image, however, is specific to South Korean history and the
nation’s experience of compressed modernity during the Cold War and
its immediate aftermath, rather than illustrative of a larger epistemic
shift related to European identities or the aftermath of the Second World

Tourism and the Time-Image

The carefully chosen locations of outstanding natural and historic
beauty in which this exploration of the past takes place are also of
importance for the functioning of the time-image. The last of the
time-images that dominate the middle section of the film occurs in the
Buddhist temple at Bulyoung, and appears immediately after Se-jin’s
hyperventilation in the tunnel. Here again the time-image emphasises
the link between Min-joo in the past and Se-jin in the present through
a subtle deployment of the shot/reverse shot structure to switch imper-
ceptibly between different layers of the past. However, the additional
significance of the time-image that occurs in Bulyoung temple for the
film’s meditation on national history is to be found in its relationship to
The temple is introduced with the arrival of Hyun-woo and Se-jin,
who are pictured sightseeing amongst other tourists. We then cut to the
virtual past, seen initially through the viewfinder of a video camera as
Min-joo and her colleagues interview a Buddhist monk. The filming is
persistently interrupted by various noisy bystanders, whom we do not
see, but assume to be tourists like Hyun-woo and Se-jin. Shortly after
their visit to Bulyoung temple, Se-jin and Hyun-woo walk through the
forested grounds together. Hyun-woo hears Min-joo’s voiceover in his
head as Se-jin reflects on the way seasons, and in particular autumn,
smell on the air. This moment soon leads to Se-jin and Hyun-woo’s
realisation of their mutual connection to Min-joo, and this in turn will
bring on the final flashback that places Min-joo and Se-jin together in
the basement café of the department store as it collapses. The timing of
this final time-image suggests that it is tourism, and in particular sites of
national heritage as tourist locations, that provide the necessary cure for
the nation’s traumas under compressed modernity.

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66 Deleuze and Film

The development of South Korea’s Buddhist temples as sites for

tourism began during the Fifth Republic, under the dictatorship of
President Chun Doo-hwan, when monastic estates were turned into
national parks and ‘extensive tourist resorts . . . were built at their
front gates’ (Sørensen 1999: 139–40). As both Sørensen and Richard
H. Robinson and Willard L. Johnson (1997: 236) note, this had an
extremely disruptive effect on the everyday life of Buddhist monks,
as we see in this sequence of Traces of Love. The scene is played for
laughs as the monk grows increasingly agitated at the persistent inter-
ruptions of the bystanders. Reincarnation, the theme of Kim’s first
feature, Bungee Jumping of their Own, is vaguely alluded to by this
choice of setting. The monk’s discussion of the origin of the temple’s
name in the reflection of the Buddha-shaped rock in the water (‘Bul
young’ meaning ‘Buddha reflection’, as we are informed by Min-joo),
suggests not only that a spiritual dimension remains in such remnants
of South Korea’s Buddhist heritage but that this spiritual dimension also
somehow facilitates, or at least explains, the film’s view on communi-
cation existing between past and present. This is the case even though
tourism has apparently invaded the temple, and it has ceased to function
effectively (or to be taken seriously) as a site of uninterrupted medita-
tion. However, it is primarily tourism that provides the curative aspect
to Se-jin and Hyun-woo’s journey.
Throughout the film the journeying of the two protagonists through
South Korea’s spectacular landscape – journeying both in the present
and into the past – demonstrates the power of tourism as a form of
therapy. This is most evident in the onscreen beauty of South Korea’s
landscape in the present that contrasts so starkly with the darkness of
the department store ruins of the past, which we visit in the final time-
image. In this way, Traces of Love maps out the curative tourist spaces
and sites of national heritage that are available to the nation after its
experience under compressed modernity.
At several points in the film this extolling of the nation as a tourist
destination becomes impossible to ignore. For instance, consider Min-
joo’s phone message to Hyun-woo, in which the natural beauty of
Naeyŏn mountain is described: ‘I’m at Naeyŏn Mountain now. It’s just
north of Pohang city. This mountain really is beautiful. It’s got 12 water-
falls, all of them really pretty. Since it’s not too much of a climb you’ll
like it too.’ The dialogue almost directly addresses the viewer, as though
it were an advert aimed at potential tourists. In the same vein there is
Se-jin’s verbatim rendering of Min-joo’s journal description of Highway

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 67

People say Highway Seven is beautiful because of the East Sea and the pine
trees. But it’s these fishing villages and the people living here that make this
road even more lovely. And maybe this is why I feel compelled to call out
the village names along this road. If I don’t they might feel disappointed.
Byung-gok, Hupo, Pyong-hae, Wolsong, Duksan.

In this instance the dialogue serves to create a map of the scenic route
available along Highway Seven. In fact, conversations between charac-
ters even explicitly provide directions for travel:
Hyun-woo: Is Bulyoung temple on the way to Wooljin?
Se-jin: Yes.
Hyun-woo: Do I take this road to Wooljin which forks out from Yangjung
Se-jin: It’ll take much longer. Going from Mangyang Beach through
Noumli is faster. The scenery is prettier.

There are several other such conversations and asides. Moreover, when
Hyun-woo and Su-jin visit these locations, they are always comfortably
busy with tourists (without being teeming), and the two characters are
first brought together by the necessity of sharing a table in a busy restau-
rant. Most apparently, these discussions, set within what appears to be
a thriving tourist industry, serve the diegetic purpose of demonstrating
Se-jin’s familiarity with Min-joo’s planned honeymoon route from the
journal, which she claims to have travelled three times in the intervening
years. Yet it also illustrates a concerted effort on the part of the film-
makers to use Traces of Love as a platform on which to market South
Korea as an accessible and beautiful tourist destination, suggesting both
a rejuvenated economy and a sense that national heritage can bring
South Koreans together. In this sense the journal functions in precisely
the same way in the diegetic world as it does for the viewer of the film,
as a pocket travel guide.
This emphasis on tourism is facilitated by the narrative structure
offered by the time-image. From the department store’s collapse to
the revelatory moment in which it is remembered by Se-jin, the film is
effectively a distended moment displaced from continuity in which the
past and present commingle. This narrative hiatus provided by the time-
image takes the form of a meandering tourist’s journey that only ends
with the return to work of its protagonists. When Hyun-woo finally
tracks down Se-jin on their return to Seoul she is once again working as
a café waitress, this time in a branch of Starbucks. Despite the traumatic
experience she suffered whilst working as a waitress in the basement
café of the department store, Se-jin has returned to her original trade.

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68 Deleuze and Film

However, the film makes it clear that this has only become possible
because of the curative journey she took through South Korea, and
indeed, through her reliving of the past with Hyun-woo in the time-
image. Hence, when she and Hyun-woo meet again at the close of the
film in Starbucks, which is one of the most internationally recognised
brand names synonymous with globalisation, there is a suggestion that
both characters have reconciled themselves to the rebuilding process
that followed the national economic collapse of the 1990s. Not only is
Se-jin back at work, but Hyun-woo’s forceful confrontation with his
boss and the reassertion of his right to investigate the Hanyang Global
case also demonstrates his return to agency after the tourist’s malaise of
the time-image.
Along with the film’s emphasis on selling South Korea as a tourist des-
tination, then, its narrative illustrates a reconciliation in the present with
the economic trajectory of compressed modernity, despite the traumas
it has caused in the past. Having investigated the past, Hyun-woo has
now become a prosecutor capable of weeding out the corruption that
previously caused such collapses. Se-jin for her part is able once again
to take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation, presum-
ably feeling a lot safer about the risks that may be involved. Thus the
film ends with a positive outlook for South Korea’s economic and social

By this point it should be no surprise that Traces of Love, in many ways
a shop window in which the nation’s tourist hot spots are displayed,
was chosen to open the 11th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) in
2006. As SooJeong Ahn notes, by focusing on Asian cinema, the PIFF
has attempted to construct a specific identity within the world of film
festivals. Part and parcel of this process has been the strategic program-
ming of South Korean films in the opening gala in order to both brand
these films as national products, and to enable them to circulate abroad
(Ahn 2009: 73). Traces of Love was one of the first films sold (to Sony
Pictures) through the Asian Film Market, which was launched at PIFF
in 2006 precisely to facilitate the buying and selling of Asian films (Yoo
2006). When it went back into postproduction after premiering at the
PIFF, the film’s producer Dong-kyu Ahn further demonstrated the film’s
international ambitions by announcing plans to remake the film in the
USA, with 9/11 replacing the Sampoong disaster (Frater and Lee 2006).
The film’s international aims, in particular in relation to tourism, bring

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Time-Images, Tourism and South Korean History 69

this discussion back to the opening engagement with Deleuze’s formula-

tion of the time-image out of his observation of various European art
cinemas. We might consider Traces of Love’s time-images as a deliberate
formal strategy targeted at the cine-literate film festival circuit. Yet, far
from being evidence of a global post-war shift in the cinematic concep-
tion of time, which would link South Korean cinema to the European
new waves of the twentieth century (were such a global shift possible
to identify definitively), Traces of Love actually demonstrates how
national cinemas deploy time-images to engage with national history
and simultaneously to gain international appeal, in this case by very
deliberately promoting the nation as a tourist destination. In the South
Korean context, then, the time-images in this film are more usefully seen
as negotiating the nation’s experience of the traumas of compressed
modernity than as symptomatic of a global shift in the conception of
time occurring around the Second World War (Martin-Jones 2006:
205–19; and 2011: 100–30). Yet it is only by assembling Deleuze’s ideas
with Asian films that these kinds of fine distinctions can be drawn, and
that – pace Deleuze’s Eurocentric conclusions – his Cinema books can
return in difference.

Ahn, S.-J. (2009), ‘Placing South Korean Cinema into the Pusan International Film
Festival’, in C. Berry, J.D. Mackintosh and N. Liscutin (eds), What a Difference a
Region Makes, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 73–86.
Chang, K.-S. (1999), ‘Compressed Modernity and its Discontents: South Korean
Society in Transition’, Economy and Society, 28 (1): 30–55.
Chaudhuri, S. and H. Finn (2003), ‘The Open Image’, Screen, 44 (1): 38–57.
Cohan, S. and I.R. Hark (1997), The Road Movie Book, London: Routledge.
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, London: Continuum.
Frater, P. and J. Lee (2006), ‘ “Traces” of 9/11’, (13
October), available at (accessed
16 April 2007).
Joo, J.-W. (2006), ‘The Opening Film of PIFF 2006 is . . . “Woman, Ji-su” ’ (my
translation), Joins/JoongAng Daily (11 October), available at http://article.joins.
com/article/article.asp?Total_ID=2472429 (accessed 27 April 2007).
Kim, H.-S. (2006), ‘Absence of Lover: Presence of Love: Traces of Love, Kim Dai-
seung’, Korean Film Observatory, 20: 36–7.
Kim, K.-H. (2004), The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema, Durham, NC and
London: Duke University Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2006), Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity, Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2011), Deleuze and World Cinemas, London: Continuum.
Powell, A. (2005), Deleuze and Horror Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Robinson, R.H., and W.L. Johnson (1997), The Buddhist Religion: A Historical
Introduction, London: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

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70 Deleuze and Film

Sørensen, H.H. (1999), ‘Buddhism and Secular Power in Twentieth-Century Korea’,

in I. Harris (ed.), Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth Century Asia, London:
Pinter, pp. 127–52.
Tong, J. (2003), ‘Chungking Express’, in C. Berry (ed.), Chinese Films in Focus,
London: BFI, pp. 47–55.
Yoo, J.-S. (2006), ‘Busan Festival is Ready for a New Era’, JoongAng Daily
(20 October), available at
asp?aid=2830780 (accessed 16 April 2007).

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Chapter 4
The Rebirth of the World: Cinema
According to Baz Luhrmann

Richard Rushton

Can Deleuze’s cinematic categories and analyses be useful for examining

contemporary films and filmmakers? A preliminary answer to this ques-
tion might be that Deleuze’s categories and classifications might have
been useful for the specific cases he examined, but that such analyses
cannot be extended to today’s cinema, not least because films themselves
have changed since Deleuze wrote his Cinema books. From this perspec-
tive, one might argue that in the last thirty years or so the nature of
cinema has been altered to such an extent that we need an entirely new
set of analytical tools. To further this line of argument we might claim
that the ‘progression’ charted by Deleuze from the movement-image to
the time-image needs to be eclipsed by a further category or set of cat-
egories, such as the silicon-image or the digital-image. In other words,
Deleuze’s analyses are appropriate for their historical period but now
need to be updated. Naturally, adopting this kind of approach might
even be necessary, and surely Deleuze himself would have updated his
own categories and added new ones in light of the kinds of films that
have been made since the 1980s.
There might, however, be another way to proceed, for the categories
and distinctions devised by Deleuze might still be relevant in many
ways for contemporary cinema. This is what I intend to show here,
since Deleuze’s investigations need not be restricted to those specific
films and filmmakers from which they emerged. As implied above, such
an approach will not necessarily work for all aspects of contemporary
cinema, but I do believe, for example, that it works in helping us to
understand the films of Baz Luhrmann.

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72 Deleuze and Film

Gilles Deleuze: Highbrow, Lowbrow or Both?

To make this investigation part of a wider argument, we must ask what
the continued relevance is of the large categories of the movement-image
and the time-image. First of all, we might need to consider that the shift
from the movement-image to the time-image is not necessarily one of
progression or improvement. If, as might be argued, the time-image
comes after the movement-image, then this is likely part of a wider his-
torical shift that is realised in cinematic creations and which is certainly
not part of cinema’s historical destiny. In other words, something that
Deleuze calls a ‘time-image’ emerged out of specific historical processes
appropriate to and utilised by the cinema, but there was nothing intrin-
sic or essential to cinema that brought about such a thing. Needless to
say, we can wait for cinema to deliver new revelations for us; perhaps it
already has, as Patricia Pisters (2003) and David Martin-Jones (2006)
have suggested.
We must also bear in mind that the kinds of films that Deleuze called
movement-image cinema are still being made; indeed, by far the major-
ity of feature films today are movement-image films. This perhaps
leads some scholars to argue that the time-image should have replaced
the movement-image, and that the faults, problems and negatives of
the movement-image should have been (or should be in the future)
replaced by the critical superiority of the time-image. Such positions
are clear in works by D.N. Rodowick (1997) and Dorothea Olkowski
(1999), which are open defences of the time-image over and above the
movement-image. In the conclusion to Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine,
for example, Rodowick states: ‘To present a direct image of time as the
force of change: this is the highest point of thought where cinema and
philosophy converge’ (Rodowick 1997: 207). In other words, the time-
image, and its ‘direct’ image of time, are placed somewhat higher than
the indirect images of time garnered by the movement-image.
Such arguments might, on the one hand, stem directly from Deleuze’s
own analyses. One reading of the Cinema books could conclude that the
movement-image is a regime most crucially associated with the triumph
of the American, Hollywood cinema, while the time-image is associated
with European art cinema and the various cinematic new waves (for a
summary, see Martin-Jones 2008: 78). However, while Deleuze himself
equates Hitler to Hollywood and Hollywood to Hitler in Cinema 2,
suggesting that the great auteurs, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Abel Gance
and Sergei Eisenstein, have been replaced by mediocre filmmakers who
do not do violence with images but who portray violence in images

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 73

(Deleuze 1989: 151–81), this is not, for me, the whole story. Indeed,
it seems fitting for the co-author of Capitalism and Schizophrenia that
there is more than one Deleuze in the Cinema books. While Deleuze
may seem at times to distinguish between the movement-image and
the time-image on the basis of quality, morality and politics (as the
Hollywood–Hitler comparison above suggests), at other times he does
not. Or rather, the focus of Deleuze’s distinction is not strictly qualita-
tive, moral, or political, but is rather an attempt to delineate a historical
trend or break, a break whereby a certain kind of film becomes possible
in the time-image, a kind of film that was not available to, or was only
implicit in, the movement-image.
For this reason, John Mullarkey has pointed out that ‘Deleuze doesn’t
practice what he preaches’ (Mullarkey 2009: 101), in that he fails to
honour his own intention of avoiding a qualitative distinction between
the two image regimes. But while Deleuze might give the impression of
creating a hierarchy between the two image regimes, I should like here
to make clear that his intention was not to do so. In light of this argu-
ment, the time-image is a new kind of image, but not necessarily a better
kind of image than the movement-image. Deleuze claims, for example,
that ‘from its beginnings, something different happens in what is called
modern cinema: not something more beautiful, more profound or more
true, but something different’ (Deleuze 1989: 40). Much movement-
image cinema may well be mediocre, as Deleuze points out, but that
does not preclude it from being good, as the examples of Hitchcock,
Eisenstein and Gance hopefully make clear.
In point of fact, for all of his apparent dislike of ‘mediocre’ cinema,
Deleuze tried to remain humble in the face of cinema rather than to put
himself above it, going so far as to say in one interview that ‘[t]he only
thing that bugs me is the knowing laughter of cinephiles. This kind of
laughter is supposedly on some higher level, a second level. I’d rather see
the whole house in tears. How could you not cry at Griffith’s Broken
Blossoms?’ (Deleuze 2006: 216). In other words, Deleuze acknowledges
and fully embraces the power of cinema, whether it is popular and
emotional, highbrow and intellectual, or anything in between. Deleuze’s
project in the Cinema books is not that of mapping the superiority of
some films over others; rather, it is to map the different kinds of images
that the cinema has produced, as I have argued elsewhere (Rushton
2011: 126–47).

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74 Deleuze and Film

Minnelli, Deleuze, Luhrmann

Where, then, might the films of Baz Luhrmann fit into this perspective?
Luhrmann has directed four feature films: Strictly Ballroom (Australia,
1992), William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (USA, 1996), Moulin
Rouge! (Australia/USA, 2001), and Australia (Australia/USA, 2008).
While I shall analyse each of these films separately below, I should like
first to compare Luhrmann’s cinema to that of Vincente Minnelli, from
whom Luhrmann in part seems to have inherited his filmmaking style.
Minnelli, like Luhrmann today, was a filmmaker working in the most
popular Hollywood genres, namely musical comedies and melodramas,
and his most prominent films, such as An American in Paris (USA,
1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (USA, 1952), The Band Wagon (USA,
1953), Brigadoon (USA, 1954), and Gigi (USA, 1958), were among the
most commercially successful of their time.
And yet, despite being a popular Hollywood director, Minnelli is
a filmmaker whom Deleuze analyses at some length in both Cinema
books, but particularly in Cinema 2 (1989: 61–4), where he emerges
as one of the key auteurs of the time-image in ways that other great
Hollywood auteurs, such as John Ford, Howard Hawks and Hitchcock,
do not. In other words, and in light of the preceding debate concerning
his supposed high- and/or lowbrow tastes, Deleuze reserves a place in his
book on the time-image for one of the most popular and successful post-
war Hollywood directors, meaning that popular Hollywood cinema
and the time-image are by no means mutually exclusive. Indeed, while
Minnelli’s films might be looked down upon as ‘mere’ entertainment,
they have also been considered highly artistic, a supposedly paradoxical
combination that the subtitle of a recent collection of essays makes clear:
Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment (McElhaney 2009).
Beyond reaffirming Deleuze’s own enjoyment of at least some post-
war Hollywood cinema, however, Deleuze’s work on Minnelli also gives
us the tools with which to analyse the films of Baz Luhrmann, a process
that in itself reaffirms the ongoing and crucial contribution that the
Cinema books can make to film studies generally.
There are three defining tropes that Deleuze attributes to Minnelli’s
films, and which are appropriate also for Luhrmann’s work. These
include: resonances from the past; absorption via sound and colour; and
‘worldising’ or ‘societising’ (see Deleuze 1986: 62–4; 1989: 118–19).
Resonances from the past can be summarised as the ways in which
relationships with the past, which form the core of what makes them
examples of the time-image, are articulated in Minnelli’s films. For

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 75

these films, the past does not reside solely as the past or in the past, but
is evoked only in so far as it has determinative effects on the present
and the future. This is not to say that what has happened in the past
merely has consequences for the present. It is instead to declare that
the past only ever emerges in so far as it resonates with the present: for
Minnelli’s films, the past is rediscovered as a consequence of the present.
This reconfiguration of the past can also then lead to a reformation of
the present and future, as happens in the flashback structure of Madame
Bovary (USA, 1949) and in the final dance sequence of The Band Wagon,
in which Tony (Fred Astaire) and Gabrielle (Cyd Charisse) reconstruct
the film’s own past in order to move forward together into the future. In
these films, the past doesn’t merely exist in the past. Rather, it is consti-
tutive of the present, and has consequences both for the present and the
future. It is the constant re-newing and rediscovery of the past that turns
out to be crucial also for Luhrmann’s films.
With regard to absorption via sound and colour, Deleuze is more
opaque than usual, although it might be useful to think about the term
‘absorption’ in ways intended by the art historian Michael Fried. For
Fried, absorption is a characteristic of works of art that depict people as
absorbed in one activity or another with the outcome that the art work
itself will also be inward-looking, ‘absorbed’ as it is in its own tasks (see
Fried 1980; Rushton 2009). If we can interpret such a move as offering
a sense of ‘being caught up in’ a task, then Deleuze definitely intends
to suggest that Minnelli’s films and characters offer ways of ‘being
caught up in’ sound and colour. What Deleuze claims more explicitly
is that there is a connection between absorption and colour, and we
are assumed to oppose colour to line in accordance with the traditional
opposition from art history (for more, see Bogue 2003: 131–60). What I
believe Deleuze is trying to indicate is that Minnelli utilises colour (and
sound) above and beyond the formal qualities of film – those we might
associate with ‘line’, like montage or narrative divisions. Instead, what is
essential for Minnelli are modes of expression defined by colour, so that
for Minnelli colour becomes integrated into the dance of the musical
numbers at the same time as it allows the film’s audience to become
absorbed into the spectacle of the colour and dance. Alternatively,
in non-musical films such as Some Came Running (USA, 1958), the
expanse of widescreen colour overwhelms the story and its characters,
especially in that film’s climactic scene at the town fair, in which neon
signs and the whirling lights of the carnival sideshows become central
to the film’s effect. Furthermore, colour allows the characters them-
selves to become absorbed into the world or worlds of the films as

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76 Deleuze and Film

though the plots of these films are propelled by the sheer force of their
In addition to the above, Deleuze’s argues that in Minnelli’s films
‘characters [become] literally absorbed by their own dream, and above
all by the dream of others and the past of others’ (Deleuze 1986: 118–
19). These kinds of claims come to the fore in some of Minnelli’s more
outlandish films, like The Pirate (USA, 1948) or Brigadoon, in which a
character (played by Gene Kelly in both cases) enters into a dream past
as if entering an alternative, strange, enchanted world, a world dreamed
by others.
In attempting to define ‘worldising’ or ‘societising’, Deleuze argues
that the world or society takes over a character’s actions and completes
them for him or her. In contrast to films of the movement-image in
which a character is typically defined by his or her ability to complete the
necessary action, for Minnelli the lead characters fail, and their actions
need to be completed by those around them, or by the world itself. The
ending of Meet Me in St Louis (USA, 1944), where the family makes the
decision for the father, against his wishes, to stay in St Louis, is pertinent
here, for the father hesitates about making the decision himself, and
instead it is his family who effectively makes the decision for him. And
much the same can be said for The Band Wagon, when Tony thinks it’s
all over for him; the show has been done, but he has not rediscovered
his career and he is washed up. He leaves his dressing room, however, to
discover the rest of the cast waiting for him to rescue and reinvent him;
they complete the action he himself was unable to make. As Deleuze
writes: ‘The world takes responsibility for the movement that the subject
can no longer or cannot make’ (Deleuze 1989: 59).
Finally, what holds all of this together? The three aspects are held
together by, and feed into, one overriding aim in Minnelli’s films: how
does one manage to get from one world to another? This, for Deleuze, is
the persistent theme of Minnelli’s films: if a character begins at one place
and in one situation, then the trajectory of the film is to try to work out
how this character can get out of the place he or she is in so as to find
another way of life, or another ‘world’, as Deleuze calls it.

The ‘Other Worlds’ of Baz Luhrmann

Deleuze’s evocation of other ‘worlds’ in the work of Vincente Minnelli
is precisely where our analysis of Luhrmann’s films can begin, since his
films are centred around characters trying to find another way of life.
This is reflected in the catch-phrase pop-philosophies to be found in

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 77

each of Luhrmann’s films: ‘A life lived in fear is a life half lived’ (Strictly
Ballroom); ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in
return’ (Moulin Rouge!); and ‘Just because it is doesn’t mean it should
be’ (Australia).
These might be dismissed by some intellectuals as being far too sim-
plistic and naïve, but if we have the courage to trust where Luhrmann is
trying to take us (and to trust in the simplistic profundities of cinema),
then perhaps ultimately we will see that they end in one quest: namely,
to ‘tell your own story’, which is a theme made explicit in both Moulin
Rouge! and Australia. In other words, Luhrmann’s characters learn to
no longer fear the ways in which others have imposed a world upon
them, and instead articulate what that world is from the perspective of
their own triumph – or tragedy – within it.
The other side of this treatment, common to Minnelli and Luhrmann,
is that one can only tell one’s own story by virtue of having that story
completed by another. In other words, the characters go from one world
to another only by changing tack, which in other words means going
somewhere they did not think they would. To find oneself can only be a
consequence of losing one’s self; to tell one’s own story can only come
out of renouncing the story you thought you wanted to tell, so that one
discovers another story, a story that becomes one’s own only by first
being the story of an other.

Strictly Ballroom
In Strictly Ballroom, Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) discovers the ability
to pass into another world – that is, to revoke the power of the Ballroom
Dancing Federation and to dance new, independent steps. This is an
outcome of his efforts to define those steps and his destiny in his own
way and on his own terms. Furthermore, it is an outcome of his new-
found ability to tell his own story, a story that resonates from his father’s
own failed dancing career. Throughout the film Scott is torn between his
desire to dance his own steps – and thus to incur the wrath of the Dancing
Federation, whose members refuse to acknowledge his steps as legitimate
– and a desire to become the Federation’s dance champion (which would
entail the renunciation of his own steps in favour of those supported by
the Federation). Late in the film he comes to understand that his father
had faced much the same challenge: a potential dance champion, he had
thrown his career away in favour of dancing his own steps. The outcome
of this was that any sense of a positive life was crushed out of Scott’s
father so that he became a weak and broken man.

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78 Deleuze and Film

Strictly Ballroom’s rousing finale sees Scott face up to the Dance

Federation in their major annual competition. In dancing his own steps,
he effectively dismantles the legitimacy of the Federation. In other
words, his dance moves destroy the world as it had been defined by the
Federation, and he enters a new world, the contours of which are yet to
be defined. And we should not be surprised, perhaps, that the way this
is achieved is by the colour of the dance: the climactic dance by Scott
and Fran (Tara Morice) is a swirling wash of colour, backed up by the
rhythmic clapping of the crowd which rises in revolutionary fervour to
overthrow the self-serving powers of the Dance Federation.
All the crucial elements of Deleuze’s analysis of Minnelli are here:
passing from one world to another; drawing on the resonance of the
‘past in the present’ (via Scott’s re-playing of his father’s historical
dilemma); absorption via sound and colour in so far as it is the dance
that confirms Scott’s triumph (a dance designed and practised during his
night-time flamenco sessions at the home of Fran and her parents); that
others complete Scott’s actions for him, whether this be Fran’s father
teaching him the paso doble or the rhythmic clapping of the audience
that brings the film to its climax. As Deleuze writes, and as already noted
above: ‘The world takes responsibility for the movement that the subject
can no longer or cannot make’ (Deleuze 1989: 59). And finally, Scott’s
being worthy of his own story and actions means that he no longer
lives a life in fear (of the Federation, of his own steps, of his father’s

Romeo + Juliet
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet builds on the kinds of practices
and themes pursued in Strictly Ballroom. Romeo + Juliet features
a struggle between the old world – the family feuding between the
Capulets and the Montagues – and a potential new world – the love of
the young couple; this is the essence of the film’s charting of a passage
from one world to another. For this film, however, Luhrmann was struck
by the twin constraints of Shakespeare’s text and a deal with Twentieth
Century Fox on which he was no doubt eager to capitalise. In short, he
needed to make Shakespeare marketable and ‘hip’. Such concerns prob-
ably account for the film’s elaborate visual style, a style for which the
delicacies of Shakespearian language take a back seat: for much of the
film, the dialogue is either rushed, over-acted or babbled. We need not
see such aspects as negatives, however, for they focus the tone of the film
on visual and musical cues, which are key to Luhrmann’s approach. It is

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certainly not going too far to interpret these visual and musical cues in
terms of absorption via sound and colour for they act as counterparts to
the ‘lines’ of Shakespeare (to again invoke the division between colour
and line). (Alternatively, of course, we might see Luhrmann’s elaborate
visual and sound design as modern-day equivalents of Shakespeare’s
multi-layered, musical verse.)
Luhrmann’s watery images come to the fore here, as Cook (2010:
77–8) and Lehmann (2001) have noted. In view of the key trope of
finding one’s way to another world – a world beyond the Capulet-
Montague conflict – this is a film of borders crossed, gates pushed open,
entrances violated, hidden tombs, churches, vaults, caravans and der-
elict zones explored, along with an ever-present desire for the protago-
nists’ escape to somewhere, anywhere, elsewhere. The watery imagery,
however, acts specifically as a link between this world and another
world in ways that can be clearly described, and which are evocative of
the cinema of Jean Renoir. Deleuze describes Renoir’s ‘cracked crystal’
images, in which a potential escape into a new world is facilitated by a
‘crack’ in the fabric of the current world, as happens in Boudu sauvé des
eaux/Boudu saved from Drowning (France, 1932) and Toni (France,
1935), among others (Deleuze 1989: 83–7).
With regard to Romeo + Juliet, water seems to serve a similar func-
tion. Juliet’s (Claire Danes) first appearance in the film is from beneath
water as she soaks in her bath. In so far as it is she who opens up a new
world for Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) – which allows him to forget
his supposed love of Rosaline – this watery introduction to her is as if
of a spirit from another world (of Venus, perhaps, rising from the sea).
At the Capulet party where Romeo and Juliet first meet, Romeo wakes
himself from his drug-induced intensity by plunging his face into a basin
of water. He awakens as if upon a new world, with again the passage
from one world to another being marked by water. He sees Juliet for
the first time, then, in what is the film’s signature moment, through the
rainbow-coloured fish tank, with water again becoming the signal of an
opening on to another world: the world of the love the couple will dis-
cover for one another. For the balcony scene in which the couple come
to declare their love and intention to marry, Luhrmann again makes
water central. Romeo and Juliet both plunge into the pool beneath the
latter’s bedroom window as though the pool acts as a passage to another
world. The rich blue that quenches the screen here is evocative of the
colour tone that pervades the entire film: from the deep blues of the sky,
to the wondrous blue of the fish tank, to the neon blue of the crucifixes
at the film’s conclusion, this is a film bathed in blue (just as Moulin

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80 Deleuze and Film

Rouge! is a film oozing with crimson-rouge and Australia characterised

by the desert ochre). These are ways in which Luhrmann puts into play
the Minnellian motif of ‘absorption by colour’.
When Romeo kills Tybalt (John Leguizamo) the latter falls dead into
a fountain’s pool of water (it can be noted that Luhrmann evocatively
places the camera under the water as he does for most of the other watery
scenes). Water here signals the escalation of the Capulet-Montague con-
flict, which necessitates – for Romeo no less than for Juliet – an escape
into another world. Following Tybalt’s death, Romeo is banished from
fair Verona: if he is to be with Juliet, then another world must be born,
one beyond the current walls of the city. Furthermore, when Romeo
visits Juliet on the evening before his flight, he makes his escape from
her bedroom by again plunging into the pool beneath her window: the
water signals or allows his passage to another world. And Juliet’s words
here are indeed prophetic, for that other world, as we know all too well,
will be a world of death: from her window, gazing at Romeo under the
water, she claims that he seems ‘As one dead in the bottom of a tomb’.
It is not only the watery imagery that is significant for Romeo +
Juliet’s effect. Rather, it is the almost comprehensive replacement of
dialogue with evocative images and sounds that cements the film’s origi-
nality. There are long periods of storytelling that lack dialogue entirely
while there are other scenes – such as the scene in which Friar Lawrence
(Pete Postlethwaite) explains his sleeping potion to Juliet – which are
reinforced and guided by elaborate visual montages. Another key scene
that relies on a contemporary cinematic style, and much less on dia-
logue, is that in which Tybalt assaults Romeo and mortally wounds
Mercutio (Harold Perrineau). The series of kickings and beatings Tybalt
delivers to Romeo seems more indebted to westerns or gangster films –
or even the martial arts genre – than anything that we might associate
with Shakespearian dialogue. If we can declare nothing else here, we can
certainly admire Luhrmann’s attempts to devise a rich, contemporary
cinematic language with which to convey his Shakespeare.
Romeo + Juliet also contains elements of what Deleuze calls ‘worldis-
ing’. These aspects are certainly there in Shakespeare’s text, but what
does Luhrmann do with them? We could declare that ‘fate’ intervenes,
in that a letter fails to reach its destination, and hence the world (as
‘fate’ or ‘destiny’) takes over and deprives characters of their actions,
which would be a traditional way of defining Shakespeare’s tragic effect
(see, for example, Evans 1979). But I think we come much closer to
Luhrmann’s design if we see the cinematic elements of visual style and
music as those which give voice to characters’ actions above and beyond

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 81

‘subjective motivation’ (the kinds of actions defined by ‘reactions’ to a

situation, as Deleuze typically claims of the movement-image). We can
see such elements in the pumping, distorted hip-hop music that defines
the gang elements of the Montague and Capulet boys, along with the
modified cars, elaborate costumes and weaponry. All of these are ways
in which non-subjective elements determine and define characters’
actions. Overriding these cinematic elements, but which the cinematic
techniques enforce or reinforce, is the historical element of the feud
between the two families. This is a narrative-based milieu (as Deleuze
would say) by means of which characters’ actions are mapped out by
means seemingly beyond their control (and which they will never be able
to control).
Musical elements also define or push scenes and characters more so
than do elements of a character’s motivated actions. The rendition of
the song ‘Young Hearts’ opens the characters – and the audience – to
the carnival qualities of the Capulets’ party, while at the same party the
repeated refrain of ‘I am kissing you’, sung over Romeo and Juliet’s first
meeting, acts as though it is completing these characters’ thoughts for
them, and they will soon act on these thoughts, as though pushed to do
so by the film’s aural beckoning.
Most crucially, it is Romeo himself who constantly acts on the advice
of others (and thus on whom the notion of ‘worldising’ or ‘societising’
is focused). Mercutio demands that Romeo go to the Capulets’ party,
much against his wishes; Friar Lawrence advises and arranges his flight
to Mantua; Balthasar (Jesse Bradford) brings him the (false) news of
Juliet’s death and so leads him back to Verona; and finally, critically, it
is the elaborate mise-en-scène of Juliet’s tomb, with its bravura display
of neon crucifixes and myriad candles, which, to echo one of Minnelli’s
key themes, demonstrates the way in which Romeo has been caught in
another’s dream. And yet, in what or whose dream is he caught? He is,
at one and the same time, caught in the dream – or nightmare – of the
Capulet-Montague conflict, which dream has erected the gates around
the difficulties that plague Romeo throughout the film. But he is also
caught in the dream of another world, which he shares with Juliet,
but which will end only in death. It is the first dream that defines the
weight of the past upon the present: we might want to argue that the
very problem of the play and its plot are those of the movement-image
beyond which the film tries to go. The play’s fault is that of a present too
heavily defined by an unchanging past, and the romance between Romeo
and Juliet might be seen as providing a passage from a world defined in
terms of the movement-image to one defined by the time-image in which

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82 Deleuze and Film

the shackles of the past would be broken so that the present and the
future could be defined anew. This would certainly be one way of inter-
preting the film’s rich visual style, its playfulness with time periods and
its baroque excesses. We could even argue that this is precisely what the
film achieves at its end with the supposed reconciliation of the warring
If this is a dream of another world, then its price is the death of the
star-crossed lovers. Luhrmann makes this deathly dream another world:
Romeo rushes to the Capulet family tomb while being chased by myriad
police cars and even a police helicopter, with the sound of gunfire all
around. Then, all of a sudden, all is quiet, the gunshots cease, and
Romeo is at the door of the tomb. He opens the doors to reveal a sea
of candlelight and the blue neon-lit crosses, as though he might already
have entered a Heaven shorn of the conflicts and noises of Earth. For
Romeo + Juliet, one can pass into another world only by way of death.
But it is not the deaths of others that cleanse the world; rather, it is the
deaths of the main protagonists that allow them entry into another world
beyond. It is significant that Luhrmann chooses to include Shakespeare’s
lines of the conjoining of love and death (‘Shall I believe / That unsub-
stantial Death is amorous / And that the lean abhorrèd monster keeps /
These here in dark to be his paramour?’), for this is the culmination of
the film’s (and the play’s) dream, along with its nightmare.

Moulin Rouge!
In Moulin Rouge! we have a similar unfolding. The two central charac-
ters, Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman), wish to
enter other worlds, the former by way of becoming a writer, the latter
by being lifted from the underworld of the cabaret to the higher realms
of ‘real’ acting. The film thus charts the attempts of these characters to
pass to that other world. If ever there were a case of this transformation
being propelled by absorption in sound and colour – for the music of the
dance is paramount here – then surely this is it: Moulin Rouge! unfolds
in a quite inexplicable register that is at one and the same time com-
pletely superficial and candy-coloured yet, in addition, utterly captivat-
ing, absorbing, and – in parts – full of emotional intensity. Cliché is piled
upon cliché; Pam Cook, for example, refers to Luhrmann’s penchant for
‘hyperbolic hyperbole’ (Cook 2010: 64–5) – a swirling vortex of bad
taste – that nevertheless carries a weight of conviction.
Two key early moments of the film set in play the modes of absorp-
tion: Christian’s rendering of ‘Your Song’ (and its refrain, sung to Satine,

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 83

of ‘how wonderful life is now you’re in the world’), and Satine’s reply
that ‘one day I’ll fly away’ with its claim that when she does fly away she
will begin to live again. Here, the songs (and the colour and the mise-
en-scène) perform the task of absorption: first of all, of absorbing the
characters in their quests for transformation, and secondly of absorbing
us, as viewers, as partners in those quests. The songs might also be said
to take over the characters and their roles: Christian, for example, is
entirely inactive and tongue-tied until the song releases his actions; the
song completes his actions for him. This mode continues throughout the
film, perhaps demonstrating itself most forcefully in the film’s conclu-
sion, the performance of the stage show, ‘Spectacular Spectacular’. In
the manner of Minnelli’s Band Wagon, the show allows the film to dis-
cover its resolution. What is discovered more than anything is a world
of love: that Christian and Satine do indeed love one another – ‘to love
and be loved in return’, as the film’s pop-philosophy proclaims. In this
way, ‘Spectacular Spectacular’ is the discovery of another world and
it is by way of the show that these characters pass from one world to
another, even if the price for passing into this world is the death of one
of them.
More complicated is the film’s utilisation of the past. There is a
framing narrative of Christian in the present writing his account of the
year that has just passed, but this is merely a traditional flashback form
of narration. We might invoke Luhrmann’s penchant for creating false
or ambiguous pasts, part invention, part folklore, part historical truth
– especially given the anachronistic soundtrack, which Cook herself
has emphasised (Cook 2010: 46–8). Yet again, these are merely formal
devices that do little to foreground a ‘direct image of time’. What is most
significant is that Moulin Rouge! comes much closer to what Deleuze
calls, with respect to Max Ophüls, a ‘perfect crystal’ (see Deleuze 1989:
83–4). The reminiscences by means of which Christian becomes a
writer; the production of ‘Spectacular, Spectacular’; and the ‘real world’
of the film itself – a pastiche Montmartre as though plucked from a
luminescent cartoon of fin de siècle Paris – all overlap and intertwine.
Past and present, virtual and actual, theatrical show and ‘real life’, all
coalesce and become indistinguishable.

Australia is far less convincing as an example of the time-image, but, as
noted above, Minnelli’s films feature in both Cinema books, and, in light
of the comparison being made between Minnelli and Luhrmann and the

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84 Deleuze and Film

‘defence’ of the movement-image that I made at the start of this chapter,

this does nothing to belittle Luhrmann’s cinema.
There can be little doubt that Australia contains elements of the kinds
of epic histories associated with the large form of the action-image. At
the same time, we don’t necessarily have a strong and dominant central
character whose actions lead to narrative resolution; that is, we do not
have the kinds of character achievements to be expected from a move-
ment-image film.
During the Second World War, Lady Ashley (Nicole Kidman) travels
from England to the remote Northern Territory of Australia in order
to join her husband, the owner of a large cattle station. She arrives,
however, to discover that he has been murdered. She befriends a char-
acter known as ‘the drover’ (Hugh Jackman) and subsequently falls in
love with him. The first half of the plot hinges on droving a large herd
of cattle to the port town of Darwin in order to secure the financial
viability of the station. The second half of the film, meanwhile, focuses
on the attempts of Lady Ashley and the drover to rid the Northern
Territory from the monopolistic grip of the Carney family, while at
the same time trying to secure a future for the young, ‘mixed race’
aboriginal boy, Nullah (Brandon Walters), whom Lady Ashley adopts.
Resolution is achieved, but it is achieved less by the aims and desires
of specific characters than by chance, circumstance, or sacrifice; Lord
Ashley, Lady Ashley’s accountant Kipling Flynn (Jack Thompson),
Nullah’s mother (Ursula Yovich) and the drover’s colleague Magarri
(David Ngoombujarra) all die in key heroic moments of the film. It is as
though the world, chance, Nature, dreaming or spirit complete the plot,
such that the overall lesson of the film seems to be to let go, to refrain
from subjective design, and instead to allow the world to take its course.
Australia’s exceptional ending sees Lady Ashley relinquish her hold on
Nullah so that he is free to go ‘walkabout’. Thus he is free to discover
his own transformation, to find another world over the rainbow and
in the realm of dreaming. This is his way of passing from one world to
The overriding absorptive motif of the film emerges via its constant
references to The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, USA, 1939). It is here
that the dream of passing into another world – ‘over the rainbow’ – is
given voice. When Nullah attends a screening of The Wizard of Oz
at the cinema in Darwin, we might perceive a definitive statement by
Luhrmann on the absorbing, captivating power of cinema: that it is films
themselves which have the ability to allow us to dream other worlds,
to enter into the dreams of others, and to open ourselves up to other

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 85

worlds, into which we might even be able to pass. And yet, Luhrmann
again emphasises by way of Nullah that the capacity to tell stories (and
to tell one’s own story) is integral to that quest for other worlds. ‘One
thing I know’, declares Nullah near the end of the film, ‘[is that] why
we tell story is the most important of all . . . That’s how you keep them
people belonging . . . always.’
Australia’s version of a re-birth of the world, that is, its discovery of
a new world even within an overall structure that suggests a movement-
image, makes of it the film in which Luhrmann tackles questions of the
past with the most urgency. If his earlier films rely on pastiche pasts,
then so too does Australia, especially via its evocation of Hollywood
classics like Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, USA, 1939), Red
River (Howard Hawks, USA, 1948) and Oz. But alongside this pastiche
past is a more unsettling past, which might be no less one of ‘making
up legends’ (as Deleuze says of Québecois filmmaker Pierre Perrault)
or ‘realising fabrications’ (as Deleuze says of Eric Rohmer; see Deleuze
1989: 243), but the outcomes of which have been, on the one hand,
more sinister, yet which also have the potential to be cautiously reward-
ing. I refer, of course, to the notion of the ‘stolen generations’ of indig-
enous Australian children, an aspect of the film that sparked significant
debate at the time of its release (see Langton 2008; Greer 2008). The
central Deleuzian motif to be wrenched from such debates is that of the
‘invention of a people’, perhaps even of ‘a people to come’. The haunting
lesson of the film therefore might be precisely that the people are missing
(Deleuze 1989: 216).
From the Deleuzian perspective, this is where the film’s emphasis
on storytelling comes to the fore: by making and crafting a story/by
telling one’s own story, a new people might be formed (Deleuze 1989:
222–3). Are we so far away from Perrault here? It is easy to be critical
and to accuse Luhrmann of insensitivity or inadvertent racism, but he
does try in Australia to give a voice to a people who do not currently
exist, and to deliver to them the possibility of finding a story by means
of which they might come to exist. This is not just about ‘giving’ a voice
to indigenous Australians, an accusation that might be levelled against
the ‘victim’ depictions of aborigines found in films like Samson and
Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia, 2009) or Rabbit Proof Fence
(Philip Noyce, Australia, 2002). Nor is it necessarily about indigenous
Australians telling or discovering ‘their own story’, as arguably happens
in Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr, Australia, 2006). Rather,
the film seeks to give voice to a ‘democratic’ and Australian people
that includes both indigenous and other Australian people. Only by

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86 Deleuze and Film

collectively going walkabout, over the rainbow and ‘into the dreaming’,
will there be a people who reinvent themselves and reinvent the world
alongside them. This sense of a collective becoming can be seen in the
fact that it is not only Nullah who goes walkabout; both Lady Ashley
and the drover have undertaken their own forms of walkabout during
the film, particularly when they drove the cattle across the Never Never.
If Luhrmann’s film is to be criticised for inventing a ‘false’ history – in
the manner of other Australian films to which Australia is indebted,
especially Jedda (Charles Chauvel, Australia, 1955) and Night Cries: A
Rural Tragedy (Tracey Moffat, Australia, 1989), and even Mad Max 2/
The Road Warrior (George Miller, Australia, 1981) – then this is merely
the product of an attempt to invent a people and a world in which
those people can believe. Luhrmann desires, more than anything else, to
deliver the vision or promise of another world.

I hope to have shown in this study of Baz Luhrmann’s films that
Deleuze’s categories and classifications are still very much relevant for
the analysis of contemporary cinema. The relationship between the two
major semiotic systems developed in Deleuze’s volumes, namely the
movement-image and the time-image, emerges as something of a dif-
ficulty for the analysis of contemporary cinema in that, while the move-
ment-image seems as dominant as ever, there are overlaps between the
two, as Deleuze’s treatment of Minnelli and my treatment of Luhrmann
hopefully make clear. In other words, the movement-image/time-image
distinction is less forceful than Deleuze perhaps hoped it would be.
However, what is at stake in a Deleuzian analysis is not to judge
films as either progressive and revolutionary or regressive and culturally
short-sighted, as if one could easily separate the image regimes in such a
manner. Rather, the aim of a Deleuzian analysis should be carefully to
chart the traits, aspects and components of images and how they ‘work’.
In the context of Baz Luhrmann’s cinema, Deleuze’s tools for cinematic
analysis are exemplary.

Bogue, R. (2003), Deleuze on Music, Painting, and the Arts, New York and London:
Cook, P. (2010), Baz Luhrmann, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Deleuze, G. (1986), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and
B. Habberjam, London: Athlone.

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Cinema According to Baz Luhrmann 87

Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,

London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. (2006) ‘Portrait of the Philosopher as a Moviegoer’, in Two Regimes
of Madness: Texts and Interviews, 1975–1995, ed. David Lapoujade, New York:
Evans, B. (1979), Shakespeare’s Tragic Practice, New York: Oxford University
Fried, M. (1980), Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of
Diderot, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Greer, G. (2008), ‘Baz Luhrmann’s New Film, Australia, Takes Too Many Liberties
with History’, The Guardian, 16 December.
Langton, M. (2008), ‘Faraway Downs Fantasy Resonates Close to Home’, The Age,
23 November.
Lehmann, C. (2001), ‘Strictly Shakespeare? Dead Letters, Ghostly Fathers, and the
Cultural Pathology of Authorship in Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s
Romeo + Juliet” ’, Shakespeare Quarterly 52 (2): 189–221.
McElhaney, J. (2009), Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment, Detroit: Wayne
State University Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2006), Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity: Narrative Time in
National Contexts, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Martin-Jones, D. (2008), ‘Schizoanalysis, Spectacle and the Spaghetti Western’,
in I. Buchanan and P. MacCormack (eds), Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of
Cinema, London and New York: Continuum, pp. 75–88.
Mullarkey, J. (2009), Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image,
Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Olkowski, D. (1999), Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Pisters, P. (2003), The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film
Theory, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Rodowick, D.N. (1997), Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine, Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Rushton, R. (2009), ‘Deleuzian Spectatorship’, Screen 50 (1): 45–53.
Rushton, R. (2011), The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic Reality, Manchester:
Manchester University Press.

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Chapter 5
‘There are as many paths to the time-
image as there are films in the world’:
Deleuze and The Lizard

William Brown

In making a Deleuzian reading of Kamal Tabrizi’s popular Iranian

comedy Marmoulak/The Lizard (Iran, 2004) it is important to consider
the film’s context so as not to become what Hamid Dabashi would call a
Western scholar playing ‘Ping-Pong’ with Deleuze, using Iranian cinema
as the table (Dabashi 2007: 343). While the film can be understood in
terms of Deleuzian becoming, and in particular a mutual becoming of its
protagonist and the community with which he engages, I shall suggest
ways in which this sense of becoming can equally be said to reflect the
influence of Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush. That is, I shall
not simply transpose Deleuze on to The Lizard, but I shall try to explain
Deleuze’s relevance to our understanding of the film by forging links
between Deleuze and Soroush.
Furthermore, while The Lizard’s formal features are ostensibly exem-
plary of movement-image cinema, in this process of mutual becoming
– which is itself a characteristic of modern political, or minor cinema
(Deleuze 2005: 207–15) – I shall also argue in this chapter that The
Lizard’s moral can help us to re-think time-image cinema. The phrase
‘there are as many paths to God as there are people in the world’,
repeated throughout the film, can be taken up as a refrain to suggest
that for audiences there are ‘as many paths to the time-image as there are
films in the world’. I shall use The Lizard to influence our understanding
of Deleuze, then, as much as the other way round, in a process of mutual
becoming that will hopefully prevent this chapter from using The Lizard
as a philosophical ‘Ping-Pong table’.

The Lizard
Having won the Audience Award at the 22nd Fajr International Film
Festival, The Lizard was released in Iran on 20 April 2004 and played

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Deleuze and The Lizard 89

to full houses, setting Iranian box office records until it was banned 27
days later (Zeydabadi-Nejad 2009: 90). The reason for the film’s ban
is that it tells the story of a professional thief who not only disguises
himself as a mullah, but also ends up being a popular, if unorthodox,
one at that.
A more detailed description of The Lizard’s narrative is required for
the argument that follows. The film tells the story of Reza Mesghali
(Parviz Parastui), whose ability to climb walls has earned him the nick-
name marmoulak, or the lizard. Reza has been sentenced to life impris-
onment in Tehran owing to his involvement in an armed robbery. His
irreverence means he often falls foul of Mojaver (Bahram Ebrahimi), the
prison warden, whose oppressive policy is to force his prisoners ‘into
heaven’ by whatever means necessary, the subtext being that he will get
his prisoners to behave in a socially acceptable manner even if he has to
torture them. After a failed suicide attempt, Reza wakes up in hospital to
find himself next to a mullah, also called Reza (Shahrokh Faroutanian).
The two get on well, with Mullah Reza telling Reza Marmoulak that
there are as many ways to God as there are people in the world.
When Mullah Reza leaves Reza Marmoulak alone with his clothes –
a gesture that seems deliberate – Reza dons the Mullah’s clerical garb,
flees the hospital, and heads for the border, where he hopes to acquire
a passport to escape to Turkey. When Reza arrives, however, the locals
mistake him for their new cleric, and so he poses as a mullah by day,
spending his nights pursuing the elusive passport.
Improvising his sermons, Reza Marmoulak repeats to his sparse con-
gregation Mullah Reza’s belief that there are as many ways to God as
there are people in the world. This Reza directly opposes to Mojaver’s
policy of forcing people into heaven; the latter is inappropriate, he
argues, since those being forced can end up in hell. While this sermon
helps Reza to achieve some popularity, what really heightens his stand-
ing in the local community are his nocturnal activities. Two young
members of his congregation, Gholamali (Hossein Soleimani) and
Mojtaba (Cyrus Hemati), follow Reza and interpret his handing money
over to local passport counterfeiter Ozra (Maedeh Tahmasebi) as an
act of alms giving. Gholamali and Mojtaba spread word that Reza is a
latter-day saint, which in turn inspires in the local population a series of
charitable acts involving the redistribution of wealth and the giving of
aid to the dispossessed of society.
Reza’s standing only improves when he beats up recently divorced
local racketeer Delangiz for threatening to physically abuse his ex-wife
Faezeh (Rana Azadvar). Although this act is inspired as much by Reza’s

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90 Deleuze and Film

own attraction to Faezeh as it is by altruism, from this point forth

Delangiz decides to become a better person and helps to reduce crimi-
nality in the area, an act that will, it is implied, ultimately lead him to a
reconciliation with Faezeh. In addition, people claim that Reza cures a
local mute boy (Sepehr Rezanoor), a miracle that is never substantiated,
although Reza and the boy have some sort of ‘connection’, as signified
by their regular exchange of ‘knowing’ glances.
When informed of Reza Marmoulak’s whereabouts, Mojaver sets off
to the border town, determined to recapture the only prisoner ever to
have escaped him. Although their paths soon cross, Mojaver recognises
Reza only after the latter has set off for the border. Upon discovering
that the border is temporarily closed, Reza curiously decides not to wait
but to return to town, where both Mojaver and an enormous congrega-
tion await him. The film ends with a freeze frame of an expectant and
much expanded congregation turning towards the camera, which is
placed at the exit of the mosque and through which, it is implied via the
soundtrack, they can see a police car taking Reza away.
Fortunately for Reza, his sentence is reduced thanks to an accomplice
confessing that Reza was not in fact armed during the original robbery,
and as the film’s credits roll, we hear Reza repeat some of his most
memorable lines, including the moral/mantra that there are as many
paths towards God as there are people in the world.

Deleuzian Becomings in The Lizard?

Becoming is a concept that pervades Deleuze’s work, but we can confine
our definition of it to Cinema 2. Here, becoming is generally a process
defined by mutual influence, but it relates particularly to what Deleuze
terms the powers of the false (Deleuze 2005: 122–50). For Deleuze,
borrowing from Nietzsche, ‘there is no more truth in the one [good]
life than in the other [bad life]; there is only becoming, and becoming
is the power of the false of life, the will to power’ (Deleuze 2005: 137).
This power of the false is the ability of the forger (who can be a man of
state, a man of religion, a man of morality, a man of science, an artist,
or perhaps even a madman like Don Quixote) not to take over or to
dominate, but to become and to encourage metamorphosis, to ‘bestow
virtue’ (Deleuze 2005: 296).
The powers of the false, then, seem an apt framework through which
to understand a character who is named after an animal and who can
climb walls with ease: Reza seems happy to merge with his physical
environment and the objects at hand in order always to become some-

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Deleuze and The Lizard 91

thing else, be it a lizard, or, in the case of his adoption of Mullah Reza’s
clerical garments, a mullah. I shall discuss Reza’s relationship with his
clothes in more detail below, but for the time being it is not so much
that Reza progresses from a ‘becoming animal’ to a ‘becoming spiritual’,
but that both are indicative of his nature consistently to become, which
ultimately brings about his salvation in the form of a reduced prison
sentence that will subsequently lead to his freedom. Furthermore, being
a false mullah who himself undergoes a metamorphosis from criminal
to spiritual being, Reza shows the powers of the false working within
the film, as he bestows virtue on the community around him, enabling a
mutual becoming of individual and community, as signalled by the com-
munity-minded acts that his own nocturnal and other activities inspire.
As per Deleuze, ‘good’ people are no more ‘true’ than ‘bad’ people in
The Lizard, in that even criminals can find God, or in Deleuze’s terms
the will to power.
Yet, while The Lizard does lend itself to a Deleuzian reading, which I
shall investigate further momentarily, we should take care to relate this
to the Iranian context from which the film springs (both philosophically
and in terms of its status as a popular film), since this might further
help our understanding of Deleuze and The Lizard, which themselves
combine to ensure yet more becomings.

From Deleuze to Soroush

An Iranian student interviewed about The Lizard believes that the film
reflects the pluralist philosophy of Abdolkarim Soroush, an Iranian intel-
lectual often associated with the reformist movement of the 1980s and
1990s, which sought to bring about a pluralist state in Iran (Zeydabadi-
Nejad 2009: 99). Although the reformist movement seems to have lost
support over the past few years, the pluralist ethos, which seeks respect
for social freedoms and rejects authoritarianism, remains.
Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi argues that Soroush wants to save religion
in Iran from ideology (Ghamari-Tabrizi 2008: 195). That is to say, when
religion is given an ideological framework, when an ideology is put
forward as the word of God, then a repressive system of government
is sure to follow. For this reason, Soroush does not regard shari’ah, or
the sacred law of Islam, as being an a priori knowledge; rather the law
of Islam should be dynamic and undergo constant changes, otherwise
any contradictions to the law, or differences in interpretation, will simi-
larly lead to confrontation (Ghamar-Tabrizi 2008: 199). To this end,
Soroush sees nothing as existing in isolation; even if religion comes from

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92 Deleuze and Film

God, its iteration on Earth is contingent on human history and subject

to transformation through this interaction between the human and the
divine. Similarly, the West and modernisation/technologisation are not
strictly ‘bad’; being influenced by, say, Immanuel Kant, does not involve
an ‘unmitigated acceptance of “the West” ’ (Ghamari-Tabrizi 2008:
213). Instead, Soroush suggests an active and productive engagement
with these external influences, rather than an outright rejection thereof.
Furthermore, Soroush argues that ‘Becoming is also a part of Being’, and
that culture, religion and the self are all always moving, a moving that
can lead to ‘blessings’ (Soroush 2000: 163–4).
From this brief account of Soroush’s work we can perhaps see how
The Lizard reflects aspects of both Deleuze and Soroush’s thinking.
More particularly, however, when we consider the film within the
context of contemporary Iran, where religion all too often seems to act
as a repressive means of social control, we can further our Deleuzian
reading of the film via Soroush: religion here, after Soroush, is criticised
when it has an a priori telos or definition (as characterised by Mojaver,
who will force his inmates into heaven), but this does not result in a
rejection of religion outright. Rather, the interface of religion and the
people is the opportunity for a wider becoming, the becoming of a
people to come.
For this reason, while The Lizard is not a work of modern political
or minor cinema in the very specific manner in which Deleuze described
it (Deleuze 2005: 207–15), and while the film is in fact much closer in
aesthetic to a movement-image, nevertheless it does negotiate the emer-
gence of a people yet to come somewhat in the manner we might expect
of minor cinema. Reza’s becoming-mullah is matched by a mutual
becoming-congregation of the people of the village. This is very much
a mutual becoming. Even if, strictly speaking, the film’s final image, in
which the congregation turns en masse towards the camera, is sugges-
tive of an existing conception of a people (the people have, quite liter-
ally, come, since we see them together in the final frame), as opposed to
a people yet to come (the very futurity of which cannot be depicted in
quite this way), nevertheless this movement-image construction of the
people has a minoritarian function. It is only possible to tease this out,
however, once the context of the film’s release is more fully understood,
giving an additional contextual dimension that foregrounds the limita-
tions of Deleuze’s aesthetically focused conclusions.
What seems to be true at the diegetic level, that Reza helps to con-
struct a people, has ramifications for our understanding of the film and
its audiences. That is, the film and its popularity suggest not an Iranian

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Deleuze and The Lizard 93

society cut off from Western influence and technology (which would be
slightly paradoxical considering that cinema itself is perhaps precisely a
‘Western’ technology), but an Iranian society that embraces these things
in a manner that, as per Reza in the film and Soroush outside of it, does
not involve a rejection of what has come before but a creative and pro-
gressive synthesis between the past and the present. This in turn enables
a choice for people to move forward into the future. In short, the film
creates a memory of the future, and does so by reviving former attitudes
towards the West typical of film farsi (discussed in more detail below),
and replaying them in a minor key. In doing so, The Lizard as a cultural
phenomenon gestures towards a people yet to come – precisely because
of the popularity of the film’s depiction of a people that has come.
The banning of the film in spite of its popularity plays a central role in
this line of thinking: for some viewers, the film has anti-Islamic elements
(hence the ban), but its popularity in conjunction with the ban means
that The Lizard may be understood as having, or having the potential
for, a minoritarian function. That is, it helps to bring audiences closer
to a progressive understanding of Islam and Iranian society. If some
ruling clerics in Iran feel that religion, technology and the West are
‘bad’ (referred to sometimes as gharbzadegi, or ‘Westoxication’), The
Lizard refuses to accept this message, seeing all of these things as an
opportunity for becoming-other, while retaining constructive and useful
elements of what one already is.

The Lizard, Genre and the West

While The Lizard did win an award at Fajr, it does not obviously conform
to the art-house/‘festival’ film mode for which Iran is most famous inter-
nationally, and which also fits more readily within Deleuze’s definition
of minor cinema. Films by Bahman Ghobadi, Abbas Kiarostami, and
the Makhmalbaf family, which often deal with the plight of ‘minori-
ties’ such as Kurds, women and/or Afghans, have been described in Iran
either as film-e sefareshi (films to order, i.e. for foreign audiences), or
as film-e jashvarehi’i (festival films; see Zeydabadi-Nejad 2009: 152).
These films, like several of those that Deleuze mentions in Cinema 2
when discussing works of modern political cinema, do thrive at inter-
national film festivals, but they do not do particularly well in Iran, even
if this might in part be because of minimal promotion and exhibition
support from the government (see Varzi 2006: 237; Zeydabadi-Nejad
2009: 125–36). In contrast to these films, The Lizard did well domesti-
cally (tellingly, it won the Audience Award at Fajr), with its popularity

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94 Deleuze and Film

at home perhaps being a result of the film’s easy blend of three ‘genres’,
including: film-e ejtema’i, or ‘social’ films dealing with issues such as
social justice, the place of the clergy in Iranian society, and women’s
issues (Zeydabadi-Nejad 2009: 3); the popular film farsi tradition; and
filmha-ye dini, or religious films.
The popularity of The Lizard is important, not least in the context of
its subsequent ban. Deleuze believes that the people who are missing are
the ‘basis’ for political or minor cinema (Deleuze 2005: 209). However,
in a manner that perhaps risks taking Deleuze ‘from behind’ – some-
thing that Deleuze felt he did to other philosophers (Deleuze 1977: 12)
– we might argue that the people are also missing from the audience of
many ‘minor’ films, which mostly circulate on film festivals or through
independent cinema chains, and as such do not reach ‘the people’ in any
wide sense of the term. The people were not missing from the audience
of The Lizard, however, at least not until the film was banned. In order
to give some context to the ban, and to explore how The Lizard might
have a minoritarian function in spite of its popularity, I shall explore the
film’s ‘genre’ in more detail.
As befits the film-e ejtema’i, The Lizard deals with the clergy, the role
of women and social justice. With regard to the former, it offers various
controversial comments on the clergy in Iran, not least in suggesting
that a criminal can make a good mullah. In the hospital Mullah Reza
tells Reza Marmoulak that not all clergymen are good. Meanwhile,
having escaped, Reza Marmoulak has difficulty getting a taxi in Tehran
seemingly because of his religious attire. A similar lack of respect for
the clergy is suggested by the meagre congregation that greets Reza
when he first arrives at the border town: Delangiz, for example, simply
insults Reza every time he sees him, while others mock him in the street.
It would seem that the people no longer trust or respect those who are
supposed to offer them spiritual guidance.
In addition, the film takes time to point out many paradoxes involved
in Islam, particularly through Mojtaba, who asks numerous questions
about how to practise Islam in space and about how to fast under the
permanent sunlight of the North Pole. Reza Marmoulak also encour-
ages Gholamali to reject his previously relentless learning of the Koran
in favour of ‘being himself’ and courting women. In other words, while
the film endorses the idea that human beings ‘as they are’ (i.e. with all
of their imperfections) are more important than (religious) ideals, it also
seems implicitly to critique the clergy and their role in society – hence the
film’s ban, with Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati declaring it a ‘hideous film’
and a ‘bad influence’ (Mitchell 2008: 93).

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Deleuze and The Lizard 95

As per the film-e ejtema’i, the film also explores issues of criminal
and social justice: it suggests that prisons (like the church) are unjustly
harsh in forcing people ‘into heaven’. Meanwhile, prior to his conver-
sion, Delangiz is seen to dominate the local area surrounding Reza’s
mosque, exploiting all and sundry for protection money. That is, there
is little social justice in The Lizard without Reza’s interventions. Finally,
and also in accordance with the film-e ejtema’i, Faezeh is arguably also
representative of what Zeydabadi-Nejad terms ‘women’s issues’, in
that she is a wife who has been beaten by Delangiz, and it is only the
intervention of Reza that enables them to get back together. In other
words, there is space to read the film along gendered lines. All ends well
in the film, then, but without Reza’s interventions one can imagine an
Iran that features an overbearing prison system, a corrupt social system,
and a clergy that is by turns weak and repressive, and out of touch with
people’s everyday struggles, especially those of women.
Inasmuch as it conforms to the film-e ejtema’i, The Lizard performs
a minoritarian function in that it speaks of and for an oppressed people
who face many injustices. However, the film is also a broad comedy that,
as Pedram Partovi has pointed out, belongs to a recent revival of the film
farsi tradition that was popular before the Islamic Revolution (Partovi
2008: 515). This tradition was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini
upon his rise to power in 1979, the cinema under the Shah being con-
sidered a symptom of Westoxication, which takes Iranians’ fascination
with the West to be a disease. That is, the film involves mainstream
elements that have historically been perceived within Iran as ‘Western’.
In the Iranian context, the film farsi aspects of The Lizard might be
construed as ‘minor’ – in that officially the nation is an Islamic Republic
that has an at best ambivalent relationship with Western values – but
this is compromised both by the film’s popularity and by the fact that
these ‘minor’ attributes in Iran are anything but minor elsewhere, most
obviously in the West itself.
The influence of the West comes through in The Lizard when Reza
and a Tehrani friend see a mullah on television praising Quentin
Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (USA, 1994) because it finds salvation in dark-
ness. This prompts the friend to comment that the mullah is exceptional,
and Reza subsequently rehashes this sermon in his mosque, saying that
Tarantino is a great Christian filmmaker. Furthermore, when Mojaver
crosses paths with a disguised Reza, he asks him whether he used to be
the mullah who presented a show called Knowledge in Television, to
which Reza answers yes. In fact, the show never existed and Mojaver
poses the question as a way to test Reza’s credentials as a cleric. If the

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96 Deleuze and Film

mullah talking about Tarantino is defined as positively ‘exceptional’,

and if Mojaver implicitly associates un-mullah-like behaviour with
television and film (in that an association with television and cinema
undermines Reza’s claims to be a mullah), then The Lizard suggests a
film farsi-like sympathy with the influx of Western technologies and cul-
tural influence, not least because Mojaver is the film’s ‘villain’. However,
this sympathy is not merely a blind acceptance of all things Western, but
a considered opinion on those elements of Western culture that can be
instructive to Iranian citizens, particularly in light of the teachings of
Islam. In other words, The Lizard is not ‘straight’ film farsi in promot-
ing Western values, but it does ask how one might live with ‘Western’
technologies and cultural influence in an Islamic society. In this it helps
construct a memory of the future, drawing on a previous film tradition
to reinvigorate contemporary genre cinema, and in so doing utilising the
power of the false to gesture towards a people yet to come.
If The Lizard was banned for its critical treatment of the clergy, and
if, as noted above, the film has only an ambivalent relationship with the
West, then it can be considered to have a minoritarian function in its
positing of a community of people who seek to find a future in an Iran
that otherwise seems to lack a coherent identity. The reappearance of
a film farsi-like sympathy for Western influences in this film suggests
precisely the creation of a memory of the future. This future is not to
be discovered by rejecting Western values, but by accommodating them
into Iranian values. The Lizard thus posits a more general people to
come, both diegetically and in terms of the film’s popularity among real

The Lizard and Religion

In spite of the film’s criticisms of Islam, The Lizard still has respectful
elements that arguably make it conform to a third ‘genre’, the filmha-ye
dini or religious film. Most clearly, this is shown by the effect that the
stolen clerical garments have on Reza. Reza’s relationship with these
clothes not only signals an act of becoming, as mentioned, it also serves
to illustrate the progressive synthesis of supposedly Islamic and anti-
Islamic elements. As he travels by train from Tehran to the border town,
Reza encounters Faezeh for the first time and is obviously attracted to
her. However, his gown gets caught in the train window as he tries to
make an advance that would go against his apparent status as a cleric.
Similarly, Reza trips on his gown both in the back of a van when
eagerly encouraging Faezeh to confess her sins, and when he explains

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Deleuze and The Lizard 97

to Gholamali that it is okay for him to think about girls and to smoke
instead of learning the Koran. At the film’s end Reza tells the mute boy
that it is the clothes that have tamed him, and that it is good to become
tamed. If, as Reza says while preaching in prison, beautiful attire does
not reflect the worth of a man, and if the film does seem to suggest that
all are equal in the eyes of God, then in the case of these particular
clothes, they do seem to make a man more worthy; they are the excep-
tion, perhaps, that proves this rule.
If the role that the cleric’s clothes play in The Lizard suggests a reli-
gious presence that is otherwise invisible in the film, then Reza resists
his path towards spirituality until the film’s climax. This is particularly
reflected in his figural behaviour at certain key moments. When he takes
prayers during the aforementioned train journey, Reza seems to have a
pain or at the very least an itch in his hand; he seems to have toothache
when first he takes prayers in the border town; and he also rubs his nose
and face during a third prayer meeting. These subtle figural gestures
indicate the discomfort that Reza feels when wearing his disguise and
carrying out the official tasks associated with it.
At other moments, however, Reza uses his body expressively, espe-
cially when he climbs walls as per his nickname. This he does twice in
the film: once in prison to set free a dove that has become trapped in
barbed wire, and once when he climbs into Faezeh’s house to confront
Delangiz. The first instance refers to Reza’s desire for freedom, while in
the second instance Reza ‘frees’ Faezeh from Delangiz, who has beaten
her for the last three years.
Furthermore, Reza gets into several fights during the film: twice with
prison inmates, once with Delangiz, and once with Ozra, against whom
he raises his fist when she burns his fake passport upon being ‘converted’
by Reza’s congregation. This latter fight is perhaps the most interesting:
although Reza’s own spiritual conversion is incomplete at this (late)
stage of the film, it admits that Reza himself is far from perfect, even
though Mojaver says that there is no need to handcuff Reza when even-
tually they re-arrest him. In other words, there is no easy dichotomy
between freedom of movement and freedom of thought, in that the cleri-
cal disguise that Reza wears seems to restrict and even mildly to afflict
his body, while he still aggressively uses his body when others do not
give him what he wants (the passport).
However, even if Reza is not perfect or a representative of the divine,
in that he is far from blameless as a human being (as evidenced by
his violent outbursts, including towards women), his contact with the
divine transforms him as much, perhaps, as it enables him to expand the

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meaning of the divine (criminals are not God’s rejects, but they also have
a role to play in God’s plans). In other words, neither religion nor self in
The Lizard has a fixed essence, but both constantly undergo processes
of becoming. Similarly, technology and cinema are not de facto ‘evil’ in
the film (even though Mojaver seemingly suggests that the latter is), but,
when realised in the Iranian context, can be seen as opportunities for
mutual influence and change. The same goes for religion: Reza’s version
of Islam is not an abstract ideal that no human could attain, but rather
a human, even flawed, understanding, in which Islam adapts to humans
as much as humans adapt to it (it is okay for Gholamali to chase girls,
smoke and not to learn the Surat al-‘Ankabout).

The Lizard, the Spectator and the Time-Image

As a result of the preceding considerations of Iranian film culture and
Abdolkarim Soroush, hopefully the Deleuzian reading of The Lizard
offered here amounts to a progressive becoming rather than a ‘colonial’
or ‘imperial’ imposition of meaning (The Lizard as table for a game of
‘Ping-Pong’ with Deleuze). However, while the film seems to endorse
becoming and the possibility of a future, pluralistic Iran that does not
yet exist (and perhaps cannot yet exist – Reza is taken away at the end
of the film, after all), this certainly does not make The Lizard an easy-fit
work of minor cinema, or even a time-image more generally.
As noted, formally the film is predominantly characteristic of the
movement-image as defined by Deleuze: that is to say, it is a film domi-
nated by the sensory-motor regime, and in which the continuity editing
system that is predominantly employed suggests the situation-action-
renewed situation (SAS⬘) system of the action-image as described in
Cinema 1 (see Deamer, this volume). Even though the film involves
extensive scenes in mosques, prayer does not here function, as it might,
as a means for contemplation, in which characters are forced into
thought by the purely optical and sonic situations in which they find
themselves. It is instead a film dominated by human-led cause and
effect, constructed out of the perception-, affection- and action-images
of the movement-image, which are edited together at a pace that partly
explains the film’s popularity with Iranian and other audiences. That
is, at a pace that is redolent of the ‘spatialisation of time’ characteristic
of movement-image cinema, wherein time is suppressed for the sake of
That said, the film seems to endorse a politics of becoming, and also
to suggest a potential ‘people to come’ in Iran (and beyond). Indeed,

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Deleuze and The Lizard 99

an important moment in the film does also lead us towards the time-
image. During his first night in the border town, Reza goes in search
of Ozra, who supposedly lives on Ostavari Street. Reza thinks he has
arrived, only to be told that the street names have been changed and
that Ostavari Street is now somewhere else. Reza is then told that the
numbers on the houses have also been changed by the local government,
and so in fact he takes a long time to find where he wants to get to.
This moment might not just be an amusing critique of local bureauc-
racy. It might also function in such a way that the space and movement
of the film are downplayed in favour of a deliberate system of delay-
ing Reza from reaching (what he thinks is) his goal, namely an escape
from Iran into Turkey. Deprived of their original street names and in
a thoroughly confusing manner (which later will thwart the police in
their attempts to catch Reza with Ozra), this seems to make of the town
something of an any-space-whatever in the sense defined by Deleuze in
Cinema 2 (Deleuze 2005: 247). That is to say, the space in which the
film occurs is here deprived of any definite geographical location (sense
of place), which means that time is not subordinate to space here but
comes to the fore and can be seen for itself. As much would seem to be
reinforced by the fact that Reza never occupies any spaces in the film
that are his own: he is often in public spaces or on public transport,
and on the rare occasion that he enters a private home, it is someone
else’s. Being homeless, then, Reza also seems to become an any-person-
whatever, as his ability constantly to become other perhaps suggests. We
might even go so far as to argue that the eradication of any clear distinc-
tion between his private and his public/political life manifests something
of a further minoritarian function in the film, correlating as this does to
one of the three key characteristics Deleuze attributes to modern politi-
cal cinema (Deleuze 2005: 210). Furthermore, when the police get lost
in the town’s new street system in pursuit of Reza, they walk past a dove
perched on a street sign – seemingly the same dove that Reza freed from
the barbed wire in the prison. Are we to interpret this as Reza finding
his freedom precisely in the any-space-whatever that is the village? Is
it in this unnamed village, which is freed from a definite geographical/
geopolitical location, that the virtuous potential of the people can be
This may be an interpretation of the film that borders on the ‘Ping-
Pong’-like, not least because there is little else in the film (aside from the
final freeze frame described earlier) that lends itself to the time-image.
I shall propose, however, that it is not only in spite but perhaps also
because of the film’s formal characteristics, i.e. because it is ostensibly

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a movement-image film, that The Lizard can serve as an instructive film

through which to renew our understanding of the time-image, particu-
larly from the point of view of the spectator.
Various scholars have noted the similarity between Deleuze’s defini-
tion of the time-image and the supposed position of the film spectator
(for example, Friedberg 1993: 129). That is, like the supposed ‘seer’ that
features diegetically within time-image cinema, the cinema spectator
is placed into a purely sonic and optic situation, in which contempla-
tion and thought take the place of action (Deleuze 2005: 2). However,
while time-image cinema arguably encourages the viewer to reflect self-
consciously on the ‘seeing’ they are experiencing, this is considered to
be not so typical of movement-image cinema, which, stylistically (for
example, through a system of continuity editing in the action-image),
encourages unthinking (and at times purely visceral) responses, in that
we are engaged purely with the sensory-motor action of the film. While
developments in our understanding of the human body and brain might
lead to a blurring of these distinctions – in that visceral, emotional and
intellectual activities are not separate but interlinked and interdependent
(see Brown 2011) – I should like to blur these distinctions myself from
within Deleuzian discourse.
In his recent essay on Deleuzian spectatorship, Richard Rushton out-
lines the ways in which spectators are passive during film viewing, in
so far as they ‘fuse’ with the film, becoming conscious with the movie
they are watching, rather than conscious of it (Rushton 2009). That is,
the film – any film – induces some form of becoming with the spectator,
becoming both in the sense that we ‘merge’ with the film, but becoming
also in that we think new thoughts, thoughts that would not happen
without the film. This is a ‘passive’ process because it involves allow-
ing our subjective selves to change. Elsewhere, Rushton says that the
virtual – all that we may possibly become as we move from one moment
to the next – is also passive, in that it is not produced by consciousness
(we do not decide what we become), but rather produces consciousness
(as time passes, we become). As a result, ‘subjectivity happens to the
subject rather than . . . [being] caused by the subject’ (Rushton 2008:
137). If we combine these two ‘passivities’ then we might say that not
only the time-image but all cinema is a ‘virtual machine’ that allows us
viewers to become, and does so because it helps us to think the previ-
ously unthought, to experience the new.
The typical argument against this hard interpretation of Deleuze
would be that movement-image cinema does not allow us to become
because it is a cinema that closes off the moment in which we expe-

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Deleuze and The Lizard 101

rience the existence of the virtual, a cinema that peddles in clichés;

that is, when we watch a movement-image film, we do not think the
unthought so much as think things that we have thought many times
before, such that they have become automatic to us (Deleuze 2005:
19–21). Furthermore, we do not so much think for ourselves (because
we are ‘fusing’ with the film), but rather think what the film ‘wants us
to think’ (for the very same reason that we are fusing with the film).
This is a viable argument, but it betrays a refusal to accept Deleuze (and
Guattari’s) argument that becoming is what, as humans, we do anyway
(Deleuze and Guattari 1984; 1987). That is to say, to repeat a thought
is not necessarily to engage in a strict repetition, since in the intervening
period between the first and second thoughts we have become different,
such that the second thought is not simply a repetition, but a repetition
in difference. As is Deleuze, we too should be wary that repetition does
not make automata of us and that we do not ‘think unthinkingly’. Yet
the ‘Hitlerism’ of the movies, as Deleuze describes it (2005: 255), is a
worst-case scenario, one that does not de facto follow from watching
mainstream movies.
For this reason, Rushton says that ‘films can deliver to us the brains of
idiots as much as it [sic] can deliver the brains of inspiration or genius’
(Rushton 2009: 53), a sentiment that echoes Anna Powell’s belief that
‘the spectator may have to work harder to extract new meaning from
the more formulaic films. We input more of our own affective response
if “trapped” in a set of conventions that we struggle to experience dif-
ferently’ (Powell 2005: 203). That is to say, both Rushton and Powell
point to the fact that movement-images can be the grounds for original
thought as much as time-image films, even if the latter more easily seem
to accomplish this (though that they do so ‘easily’ might lead one to
argue that time-image films are ‘clichés’ of their own).
Now, original thought and the time-image are not necessarily the
same thing, but they are related through the concept of the virtual:
the time-image in effect involves a blurring of boundaries between self
and other, fantasy and reality, past and present (and future), such that
we ‘see’ the virtual, or a non-chronological ‘time’ in which all possible
pasts, presents and futures (including ones that are physically impossible
in our universe) coexist simultaneously. Cinema allows us to see ‘other
worlds’, which in turn enable us to reflect critically upon this world.
This notion of the virtual has been related by Michael Goddard (2001)
and Patricia Pisters (2006) to the spiritual, which indeed involves the
movement of the mind/thought and the ability to choose.
Here, our discussion of Deleuze brings us back to The Lizard, which

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102 Deleuze and Film

both diegetically involves a character coming to realise that he has a

choice thanks to a spiritual awakening (achieved, no less, through his
repetition of the phrase that there are as many paths to God as there
are people in the world) and extra-diegetically involves the possibility
for a ‘people to come’ and for original thought in its Iranian (and other)
audiences. If The Lizard posits a spiritual argument that there are as
many paths to God as there are people in the world, then it perhaps also
sheds light on the possibility for any film to lead us into the previously
unthought, which is one of the key aspects of Deleuze’s time-image
cinema. It is not so much, then, that the time-image is a thing, as it is that
the time-image is a process, the potential for which lies in any cinematic
work as it comes into contact with any spectator. Adopting a fundamen-
tally pluralistic approach, we might argue that there are as many paths
to the time-image as there are films (and film spectators, and film view-
ings) in the world.
Even though the rest of the film is time-image ‘unfriendly’ in the
reified sense of the term, the final freeze frame of The Lizard, with Reza
being taken away off screen, suggests an open ending that does not give
answers so much as inspire thinking about the future. A contextualised
analysis of The Lizard helps to illustrate the ways in which the film
diegetically reflects upon becoming and the possibility of change not as
a thing but as a mode of thought, within Iran and elsewhere.

Brown, W. (2011), Cognitive Deleuze: Report on the SCSMI Conference (Roanoke,
2–5 June 2010) and the Deleuze Studies Conference (Amsterdam, 12–14 July
2010), Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, 1 (1), available
(accessed 8 April 2011).
Dabashi, H. (2007), Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema, Washington, DC:
Deleuze, G. (1977), ‘I Have Nothing to Admit’, trans. J. Forman, Semiotext(e), 2
(3): 111–16.
Deleuze, G. (2005), Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1984), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H. R. Lane, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1987), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi, London: Athlone.
Friedberg, A. (1993), Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern, Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Ghamari-Tabrizi, B. (2008), Islam and Dissent in Postrevolutionary Iran:
Abdolkarim Soroush, Religious Politics and Democratic Reform, London and
New York: I.B. Tauris.

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Deleuze and The Lizard 103

Goddard, M. (2001), ‘The Scattering of Time Crystals: Deleuze, Mysticism and

Cinema’, in M. Bryden (ed.), Deleuze and Religion, London: Routledge, pp.
Mitchell, J. (2008), ‘The Real Worlds of Iranian Cinema’, Journal of Media and
Religion, 7: 92–5.
Partovi, P. (2008), ‘Martyrdom and the “Good Life” in the Iranian Cinema of
Sacred Defense’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East,
28 (3): 513–32.
Pisters, P. (2006), ‘The Spiritual Dimension of the Brain as Screen: Zigzagging
from Cosmos to Earth (and Back)’, in R. Pepperell and M. Punt (eds), Screen
Consciousness: Cinema, Mind, and World, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 123–38.
Powell, A. (2005), Deleuze and Horror Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Rushton, R. (2008), ‘Passions and Actions: Deleuze’s Cinematographic Cogito’,
Deleuze Studies, 2 (2): 121–39.
Rushton, R. (2009), ‘Deleuzian Spectatorship’, Screen, 50 (1): 45–53.
Soroush, A. (2000), Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings
of Abdolkarim Soroush, trans. and ed. M. Sadri and A. Sadri, Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Varzi, R. (2006), Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution
Iran, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.
Zeydabadi-Nejad, S. (2009), The Politics of Iranian Cinema: Film and Society in the
Islamic Republic, London and New York: Routledge.

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Chapter 6
In Search of Lost Reality: Waltzing
with Bashir

Markos Hadjioannou

Gilles Deleuze’s cinema books present a complex and thoroughly

informed theoretical feat, which aligns the creativity of filmmaking
with that of a conceptual activity that goes far beyond the limits of the
cinema screen. This is what D.N. Rodowick has in mind when he writes:
‘that Deleuze is a philosopher of time means that he is a philosopher of
life: an inventor of concepts that affirm life and its untimely forces of
creation’ (Rodowick 1997: xviii). To be sure, Deleuze’s movement- and
time-images have become both methodological models and the theoreti-
cal motivation for thinking in cinema and thinking about cinema in a
variety of ways. As Deleuze writes in the conclusion to Cinema 2: ‘it is at
the level of the interference of many practices that things happen, beings,
images, concepts, all the kinds of events’ (Deleuze 1989: 280).
In line with the dynamic creativity exposed by both Rodowick and
Deleuze, and with the aim of developing the impact of Deleuze’s film-
philosophy further, this chapter will address the position of reality in
the cinematic image. The focus will be Ari Folman’s animated documen-
tary Vals Im Bashir/Waltz with Bashir (Israel/France/Germany/USA/
Finland/Switzerland/Belgium/Australia, 2008), a mesmerising movie
that triggers anew the debate regarding the documentarian’s treatment
of the world. Through the creative practice of Folman’s vision, where
the world documented is also animated, my aim will be to question a
common assertion regarding the world of non-fiction cinema, placing
this type of filmmaking within the uniqueness of Deleuze’s approach to
reality in cinema. In essence, what becomes central to my discussion is
the impossibility of a clear opposition between fiction and non-fiction,
and, most importantly, the question of what this means for the figure of
reality within the cinematic image.

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Time Loss
Bill Nichols makes the distinction between a world that the documen-
tary film always presents, and the world as the real historical world used
as the basis for the documentarian’s treatment of her or his footage. He
We observe in documentary the everyday world of social action and pho-
tographic realism. This is clearly a view of the world, not the world as
such, but it is not just any view of the world, as a fiction might be. It is the
obvious and natural world of everyday life; it is a world represented with
the indexical ‘wham’ that photographic images can provide; it is an argu-
ment set amidst those contending discourses of power, dominance, control,
and the strategies of resistance, qualification, debate, contestation, and
refusal that accompany them. (Nichols 1991: 157)
Nichols makes an important point here. The documentary image gains
its power from the existential assurance granted to the image by way
of its means of production: its mechanical and chemical basis make
it an indexical sign. As such, the analogue image of film offers it the
potential to become a testimony of the world, and thus to lay claim to a
certain objectivity in its presentation of that very same world. However,
Nichols points to the documentarian’s intrusion in this model: a docu-
mentary does not stand simply as an objective image, in that it is not a
direct image of the historical world. Rather, it remains within the frame-
work of argumentative speech, presenting a certain idea of the world.
Even if we want to take Nichols’ proposition at face value, the matter
with which film theory is inevitably confronted due to the move to
non-analogical modes of image production is how we can think of the
relationship between image and world in the new, digital culture. While
the evidentiary function of analogue images offers them the potential
of becoming existential testimonies to a world past, digital cinema’s
relation to the world relies on the individual’s ability to infer a sense of
reality to its forms and functions from the outside – that is, on the basis
of an institutional contextualisation and a certain spectatorial practice.
For instance, in The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Mary Ann Doane
speaks of the shock induced by the news reportage’s liveness as a spec-
tatorial experience that diminishes the difference between an analogue
and a digital recording of an historical event. She writes:
Although the televisual and digital representations of explosions are not
photographically based, their indexicality is a function of the strength of
their exhortation to ‘Look here!’, ‘See this’, acting as the pointing finger of
Peirce’s empty indexical sign. The ‘liveness’ of the televisual image ensures

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106 Deleuze and Film

its adhesion to the referent just as the index adheres to its object, and the
website makes that ‘liveness’ relivable at the touch of a finger. (Doane
2002: 208)

For Doane, what brings a sense of reality to the image is, in fact, not
how it was recorded (in the sense of what medium was used), but the
fact that it becomes part of an institution of information that theatrical-
ises the documentary value of an event through a number of factors: the
interruption of the scheduled programme in the name of breaking news;
the establishment of a network of correspondents around the world who
are constantly on standby; and, above all, the broadcasting of shock-
ing events that forcefully ground the image in its historical context.
Philip Rosen takes a similar approach, describing what he calls ‘digital
mimicry’. Questioning the strict distinction made by theorists between
old and new media, Rosen argues that the digital cannot be understood
outside the context of a visual sociohistorical culture. As he explains:
‘In practice, then, digital imagery is often (but of course not exclusively)
constituted by being propped on to certain culturally powerful image
codes that preexisted it, and in this regard photography and film may
be especially important examples’ (Rosen 2001: 314). As such, a digital
image might not be indexical on the basis of its technical construc-
tion, but may still reproduce the qualitative functions of the analogue,
thus overlapping with, rather than overturning, old media. To be sure,
this is what Thomas Elsaesser has in mind when he also questions the
newness of new media on the basis of the main product of Hollywood,
the narrative feature film. In industrial terms, Elsaesser explains, we are
in the midst of the reorganisation of modes of distribution and circula-
tion opportunities, rather than in a significantly radical transition with
regard to the spectatorial experiences of cinema (Elsaesser 1998: 203).
What this debate goes to show is that indexicality as a strict frame-
work for discussing the shift from analogue to digital images, and, by
extension, for reflecting on the relationship between image and reality,
becomes quite problematic once we take into consideration the posi-
tion of an image within the broader culture that generates it and within
which it is upheld. This is precisely what Stephen Prince has in mind
when he proposes the term ‘perceptual realism’ for discussing digital
movies. Prince explains that film theory has a tendency to evaluate the
realism of an image merely on the basis of reference (that is, whether the
association maintained between a recording and its source is indexical
or not), neglecting to understand that the image’s credibility is a matter
of perception (Prince 1996: 28). As he maintains, the realism of digital

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Waltzing with Bashir 107

imaging need not be judged on the basis of indexical inferences at all,

but through a correspondence-based model. Here, the privilege is given
to the spectator who will consider whether or not the image maintains a
reality effect based on the extent to which its features (lighting, colour,
motion, and so on) correspond to her or his visual and social experience
of the real world (Prince 1996: 31). While this approach does allow for
the liberation of the image-reality relation from the grip of indexicality’s
credibility, it does seem to neglect a fundamental part of the debate,
indeed one that has been astutely pointed out by Rodowick in his own
treatment of Prince’s argument: that the shift from analogue to digital
images is not simply a matter of aesthetics, but one of time (Rodowick
2007: 110–24). The centrality of time in this debate is also apparent
from Doane’s aforementioned assertion concerning the shock of tel-
evised liveness, where indexicality is prescribed within the perceptual
experience of the instantaneous present. Nevertheless, what seems to be
a recurrent theme in these arguments is that the digital continues to be
judged on the basis of an analogue visual culture, by either being pre-
scribed within it or, in Prince’s case, by making it completely irrelevant.
It would be useful, though, to see how examples of digital products
themselves try to renegotiate the tensions between image and reality,
and between indexicality as existential assurance and digitisation as
manipulable transcription.
If we are to position the digital against analogue technology, then it
will remain impossible for it to express reality at all. The digital is by
definition non-analogical; as such, it is perceived continuously in the
negative. This negativity is actually prescribed in Prince’s argument even
as he tries to redeem the digital from theories of reference. The viewer
will not necessarily look for correspondences between a digital image
and reality to perceive it as realistic; rather, it is more likely that the
reality effect of the digital image will be judged on the basis of whether
or not it corresponds to our perceptual experiences of photographically
created images. In other words, Prince’s correspondence-based model
has as its point of reference photorealism, not reality. The world, within
this framework, is always missing; and as such, a digital movie (fiction
or non-fiction) is by definition always a view of the world so that what
is always privileged is the subjective as an intentional act.
What is not being addressed, though, is the fact that the digital image,
precisely due to its non-analogical construction, has the ability to over-
come the distinction between objective and subjective, the world and a
world. Indeed, this is what we may learn from Deleuze’s film-philosophy.
Without addressing the indexical nature of film, Deleuze still manages to

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108 Deleuze and Film

connect the image with time; and even while this understanding of time
is not conceived through the notion of indexicality, it still becomes a
means through which the image gains the power to induce a belief in the
world. In essence, by rethinking Nichols’ distinction in light of Deleuze’s
approach to cinema, what we see in the documentary image is always
an image of the world, but one in which this world is always changing.
The world depicted remains the world, even when, as in the animated
Waltz with Bashir, ostensibly it seems not to be. What becomes vital
for such an understanding is the importance that Deleuze places on the
friction between what is depicted in the image and what remains missing
from sight. This dual role of bringing to sight while simultaneously
hindering visibility becomes, within his theoretical schema, a means of
falsifying the image. While we are given images of the world on screen,
these images also express a certain loss of moments, of those fragments
between each frame; that is, a loss of time. In other words, where indexi-
cality is based strictly on the premises of an invitation to ‘look here’ and
‘see this’, Deleuze’s time-image is part of a regime to ‘look here, and see
what is missing’.

The Unreal Real

My interest in Deleuze’s philosophy of time has to do precisely with
his attempt to unhinge the cinematic image from the reign of indexi-
cality. As long as the index does not become a privileged form in the
theorisation of the moving image, the non-indexicality of the digital
should thus not prohibit the technology from expressing reality or from
allowing for a spectatorial experience that may bring the individual in
touch with the world. In search of the worldliness of Waltz with Bashir,
in other words, it is useful to delve deeper into the concept of time as
understood by Deleuze himself. Indeed, the distinctiveness of Deleuze’s
theory of cinema is that he is talking about a certain expression of time,
even when he interprets the movement-image. In the case of the organic/
kinetic regime of the movement-image, time is expressed through move-
ment, where an image is given an assurance of life on the basis of its
self-mobility. For her part, Doane turns to cinema to discuss the rela-
tionship between stasis and a certain expression of the passing of time
as this appears in the visual stimulus caused by the world’s mobility.
She reminds us that cinema’s moving images (what I would like to term
‘cinemes’ following the Greek root of the word cinématographe – that
is, signifiers of motion) are created through, and thus literally dependent
on, the division of real time into distinct static moments (‘photograms’

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Waltzing with Bashir 109

– still photographic units), which file past the viewer’s eyes at a pace
rapid enough to create what is actually a simulacrum of time passing.
As Doane explains:
During the projection of a film, the spectator is sitting in an unperceived
darkness for almost 40 percent of the running time. Hence, much of the
movement or the time allegedly recorded by the camera is simply not there,
lost in the interstices between frames. These interstices, crucial to the rep-
resentation of movement, must themselves remain unacknowledged. The
cinema presents us with a simulacrum of time. (Doane 2002: 172)

Cinema presents us with a visual construction that connotes movement

abstractly; that is, it recreates a figuration of movement by recording real
motion in the form of a series of stilled and separate instances that are
equivalent to, most typically, twenty-four photographs per second. Real
motion is thus broken down to conform to a mathematically precise
isomorphic depiction. The result is, conventionally, an image that seems
to move without any interruption. Nevertheless, while the result is fluid
enough to satisfy a belief in the uninterrupted and realistic progression
of time in the image, it raises a certain philosophical concern: time seems
to become spatialised.
Deleuze’s return to Henri Bergson in his cinema books is quite exten-
sive, as well as crucial in its renewal of how we can go about interpret-
ing cinematic movement in search of expressions of time. For Bergson,
what seem to be different states of being are simply our consciousness
noticing specific formations as if they were representative of one state
as opposed to another, similar to how one object positioned in space is
separate from another (Bergson 2001: 87). To think this, he maintains,
is to go against the flow of life. It is no surprise, therefore, that for
Bergson cinema is incapable of depicting motion – a motion that arises
as a changing force – because it is simulated out of separate instants
based on an abstractly defined mathematical calculation of what seems
good enough to perform a sense of continuous self-motion (Bergson
1998: 306). Snapshots taken of reality are used to characterise reality
itself; but this reality is thus presented as a becoming that is quantified,
made up of a uniformity that stems from a serialisation of static poses.
What concerns Bergson here, and which becomes central to Deleuze’s
own approach to cinema, is that the reanimation of reality’s passing
in the image is based on an analytic rationalisation that limits the
powers of durée (duration). The desire to see a reflection of past life
on screen is satisfied by taking life outside of itself: one mathematical
principle (twenty-four frames per second) makes up for the loss of time

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110 Deleuze and Film

that is actually one of the primary signifying forces of cinema. Within

this framework, film’s cinemes are signifiers of its photograms – those
instantaneous images that allude to moments of the past, a collection
of moments or states that are incapable of bringing reality back to life
and engaging the viewer in durée. The movement of the projector seems
to recreate movement, but does so as if movement were a generalised
category that could be retraced on the basis of an abstracting hierarchy
of moments, uniquely selected to represent life. Here, the relationship
between the viewer and the image is placed within a Cartesian regime,
where thought is presented as a means of dissecting the world with the
purpose of excavating truth from life. In this sense, time becomes an
activity that displaces the individual in order that she or he achieves
exteriorly defined goals that transcend the aspirations and purposes of
living in reality. That is, time becomes purposeful and is justified on
the basis of its efficiency to achieve and to gain. In sum, the time of the
organic/kinetic regime is deterministically technocratic.
Where for Bergson this cinematic construction remains an insur-
mountable problem for depicting the changing force of reality, for
Deleuze there is still hope. Speaking of the relationship between the
two philosophers, Doane astutely notes that their main difference is in
how they propose to interpret cinematic movement altogether. While
Bergson insisted on focusing his attention on how the projector func-
tions, Deleuze was more interested in considering movement from
the point of view of the spectators who see it presented to them in the
interval between shots – the space where motion is brought to a form
of constant becoming. Doane explains: ‘The spectator does not see the
succession of photograms but, instead, an intermediate image, which
is a “mobile section” not an immobility. This mobile section is not the
illusion of movement but its reality; it is imbued with qualitative change
and duration’ (Doane 2002: 176).
Within this understanding, the cinemes (signifiers of motion) become
the primary effect of cinema, annihilating the photograms (still photo-
graphic units) in their emergence. Here we are led to another primary
signifying force of cinema: not only does it express the loss of time –
indeed, a time that we can never conquer directly – it also brings to the
fore, both immediately and forcefully, the reinvention of time, or to be
more precise, time as the act of reinventing. In other words, cinema has
this unique ability to perform the simultaneous action of annihilating
reality and depicting this loss, as well as reviving reality in its creative
expressivity. The important factor, though, is that this revival is not a
re-presentation in accordance with André Bazin’s hopeful cine-theology

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Waltzing with Bashir 111

(Bazin 1967: 14); rather, it is a creative act configured as a point of

concurrency between an actual time recorded and a virtual time of
the constant regeneration of the trace of reality at some other point
in time. While the cinematographic apparatus splits time into a series of
moments, these moments are not privileged but are positioned as non-
hierarchical, equidistant instants that just happen to have taken place.
Here is the important claim that Deleuze makes: cinema can recreate
the sense of durée with which Bergson is concerned, because it proposes
a philosophy of the ‘any-instant-whatever’ (that arbitrarily recorded
twenty-fourth photogram per second), which connects the produc-
tion of the new with any, rather than some specially chosen, moment.
‘Meaning’, Doane writes, ‘is predetermined not in ideal forms, but in a
process of emergence and surprise’ (Doane 2002: 180). That is, meaning
is not drawn out of a purposeful progression through the world (move-
ment that falls within the category of a transcendentalism) but from the
unmotivated and thus irrational appearances of the world where move-
ment is met by the collapse of reason and the encounter with a constant
virtuality. This is what is expressed by the apparatus that privileges the
interval between stases, as the space during which movement is per-
formed by becoming a non-existent – and thus always virtual – bridge
between inconsequential figurations of static pasts. This cinemato-
graphic break between photograms is, in other words, the performative
act of cinema as a technology of cinemes, where the simulation of time
passing becomes the creative power of the false: the unreal of cinema’s
Deleuze’s renegotiation of the relationship between time and move-
ment in the cinematic image leads us to a crucial part of his discussion.
In his consideration of the ‘powers of the false’ (Deleuze 1989: 126–55),
Deleuze compares the organic/kinetic regime of the movement-image
to the crystalline/chronic regime of the time-image, explaining that
the two forms differ in their representational structures and effects. In
the first case, he addresses the means by which the camera presents the
world – literally presenting the world within the image. For the organic
regime, this is a matter of the camera treating the world as an independ-
ently existent platform on to which the events of the narrative unfold. It
does not matter if the world presented is made up of footage of exterior
landscapes or of fabricated scenery. As Deleuze explains, ‘what counts
is that, whether they are scenery or exteriors, the setting described is
presented as independent of the description which the camera gives
of it, and stands for a supposedly pre-existing reality’ (Deleuze 1989:
126). Quite differently, in the case of the crystalline regime, the world

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112 Deleuze and Film

presented is not depicted as a background on to which action unfolds,

but rather is activated by the camera’s construction of it as cinematic, or
as a performance of cinemes. The description of space by the camera, in
other words, literally replaces the actuality of the real by allowing it to
appear as it erases it in its purposeful modification of what is depicted.
The crucial point here is that the crystalline description of space privi-
leges the act of seeing (indeed, the fact that the viewer is seeing) over a
focus on events that need to be followed and resolved. As a consequence
of these two differing relations between camera and filmic space, the
representation of reality more generally presents us with a pivotal shift.
Continuing his discussion, Deleuze points to the relationship between
the real and the imaginary in each regime (Deleuze 1989: 126–7). Once
again, the difference in how this relationship is treated by each regime
is paramount for how we may go about thinking of a cinema whose
concern is the real world even when this world is depicted as non-real.
In the case of the organic regime, the real is constructed, and is perceived
as, an uninterrupted continuous reality that persists from shot to shot
and scene to scene. The world constructed, in other words, is based on
an image of the whole, ‘a regime of localisable relations, actual linkages,
legal, causal and logical connections’ (Deleuze 1989: 127). The organic
regime is, in fact, able to contain virtual events, recollections, states of
emotions and memories; but this is achieved from the point of view of
the actual world that gives meaning to virtual states as a non-existent
virtuality to which reality only refers. The virtual does not contain
meaning in itself, but acquires meaning on the basis of the actual that
upholds and justifies its appearance. As such, the real and the imaginary
are contradicted, placed at the ends of two opposing forms of existence.
In contrast, the crystalline regime renegotiates the distinction between
real and imaginary leading to what is in fact an indecipherable indiscern-
ibility between the two. The real and the imaginary within the crystal-
image become facets of the same world. It is no longer the case that a
dream is situated within reality, and analysed and justified on the basis
of this reality. Rather, within the crystalline regime the dream becomes
actual by transforming the real, while the real becomes simultaneously a
manifestation of the dream. The one layer of existence follows on from
the other in a way that the present passing of time is just that contracted
point where all the past is virtually present, and where every action is a
motion that moves into the past to reveal the desires and disorientations
of the future. The imaginary, in other words, is a state of existing as
much as the real is a state of virtuality.
Deleuze proceeds from this point to focus on the types of narration

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privileged by the two regimes. Here, once again, he focuses on the differ-
ence between continuity and discontinuity, on the contradiction between
an image of thought that relies on the ‘whole’ and that which presents
a sense of constant differentiation that is upheld by the ‘interval’. The
events that take place within the organic regime function in such a way
as to support a claim to truth, even in the case of fiction. Everything is
contained within this fictionalised world owing to a development that
arises from tensions and oppositions that are eliminated or appeased
through goals and their achievement, and through obstacles and their
defeat. Anomalies, breaks and superimpositions may appear, but these
are justified and rationalised by obeying certain laws that are based, as
Deleuze explains, on certain ‘centres of forces in space’ (Deleuze 1989:
128). The time of the organic regime is thus chronological.
Once again, the crystalline regime presents a form of narration that
is quite different from the organic logic. Here ‘sensory-motor situations
have given way to pure optical and sound situations to which characters,
who have become seers, cannot or will not react, so great is their need
to “see” properly what there is in the situation’ (Deleuze 1989: 128).
In contrast, in the case of the crystalline, events are not there to present
a reason for a character’s action, nor are they the immediate effects of
these actions. Rather, the characters are now unable or unwilling to act.
The world presented is overtaken by pure optical and sonic situations
within which characters are found as individuals in need of seeing and
hearing. Most importantly, this is a seeing and hearing that does not
develop into action; it is not a presupposition of an action that leads
to the coalition of the story’s progression with motion in space. This
act of wandering and observing, where the character encounters the
world as a space of perception and reflection that engulfs them, takes
over the image to give us an image of thought where time is no longer
rationalised but continuously changing. Movement becomes, as such, a
situation that cannot be transformed into action; and space is no longer
the summation of tensions and their resolutions organised on the basis
of determining goals. Here is where the interval (that virtual space of
constant differentiation) takes over the image, creating a world fuelled
by the false and its powers.

The Digitographic Documentary

Folman’s Waltz with Bashir is a fascinating example of contemporary
cinematic production, one that expresses this tension between the
organic and the crystalline by emphasising the impossibility of any claim

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114 Deleuze and Film

to truth – or, more precisely, a claim to a certain type of truth – within

the setting of documentary filmmaking. At the same time, the movie
stands at the unique juncture of recent debates surrounding the shift
from celluloid film, and its powers as an analogue recording device,
to digital cinema, and the potential weakness of the computer, as a
non-analogic recording and image-creating device, in depicting the real
Of course, Waltz with Bashir is not an exclusive or rare specimen
within the history of documentary filmmaking. The film follows in
the tradition of the performative documentary that makes prominent
the filmmaker’s concern with, and open critique of, the depiction of
some true reality in the image, while at the same time making the film-
maker’s subjective framing of the work a main component. As Stella
Bruzzi argues, ‘the performative documentary uses performance within
a non-fiction context to draw attention to the impossibilities of authen-
tic documentary representation’ (Bruzzi 2006: 185). The result of this
focus on performativity within the context of non-fiction filmmaking
is the creation of an alienating device for the spectator, which openly
foregrounds the creative impulse, and thus artificiality, of the work. The
reflexivity of this mode seeks to penetrate a certain canon within docu-
mentary film production that stems from film’s technical ability to make
visible the objective traces of a world past, thus bringing to light certain
truths of an historical reality. Performative documentaries target, as
Bruzzi describes, ‘the erroneous assumption that documentaries aspire
to be referential or “constative” to adopt [J.L.] Austin’s terminology
(that is, to represent an uncomplicated, descriptive relationship between
subject and text)’ (Bruzzi 2006: 187).
Indeed, Waltz with Bashir embraces this very same logic, as it focuses
on the filmmaker’s own personal quest to come to terms with his past
through a therapeutic act of remembrance. As the viewer is told in the
featurette that accompanies the DVD edition of the movie (Artifical Eye,
2009), Folman’s inspiration for Waltz with Bashir came from an experi-
ment conducted by the Israeli army and in which he took part in order to
gain an early release from service. During a number of sessions with the
army’s therapist, Folman had to recount all his memories of the events
he experienced during his service, amongst which was Israel’s 1982
invasion of Lebanon, a war that becomes the historical background for
the movie. What surprised Folman was the fact that he had avoided
speaking about these events before taking part in the experiment, and so
the very act of talking now about this past becomes a process of remem-
bering. In other words, for Folman, and for the movie, this return to an

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historical trauma is not a matter of recalling incidents that had taken

place as if they were simply there waiting to be brought back to light.
Rather, this process of returning to one’s forgotten past is an occurrence
that reinvigorates emotions linked to that past while simultaneously
inducing a certain awareness of the individual’s place in present time.
More than this, in recollecting his past Folman becomes aware of the
fact that his memories are filled with gaps that he cannot fill or justify.
The attempt to find out what happened in between the one and the other
memory, and to target the anxieties induced by both the memories and
their gaps, brings Folman to seek out some of his fellow soldiers. In the
process, Waltz with Bashir becomes a documentary that looks back to
one of the most horrific events of the 1982 Lebanon War: the massacre
of Palestinian refugees by Lebanese Phalangist extremists in the Sabra
and Shatila refugee camps, which at the time were surrounded by the
Israeli Defence Force in which Folman was serving. Folman’s intention
is not to describe or to disclose the truth behind these incidents (whether
or how the Israelis let the vengeful Phalangists into the camps), but to
position them at the centre of the meeting point between Folman, his
past, the existential acts of remembrance, and the world that is revealed
in the creative act of living.
The movie is made up of a series of interviews conducted by Folman
with other soldiers, a post-trauma therapist, and Ron Ben-Yishai, an
Israeli war correspondent who famously documented the Sabra and
Shatila massacres. The first encounter depicted takes place in a bar
where Folman is told by a friend, Boaz, of a recurring nightmare he has,
during which twenty-six savage dogs chase after him. Boaz explains that
these twenty-six dogs are the dogs he had killed as a soldier during the
night raids conducted by the Israeli army when the country had first
attacked Lebanon in 1982. Here we see Folman perplexed not so much
by his friend’s nightmare as by the fact that he himself does not have any
recollection of his own time back in the army during the attack. At this
point, though, a sudden memory, presented to us in flashback, takes him
back to Beirut and his presence in the city during the war. The flashback
causes a strong sense of restlessness for Folman, a matter that becomes
the creative and philosophical force of the movie in that the memory
that has generated it remains divorced from any further context, and
contains details that Folman cannot justify or explain.
The flashback is also central to the structure of the narrative, becom-
ing the movie’s point of departure as well as the point towards which
it is directed. While it is possible to think of it in terms of the organic
regime (where the virtual is justified from the point of view of the actual

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116 Deleuze and Film

that upholds it and grounds it in the real world), the circular narrative
structure that the flashback produces places it more clearly within the
context of the crystalline. Indeed, the point at the end of the movie when
the emotional weight of the flashback is revealed – a point which coin-
cides with the shift from animated footage to live footage – does not lend
itself to a sense of resolution but to a fractured image of thought: the
reality of the live footage reverberates with the emotional traumas of the
past, the quest for self-therapy, and the realisation that it is impossible
to think of the historical events with an analytic objectivity.
To clarify, the first time Folman’s character confronts this memory he
sees himself as a young soldier bathing naked in the sea on the shores
of Beirut. In the company of two other soldiers (one he identifies as a
friend, Carmi, and another he does not recognise), Folman rises from the
water, dresses, and walks among the empty streets of the city. The three
men walk past posters of Bashir Gemayel, the recently elected Lebanese
president whose assassination was considered the cause of the violent
retaliation on the part of the Phalangists against the Palestinian refugees.
Bashir’s image is also a reference to the movie’s title, the full explanation
of which is revealed once the historical context of the eponymous ‘waltz’
has also been presented. For the time being, however, Bashir remains an
image glued to the dilapidated buildings that frame the streets through
which the men advance, and who are then met by the frightening faces
of women running in the opposite direction, seen (but not heard at this
point) screaming in horror.
Indeed, the flashback does not function uniquely as a return to the
past to explain the present so as to satisfy the teleological progression
of the narrative. While it does trigger the development of the story, it
becomes part of this evolution in such a way that past and present are,
in fact, in constant interaction. In this sense, it contradicts the powers
of the organic regime, which form an image of the world as clearly
defined, independent, continuous, transcendental, and as the platform
upon which the individual progresses by reacting to various effects.
Instead, the flashback is neither decipherable (Folman will not discover,
for example, the identity of the third soldier), nor completely truthful
(contrary to what we see, Carmi explains that he never was with Folman
during that time in Beirut). Echoing the animators’ erasure of cinema’s
technological objectivity by rendering its image a graphically digitised
non-analogical depiction (that is, a ‘digitographic image’), the flashback
plunges the historical reality of the screened world into a palimpsest of
doubt and bewilderment. Nevertheless, this bracketing of truth is the
actual power of the digitographic act. In other words, placed within the

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Waltzing with Bashir 117

domain of the crystalline, the image is always something more than an

image of a pre-existing reality. It is a reflection of reality, but not simply
in the sense of a subjective portrayal of the world. Once again, the
important focus here is time. In the case of the organic, time is placed
within the limits of determinism: time as progression rather than change.
In the case of the crystalline, however, time is the Bergsonian durée, or
that which endures across time and with multiple temporal directions. It
is in the sense of duration, then, that existence, reality and subjectivity
all become a reflection of life’s constant change; that is, life as a creative
The flashback that lies at the centre of Waltz with Bashir is pre-
cisely an expression of durée. In its appearance, it activates a search
for Folman’s own present existence, which is part of a reality that is
portrayed as an active power of creativity. This active creativity is mani-
fested as the power of the false: it is not objective truth that Folman is
after, but himself within this world. This is not a matter of erasing or
annihilating reality, but of finding where the individual is to be found
as an expressive force of the world’s events, a force that brings emotion,
memory and thought in touch with being in the world, inseparable from
reality as the expressive force of time. It is this framework that the movie
seeks to unveil, and which it emphasises with its unique animating tech-
nique. Recording his encounters with the various people who helped
him on his quest, Folman, and his animating director Yoni Goodman,
used the video footage in a pioneering method that brings together tech-
niques including CGI, Flash animation and cut-out animation. As such,
images taken directly from the real world are enmeshed in a digitising
process that leaves one wondering if reality can be found in the image
at all. Nevertheless, it is precisely the creativity of digital manipulation
that the movie emphasises: Folman’s existence is affected by his past,
but this past is not simply an objective truth he must discover. Rather, in
line with the force of change that durée expresses, Folman’s past – and
by extension historicity in general – is merged with the present and the
continuous interaction between worlds, past, present and future.

Waltz-ing with Bashir

For Deleuze, the power of cinema is the potential for film’s self-moving
image to induce thought that establishes a reconnection with this world
here. What is interesting in his discussion is that it does not matter
if the cinematic image is analogical or not. In fact, it is the canon of
objective truth tied with film’s technological objectivity that resonates

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118 Deleuze and Film

with Deleuze’s philosophical concerns with the organic regime. What

remains a problem within this image of thought is the lack of existential
involvement on the part of the individual. Here the subject takes on the
role of the truth-seeker and truth-bearer to the point where the world is
decisively His – the Western man replacing the omnipotence and omni-
presence of God on the basis of the revelation of proven facts to explain
life and to overcome the challenges of living in the world. Indeed, as
He seeks to understand the world through scientific knowledge and
rationalised systematisation, the post-enlightenment subject assumes a
position that allows a certain independence to develop, one that is con-
figured in the form of a determining objectivity (a discussion explored in
depth by Rodowick 1997: 121–38). The more independent the subject
is, and the more independent the world is, the more objective – or sup-
posedly truthful – the definition of life will be.
What we have here is a description of a world that stems from a ten-
dency to map out reality on the basis of specified guidelines, literally
configuring it to fit within predetermined abstractions, and in which
symbols that create relations are calculated and re-calculable. The
subject is oriented in space through geometric grids and interconnected
databases, whose utmost purpose is to nullify the fears and anxieties of
estrangement and uncertainty. More so than this, she or he is located in
time, literally positioned in a quasi-temporal locus through a descrip-
tion of time as mathematically codified, chronologically sequential, and
historically traceable. Time lost is, therefore, time regained; but it is
regained with one caveat: we are outside time, examining life as a series
of events (historical data), and with fixed limits (the past was then, the
future is not yet, and the passing of each day resides exclusively in the
nowness of the present).
At the same time, though, this leads to the elimination of a sense of
bewilderment and surprise, and of the sensations linked to discovering
the world. What Deleuze, and by extension Folman, remind us of is that
this discovery is not something linked exclusively to the new, but to our
return to the constancy of the new – an expression of living as one force
caught up in the ‘eternal return’ of life. This is, indeed, the Nietzschean
crux of Deleuze’s philosophy, where the world is revealed as a continu-
ously unfolding event, an active force, rather than a plane defined by our
operations within it. And it is here where we encounter a cinema that
falls within the schema expressed by the crystalline or chronic regime.
To recall Deleuze’s analysis of the crystalline regime, it is the description
itself that constitutes the sole decomposed and multiplied object. What
remains decomposed and multiplied is thought and memory, thinking

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as a process of becoming part of the world, and belonging to reality’s

continuous development and forceful change. This is precisely the
world – not simply a world – that Waltz with Bashir imagines through
its reinterpretation of the documented testimony and its reliance on
reconstructed animated images: reality, that is, as the indistinguishable
interaction between temporalities, as the decomposition of thought,
as the force of change. Indeed, it is this creative force that is echoed
in the scene from which the movie takes its title. As the Israeli army is
immobilised by the heavy fire of opposing forces, Folman’s commander,
Shmuel Frenkel, grabs a machine gun, runs to the street, and amidst the
surrounding posters of the assassinated president (Bashir) he fires away
in every direction in a sort of trance that becomes in Folman’s memory
a waltz. The waltz of the title, in other words, becomes this indicator
of Folman’s memory, and his subjective interaction with an historical
past. To this Folman adds the revelation of his indirect and unknowing
participation in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, as a result of the Israeli
army covering Phalangists as they took it upon themselves to conduct
the slaughter of the refugees. As such, when the movie finally turns
to present real footage on which the flashback was based, even if this
footage does not indexically contain Folman, it makes him an insepara-
ble component – emotionally, but perhaps also ethically – of his position
within the very world that is depicted. This is the power of the false as
that inevitable virtual which takes over the image to lead the individual
to confront the impossibility of encountering the world from afar, and
to accept her or his participation in the constant forces of change within

Bazin, A. (1967), ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, in H. Gray (ed. and
trans.), What Is Cinema? Vol. 1, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.
Bergson, H. (1998), Creative Evolution, trans. A. Mitchell, Mineola, NY: Dover
Bergson, H. (2001), Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of
Consciousness, trans. F.L. Pogson, Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
Bruzzi, S. (2006), New Documentary, second edition, London: Routledge.
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
London: Athlone.
Doane, M.A. (2002), The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency,
the Archive, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Elsaesser, T. (1998), ‘Digital Cinema: Delivery, Event, Time’, in T. Elsaesser and
K. Hoffmann (eds), Cinema Futures: Cain, Abel or Cable? The Screen Arts in the
Digital Age, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 201–22.

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120 Deleuze and Film

Nichols, B. (1991), Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary,

Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Prince, S. (1996), ‘True Lies: Perceptual Realism, Digital Images, and Film Theory’,
Film Quarterly, 49 (3): 27–37.
Powell, A. (2005), Deleuze and Horror Film, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Rodowick, D.N. (1997), Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine, Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Rodowick, D.N. (2007), The Virtual Life of Film, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Rosen, P. (2001), Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.

1. I would like to dedicate this essay to David N. Rodowick as a small token of
my deep gratitude to him for introducing me to the details of Deleuze’s thought
as a young postgraduate student in 2004, and for supporting me so generously
throughout the years that have followed.

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Chapter 7
The Schizoanalysis of European
Surveillance Films

Serazer Pekerman

In this chapter I shall use Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘nomad’
to offer a schizoanalytic reading of three recent ‘surveillance films’: Red
Road (Andrea Arnold, UK/Denmark, 2006), Das Leben der Anderen/
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany,
2006) and Salmer fra Kjøkkenet/Kitchen Stories (Bent Hamer, Norway/
Sweden, 2003). The nomad is a key concept in schizoanalysis, and,
as we shall see, it allows us to read these films as political statements,
particularly as a result of the connection between character and space.

Schizoanalysis and the Nomad

Schizoanalysis, like most Deleuze and Guattarian concepts, notoriously
resists succinct definition. It is the name they give to what they do and
to how they think, as well as to the process of working with the con-
cepts that they create. That is, schizoanalysis is strongly related to why
Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts have functions rather than straightfor-
ward definitions. For this reason, Ian Buchanan explains why we should
neither need nor want a clear definition of the term (Buchanan 2008:
1–15). Broadly speaking, however, schizoanalysis means making use of
Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas and concepts in order to consider art works
as a form of resistance to the norms defined by the majority (Deleuze
and Guattari 1984: 301–418).
Drawing on Baruch Spinoza, Deleuze identifies two different kinds
of power, namely potentia and potestas (Deleuze 1988: 97). Elena del
Río states that ‘potentia/puissance’ is influenced by Spinoza’s affirma-
tive idea of power as a potential or ‘capacity for existence’, and that
the other sort of power, ‘potestas/pouvoir’, is the negative model of
power as domination or circumscription (del Río 2008: 9). Within the
context of schizoanalysis, resistance to the majority means embracing

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122 Deleuze and Film

not ‘potestas’ but one’s ‘potentia’, or potential, and it is in the figure of

the nomad that Deleuze and Guattari see this potential most forcefully
The notion of the nomad has various functions in the scholarly works
that make use of Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts, although many share
the idea that the nomad is one of the key concepts in understanding their
philosophy. Brian Massumi and Rosi Braidotti attribute a wide meaning
to the term; in their work, the notion of the nomad stands for the way
in which Deleuze and Guattari think (Massumi 1992: 2; Braidotti 1994:
4). In addition to this generalisation, in Massumi’s writings the term
is interchangeable with the adjective ‘schizophrenic’ (Massumi 1992:
4). Eugene W. Holland, meanwhile, describes the nomad as one of
the many characteristics of ‘desire’ and ‘subjectivity’ in Deleuze and
Guattari’s philosophy (Holland 1999: 36 and 101). However, although
it should be admitted that all concepts are related to one another in both
the solo works of Deleuze and those co-authored with Guattari, I have
here restricted my understanding of the nomad to the relevant chapter of
A Thousand Plateaus, namely ‘1227: A Treatise on Nomadology – The
War Machine’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 387–467).
Deleuze and Guattari’s nomad is inspired by the nomadic tribes in
history. The year in the title of the chapter, 1227, is the date of the death
of Genghis Khan, who is known to have united the nomads of the Asian
steppes (Massumi 2004: xv). Deleuze and Guattari are particularly
astounded by the nomads’ potential to exist and their ability to adapt
despite the harsh conditions of nature, the need for constant mobility,
and the rigours of living in seemingly uninhabitable places – such as
Eskimos on ice, Bedouins in the desert, or nomadic Asian tribes on the
steppes (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 422). The nomad, slightly poeticised
in the chapter, refuses to settle or to change nature to suit their needs,
preferring instead to change what they do and how they work.
As such, the nomad is for Deleuze and Guattari an example of a suc-
cessful warrior against all kinds of oppression applied by any majority
and any authoritarian discourse, not least because nomads are ‘minori-
tarian’, in a constant state of ‘becoming’, and ‘deterritorialised par
excellence’. Furthermore, the nomad is ‘exterior to the State apparatus’
(Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 387). It does not share the State’s values,
and does not function as a mere replacement for the State. Instead, the
nomad is a means for bringing about the destruction of the conditions
that necessitate the State. In other words, the nomad deterritorialises
existing systems of oppression in order to prove that there might be
alternatives to them. It is for these reasons that Deleuze and Guattari

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Schizoanalysis and European Surveillance Films 123

refer to this process as ‘minoritarian resistance’ (Deleuze and Guattari

2004: 117–18).
Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘[t]he nomad exists only in becom-
ing’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 475). David Martin-Jones and Damian
Sutton explain ‘becoming’ as follows:
‘Becoming’ is drawn from Deleuze’s opposition to existentialism and
‘being,’ [and] his opposition to psychoanalysis . . . Deleuze and Guattari’s
proposal for ethical social resistance, for example, was that we must under-
stand otherness through becoming ‘Other’ (‘becoming-woman,’ ‘becoming-
molecular’). (Martin-Jones and Sutton 2008: xv)

In other words, Deleuze and Guattari put forward the concept of

becoming in order to overcome the self-other binary opposition that
prevents individuals from understanding each other. Becoming neces-
sitates embracing constant change and being ready to leave the comfort
of well-defined subject positions.
The surveillance films that I am considering feature a shift that chal-
lenges the subject position of the main protagonists, and which helps
them to understand how things are seen from the point of view of the
others they are observing. As we shall see, not only does this turn them
into a Deleuze and Guattarian nomad, it also means that they ‘become’
the other, occupying a similar position to that previously occupied by
the people upon whom they spy.
As mentioned, the nomad is also ‘the deterritorialised par excellence’
(Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 421). Holland explains that deterritoriali-
sation is a schizoanalytic term generated from Lacanian territorialisa-
tion, which is ‘the parental care-giving process that maps the infant’s
erogenous zones, charging specific organs and corresponding objects
with erotic energy and value’ (Holland 1999: 19). Holland states that
‘deterritorialisation designates the process of freeing the desire from
established organs and objects . . . [and] of labour-power from spe-
cific means of production’ (Holland 1999: 19). Deterritorialisation,
therefore, changes expectations in a given system, thereby erasing what
the system had tried to impose as normal without replacing this with
another norm. In some instances deterritorialisation is followed by
reterritorialisation, for example when labour power is attached to a
new means of production (Holland 1999: 20). The nomad might also
be reterritorialised but only temporarily, e.g. between deterritorialising
travels. Deleuze and Guattari, meanwhile, state that when deterritoriali-
sation is ‘precocious and sudden’, the individuals may be trapped in a
black hole: ‘it is supposed to be a slow process’ (Deleuze and Guattari

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124 Deleuze and Film

2004: 368). Consequently, under certain circumstances, when deterri-

torialisation becomes constant, it might be a permanent way out of any
closure, an alternative resistance to an authority, providing potential
unless it ends up in a black hole (or a dystopia).
Red Road, The Lives of Others and Kitchen Stories all involve a
‘becoming nomad’ and a ‘becoming minoritarian’ that sees the main
protagonist, who is a surveillance expert, shift from a state of complic-
ity with the ‘potestas’ of the State to a state not simply of sympathy for
those ‘potential’ enemies of the State upon whom they spy, but to a con-
dition of ‘potentia’ in and for themselves. That is, the protagonist leaves
his or her post and takes action in the space they have been spying on.
They cross a border, therefore, and challenge the authoritarian power
for which they work. This border crossing, or transgression, reveals
their potential to defy authority, and also allows them to understand
both themselves and the others upon whom they spy. Before we look at
each of the films in greater detail, however, I should first like to discuss
the concept of surveillance, and how psychoanalytic arguments are not
sufficient to understand these films, which instead seem better suited to
a schizoanalytic reading.

The Power Politics of Seeing and Being Seen

The logic of surveillance is best embodied in the panopticon, which liter-
ally means ‘all-seeing’, and which was conceived by British philosopher
Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The panopticon is a surveillance machine
where no prisoner can see the observer, nor do they know whether or not
they are being spied on at any given moment. Drawing upon Bentham,
Michel Foucault states that the panopticon is an ‘architectural apparatus
for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person
who exercises it’ (Foucault 1995: 200), and that in the panopticon
power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly
have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is
spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being
looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be
so. (Foucault 1995: 201)

Today these principles have become a part of our everyday lives with
the help of surveillance cameras. Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V.
Ericson claim that surveillance today is a far greater issue than any
science-fiction writer in the past could have foreseen. They state that
when George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949, surveillance was widely

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limited to the domain of the sci-fi genre; in contrast, ‘some groups which
were previously exempt from routine surveillance are now increasingly
being monitored’ by ‘both state and non-state institutions’, and ‘the
abilities of surveillance technologies have [today] surpassed (Orwell’s)
dystopic vision’ (Haggerty and Ericson 2000: 606–7). Haggerty and
Ericson claim that being anonymous is no longer possible in contem-
porary society. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, they call the current
situation a ‘surveillant assemblage’, and suggest that if anybody wants
to remain anonymous today, they should never ‘study, work, vote, use
credit or use the internet’ (Haggerty and Ericson 2000: 620).
In this ‘surveillant assemblage’, surveillance becomes an inevitable
part of everyday life. With regard to cinema, therefore, surveillance,
previously a story element limited to sci-fi, has become a part of many
contemporary films regardless of genre or context. CCTV footage, with
its very low quality monochrome and/or black and white images, has
become a familiar feature in various films. These images are typically
filmed from peculiar angles – extremely low or high – and mostly in
unconventional, somewhat disturbing, frames. In many cases these
visuals are chosen intentionally in order to underline the disturbance
caused by both spying on someone and being spied upon. In addition
to the commonplace nature of CCTV footage in contemporary films,
there has also been a noticeable increase in the number of films that deal
directly with issues of surveillance – and across a wide range of genres
and styles. Prominent examples might include Minority Report (Steven
Spielberg, USA, 2002), Caché/Hidden (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/
Germany/Italy/USA, 2005), and A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater,
USA, 2006).
One might be inclined to consider surveillance films according to
Laura Mulvey’s (1975) psychoanalytic understanding of the gaze and
voyeurism. Due to psychoanalysis’ understanding of the self as a con-
stant, this approach inevitably assumes rigid boundaries between the
owner of the gaze as the powerful subject who looks and acts, and the
passive object who is looked at and controlled by the look. For example,
Red Road, which deals with gender and surveillance, does lend itself
to a Mulvey-inspired reading, not least because the film is made by a
female director and tells the story of a female surveillance officer (Kate
Dickie) trying to overcome her grief at, and exact revenge for, the loss
of her husband and son. The promising closure of the film, in which
the surveillance officer finds some sort of ‘peace’, constructs parallels
with psychoanalysis’ main target, which, following Fadi Abou-Rihan,
is to uncover the unconscious with therapeutic intentions (Abou-Rihan

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126 Deleuze and Film

2008: ix). This promising closure arrives through an unexpected

unleashing of female sexuality, ironically triggered by a locksmith,
Clyde (Tony Curran). However, while a psychoanalytic reading of the
film would undoubtedly be useful, I shall explain how Red Road along
with the two other surveillance films mentioned above might be better
understood from the schizoanalytic approach inspired by Deleuze and

Schizoanalysis and Surveillance Films

In Red Road, The Lives of Others and Kitchen Stories, the protagonists
are embodied as a site of trauma as they shift positions from a peeping
subject outside of the frame to a subject moving in the frame, and from a
recording machine to being part of the recorded action. This unexpected
change accelerates the individual’s detachment from where he or she
belongs in the first place and might trigger a total loss of the sense of
territory and the feeling of being at home due to losing control over their
space and the previous values attached to it. This shift not only brings
both sides of the seer-seen dyad together on the same stage in stories
of ordinary daily life, but it also changes the viewpoint of the subject,
giving them a chance to see events from an/the Other’s point of view.
In other words, each involves a ‘minoritarian’ protagonist who becomes
deterritorialised and, subsequently, nomadic, thereby releasing a poten-
tial for change in the authoritarian systems to which they had previously
belonged. As we shall see, the films signal this shift from territorialised
to deterritorialised particularly through the use of space.
The plots of all three films start before the main protagonists have
become nomads, i.e. while they work as surveillance officers. They all
work in symbolic spaces reminiscent of the tower where the officer
watches without being seen, as in Bentham’s panopticon. In The Lives
of Others, surveillance officer Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) works in the loft
of the apartment building in which the couple he spies upon reside. He
draws a sketch on the floor of the loft in order better to imagine where
the events in the flat below are taking place. Especially in the scenes
where he walks and looks down at the floor, towards where the couple
lives, he is visually placed on top of a tower where he is not seen. In Red
Road, although we never know the exact location where surveillance
officer Jackie works, she also works in a kind of tower. Her office is full
of CCTV screens showing images of various scenes from high vantage
points. She is visually placed as though at a high place looking down on
people. In the third case study, Kitchen Stories, the idea of the panop-

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ticon model turns into a memorable prop and a comedy element. The
Swedish surveillance officer Folke (Tomas Norström) places his mini-
ature watchtower, a simple ladder with a desk on top of it, in the kitchen
of Norwegian house owner Isak (Joachim Calmeyer). In each of these
surveillance films, the main protagonists deterritorialise the enemy’s ter-
ritory by leaving their watchtower and constructing a connection with
those they spy upon. This is signalled literally by the way in which they
enter into and inhabit the homes of their targets after finding out that
these people are not so different from themselves.
At the start of each of these films surveillance is represented as part of
a daily routine: watching is a job like any other. As the films progress,
the border between those under surveillance and the surveillance officer
gradually becomes blurred. Both identities change constantly as an inevi-
table result of the process of observation, which has an effect on the past
and future of both parties. All the officers, Wiesler, Jackie and Folke, are
spied upon and interrogated by the authorities they work for and/or find
themselves the objects of counter-surveillance from the people they are
spying upon. A nicely decorated house in East Berlin, a poor and dirty
flat in Glasgow, and an almost empty kitchen in Norway become sites
of negotiation in which the officers become nomads. Identities become
fluid in these spaces that become ersatz homes or homelands, and which
resist both definition and borders.
Ella Shohat also refers to the notion of the nomad as a resistance to
authoritarian discourses that depend on discriminatory binary opposi-
tions. She states that ‘[i]n nationalist discourses . . . home and homeland
were often represented as the site of fixity as opposed to the suspect
instability and mobility of the nomadic... [T]he metaphors of fluidity . . .
express the critique of a fixed notion of identity’ (Shohat 1999: 225). In
all three films, one particular place is introduced as homely and beyond
the reach of the authorities. This place turns into an inhabitable and
familiar place for the main protagonists, who keep coming back to it
in order to help both themselves and those they spy upon. The nomad
turns the space into a home and shows how this eliminates the need
for a safe and protected home/panopticon provided by an authority.
Consequently the negotiation with the other(s) reveals an affirmative
potential and becomes a political statement as the officers rebel against
the authoritarian discourse.

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128 Deleuze and Film

The Feeling of Home Reproduced by the Sketch of a Home:

The Lives of Others
The Lives of Others is an internationally acclaimed surveillance film
set in East Germany in the period before the fall of the Berlin wall. It
follows a Stasi officer, Captain Gerd Wiesler, who volunteers to spy
on a celebrated writer and actress couple, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian
Koch) and Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and who becomes
a part of the events he is supposed to be observing. His curiosity about
his targets’ lives turns into interest and sympathy, while his belief in the
dominant political party (the SED), for which he had worked devotedly,
is deeply shaken by an executive officer’s abuse of power. Wiesler finds
himself becoming increasingly involved in the life of the couple as he
neglects to report information about them and breaks into their flat to
hide important evidence against them.
Wiesler is introduced as a devoted and proud member of the Stasi.
However, his life lacks a home where he feels comfortable and safe. He
neither feels at home in his own apartment, nor does he have someone
to be intimate with, as we see when Wiesler is with a call girl (Gabi
Fleming). In this scene, Wiesler’s apartment is hardly furnished except
for basic items such as a chair, a small table and a couch, and Wiesler
seemingly has no personal belongings. As a result, the only room we
see looks rather like a hotel room. The scene comes after Wiesler wit-
nesses the intimacy of the couple he spies upon, and demonstrates how
unfulfilled his life is in comparison to theirs. Wiesler sits on a couch
with the call girl sat on his lap, facing towards him. The camera mostly
stays behind the call girl in medium shots. He asks her to stay a little
longer, suggesting that he is in need of a moment of intimacy. She kindly
reminds him that he has to book in advance if he needs to spend more
time with her and prepares to leave. Only after she gets up do we see
that Wiesler has been sitting totally dressed with his necktie on. We see
him trying clumsily to hug the call girl as she leaves, suggesting that this
is their first encounter; she looks slightly surprised but does not respond
to this intimate act. She simply states that she has another appointment.
In The Lives of Others, then, the only film space in which Wiesler feels
at home, despite being unsafe for most of the time, is not his own home,
but the apartment under surveillance. Unlike Wiesler’s, this apartment
is filled with interesting art objects, comfortable, cosy furniture, and is
portrayed as homely with warm colours. However, the feeling of being
at home is mainly produced by the couple, who are represented as
modest, sympathetic and loveable people. This feeling of home is first

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reproduced by Wiesler, though not with the same intensity, when he

produces sketches of the flat in his surveillance loft upstairs. As Wiesler
looks down at his sketch, he starts to develop a sympathy for Georg and
Christa-Maria’s life, and begins to keep their secrets. In other words, he
territorialises the loft as a private space that he shares with the couple.
Wiesler gradually becomes a nomad first by territorialising the loft,
but then also by deterritorialising the Stasi, again using the sketch of the
apartment as a tool. This deterritorialisation happens when he quickly
draws a sketch of the downstairs apartment for the second time on a
piece of paper in an interrogation room, where Christa-Maria is ques-
tioned about a typewriter that was used by Georg to write a provocative
piece about the Stasi. At this point in the story the only missing informa-
tion needed by the Stasi in order to convict Georg is the location of the
typewriter. Wiesler asks Christa-Maria to mark the location of the type-
writer on the sketch of the apartment instead of having her say where it
is. By doing so, he controls the information produced in the room that
was under surveillance; while giving nothing away, Wiesler manages to
learn the exact location of the typewriter and to alert Christa-Maria to
the fact that he knows the layout of her apartment. As soon as Christa-
Maria marks the sketch, Wiesler heads straight for the apartment where
his knowledge of the location of the typewriter enables him to remove it
and to leave before the arrival of the Stasi. Consequently, with the help
of the sketch of the flat, he turns the interrogation room into his control
area, searching for ‘another justice’ that the nomad aims at, in this case
beyond the ‘justice’ of the Stasi. Although Wiesler knows that it will put
him in conflict with the Stasi, he helps the couple at the risk of ruining
his career and, indeed, his life. Instead of using the information to get
a promotion or to seduce Christa-Maria, he decides to help the couple.
Caring about this home, which he can draw from memory, far more
than he cares about the panopticon, turns Weisler into a nomad.

The Feeling of Home Through Intimacy: Red Road

The British-Danish co-production Red Road tells the story of CCTV
operator Jackie, who works for Glasgow City Council, and who over-
sees the security of the Red Road housing blocks in Barmulloch, one of
the city’s suburbs. One day she sees a man on one of the screens in her
office and starts to follow him, leaving all else in her life behind. The
audience, for a long time unaware of Jackie’s motives for spying on the
man, follows her struggle to frame him for a crime so that he will go to
prison. Only after she manages to create a fake rape case against him

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are Jackie’s motives revealed: this man, Clyde, was responsible for the
death of Jackie’s husband and child in a car accident, and Jackie seeks
to send him back to prison because she feels that he did not serve a long
enough sentence. At the end of the film, however, Jackie takes back her
accusation, confronts Clyde, and tries to find a different way of com-
municating her grief.
Throughout Red Road, Jackie seems as homeless as Wiesler from The
Lives of Others. We never see her feeling comfortable or safe in a private
place. The only time we see Jackie in her flat, we witness her disturbing
ritual of stuffing her late daughter’s clothes so as to give them a ‘body’,
and then hugging them and crying. Like Wiesler, it seems that Jackie
wants to hold and to be held when in her flat, and when Jackie does
have sex, she, like Wiesler, also keeps most of her clothes on. The first
sex scene in Red Road takes place in a minivan. The camera stays behind
the grid of the rear windscreen, visually imprisoning Jackie behind its
bars. The only time we see Jackie’s face in close-up, she is behind the
misted window of the minivan, her face distorted because of the way she
is pushed against the glass. Both this sex scene and the scene of Jackie
at home show us that, at this point in the film, there is nowhere else for
her other than the panopticon where she works. However, the second
sex scene, which takes place at Clyde’s flat, is portrayed completely
differently, as we shall see below.
Jackie becomes a nomad during her sexual liaison with Clyde, as she
begins to feel at home with him in his flat. Although mostly offscreen,
their encounter is, to Jackie’s surprise, sexually satisfying. The colour
and atmosphere of the scene is quite different from the rest of the
movie, and the rhythm of the film changes, with both Jackie and the
camera moving at a slower pace. For example, the camera slowly travels
around her body in close-up, framing her belly, breasts, shoulders and
face under a soft red light. This warm light, which comes from Clyde’s
lava lamp, gives the scene a unique character, since this is the only scene
in the film that takes place in such a warmly lit room. In addition to
homely warmth, the scene shows both Jackie and Clyde as peaceful
during foreplay. At first it is hard to tell if she is acting or not, but later
on the shot/reverse shot pattern shows that she enjoys herself since she
is seen as relaxed and happy even when Clyde cannot see her face. In
the middle of the scene Jackie suddenly tries to trick him into hurting
her, and he tries to incorporate what he believes is a sexual fantasy in
a rather clumsy and inexperienced way, trying not to really hurt her.
When she leaves, he starts apologising and asking if she is all right. As a
result, Clyde is portrayed as a person of good character who would not

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want to hurt anybody on purpose – as opposed to the villainous mur-

derer of Jackie’s husband and child. The scene presents Clyde’s bedroom
as a home for Jackie, although she eventually runs away from it.
After the sex scene, and in spite of the way in which Jackie seems
at home with Clyde, she beats herself with a stone and prepares her
body to seem as though she has been raped. The plan works and Jackie
manages to get Clyde sent back to prison. However, she sees that this
neither comforts her nor brings back what she has lost, namely her
family. Unlike Wiesler, who never aims to attain power as such, Jackie
here initially does so, but, instead of limiting her deterritorialising poten-
tial by enacting a simple revenge plan somewhere outside the panopti-
con, she becomes a nomad by refusing to use that power and dropping
the charges against Clyde. In other words, she turns the negative power
she attains into a positive potential to talk with Clyde and to try to see
that he is not that different to her, in that he is someone trying to get by
in spite of a traumatic past experience. Jackie does not use her power to
destroy, but instead to understand.
The political content in Red Road is not as explicit as in the other two
surveillance films. The film does not narrate any negotiation of a past
trauma between two countries, as The Lives of Others does between
East and West Germany, and as Kitchen Stories does between Sweden
and Norway (as we shall see). However, the film is a co-production
between Denmark and Scotland, both of whose film industries might be
defined as ‘small’ (Hjort and Petrie 2007). Furthermore, the film shows
two marginal characters, both isolated and poor, who manage to bury
their differences when they come to recognise their common situation.
While not necessarily a story concerning a ‘national’ trauma, the dis-
appearance in Red Road of the border between the seer and the seen
nonetheless allows the negotiation of a common trauma to take place
through the becoming-nomad of the main protagonist.

A Miniature Panopticon: Kitchen Stories

A less traumatic nomadic encounter comes from the bittersweet
Swedish-Norwegian co-production Kitchen Stories. Loosely based on
real research carried out in Sweden in the 1950s, the film tells the story
of Home Research Institute representative, Folke, who during the post-
war period is sent from Sweden to Norway to observe how a single male
participant, Isak, uses his kitchen, in order to discover the most efficient
housework techniques. Abusing the rules of the research, Folke leaves
his watchtower and becomes friends with Isak. As a result of the film’s

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132 Deleuze and Film

surreal set-up, whereby Folke installs a literal observation tower in

Isak’s kitchen, the film puts all the elements of the surveillance films and
their nomadic protagonists into an abstract and minimal mise-en-scène.
The film begins with Folke and his colleagues crossing the border
from Sweden to Norway. The scene features dozens of cars of the
same colour and model, slowly moving in harmony as if they were one
big vehicle. The line of cars creates a strong linear effect that exceeds
the limits of the frame, suggesting that their number is infinite. After
this ceremonial border crossing, Folke’s supervisor, Malmberg (Reine
Brynolfsson), explains how he feels sick every time he crosses into
Norway and changes the side of the road on which he drives (at that
time Swedes drove on the left side of the road, Norwegians on the right).
This scene adds an explicitly transnational dimension to the binary
power politics in the theme of surveillance, introducing a literal and
ceremonial border crossing between two countries. This transnational
dimension is re-emphasised when, after they decide finally to speak to
each other, Folke and Isak speak two different languages, Swedish and
Norwegian respectively. The nomad of Kitchen Stories, Folke (whose
name ironically means ‘people’), deterritorialises several borders and, in
addition to feeling at home in Norway and feeling close to the person
he spies on, completes becoming a nomad by actually settling in Isak’s
The whole film focuses on the relationship between the two old
men, Swedish observer Folke and grumpy Norwegian Isak. Isak regrets
hosting this research after finding out that the horse promised to him
as an enticement is in fact a wooden toy. For a long time Isak resists
letting Folke and his miniature watchtower, reminiscent of a tennis
umpire’s chair, into his kitchen, but one day Isak leaves his door open
without saying a word, and Folke settles in, waiting ready with notepad
and pencils for Isak to use the kitchen. The watchtower functions as a
parody of the idea of the panopticon, physically placing the surveillance
officer in a private space to spy on how an old man uses his kitchen.
According to the rules of the research institute they are forbidden to
communicate and the participant, Isak, must act freely in the kitchen
and pretend Folke is not watching him.
When they are apart we see both Isak and Folke from eye level in
more or less conventional frames. However when they are together in
the kitchen, the camera frames them from each other’s viewpoint: Folke
from a lower angle and Isak from a higher angle. Consequently, the
images register the difference between their respective situations but do
not allow us to take sides; in this kitchen the spectator remains equally

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distant from both men. Furthermore, this high/low shot/reverse shot

pattern allows us to see the story from both perspectives in turn, turning
the kitchen into a combination of two kinds of spaces of surveillance,
the panopticon and the prison cell. The surveillance officer and the one
upon whom he spies share a private place, since Isak’s kitchen happens
to be Folke’s workplace. This makes Kitchen Stories different from the
other two films considered above.
Isak, determined to make his observer’s life miserable, never uses his
kitchen in a conventional manner (e.g. for cooking), but instead carries
out unusual activities there, such as preparing mouse traps, cutting his
good friend Grant’s (Bjørn Flobert) hair and hanging wet clothes out to
dry. He starts to cook in his bedroom above the kitchen and to watch
Folke from a hole he makes in the kitchen ceiling. After this reversal of
observer/observed, the camera continues with a similarly ‘neutral’ high/
low shot/reverse shot pattern, still not taking sides. Day after day Folke
keeps coming to observe an empty kitchen, unaware that he is under
surveillance, before beginning to make himself feel at home in Isak’s
kitchen. The first verbal exchange between the two men is caused by
Folke’s taking the salt and not putting it back in its place. Following this,
the two men gradually get used to each other and eventually they share
tobacco, coffee and some friendly chat, much to the annoyance of Isak’s
best friend, Grant, and Folke’s superior, Malmberg. A relationship
develops and gradually Folke leaves his watchtower, instead sitting with
Isak and using the house, thereby territorialising the place like his own
and rebelling against the research institute. This change of roles in the
kitchen is marked by a shift in the cinematography of the film. After they
become friends, the camera frames both Folke and Isak together in the
frame instead of in a shot/reverse shot pattern. In the new relationship
both Folke and Isak sit side by side, and the kitchen is framed from their
shared eye level. Folke goes into the other rooms of the house as well,
where he is similarly framed with Isak in typically symmetrical composi-
tions, which show them now as equals. Instead of watching each other,
then, the two men start communicating.
At the end of Kitchen Stories, a literal shift occurs between the char-
acters: Isak dies and Folke settles in Isak’s house in Norway. The film
ends with an image of two cups, as Folke waits for Grant to have coffee
with him. Since we have no information on Folke’s private life and home
in Sweden, we might consider him as ‘homeless’ as Wiesler and Jackie.
As in the other two films, Folke makes a connection with the person
he spies upon, and starts to feel at home where they live. However, the
nomad in this film, Folke, experiences a more interesting and intense

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134 Deleuze and Film

becoming than either Wiesler or Jackie, because he actually moves into

and settles down in Isak’s house.
In Kitchen Stories the changing camera angles signal a change in the
perception of the filmic space. A simple kitchen, at first configured as
a panopticon, turns into a peaceful home where Folke and Isak talk
about a variety of things including distant relatives, the future of energy
resources, and the Second World War. These conversations suggest
various interconnected moments from a shared past and future between
the two. The kitchen turns into a site of negotiation for discussing and
overcoming the post-war rivalry between Sweden and Norway. For
this reason, Cecilia Hector sees the film as ‘an allegory of Norwegians’
healthy scepticism – for historic reasons – about Swedish attempts to
study them’, which ‘resembles an invasion from the east’ although
currently there is no enmity between the two countries (Hector 2003:
14). The disappearance of the border between seer and seen becomes a
metaphor for the erasure of the border between the two previously rival
countries that are now preoccupied by common problems.

In this chapter, I have pursued the schizoanalysis of a particular event,
namely the surveillance officer’s becoming nomad, in three surveillance
films. The schizoanalytic approach has allowed me to comment on the
characters’ minoritarian attitude in choosing nomadic potential over
dominating power. Seeing more potential in a fragmented self’s becom-
ing minoritarian, I made use of schizoanalysis instead of psychoanalysis,
which would be more interested in the gaining of power by, and curing
the fragmented psyche of, the surveillance officer.
In these films the observer becomes the doer of the action together
with the one who is observed, thereby erasing the border between the
two. In fact, in The Lives of Others, Red Road, and Kitchen Stories
alike, this erasure of borders is presented as the only solution to the
main protagonist’s problems. In each film, the spy and the spied upon
gradually become one in the sense that old friends, comrades and lovers
can be united. The observers in these films come to understand an/
the other, such that they experience what we might term a ‘becoming
other’, which in Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is the only way to
understand an other at all. I argue that these films are political state-
ments that portray surveillance not simply as an oppressive, limiting
and imprisoning experience, but, paradoxically, as an opportunity for
nomadic resistance. Despite the sadness of the stories, surveillance leads

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to the happiest possible closure, which implies that all of the protago-
nists start a new life outside of the panopticon (and the love of power)
that dominates and imprisons them. Following a shift between the seer
and the seen, the films end with the beginning of new lives: Wiesler reads
his own story, which has been written as a novel by a grateful Georg,
with whom he shares a mutual admiration; Jackie visits her family and
shares her sorrow with them; and Folke waits for Grant to have a chat
over a cup of coffee in his kitchen. These closures are reached after the
protagonists have managed to look closely enough to see that the seer
and the seen are not enemies or opposites, but are in many respects the
same (although with some differences, of course), and that as such they
can understand – and perhaps even love – each other.

Abou-Rihan, F. (2008), Deleuze and Guattari: A Psychoanalytic Itinerary, London:
Braidotti, R. (1994), Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in
Contemporary Feminist Theory, New York: Columbia University Press.
Buchanan, I. (2008), ‘Introduction: Five Theses of Actually Existing Schizoanalysis
of Cinema’, in I. Buchanan and P. MacCormack (eds), Deleuze and the
Schizoanalysis of Cinema, London and New York: Continuum, pp. 1–15.
del Río, E. (2008), Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1988), Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. R. Hurley, San Francisco:
City Lights.
Deleuze, G. And F. Guattari (1984), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, London: Athlone.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (2004), A Thousand Plateaus, trans. B. Massumi,
London: Continuum.
Foucault, M. (1995), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A.
Sheridan, London and New York: Vintage.
Haggerty, K.D. and R.V. Ericson (2000), ‘The Surveillant Assemblage’, British
Journal of Sociology, 51 (4) (December): 605–22
Hector, C. (2003), ‘Underfundig Komedi’, Psykolog Tidningen Utgiven av Sveriges
Psykologförbund, 22 (3) (December): 14, available at www.psykologforbundet.
se/Psykologtidningen/PDF%20Tidning/PT0322.pdf (accessed 7 April 2011).
Hjort, M. and D. Petrie (2007), The Cinema of Small Nations, Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
Holland, E.W. (1999), Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to
Schizoanalysis, London: Routledge.
Martin-Jones, D. and D. Sutton (2008), Deleuze Reframed: A Guide for the Arts
Student, London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
Massumi, B. (1992), A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations
from Deleuze and Guattari, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Massumi, B. (2004), ‘Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy’, in G. Deleuze
and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. B. Massumi, London: Continuum,
pp. ix–xvi.

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Shohat, E. (1999), ‘By the Bitstream of Babylon: Cyber Frontiers and Diasporic
Vistas’, in H. Naficy (ed.), Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media and the Politics
of Place, New York and London: Routledge, pp. 213–33.

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Chapter 8
Fictions of the Imagination: Habit,
Genre and the Powers of the False

Amy Herzog

The past two decades have witnessed a surge of interest in Gilles

Deleuze’s writings on cinema in English-language film scholarship.
Nevertheless, Deleuzian approaches to cinema have not always rested
comfortably alongside more established practices within the field. The
question of genre presents a particular point of tension in this regard.
Recent work in genre studies has incorporated dynamic models for
understanding the operations of film’s generic conventions. Exploring
adaptations across media and disciplinary boundaries, scholars have
situated genre films within complex industrial discourses, examining a
rich body of archival material beyond the texts of the films themselves
(e.g. Grant 1995; Dixon 2000). However, some notable exceptions aside
(for example, Conley 2000), these studies seem incompatible with the
concerns of Deleuze’s film-philosophy project. Despite the complexity of
Deleuze’s own taxonomy of signs in the Cinema volumes, his systems
of image classification remain rooted in the immediacy of the individual
articulation. Indeed, Deleuze’s classifications locate the affective power
of film images outside of pre-coded expectations such as genre. If for
Deleuze the crystalline image of time works to tease out new configura-
tions of sensation and thought, the overly determined conventions of
the genre film seem hopelessly colonised by the forces of causality and
commercialism. At best, one might imagine using Deleuze to examine
moments of excess that press against the outer limits of genre, in effect
reading the expressive qualities of a film against their generic or indus-
trial coding.
While genre might thus appear to be one of the areas of film studies
least conducive to a Deleuzian approach, I would argue that several
aspects of Deleuze’s work could expand our understanding of the
functionality of generic categories. Key here are three overlapping con-
cepts, as elucidated across Deleuze’s writing: habit, the simulacrum,

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138 Deleuze and Film

and the powers of the false. Certainly this take on genre is fairly idi-
osyncratic, remaining closer to Deleuze’s broader work on philosophy
and art than it does to industrial, historical or reception-based genre
theories. Yet a deeper exploration of the affective impact of cinematic
repetition might enrich our understanding of the complex ways in which
individual films situate themselves within, and against, conventional
Deleuze’s resistance to representational modalities would seem fun-
damentally opposed to the notion of a genre as an abstract category,
a set of conventions or structures to which individual texts vary or
adhere. Yet Deleuze himself makes extensive use of classifications in his
philosophy, and makes clear that he finds a certain utility in what might
appear to be traditional groupings, so long as those categories remain
rooted in the materiality of that which they describe. Deleuze links his
own passion for classification to the Jorge Luis Borges passage that
provided the foundation for Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things,
a quotation from a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ containing a list
of seemingly arbitrary categories: ‘(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b)
embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens’, and so on (Foucault
1994: xv). ‘All classifications belong to this style’, states Deleuze in an
They are mobile, modifiable, retroactive, boundless, and their criteria
vary from instance to instance . . . A classification always involves bring-
ing together things with very different appearances and separating those
that are very similar. That is the beginning of the formation of concepts.
We sometimes say that ‘classical,’ ‘romantic,’ or ‘nouveau roman’ – even
‘neorealism’ – are insufficient abstractions. I believe that they are in fact
valid categories, provided we trace them to singular symptoms or signs
rather than general forms. A classification is always a symptomology. What
we classify are signs in order to formulate a concept that presents itself as
an event rather than an abstract essence. In this respect, the different disci-
plines are really signaletic materials. (Deleuze 2000: 368)
Deleuze then offers up his own classification of cinematic space that
ranges from the encompassing (American westerns, the films of Akira
Kurosawa) to the flat (Joseph Losey) to the empty (Yasujiro Ozu,
Michelangelo Antonioni) to the stratographic (Jean-Marie Straub and
Danièle Huillet). While the associations he draws between works and
artists leaps across more traditional generic and national groupings,
Deleuze draws our attention here to specific affinities, or certain sty-
listic consistencies, that might otherwise escape notice. He suggests, at
the same time, that the classifications of space and light that he identi-

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 139

fies could extend into other disciplines and media, such as science and
painting (Deleuze 2000: 368–9).
How, then, might we approach the subject of cinematic genres symp-
tomatologically? And how might the classifications that arise from such
a process interface with more traditional generic conventions? The
challenge here would be to develop a means for classifying patterns and
modalities in films not based on fixed, preexisting forms, but arising
from the expressive materiality of the filmic event. The notion of film as
an event is critical in this regard, as it shifts our attention to the inter-
active space between spectator and text, as well as the spaces between
texts, and between sites of articulation. In this somewhat limited way, I
would identify two points of resonance between Deleuze’s film-philos-
ophy and the notion of genre as a discourse; both approaches work to
discern certain expressive refrains circulating between films, and both
are attuned to acts of perception and ‘reading’ as core to cinematic
In the sections that follow, I will propose three means of rethink-
ing film genre in relation to Deleuze, with a focus on the category of
the domestic melodrama. The first, following Elena del Río’s work on
affective-performance, posits genre as a limit against which a filmic text
produces meaning. The second utilises the links between habits, stere-
otypes, and simulacra in Deleuze’s work (and those he draws from) to
think about genre as a kind of productive fiction. Finally, focusing on
the works of Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, I outline some
of the ways in which an organic symptomatology might be imagined
alongside, and counter to, existing generic categories.

Genre as Limit
In Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection, Elena
del Río explores the tension between the ‘representational imperatives
of narrative’ and the ‘non-representational imperatives of the affective-
performative’ moment as manifested cinematically (del Río 2008: 15).
Though many of the films she studies (including works by Douglas Sirk,
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, David Lynch and Claire Denis) could be
categorised by their melodramatic tendencies, del Río prefers to frame
her project according to the more variable fluctuations of certain stabil-
ising and destabilising qualities she identifies in each work. Thus del Río
posits the performative as an affective force that destabilises narrative
structures, linking this tension to a series of similar forces that circulate
within Deleuze’s philosophy (the molar and the molecular, for example,

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140 Deleuze and Film

or the movement-image and the time-image). Such a reading challenges

the hegemony of fixed generic identity in favour of ‘unpredictable, disor-
ganised rhythmic alternation’ and ‘a logic of temporal becoming’:

If one considers performance an affective and sensational force that dis-

rupts, redirects, and indeed affects narrative form, it is difficult to consign
the affective-performative to stable and well-defined generic paradigms.
Because narrative conventions and generic labels are often closely interre-
lated, the disruption that performance brings into the narrative coherence
of a film may simultaneously impact the stability or coherence of this film’s
generic identity. (del Río 2008: 15–16)

The genre as a formal category tends to function as a relatively static

ideal in relation to which various iterations either conform or diverge.
The affective-performative scene, in its corporeal immediacy, almost
always serves to exceed and disrupt the conventional flow of the narra-
tive, upending, in the process, fixed generic meaning.
What del Río performs in her study is already in fact a symptomatol-
ogy of affect, reading the traces of performative gestures across a range
of diverse filmic texts. As she argues, ‘affect in the film is not a property
of certain fixated systems of meaning we call genres, but rather the very
quality that challenges the image to move away from any immediately
recognisable, systematisable meaning’ (del Río 2008: 200). The hetero-
geneity of affect, in other words, overwhelms the homogenising impact
of the generic category. At the same time, vestiges of genre do persist in
these works, providing the limit against which the performance arises.
Indeed, as del Río notes, affect becomes most intense in the films of
David Lynch when, for example, it reaches the boundaries of generic
meaning (del Río 2008: 202). We might thus view genre as maintaining
a certain productive function in films, creating patterns and expecta-
tions that provide the foundation for counter-rhythms and deviations.
The moment of affective impact gains saliency precisely because of its
relationship to our entrenched, habitual notions of cinematic meaning.
In other words, genres, clichés and formulas do not exist merely as
obstacles to be struck down by the more transgressive elements in a film.
In many of the examples del Río isolates, for example, the performer
inhabits the cliché, creating affective excesses that destabilise its coded
meaning. In the process, we experience not only the resonances of the
corporeal performance, but the pleasures and discomforts of witnessing
a larger system of representation coming unhinged. Noting that Douglas
Sirk’s family melodramas contain a preponderance of female charac-
ters who are performers and exhibitionists, del Río argues that these

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 141

stereotypical formulations of femininity as spectacle provide a ‘point of

departure’ for more transgressive trajectories. ‘Ironically’, she writes,
‘the same features that tend to be used in the service of ideological coer-
cion may also serve as the vehicle for a deterritorialisation of cultural
norms and frames of reference’ (del Río 2008: 31).
What we witness in these acts of performative deterritorialisation,
I would argue, is an expressive sleight of hand. When, for example,
Dorothy Malone dances with wild abandon in Sirk’s Written on the
Wind (USA, 1956), she embodies any number of pre-formulated rep-
resentational categories: the objectified female performer, the ‘loose’
woman, the bad seed. But the particularities of her performance, and the
visualisation of this event, flesh out the clichés in palpable and unnerving
ways: the lurid pinks, reds and blacks in her boudoir, the blaring jazz
music on her record player, the counterpoint of Malone’s father’s fatal
fall intercut with her movements. The code or stereotype becomes a
guise for another set of affects and meanings; and the resonance of such
a moment, I would argue, is heightened by the dissonance and uncer-
tainty created in the act of deterritorialising (versus merely rejecting) the
Deleuze describes a similar relationship between narrative formulas
and the powers of the false that arise from the time-image. ‘This new
regime’ of the time-image, he writes, ‘no less than the old one – throws
up its ready-made formulas, its set procedures, its laboured and empty
applications, its failures, its conventional and “second-hand” examples
offered to us as masterpieces’ (Deleuze 1989: 132). What changes in
the regime of the crystallised image of time is that narration works to
falsify, destabilising the representational elements that ‘truthful narra-
tion’ works to establish. A key figure in this regime, for Deleuze, is the
forger, who emerges as ‘the character of the cinema’ of the time-image.
In the films of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard,
for example, forgers assume a new centrality. The forger is ‘simultane-
ously the man of pure descriptions and the marker of the crystal-image,
the indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary; he passes into the
crystal, and makes the direct time-image visible; he provokes undecid-
able alternatives and inexplicable differences between the true and the
false’ (Deleuze 1989: 132). The cinematic forger embodies a more deep-
seated fascination with the murky, shifting boundaries between truth
and fiction, reality and the imaginary. Forgers work inside the codes,
occupying and mutating them.
Deleuze points to an increased fascination with forgery as a narrative
theme, but the implications of his observations here are far reaching.

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142 Deleuze and Film

I would argue that forgery provides a productive model for thinking

about films, and filmmakers, who mutate and exploit preexisting codes
and expectations. We might locate acts of forgery on the registers of
sound, décor, colour, framing and dialogue. Genre, in this sense, pro-
vides the foundation that is deterritorialised and transformed. What we
witness is not a clean departure, but a sleight of hand that builds on a
code, then renders it hollow, estranged.

Habitual Constructions
We must take care, however, not to dismiss genre as merely the static
‘bad object’ that difference transforms. The formation of the genre itself
is a highly complex process, a continually evolving exercise in the fabri-
cation of representational codes. I would like to suggest that genre, even
in its most reductive manifestations, is a fictional construction. In many
instances, these fictions serve to reinforce restrictive patterns of thought
and behaviour. Yet their status as fictional categories renders them open
to more subversive acts of co-optation. Deleuze’s work on habit and rep-
etition provides a means of exposing the seeds of difference at the core of
repetitive formulations such as genre. And the concept of the simulacra,
discussed in the following section, sheds light on the ways in which these
seeds might be productively actualised.
The relationship between representational conventions and the vari-
ations they generate can be seen as an extension of Deleuze’s broader
philosophy of repetition and difference. Rather than framing repetition
as a negative pole against which difference reacts, we might explore the
entwined circulations between every iteration and deviation. Though
genres are often defined according to certain fixed characteristics, it
may be more useful to think about their functionality – to ask what it
is that a melodrama or a musical or a horror film does. Framing genres
according to the work they perform allows us to sidestep the trap of cre-
ating systems of dead categories, abstracted general forms. We can thus
accommodate fluctuations in genres as they evolve, and forge new series
of classifications that transect the rigid typologies imposed by industry
or academic discipline. In this way, too, we might locate traces of more
transgressive forces already circulating within the convention itself.
This focus on functionality versus typology has an additional benefit; it
centres our attention not on the characteristics of the texts, but on the
impact of the act of articulation on the mind that contemplates it.
Deleuze’s reflections on David Hume and habit in Difference and
Repetition (1994) are particularly illuminating in this regard. Hume

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 143

describes the way in which habits accumulate for subjects: as a subject

amasses various perceptions and experiences, the full range of those
experiences are contracted, condensed into a set of patterns used to
anticipate future events. While the formation of habits involves a certain
distillation of difference necessary to form an interpretive pattern or
code, the process of discovering a series, for Deleuze, introduces a new
order of difference within the mind that perceives it:
Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change some-
thing in the mind which contemplates it. Hume’s famous thesis takes us to
the heart of a problem: since it implies, in principle, a perfect independence
on the part of each presentation, how can repetition change something in
the case of the repeated element? . . . Hume takes as an example the repeti-
tion of cases of the type AB, AB, AB, A... Each case or objective sequence
AB is independent of the others. The repetition (although we cannot yet
properly speak of repetition) changes nothing in the object of the state of
affairs AB. On the other hand, a change is produced in the mind which con-
templates a difference, something new in the mind. Whenever A appears, I
expect the appearance of B . . . Does not the paradox of repetition lie in the
fact that one can speak of repetition only by virtue of the change or differ-
ence that it introduces into the mind which contemplates it? By virtue of a
difference that the mind draws from repetition? (Deleuze 1994: 70)

Repetition is a process that unfolds temporally, through individual acts

of iteration and contemplation. Repetition is not something that resides
in a text, but something that occurs in the engaged mind of the perceiver,
in the space between subject and object: ‘when we say that habit is a
contraction we are speaking not of an instantaneous action which com-
bines with another to form an element of repetition, but rather of the
fusion of that repetition in the contemplating mind’ (Deleuze 1994: 74).
Thus difference and variation are not strictly opposed to repetition.
Rather, they are inherent to it, even within this most passive synthesis
of time. The contracted vibrations of past perceptions coalesce as habits
within bodies and brains. As the contractions become increasingly
complex and autonomous, moving into higher realms of human activ-
ity, the synthesis of time becomes more active. Memory creates virtual
layers of the past that disrupt linear notions of time, and in the process,
the formation of habits involves increasing degrees of intervention on
the part of the perceiver.
With each act of habitual contraction, differences inherent to experi-
ence are minimised in order to form an illusory, coherent model by which
expectations of the future might be formed, which Hume calls ‘fictions
of the imagination’. Such fictions are in fact necessary for survival; they

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144 Deleuze and Film

allow us to extract, from the overwhelming flow of empirical sensations,

an image of a cohesive world that we can navigate. Yet as the syntheses
become more active, the impressions and fictions move into the realm
of ‘artificial signs’, for Deleuze, ‘that is to say, the passage from spon-
taneous imagination to the active faculties of reflective representation,
memory and intelligence’ (Deleuze 1994: 77).
Representational practices thus arise from the accumulated habits of
material experience, and the interventions of memory and the virtual
past. And acts of falsification, creative fictions, are core to the process.
These fictions can easily devolve into habitual stereotypes, or even
unlink themselves from material experiences altogether, generating false
experiences and beliefs that fall into representational and interpretive
codes. Yet Deleuze locates a generative force within creative fictions that
can lead to disruptive acts of deterritorialisation. Within the realm of the
arts, fictions and fabulations, the powers of the false, have a tremendous
political potential.
We might thus conceive of genre as a habitual means of categoris-
ing film. Based on our previous media experiences, and on the familiar
conventions of storytelling, we have created collective sets of expecta-
tions that govern both the creation and the reading of cinematic texts.
Difference is thus contracted in order to distil similarities between dis-
parate works. And these conventions are further solidified as they are
written into new films, films crafted with the express purpose of filling
slots within genre-driven markets. Yet the representational codes them-
selves are idealised projections, virtual projected models. As fictional
creations, genres are prone to hijacking – acts of simulation, forgery and
parody. It is in this manner that genre, when exposed as an unstable
fiction, becomes a platform for the powers of the false.

Disguises, Simulacra and Deterritorialisations

In his reflections on Friedrich Nietzsche, Pierre Klossowski points to a
peculiar tension between what he calls simulacra and stereotypes, or ‘the
code of everyday signs’. Simulacra, for Klossowski, are representations
of the unrepresentable – expressive manifestations of the phantasms, the
dominant or obsessive impulses, of the soul. Much like the projected fic-
tions of habit, which create simulated images based on past experiences,
Klossowski describes simulacra navigating between the unrepresent-
able flux of existence and the schematic codes required by subjects for
survival. Distilling the unrepresentable into a legible form, simulacra
build upon, and exaggerate, the stereotypes we habitually rely upon to

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understand the world. What Klossowski draws out from his reading of
Nietzsche here is the simulacrum as a willed intervention, a ‘project of
philosophical imposture’ (Klossowski 1997: 134).
Forgeries, parodies, simulacra: these terms circulate throughout
Deleuze’s writings, drawn and extended, in many ways, from his own
readings of Nietzsche and Klossowski, manifesting themselves in his
cinema volumes in the discussion of the powers of the false. Resonances
of this concept emerge in a short essay on the Série Noire crime novels,
focusing in particular on questions of stereotype and generic code.
Deleuze notes that habits and clichés plague many commercial novels,
most noticeably in their attempts to achieve ‘realism’: ‘For bad litera-
ture, the real as such is the object of more stereotypes, puerilisations,
and cut-price dreams than even an imbecilic imagination would know
what to do with’ (Deleuze 2001: 10). Yet he praises the works within the
Série Noire that embrace and elevate generic clichés through pastiche.
Rather than attempting to represent reality, crime novels that mimic
the style of William Faulkner or John Steinbeck, for example, create
parodies that obscure the line between the real and the imaginary. Like
the simulacrum, the parody arises precisely from within the restrictions
of habitual representations. And like the simulacrum, the parody is an
artistic invention, or intervention. In each instance, reality is neither rep-
resented, nor rejected. Instead the very act of simulation or imposture
opens into a new and more profound engagement with the real: ‘parody
in turn shows us directions within the real that we would never have
found by ourselves’ (Deleuze 2001: 10).
The parody, in other words, is less a send-up than an act of rendering
obscure questions of intention, authenticity, truth and fiction. By engag-
ing in pastiches of existing styles, these detective novels destabilise our
expectations of what it is that a detective novel should do (for example,
seek the truth with regard to a criminal act), shift the relations and quali-
ties attached to stock characters (criminals and detectives), and reframe
the contexts in which the crimes and cases unfold (such as institutions,
networks of power and urban landscapes). The language used to repre-
sent these overdetermined tales of sexual intrigue and violence thickens,
becoming more opaque as the true object of its narrative slips from view.
In terms of genre, we might say that a parodic style deterritorialises the
established generic function of a work (revealing the ‘truth’ about an
unsolved crime), shifting the work onto new functional terrain (revel-
ling in the surface level of signs, and, in doing so, destabilising notions
of any underlying truth). The process Deleuze points to clearly extends
beyond the realm of the detective novel. What we find here is an act of

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146 Deleuze and Film

double displacement. The creative fictions of genre, brought about by

necessity, create a virtual code, a classification that establishes patterns
of expectation and minimises difference. But the classification itself
is a kind of fabulation, one that can be reproduced in a false copy, a
simulacrum that reveals the hollowness of the original. If the creation of
habit evolves from a passive synthesis of difference, the second move is
far more active. What we find in the active intervention are the powers
of the false.
Deleuze expands his discussion of the powers of the false extensively
in his second volume on cinema, Cinema 2. The filmic time-image
similarly throws truth and falsity into question in a variety of ways,
each labouring to destabilise narrative verisimilitude. Like reflections
in a crystal, certain film images present the virtual and actual as simul-
taneous and indiscernible. The figure of the forger looms large here,
as investment in any faith in the ‘real’ becomes impossible; there is no
originary image beneath the series of masks (Deleuze cites the expanding
circuits of spectacle in Federico Fellini; 1989: 88–9). Time in other film
images comes unhinged; rather than a linear unfolding, we encounter
multiple sheets of time, each with its own set of ‘incompossible presents’
and ‘not-necessarily-true pasts’ (Deleuze 1989: 131). Truth, in such
instances, is undecidable (see, for example, the overlapping images of
the past in the films of Orson Welles or Resnais). The thrust of becom-
ing as an ongoing process can result in another temporal reconfigura-
tion. Here time is experienced not as a string of moments that move
from before to after, but as an evolving ‘burst of series’. Rather than
a sequence of distinguishable states or instants, before and after are
inextricable, two coexisting sides of ‘becoming as potentialisation, as
series of powers’ (Deleuze 1989: 275). Change becomes manifest here
in a series of images that destabilise notions of a true, fixed identity (the
complex narrative strategies of postcolonial cinema, for example, filled
with historical fabulations and invented selves).
Indiscernible, undecidable, inextricable, incompossible: the point of
commonality amongst all these strategies is the unstoppable force of
change. Truth is no longer a fixed universal, it is something created anew
at each moment. Indeed, Deleuze’s interest in the powers of the false
in the arts is not to identify a work that falsifies some notion of truth.
What is key, instead, is the notion of invention as a practice that unfolds
in time, continually occurring, recurring, evolving. And the task of the
artist goes beyond that of the forger in rising above the level of form to
create something new: ‘Only the creative artist takes the power of the
false to a degree which is realised, not in form, but in transformation . . .

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 147

What the artist is, is creator of truth, because truth is not to be achieved,
formed, or reproduced; it has to be created’ (Deleuze 1989: 146–7).
To return to the question of genre, then, we might think about genres
as fictions of the imagination, habitual codes created to make sense
of diverse textual expressions. These codes, of course, are continu-
ally reinforced and cemented, working as they so often do in support
of existing industry practices, existing ideological models, existing
modes of reception. But, being at their core abstract projections, they
are never fully actualised in a precise or systematic manner; it is hard
to identify even a single genre film that faithfully adheres to all the
criteria associated with those broad categories. Deviations multiply,
and the imagined boundaries of the category evolve. Moreover, each
iteration of even the most uninspired generic work elicits some kind
of difference in the audience that contemplates it. While Deleuze does
not address this concern directly, we might draw more attention to the
variations elicited by the context of each filmic event in understanding
how cycles of repetition extend beyond the film text itself. Do these
codes and stereotypes operate differently on the third or thirteenth
viewing? In a university lecture hall or on a handheld device? Does
the sedimentation of certain generic distinctions within the realm of
film studies shift the legibility of a film’s expressive elements? Can
generic habits be destabilised in ways that render the codes themselves
The key to working productively with generic stereotypes and habit-
ual codes is to deterritorialise them, denaturalise them, opening them
up to new paths of movement and thought. To do so requires a willed
intervention. In a lecture on music, Deleuze elaborates on this dynamic
through a discussion of pulsed versus non-pulsed time (i.e. expressions
that are heavily coded and habitual versus those that break free from,
and deterritorialise, the measure):

In a certain manner, pulsed time will always be given to you, or it will be

imposed on you, you will be forced to comply with it and from another
side, it will order you; the other must be wrested . . . My problem of non-
pulsed time becomes: wresting something from the territorialities of time,
you wrest something from the temporal development of forms and you
wrest something from the formation of subjects. (Deleuze 1977)

This distinction between something given and something created reso-

nates broadly throughout Deleuze’s writings. The implications of the
willed intervention are manifold, impacting not only the form and tem-
porality of the work itself, but larger political questions regarding power

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148 Deleuze and Film

and subject formation, the ideological scaffolding, in other words, for

the fictions of the code.
I would like to propose two ways of thinking through these notions
of willed interventions and creative wresting in relation to the cinematic
genre. The first involves an artistic intervention, taking a filmic text
or a code and wringing new meanings, new, productive falsities from
it. Joseph Cornell’s found footage collages are particularly affecting
examples in this regard. Films such as Rose Hobart (USA, 1936) and
Thimble Theater (USA, 1938) juxtapose snippets of devalued, discarded
or incongruous films (B-studio films, children’s cartoons, educational or
scientific shorts), often projected at a slower frame rate. These moments,
wrested from their narrative context and native temporality take on a
haunting quality: Hobart, the star of East of Borneo (George Melford,
USA, 1931), is caught in a ceaseless state of reactive inaction; flowers
metamorphose into carousels of living animals. What might have
appeared, in its given state, to be a mundane artifact is revealed as an
animated, enigmatic cabinet of curiosities.
A 2007 installation by Spencer Finch suggests another mode of artis-
tic intervention. West (Sunset in my motel room, Monument Valley,
February 26, 2007, 5:36–6:06 pm) uses the reflected light from a bank
of video monitors, facing a wall, to recreate the precise colour patterns
Finch observed in his motel room during sunset on that date. The nine
monitors (which viewers can only see by peering around the side of the
bank) show thirty stills from John Ford’s The Searchers (USA, 1956),
each changing only once per minute, to calibrate the colour and tonal-
ity of the light that fills the gallery. Finch’s own memory of the light in
Monument Valley (mediated by the motel room) is indiscernible from
Ford’s epic fabulation of that same landscape as Hollywood backdrop in
a film that is already both icon for and deterritorialisation of the western
as a whole. Not only is The Searchers cast anew in this context, but our
very notions of light, place and memory also come undone, wrested
from the comfort of the individual recollection.
Another approach to creative intervention rests in the realm of a
philosophical or critical engagement. We might aspire, here, to be the
reader that wrests something latent or unforeseen from an existing body
of work. As with the artistic intervention, the aim is to engage with the
materiality of that which one observes like a clinician. ‘If they are great’,
writes Deleuze, authors
are more like doctors than patients. We mean that they are themselves
astonishing diagnosticians or symptomatologists. There is always a great
deal of art involved in the groupings of symptoms, in the organisation of a

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 149

table where a particular symptom is dissociated from another, juxtaposed

to a third, and forms the figure of a disorder or illness. Clinicians who
are able to renew a symptomatological table produce a work of art; con-
versely, artists are clinicians, not with respect to their own case, nor even
with respect to a case in general; rather, they are clinicians of civilisation.
(Deleuze 1990: 237)
A critical engagement with genre would mean a renewal of the tables
by which films are habitually organised, seeking out new connections
and points of distinction. It means a further recognition of the work
that filmmaker/clinicians perform in crafting their art, teasing out the
relationship between material expressions and a civilisation/world that
might lie dormant in the work. The film-philosopher must not merely
describe, or impose preexisting models. Instead, she or he should ‘form
concepts that aren’t of course “given” in films but nonetheless relate spe-
cifically to cinema . . . Concepts specific to cinema, but which can only
be formed philosophically’ (Deleuze 1995: 57–8).

A Symptomatology: People, Light, Flowers, Mirrors, Blood

In a nearly ecstatic essay written in 1971, Rainer Werner Fassbinder laid
out his candid responses to a Douglas Sirk retrospective:
Sirk has said you can’t make films about things, you can only make films
with things, with people, with light, with flowers, with mirrors, with blood,
in fact with all the fantastic things that make life worth living. Sirk has also
said: a director’s philosophy is lighting and camera angles. And Sirk has
made the tenderest films I know, they are the films of someone who loves
people and doesn’t despise them as we do. (Fassbinder 1975: 88)

A filmmaker’s philosophy arises out of his or her manipulations of

light, of surfaces, of images, of sounds. Such a description hews closely
to Deleuze’s own insistence upon the affective power of pure optical
and sonic situations. If philosophy ‘tells stories . . . with concepts’, the
cinema ‘tells stories with blocks of movements/durations’ (Deleuze
1998: 15).
The introduction of Sirk and Fassbinder allows me to circle back to del
Río’s work on these filmmakers in order to reconsider the relationship
between the performative qualities she identifies and the peculiar habits
and formulations of the domestic melodrama. How does the category
of the domestic melodrama work to create certain types of stylistic tics?
Indeed, the melodrama is one of the most historically enduring, mutable
and enigmatic dramatic forms, vastly exceeding what one might easily

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150 Deleuze and Film

deem a genre-proper. From the perspective of a heretical symptomatol-

ogy, this looseness lends itself to a creative renewal of the generic code.
I am further drawn to the affinities between these two filmmakers, who
seem to be articulating variations on a shared refrain, voiced in one
instance within, in the other outside, the porous boundaries of a generic
paradigm. Sirk and Fassbinder each seem hyperconscious of the func-
tionality of generic conventions. And, it could be argued, each performs
acts of forgery and parody in manipulating those codes. What we might
find in a critical reading of these works, then, is an interplay between
both artistic and philosophical modes of intervention.
In his seminal essay on Sirk and the family melodrama, Thomas
Elsaesser turns to the more elemental definition of the genre: ‘a dramatic
narrative in which musical accompaniment marks the emotional effects
. . . This is still perhaps the most useful definition’, he writes,
because it allows melodramatic elements to be seen as constituents of a
system of punctuation, giving expressive colour and chromatic contrast
to the story-line, by orchestrating the emotional ups and downs of the
intrigue. The advantage of this approach is that it formulates the problems
of melodrama as problems of style and articulation. (Elsaesser 1987: 50)

Such a broad definition, of course, proves entirely unhelpful should one

wish to create a system for categorising melodramatic films according
to narrative structure; almost every film deploys music as an emotional
marker, and we are given little guidance as to the distinctions that
could be drawn between different stylistic approaches to emotional
expression. Yet this starting point seems closer to Deleuze’s assertion
that artists work with shapes (and not forms), reliefs and projections.
A focus on style and articulation is in effect a symptomatology; rather
than imposing classifying structures from above, the reader must wrest
meaning from the signaletic material itself. Meaning is not given here;
it is made.
A focus on signs and style draws our attention to the particularities of
each cinematic event. This move, for example, allows Elsaesser to make
important distinctions between the domestic melodramas typified by
Sirk, Nicholas Ray and Vincente Minnelli and other melodramatic tradi-
tions. The most readily apparent of these distinctions is the visual and
sonic excesses of these works, particularly in their brightly hued, wide-
screen incarnations. Readings of the domestic melodrama, Elsaesser
insists, are justified in ‘giving critical importance to the mise-en-scène
over intellectual content or story value’. Emotional and dramatic con-
flict is ‘sublimated’ in these films into ‘décor, colour, gesture, and com-

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 151

position of the frame’ (Elsaesser 1987: 52). Although Elsaesser frames

his final observations on the family melodrama within the context of
Freudian dream analysis, I suspect that his conclusion lends itself to
more open readings:

Melodramas often use middle-class American society, its iconography

and the family experience . . . as their manifest ‘material,’ but ‘displace’ it
into quite different patterns, juxtaposing stereotyped situations in strange
configurations, provoking clashes and ruptures which not only open up
new associations but also redistribute the emotional energies which sus-
pense and tensions have accumulated in disturbingly different directions.
(Elsaesser 1987: 60)

We might begin our symptomatology of the Sirk-Fassbinder melo-

drama with an examination of this kind of productive displacement. Del
Río reads the gestures of the performative body as displacing or reorgan-
ising the narrative codes that would contain it. I might extend her obser-
vations to consider the performative gestures of costume and décor in
this type of domestic melodrama. Emotion is not just externalised here,
it threatens to devour the frame. If a symptomatological genre could be
formed on the basis of ‘aggressive wallpaper and draperies’, we might
draw a clear line between Sirk, Fassbinder and Pedro Almodóvar (with
echoes of Jacques Demy and David Lynch). The rooms in these films are
resplendent with the plumage of suffering and unfulfilled desire. Patterns
and textures proliferate, collapsing space, bifurcating the frame, and
swallowing up the human figures that dwell within them. The nearly nau-
seating purples and pinks of the hotel room Kyle (Robert Stack) attempts
to seduce Lucy (Lauren Bacall) with in Written on the Wind are illustra-
tive of this kind of performative gesture. Costumes, too, vocalise what
the characters themselves cannot articulate. In Angst essen Seele auf/Ali:
Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany, 1974),
the plump, middle aged Emmi (Brigitte Mira) wears a most spectacular
and incongruous pair of bright yellow patent leather platform sandals.
The shoes signal much about her character that we might not read in her
physical gestures, but even beyond this, they create a gesture all of their
own, becoming part of a larger tonal palette that exceeds individual char-
acterisation, triggering even more amorphous affective responses.
This observation, that domestic melodramas externalise suppressed
emotion, is certainly not new. However, what I am suggesting we take
from this observation is a renewed understanding of what it is that the
domestic melodrama does. What will result is not a new generic formu-
lation, but rather a sense of an expressive tendency that might surface

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152 Deleuze and Film

in a variety of works, towards a diversity of ends. I would read this ten-

dency as a movement that interfaces with the more formalised generic
category of ‘the melodrama’, at times as unreflexive mimicry, and at
others as an act of artistic intervention. In each case, the provocation
must be taken up by the viewer: how will the gesture register? What
potentialities might be wrested from this expressive material?
‘Melodrama’, Elsaesser writes
is often used to describe tragedy that doesn’t quite come off: either because
the characters think of themselves too self-consciously as tragic or because
the predicament is too evidently fabricated on the level of plot and drama-
turgy to carry the kind of conviction normally termed ‘inner necessity’.
(Elsaesser 1987: 65)

What makes the domestic melodrama such a rich playground for

exploring this dynamic is its excessiveness, together with the unadul-
terated pleasure that it takes in acts of fabrication. This does not
signal a lack of sincerity; rather, I would argue that genuine affect is in
abundance in these films – what Nietzsche might call ‘falseness with a
good conscience’ (Nietzsche 2001: 225). Nevertheless, the specificity
of their empirical expressions often butts against the ostensible goals
of the generic form. While melodramas have traditionally been framed
as vehicles for imposing moral judgements, filmmakers like Sirk and
Fassbinder render judgement meaningless. Each player is a simulacrum,
neither determinately ‘true’ nor ‘false’. Surface-level expressions here
overpower, forge, and circumvent easy distinctions between interior
and exterior; character is flooded. Comic elements proliferate in these
films, to be sure, but they are more inscrutable than mocking. The
trajectory of the displacement is more often deterritorialised than it is
transparent. What one views is not just a symbolic gesture, but an open-
ended reflection on the inextricable relations between individual and

Uncategorical Conclusions
‘It is pointless to claim that a list of categories can be open in princi-
ple’, writes Deleuze; ‘it can be in fact, but not in principle.’ Categories
‘belong to the world of representation’, whereas descriptive, empirical,
pluralist approaches tip into the realm of the simulacrum, the ‘phantas-
tical’ (Deleuze 1994: 284–5). Descriptive symptomatologies, in other
words, might be open in fact, if they are based on careful empirical
observation, rather than the abstractions of representational catego-

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Habit, Genre and the Powers of the False 153

ries. Symptomatologies must sink their teeth into material conditions

and experiences. While general categories rely on sedentary univer-
sals, symptomatologies are ‘complexes of space and time’, irreducible
‘nomadic distributions’. ‘Nomadic or phantastical notions’, for Deleuze,
are ‘the objects of an essential encounter rather than of recognition’
(Deleuze 1994: 285).
Film genres, as we commonly use and understand them, almost cer-
tainly fall within the realm of a representational ontology. One might
justifiably view the concept of genre with cynicism: genres exist to
mould films into preexisting markets, they code our expectations and
colonise our interpretations. Generic classifications artificially impose
unity upon diverse texts after the fact, obscuring our access to their full
optical and sonic richness. Deleuze is even more blunt in his dismissal:
‘the main genres, the western, crime, period films, comedy, and so on,
tell us nothing about different types of images or their intrinsic charac-
teristics’ (Deleuze 1995: 46).
But it is important to recognise that the signaletic materials of the
cinematic expression almost always evolve in relation to the codes of
the genre, whether they un-reflexively adhere to them, explicitly refuse
them, or engage them in acts of forgery and deterritorialisation. Might
we not read the symptomatic expression, then, in dialogue with the
generalised codes that circulate through it? And, with careful dissection,
might not the codes themselves reveal a whole series of phantasms and
simulacra? The interplay between cinematic viewer and text relies upon
a series of repetitions, shared fabulations, and thwarted expectations.
While most films will inevitably remain vehicles for the replication of
codes and stereotypes, the lingering possibility of creative transgression
requires a careful consideration of the complex artistic and political
work such codes do, or could, perform.

Conley, T. (2000), ‘Noir in the Red and the Nineties in the Black’, in W.W. Dixon
(ed.), Film Genre 2000, Albany: SUNY Press, pp. 193–210.
del Río, E. (2008), Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1977), ‘Sur la musique’, transcription of a seminar on Anti Oedipe et
Mille Plateaux at the University of Vincennes, 3 May 1977, trans. T.S. Murphy,
available at (accessed 4 February
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. (1990), Logic of Sense, trans. M. Lester with C. Stivale, ed. C.V.
Boundas, New York: Columbia University Press.

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154 Deleuze and Film

Deleuze, G. (1994), Difference and Repetition, trans. P. Patton, New York:

Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1995), Negotiations: 1972–1990, trans. M. Joughin, New York:
Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1998), ‘Having an Idea in Cinema (On the Cinema of Straub-Huillet)’,
trans. E. Kaufman, in E. Kaufman and K.J. Heller (eds), Deleuze and Guattari:
New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, pp. 14–19.
Deleuze, G. (2000), ‘The Brain is the Screen: An Interview with Gilles Deleuze’,
trans. M.T. Guirgis, in Gregory Flaxman (ed.), The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze
and the Philosophy of Cinema, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp.
Deleuze, G. (2001), ‘Philosophy of the Série Noire’, trans. T.S. Murphy, Genre, 34:
Dixon, W.W. (ed.) (2000), Film Genre 2000, Albany: SUNY Press.
Elsaesser, T. (1987), ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family
Melodrama’, in C. Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where the Heart is: Studies in
Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, London: BFI, pp. 43–69.
Fassbinder, R.W. (1975), ‘Six Films by Douglas Sirk’, trans. T. Elsaesser, New Left
Review, 1 (91): 88–96.
Foucault, M. (1994), The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences,
New York: Vintage Books.
Grant, B.K. (ed.) (1995), Film Genre Reader II, Austin: University of Texas Press.
Klossowski, P. (1997), Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, trans. D.W. Smith,
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Nietzsche, F. (2001), The Gay Science, trans. J. Nauckhoff, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

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Chapter 9
Feminine Energies, or the Outside
of Noir

Elena del Río

Taking a Deleuzian standpoint, this essay will investigate the possibility

of assessing the noir genre as the specifically American counterpart to
Italian neorealism’s transitional role in marking a psycho-moral crisis in
the post-war period – a crisis that in cinematic terms translated into the
weakening and collapse of the sensory-motor schema (Deleuze 1989:
5–6). Given the strong ties that neorealism and noir both developed
with the social, cultural and economic upheavals in their respective
contexts during and in the wake of the war, and given also the high
investment in narrative and formal innovation that they both share, we
may tentatively assign the noir series of the 1940s and 1950s a parallel,
albeit non-symmetrical, function to that accomplished by neorealism.
For Deleuze, this involved a shift away from the chain-like causation
of actions built upon realistic spatial and temporal moorings towards
a cinema of indiscernibility, unfolding through purely optical and sonic
situations. As I re-evaluate some key aspects of the noir genre, I seek
neither to question the validity of previous scholarly contributions nor
to manufacture confirmation of Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema in the
films of the noir period. Instead, I am inspired by a general Deleuzian
stance, also invoked by Ronald Bogue (2010: 125 and 127), which con-
sists of cultivating a measure of scepticism towards past knowledge, and
especially towards the ideas one holds most certain.
In attempting a partial reconsideration of the noir genre, I will aim at
suspending a number of conceptual givens that have framed past critical
debates concerning this genre. In particular, I would like to disrupt the
critical balance grounded in the Oedipal framings of noir narratives by
emphasising instead the genre’s ambivalence towards Oedipal structures
of law and morality. The ambiguity that affects the noir film, one which
precisely affirms its transitional status, arises from the tension between
its indebtedness to the old moral programme – a programme that

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156 Deleuze and Film

post-war European cinemas had a much easier time dispatching – and its
openness to a historically inflected sensitivity that begins to register the
anachronistic irrelevance of the moral doctrine of judgement, debt/guilt,
and punishment.
In its unique response to the experiential crisis of the mid-twentieth
century, the noir genre, as exemplified by films such as Double
Indemnity (Billy Wilder, USA, 1944), Laura (Otto Preminger, USA,
1944), The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang, USA, 1944), Dead
Reckoning (John Cromwell, USA, 1947), and Out of the Past (Jacques
Tourneur, USA, 1947), does not typically follow the wandering adven-
tures of perception that engage neorealism. Instead, the American noir
film channels the generalised cultural and social malaise into angry
impulse and criminal/illegal action, both of which hinge upon its core
desire to test the limits of the (Oedipal) law, while still remaining deeply
steeped in it. Although the characters of noir do not reach the visionary
status of characters in neorealism, their actions lose a great deal of the
pragmatism of the American classical cinema, in fact proving wholly
ineffectual as a means of resolving the crisis at hand. While Deleuze or
Deleuzian scholars may not have considered the film noir’s indetermina-
bility sufficiently indeterminate (sufficiently capable of interrupting the
powerful hold of the sensory-motor schemata) to merit much attention,
this essay will focus on the genre’s contradictory organisation of desire
as the basis for its incipient attempts to depart from classical Oedipal
configurations and their implied adherence to morality. It is the noir
organisation of libidinal forces, coalescing around the femme fatale and
her castration-haunted male counterpart, that I wish to address as the
sign of this genre’s high potential for shattering older moulds, and thus
for creating what at the time must have struck viewers as a qualitatively
new kind of cinema. My analysis of this facet of noir will be confined
to several representative films, including those mentioned above and a
few others, where the sexual and criminal relations between male and
female are of paramount importance. In sum, I will examine the ways
in which noir can be said to ‘experiment with the real’ by engaging with
male and female energies beyond an obvious, fossilised Oedipal critical
The film noir presents a series of challenges to the oftentimes cut and
dried opposition between the cinemas of the movement-image and the
time-image as theorised by Deleuze, for it reveals a number of ambigui-
ties in its formal and narrative categories that are not easily subsumed
under the oppositional notions of movement versus duration – external
regulated action versus internal unregulated states. This undecidability

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 157

is part of noir’s immense popular and critical appeal, and should not
be dampened by attempts to fixate the genre at one or other end of the
spectrum. In fact, the noir genre can serve to emphasise the arbitrariness
of an absolute segregation between the classical and modern cinemas, a
point that Deleuze addresses in Cinema 2:

We can choose between emphasising the continuity of cinema as a whole,

or emphasising the difference between the classical and the modern. It took
modern cinema to re-read the whole of cinema as already made up of aber-
rant movements and false continuity shots. The direct time-image is the
phantom which has always haunted cinema, but it took modern cinema to
give a body to this phantom. (Deleuze 1989: 41)

Thus, instead of considering the difference of noir in terms of opposition

between the movement-image and the time-image, I suggest that we dis-
cover the aberrant movements and forces that in noir impede the action-
image from reaching totalising, conclusive effects at both the aesthetic
and epistemological levels. The noir image, I would argue, is extremely
nuanced in its ability to actualise myriad variations and gradations of
approximation and divergence between the two kinds of image.
The flashback structures and inwardly drawn narrations abundantly
displayed in noir give evidence of frequent intrusions of flows of
memory, affect and duration that come close to a direct apprehension of
time in what otherwise might appear as straightforward action-oriented
films. These affective intrusions function as a short-circuiting mecha-
nism vis-à-vis the action-image and its traditional male centre. In noir,
the deformation of the action-image and the resurfacing of male castra-
tion anxieties occur as parallel, mutually reinforcing phenomena. And
it is the superior energies of the female that are particularly responsible
not only for exacerbating male anxieties, but also for eventually disa-
bling the male capacity for action, and ultimately discrediting the moral
programme that underpins/propels it.

Mobile and Contingent Oedipus

Although my analysis will occasionally point to noir’s fluctuating com-
mitments to the movement-image and the time-image, I would like to
draw special attention to another opposition that a Deleuzian reconsid-
eration of noir readily invokes: that between Oedipal and non-Oedipal
forms of sexuality and desire. This dichotomy, drawn predominantly
from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, furnishes a framework of
analysis that can directly engage established psychoanalytic discourse

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158 Deleuze and Film

on noir. But, here again, we need not approach the noir genre through
the oppositional framework of Oedipal versus non-Oedipal desire, and
instead we can be receptive to a similar dynamics of gradation and
interaction between these two poles. Thus, rather than disputing the
force of Oedipus in noir, I would distinguish between two approaches
to Oedipal desire: the psychoanalytic approach prevalent in noir criti-
cism, one that takes Oedipus as universal truth; and one that, following
Deleuze and Guattari, might take Oedipus as a historically contingent
and mobile formation.
If we heed the contingency and mobility of Oedipus, we are no longer
compelled to oppose the Oedipal to the non-Oedipal model, for, at the
heart of desiring-production there lie different nuances and becom-
ings, hence also the possibility of transitioning from an Oedipal into
a non-Oedipal libidinal configuration. Following this latter approach,
my reconsideration of noir will situate the Oedipal model within the
immanent operations of desire rather than imposing this model as a
transcendental and abstract ruling principle determining all relations
between desiring bodies. To understand Oedipus as a contingent forma-
tion, and one that is highly relevant to desire in noir, we must first take
a brief detour and explain how Oedipus arises alongside the molecular,
non-Oedipal operations of the unconscious as immanent libidinal force
and process.
For Deleuze and Guattari, the unconscious belongs to the realm of
physics rather than the realm of representation, material forces rather
than idealities or abstractions. The molecular, schizoanalytic uncon-
scious they postulate as primary does not recognise persons or objects
in the Oedipal, familial sense that permeates the psychoanalytic uncon-
scious. Thus, non-Oedipal sexuality and desire function as molecular
multiplicities/becomings, desiring-machines that represent nothing and
bear no relation to either subjects or objects: ‘Desire does not take as
its object persons or things, but the entire surroundings that it traverses,
the vibrations and flows of every sort to which it is joined, introducing
therein breaks and captures – an always nomadic and migrant desire’
(Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 292). In this kind of libidinal configura-
tion, the persons that we take as specific love-objects intervene ‘as points
of connection, disjunction, conjunction of flows whose libidinal tenor of
an unconscious investment they translate’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:
293). In a similar vein, castration is a formation alien to molecular, non-
Oedipal desire, whose ‘free multiplicities . . . [and] multiple breaks never
cease producing flows’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 295). It is not that
Deleuze and Guattari deny the existence of Oedipal formations, or their

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 159

importance in determining the specific forms desire takes in subjects.

But they are careful to stress that Oedipal coagulations of desire are so
many restrictions or blockages, resistances and territorialisations of a
circulation of desire that is virtually, and even actually, unrestricted and
If we consider Oedipality as a secondary, culturally specific way of
living desire, and not a universal truth for all subjects at all times, the
notions of castration and lack lose their transcendent weight. Instead,
castration/lack arises from a twofold cultural/historical process that
simultaneously involves an interpretive operation, in the case of psy-
choanalysis, and an economic operation, in the case of capitalism:
‘Psychoanalysis is the technique of application, for which political
economy is the axiomatic’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 304). Castration
and lack are thus not inherent to desire, but are the effect of an attempt
to freeze, unify, or totalise the unwieldy processes of desiring production
by evaluating the workings of partial flows and objects in relation to an
imagined, despotic whole that remains forever out of one’s reach. But
this operation of branding subjects inadequate or lacking is not merely
carried out by the institution of psychoanalysis in a kind of isolated and
haphazard fashion. As a historically grounded reactional formation, the
notion of castration/lack coming from the psychoanalytic theatre of rep-
resentation is strategically strengthened by the axiomatic of capitalism:
the ceaseless production and consumption of surplus that introduces
lack to ensure self-perpetuation.
When Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘the molar aggregate [of the
family] . . . is furrowed by the line of castration’, and that the notion
of family hinders relations from being molecular/productive, not least
because the familial relation becomes ‘metaphorical for all the others’
(Deleuze and Guattari 1977: 307), they might just as easily have been
describing the intractable organisation of desire that critics have con-
ventionally assigned to the noir genre. That is to say, the noir films
considered here favour a capitalist privatised organisation of desire
where characters become separated from larger social investments and
cathect on other individuals following a familial model. Although the
family as a cohesive institution and a literal narrative unit of action
is practically absent from the noir genre, familial, Oedipal relations
arguably hold a central place in these films, and they rule all the more
tyrannically precisely for taking on a metaphorical, abstract quality.
Thus, whether as literally as in films like Double Indemnity, where the
male character actually measures himself up against an older masculine
figure, or in films where multiple relations among men fulfil a similar

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160 Deleuze and Film

Oedipal role – as happens in Laura, The Woman in the Window, Dead

Reckoning, and Out of the Past – noir seems to fit into the pattern
where ‘[e]very person in authority is “father”; every object of desire is
“mother”, and the subject is constituted in its relation to these’ (Adkins
2007: 166). But regardless of the evidence of an Oedipal organisation in
the films themselves, the psychoanalytic reading of noir stays too close
to a faithful application of the familial metaphorics for it to entertain
other possibilities of libidinal connections in these films (see Johnston
1998). We might then ask whether the castrating paternal and maternal
figures of noir reveal a kind of self-evident truth, or whether they might
owe part of their credibility to a critical apparatus that takes Oedipus
for granted and seeks to mobilise it through the hermeneutic opera-
tions of ‘extrapolation, application, and biunivocalisation’ (Deleuze and
Guattari 1977: 306) in order to contain a rather uncontainable web of
While it is true that the noir subject, male and female, belongs within
the historical premises of a capitalist society that territorialises desire by
attempting to impose a structural unity upon its decoded flows, and by
extension a sense of lack, it is also true that the Oedipal wheel around
which these subjects circle is not without its ruptures and schizzes. My
examination of noir thus bears on the ways in which male and female
subjects are differently positioned in relation to the representational
construction of castration/lack. Instead of assuming the male and female
positionings to be symmetrical and reflective of a single Oedipal system
that encompasses both their desiring productions, I will align Oedipal
desire in noir with the will to moral truth predominantly displayed by the
male subject, and non-Oedipal desire with the ethical possibilities of the
powers of the false adumbrated, if not always fully expressed, through
the figure of the femme fatale. My discussion of noir will endeavour to
loosen up the contours of Oedipal structures of castration and lack, and
their gendered alignments, with the aim of utilising concepts as changing
processes, rather than ready-made slots capable of containing the force
of living images.

Uneven Reservoirs of Vitality

From the early 1940s to the mid-1950s, the noir genre was as vari-
egated in its choice of iconic themes and narratives as it was fluid in the
evolution of these themes. At the risk of sounding overly schematic, the
majority of films dealt with here recount the weakened state of the male,
his temporary resurging through contact with a formidable woman,

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 161

his collapse under the castrating weight of the law, and the upsurge of
strength and eventual punishment of the woman. But I shall argue that
the woman’s strength is not simply a male Oedipal paranoiac fantasy
responding in a vacuum to fears of woman’s phallic usurpation of
power. There are ample historical and social reasons why men in the late
1940s find themselves depleted (war, capitalist regulation and exploita-
tion of labour, erosion of patriarchal gender roles), while women find
in these same reasons so many opportunities for displaying abundant
energy and resourcefulness. Too little attention has been brought to the
noir woman’s thriving energies other than to dispose of them as a mere
corollary to male projections and fantasies. While in many noir narra-
tives, such as Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, USA, 1945), Gun Crazy/Deadly
is the Female (Joseph H. Lewis, USA, 1950) and several other films
already mentioned, the male voiceover provides the originating point of
narration, it is unmistakably the female energy in these films that shakes
the man out of a dead-end situation where a dull life of conformity and
dissatisfaction seems like the only remaining alternative. If, considered
from the psychoanalytic side of male fantasy, the woman simply serves
as the stage for the man to act out his castration anxieties, the alterna-
tive reading I would like to propose considers the femme fatale as an
energetic and energising figure of fabulation. Such feminine energy sup-
plies the active force badly needed by the male in a post-war environ-
ment where his affective life has been reduced to feelings of inadequacy
and insecurity, disillusionment and exhaustion. One may thus consider
male and female relations in noir as uneven exchanges of materially
distributed forces/energies, where, in general terms, the woman lends
and the man borrows. At peak moments – first encounters, partnered
criminal action – male and female energies converge in order to augment
each other, while at other moments – separations, departures, killings
– their relations decompose as their interests diverge and their energies
Even a cursory examination of the predicament of the protagonists
in the films mentioned above will show that the male’s affective fatigue
is temporarily repaired through his encounter with an actively desir-
ing female. By teaming up with women that either become partners in
crime (The Woman in the Window, Double Indemnity, Gun Crazy), or
murderers in their own right (Out of the Past, Dead Reckoning), the
men’s brain powers are quickened to a degree that would have been
unimaginable within the legal bounds of their former lives. Whether
engaged in investigative pursuits (Dead Reckoning, Laura), meticulous
murder planning (The Woman in the Window, Double Indemnity), or

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162 Deleuze and Film

even more direct forms of artistic imagination (painting in Scarlet Street,

aesthetic contemplation in The Woman in the Window, Laura), these
men, along with their female counterparts, in a sense become the writers
of their own stories, as they are compelled to mobilise the forces of fabu-
lation to their advantage.
In the material economy of energies or forces composing the noir rela-
tion between the femme fatale and her male counterpart, it is invariably
the man who borrows from the woman’s reservoir of vitality his final
injection of life. In such films as The Woman in the Window, Double
Indemnity, Out of the Past, Dead Reckoning and Gun Crazy, the first
encounter between the man and the woman potently dramatises their
uneven energies through the unbridgeable distance that separates them
and through the woman’s ability to master this distance to her advan-
tage. In Out of the Past, for example, Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum)
has been hired by mobster Whit (Kirk Douglas) to track down Kathie
Moffatt (Jane Greer), a woman with whom Whit is infatuated, and who
ran out on him with US$40,000. Waiting for Kathie to show up, Jeff
hangs out at La Mar Azul café in Acapulco. His descriptive voiceover
recaptures the force of their encounter (‘And then I saw her, coming out
of the sun, and I knew why Whit wouldn’t care about that 40 grand’),
while the moment unfolds in images that are simultaneously languid and
potent, melancholy, yet full of libidinal energy: Kathie walks towards
Jeff and the camera, brightly lit at first, but then shrouded in shadows
as she crosses the threshold between the sunny street and the interior of
the café. Her body, like that of many a noir woman on their first appear-
ance, is emphatically framed, this time by the arched door placed right
at the threshold between light and darkness, the outside and the inside
– her hat equally framing her head and enhancing the play of light and
shadow. Jeff’s voice is composed, yet it leaves no doubt as to the fasci-
nation and otherworldly awe the woman has provoked in him, as if she
was arriving from a literal outside that is otherwise unavailable to him.
From the beginning, Kathie’s tone is cool and detached, and she lays
down the terms of their relationship: who will be waiting and wonder-
ing, and who will come and go unchecked.
This pattern of woman exercising active power at a distance and
refusing to enter into a relation of mutuality with the man is quite
common in the noir films mentioned above. A similar dynamics where
the feminine ‘does not allow itself to be possessed’ (Derrida 1985: 179)
marks all of these films with a quality other than the fetishistic passiv-
ity that has oftentimes been paired off with such female images. Thus,
for instance, in The Woman in the Window, Professor Wanley (Edward

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 163

G. Robinson) admires a portrait of Alice (Joan Bennett) before meeting

her, an image distanced by a layering of multiple framings – dream,
window glass, portrait frame; in Double Indemnity, Walter Neff (Fred
MacMurray) stands at ground level looking up at Phyllis (Barbara
Stanwyck), while she looks down at him from her elevated position atop
the staircase, half hidden behind an ornate railing; in Dead Reckoning,
Rip Murdock’s (Humphrey Bogart) first sight of Coral Chandler
(Lizabeth Scott) is enacted as a fragmented, affectively intense panning
movement of the camera up her leg, hands and face in profile; and in
Gun Crazy, Bart (John Dall) admires Laurie’s (Peggy Cummins) dexter-
ity with guns from the position of a child-like spectator looking up at a
competent onstage performer. There is no mistaking that the woman’s
outsider status in these scenes, rather than connoting her fetishistic pas-
sivity and contained idealisation by a male voyeur, is tied to her ability
to set the powers of fictionalisation/fabulation in motion through what
Jacques Derrida, following Friedrich Nietzsche, has called woman’s
‘action at a distance’ (Derrida 1985: 177).
In this scenario, the notion of distance is all important both to
woman’s power and to man’s precarious situation vis-à-vis this power:
‘Woman’s seductiveness operates at a distance, and distance is the
element of her power . . . But one must stay aloof from this chant . . .
One must keep one’s distance from distance itself – not only to guard
against this fascination, but equally . . . to experience it’ (Derrida 1985:
178). What are the conditions for maintaining this distance through
which man and woman stay connected in an uneven exchange of forces?
It is precisely the unevenness and the distance that enables the forces
to move and to pass between them, but such unevenness in male and
female positions becomes glaringly impossible to maintain for long.
When the man, firm believer in castration, becomes conscious of the
woman’s masterful distance and attempts to end it, the creative ener-
gies become stagnated and they can only proceed in a purely destructive
direction. Such, for example, is the trajectory followed by Neff and
Phyllis in Double Indemnity. In other cases, as in Jeff’s relationship to
Kathie in Out of the Past, the man’s conscious surrender of his powers
and affects to the woman is so prolonged that it causes the man’s disin-
vestment in castration, a move that becomes intolerable to the Oedipal
patriarchal law.
As I have argued elsewhere (del Río 2008: 32–3), the power of the
spectacular (female) body to arrest the narrative momentum need not
be concurrent with the fetishisation and passivity of the (female) body.
On the contrary, the interruption of action is often attended by an

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164 Deleuze and Film

excess of force in the image that can point to an incipient and tentative
emergence of the time-image. In relation to noir films, Kathie’s body
on her ‘entrance scene’ in Out of the Past (like Phyllis’ body in Double
Indemnity or Laurie’s in Gun Crazy) radiates a powerful energy that
transforms the image’s movement of extension into a movement or
becoming of intensity. In other words, at the meeting point between
female and male, the woman’s energetic action-at-a-distance coincides
with the energy of the film image itself, whose potential it is fully
equipped to uncover and embody. As the woman’s forces of seduction,
appropriation and fabulation move through, around and away from her
body, they saturate the image through multiple affects and sensations
that arise in conjunction with changing patterns of light and shadow,
music, voice, texture and gesture.
Lighting in noir can particularly be deployed effectively to signal the
ontological proximity between woman’s power-at-a-distance and the
dissimulating power of style in general. We find an example of this, for
instance, in Out of the Past, where Jeff obsessively experiences Kathie’s
powers of appearance as involving striking low-key lighting patterns,
where each time sunlight, moonlight and/or a car’s headlights figure as
the scene’s only lighting sources. While these expressionistic lighting pat-
terns have been largely credited with producing the fascinating overall
visual effect of noir, they have often been attended by a judgemental/
moral evaluation of the woman’s alignment with enhanced shadows as
a sign of her essentially dark, evil nature (see Place and Peterson 1976).
From the perspective I am taking here, however, it is less a matter of a
moral application of lighting patterns than of a mutually empowering
alliance between the woman’s dissimulating power-at-a-distance (power
of appearances) and the film noir’s equal familiarity with these powers.
In acting at a distance, the woman’s powers of epistemological elusive-
ness and dissimulation find the most congenial ally in the baroqueness
and indirection of the noir style itself. Thus, the figure of the duplicitous,
dissimulating woman of noir shares an important quality with the noir
as genre: they both deploy elaborate style with the aim of constructing
and mobilising a desiring-machine. Although the noir attachment to
style has been identified as a staple of the genre since the early days of
noir scholarship (for example, Schrader 1995), I want to suggest here
that this attachment is more consistently channelled in noir through the
woman than it is through the man. As I will discuss shortly, this consist-
ency is made palpable in that, unlike the man, the woman repeatedly
chooses the movement of style and fabulation over the stagnation of
castration anxieties. Thus, not surprisingly, an examination of noir that

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 165

does not consider Oedipal desire as encompassing the whole of desire

finds itself at odds with the widespread critical appraisal of noir as a
genre predominantly centred upon male subjectivity (see, for example,
Cowie 1993; Hanson 2007; Martin 1998).

Uneven Castration Anxieties

While castration constitutes an integral, structuring part of desire in
the psychoanalytic model, in a Deleuzian sense castration constitutes
a blockage or an impediment to the full release of molecular desiring
flows. Thus, contrary to the tenets of psychoanalytic noir criticism, I
would like to suggest that castration in the noir film functions precisely
as the repressive mechanism that stagnates desire by draining it irrepa-
rably of any signs of life. Rather than instigating libidinal actions of
all kinds, whether sexual or criminal, castration is the rotten seed that
holds the promise of death right at the core of the noir narrative, and
even before killing machines of any sort have made their appearance
on the scene (for example, Neff’s comment on his own status as a dead
man walking and his inability to hear the sound of his own footsteps
in Double Indemnity). In noir, male and female relations to castration
are not equal, and yet this inequality may obtain from reasons other
than those postulated by psychoanalysis. Although Freudian psychoa-
nalysis is already cognizant of an important asymmetry between male
and female positions with respect to castration, the woman for Freud
is only the more affected and burdened by castration due to her literal
lack of a penis. While, allegedly, the boy/man is perpetually haunted by
the unthinkable possibility of losing his penis, the girl/woman is always
already lacking not only a penis, but also the anxiety of losing one. What
remains for her to live, under this paradigm, is simply the inherently cas-
trated status man fabricates for her out of his own castration anxieties
and fears of difference.
Rather than further universalising the Oedipal organisation of desire
by forcing woman to abide by rules originating in man’s paranoiac
fantasies of castration, as psychoanalysis does, the noir film repeatedly
emphasises the fundamental asymmetry in male and female relations to
castration, thereby disproving the universal hold of Oedipus. Counter
to the psychoanalytic model of an irretrievably castrated woman, the
noir film repeatedly conjures the image of a woman whose actions
reveal a total lack of investment in the notion of castration. Crucially
underscoring this idea, all of these films signal to important divergences
between male and female responses at the first signs of an imminent

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166 Deleuze and Film

confrontation with the law. Whether the criminal activity involves the
woman alone or the couple, the ruthless movement forward of the most
outstanding women of noir (Phyllis in Double Indemnity, Kathie in Out
of the Past, Laurie in Gun Crazy) heavily contrasts with the caution,
fear, misgivings, guilt or remorse articulated by their male counterparts.
It is here that we notice a profound alignment between the man’s belief
in castration and his indebtedness to morality and truth, in stark oppo-
sition to the woman’s lack of ties with either castration or a legalistic
notion of morality.
This can be seen in Double Indemnity and Out of the Past, where the
male protagonist places or finds himself in a situation of symbolic, unpay-
able debt vis-à-vis an older male figure – more benevolent in the case of
Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) in Double Indemnity, utterly sadis-
tic in the case of Whit in Out of the Past. Such a relation of debt between
a younger and an older man fits in quite smoothly with the doctrine of
judgement, which Deleuze describes as a deferred, infinite, unpayable
debt that one owes to somebody representing the moral system of higher
values, whether a partner or a god (Deleuze 1997: 126–7). The relation-
ship between Walter Neff and his older colleague, insurance adjuster
Keyes, is structured precisely around this creditor-debtor dynamics. Not
only is Keyes positioned in the insurance company as the ultimate judge
of the legitimacy of customers’ claims, but he also describes himself as a
‘priest and a father confessor’, in the spirit of the logic of judgement that
imbues his character. Moreover, Neff’s long dictaphone confession to
Keyes, which provides the entire flashback structure of the film, unfolds
like a protracted and failed attempt at paying an unpayable debt of guilt
and castration to the man who represents the law, and who, alone, can
free him from that debt (as shown in the closing scene by Neff’s futile
plea to Keyes that he let him flee the law by crossing over the border).
In fact, the creditor-debtor relation in Double Indemnity is, appropri-
ately, doubled, for Neff is not only indebted to Keyes, but, as we saw
earlier, and for radically different reasons, he is indebted to Phyllis as
well. While he owes his temporary reprieve from a zombie-like exist-
ence to the woman, he owes his acknowledgment of the impossibility
of overcoming such an existence (the impossibility of crooking up the
house and thus evading the law) to the father figure. This bifurcated
relation of debt is literally fleshed out in the film when the action brings
both Keyes and Phyllis, almost simultaneously, to Neff’s apartment, and
Neff finds himself visually torn between his two rival creditors. The end
of the scene, taking place right outside Neff’s apartment door, drama-
tises this split: Neff stands between Phyllis, who hides from Keyes’ sight

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behind the open door to Neff’s apartment, and Keyes, who stands by the
elevator door, still complaining of a stomach upset brought on by his
suspicions of murder being involved in Phyllis’ double indemnity insur-
ance claim. Even the remarkably different ways in which Neff comes
eventually to be dispatched by his two creditors attest to the idea of two
kinds of law or justice at work in the film. While the doctrine of judge-
ment represented by Keyes simply hands Neff over to the law in order
to prolong an already exhausted existence, the system of cruelty enacted
by Phyllis on her last encounter with Neff brings on a form of justice
close to what Deleuze calls ‘a writing of blood and life’ (Deleuze 1997:
128). In contrast to the symbolic, ever-deferred law written on the book
of the doctrine of judgement, Phyllis engages with Neff in a close-range
combat where his debt is physically marked and paid with a gunshot
wound, and, as Neff shoots back at Phyllis, he is even allowed to stake
a claim of final reciprocity with her.
Derrida’s statement that ‘truth-castration . . . is the affair of man . . .
[who] is never sceptical or dissimulated enough’ (Derrida 1985: 180) is
accurately illustrated by many a noir protagonist, who, as Neff shows
in Double Indemnity, is driven by the contradictory desire of escaping
the law while displaying an obsessive dependence upon it. On several
occasions after the murder of Phyllis’ husband has taken place, Neff
demonstrates his entrapment by the lure of truth-castration that he
himself has willed. While Neff walks to the train station with Phyllis,
right after killing the latter’s husband inside the car, he gives away his
anxiety and his unmitigated indebtedness to the law by engaging in a
series of cautionary remarks and admonitions that are strictly meant to
reassure himself of his ability to control every single detail of the follow-
ing steps in their murder plan. Phyllis’ lack of interest in this unneces-
sary rehearsal process is obvious. Not only does she not partake in the
performative anxieties of her male partner at this point, but, even later,
when Keyes has begun to reject the initial theory of accidental death on
the train, and Neff cautions Phyllis not to go ahead with her plans to
claim the insurance money, she sees no legal hurdle or prohibition that
might persuade her to abandon her plans.
In noir, morality and its system of judgement begin to crack, not by
virtue of the hero’s criminal transgressions, which are always already
enmeshed in the moral system itself as its necessary underside, but by
virtue of the very ineffectuality of action, whether in its criminal or its
redemptive manifestations. This ineffectuality is exposed most flagrantly
in the case of male action, still grounded in judgement, whereas in the
case of the woman, a more originary or primitive impulse of action

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168 Deleuze and Film

as raw, unregulated force seems to prevail, and its designs are only
thwarted by the overall organisation of morality that still rules the film’s
allotment of punishment and resolution along gender lines. But regard-
less of the reduced scope given to the woman’s action, she still plays
a pivotal role in bringing to light and magnifying the ineffectuality of
action in the male.
Clearly, unlike the man, the woman in noir does not calibrate her
actions with reference to their distance from, or proximity to, a set of
moral standards, boundaries or prohibitions. As we see in both Double
Indemnity and Out of the Past, her lack of investment in truth-castration
makes the continuation of her alliance with the man impossible, and
marks the definitive forking of their ways. In Double Indemnity, Neff
and Phyllis begin to separate from each other as soon as they accom-
plish the murder of Phyllis’ husband (Tom Powers). It would seem as
though Neff can no longer bear the sight of Phyllis’ total indifference
not only with regard to her alleged castration, but also with regard to
his own predicament of castration. Moreover, Phyllis’ interposition
between Neff and Keyes is too much of a distraction and a tension-
builder for Neff, whose energies must/should now be singly focused on
his utterly legalistic struggle with the law. It is precisely Phyllis’ distance
from truth-castration that leads Neff to characterise Phyllis in their
final showdown as ‘a little more rotten’ than himself, thus proving his
essential ressentiment, in that he ‘needs others to be evil in order to be
able to consider himself good’ (Deleuze 1983: 119), or at least better by
comparison. Out of the Past follows a similar pattern as it shows the
man’s adherence to the law finally prevailing even through the string of
unlawful activities or dubious alliances in which he has engaged. Before
getting on his final car ride with Kathie, Jeff calls the police and makes
sure they will be waiting for them on the road. While this action allows
him to pay his debt to the law (a debt that in a way he also owes to
Whit for failing to live up to the principles of their Oedipal contract),
the woman’s own justice system of life and blood stakes its claim on him
and makes him pay his debt to her with his life.

Mistresses of Appearance and Dissimulation: On Our Way to

the Powers of the False
In The Time-Image, Deleuze comments on the ways in which the cinema
during the first half of the twentieth century registered the collapse of
the system of judgement, referring to Fritz Lang and Orson Welles, not
coincidentally seasoned practitioners of the noir sensibility, as having

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first shown in their films an awareness of such a collapse. Drawing on

Nietzsche’s genealogical critique of slave morality, Deleuze delineates a
kind of evolution or transformation of the notion of truth through three
differentiated stages. First, there is the truthful man, who judges life in
the name of higher values: ‘he is craving to judge, he sees in life an evil, a
fault which is to be atoned for’ (Deleuze 1989: 137). In the second stage,
truth has turned into appearances, which ‘transform rather than sup-
press the system of judgement’ (Deleuze 1989: 138), since ‘appearances
betray themselves, not because they would give way to a more profound
truth, but simply because they reveal themselves as non-true’ (Deleuze
1989: 138). When appearances triumph, and this is particularly rel-
evant to the noir woman, they ‘have a chance of being turned around
to the benefit of an individual’ (Deleuze 1989: 138). Welles, Deleuze
argues, takes us to the third stage, one in which the system of judgement
becomes definitively impossible, as ‘the ideal of truth crumbles . . . [and]
the relations of appearance [are] no longer . . . sufficient to maintain the
possibility of judgement’ (Deleuze 1989: 139). In this final stage, the
moral system of truth gives way to an ethical network of bodily forces,
whose evaluation no longer rests on higher or external principles, but
is immanent to the affects, powers or qualities these bodies possess:
‘Affect as immanent evaluation, instead of judgement as transcendent
value’ (Deleuze 1989: 141). It is here, too, that the powers of the false, as
unrelated to either truth or appearances, are set free to pursue unlimited
creative and revolutionary affirmation. A different kind of truth arises
through this unleashing of the powers of the false, a truth that is no
longer reproduction, but emergence of the new.
In fact, if the noir woman’s relation to the system of truth and judge-
ment reflects her ambivalent position between the nihilistic mirages of
the ‘truthful man’ and the wholly affirmative powers of the false, her
relation to castration also corresponds to a middle ground position.
Looking at several of Nietzsche’s references to a specific feminine way
of being in The Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil and Twilight of
the Idols, Derrida underscores three fundamental propositions, or value
positions, that can be gleaned from the heterogeneity of Nietzsche’s
thought. The first position is that of the castrated woman, whose power
of lying is condemned or scorned by the credulous, truth-upholding
man (Derrida 1985: 185). Such is no doubt the noir man’s contemptu-
ous view of woman upon finding out that he has been duped by her.
Woman’s second position expands the possibilities of action and affec-
tion available to her. Here, woman may identify with truth at a distance,
‘play[ing] with it as a fetish – to her advantage, and without in the least

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170 Deleuze and Film

believing in it’ (Derrida 1985: 185). This is the position I find most
congruent with the noir mechanisms of desire. In this guise, woman
has castrating effects for man. Yet ‘she remains within the system and
economy of truth’ (Derrida 1985: 185), in so far as her orchestration
of appearances is still the negation/underside of truth, as seen from the
reactive and negative point of view of man, who still believes in castra-
tion. In a third position, ‘woman is recognised, affirmed, as an affirma-
tive, dissimulating, artistic, and Dionysian power. She is not affirmed
by man; rather, she affirms herself both in herself and in man’ (Derrida
1985: 185–6).
In noir, woman’s characteristic dissimulation, adornment and lying
very rarely function to allow for her successful transition from the
second to the third positions, and thus to transform her into a pure
power of affirmation. We may find one such rare instance in the figure
of Debbie (Gloria Grahame) in Lang’s The Big Heat (USA, 1953). With
her burned face, yet courageous enough to strike a deadly blow to her
sadistic mobster ex-lover, Debbie is one of the few women in noir who
can distance themselves from the nihilistic games of specularity and who
can achieve a self-determined end independent of moral truth or castra-
tion. But, in doing so, Debbie at the same time ceases to incarnate the
nihilistic force of the femme fatale. If, in general, these women remain
stuck in a performative ruse of specular manipulation of castration for
the benefit of their credulous, castration-tormented partners, it is no
doubt because the largely Oedipal organisation of desire in noir holds
them to that limited achievement. Yet, even within those constraints,
the woman provides the incentive for falsifying narration and identity,
thus beginning a process that would eventually enable the noir genre to
shed and surpass its own identity. Appropriately, the gradual disinte-
gration of the genre, as seen in 1950s films such as The Big Heat, Kiss
Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, USA, 1955), The Killing (Stanley Kubrick,
USA, 1956), and Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, USA, 1958), coincides
with the dissolution of the femme fatale as a viable or credible figure,
for, in the increasing absence of a solid investment in the law, the femme
fatale is no longer called upon to embody the point of tension in the
man’s struggle with the law and its moral imperatives. It is also then that
we begin to see the overcoming of the system of judgement and truth in
favour of a direct staging of falsifying powers that goes beyond any psy-
chological traits of particular characters, and contaminates the whole of
the narration as a desiring-production.
In contrast with the male formula – ‘I judge’ – the women in noir are
moved by the originary impulse expressed in the formula ‘I love or I

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Feminine Energies, or the Outside of Noir 171

hate’ (Deleuze 1989: 141). Although the latter alternative of these two
tends to prevail, and it is one that testifies to these women’s sick rather
than generous nature, they are at least still alive through their will to
impose their power, their power to impose their will. The noir woman’s
ambivalent positionality in relation to the system of judgement, her
limited belief in it as mere performativity, is instructive in terms of its
instinctive capture of the generalised crisis of morality and judgement
that swept the Western world during and in the aftermath of the Second
World War. This is a crisis that the noir film timidly begins to intimate
from its inception, but, in contrast to neorealism’s readiness to express
such crisis in the most unequivocal terms, the noir film only seems to
come to terms with it as its generic existence starts to dwindle. In other
words, it seems as though the noir series shows the specifically American
necessity of taking an extra detour in order to run a final test on the
viability of the old moral programme before disposing of it for good.
And it is in this sense that the noir woman becomes all-important in
shaping the unique way in which the American cinema transitions from
a classical to a modern sensibility; for if on the one hand she acts as a
foil for the judgemental obsessions of the male, she also furnishes the
imagination with the model of a non-judgemental existence, however
limited by phallocentric imperatives or decadent in its aims. From this
standpoint, the saving and transformation of the system of judgement in
noir is but a temporary patchwork in a trajectory that would eventually
bring to light the utter untenability of this system. In this trajectory, the
woman of noir enjoys a privileged place in the cinema for having antici-
pated, with her excessive performative self, the incipient yet hopeful
possibility of a form of desire that is no longer beholden to either truth
or castration.

Adkins, B. (2007), Death and Desire in Hegel, Heidegger and Deleuze, Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.
Bogue, R. (2010), ‘To Choose to Choose – To Believe in This World’, in D.N.
Rodowick (ed.), Afterimages of Gilles Deleuze’s Film Philosophy, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, pp. 115–32.
Cowie, E. (1993), ‘Film Noir and Women’, in J. Copjec (ed.), Shades of Noir,
London: Verso, pp. 121–65.
Deleuze, G. (1983), Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlinson, New York:
Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. (1997), Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. D.W. Smith and M.A. Greco,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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172 Deleuze and Film

Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1977), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,

trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, New York: Viking.
del Río, E. (2008), Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Derrida, J. (1985), ‘The Question of Style’, in D.B. Allison (ed.), The New Nietzsche:
Contemporary Styles of Interpretation, New York: MIT Press, pp. 176–89.
Hanson, H. (2007), Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and the Female
Gothic Film, London and New York: I.B. Tauris.
Johnston, C. (1998), ‘Double Indemnity’, in E.A. Kaplan (ed.), Women in Film Noir:
New Edition, London: BFI, pp. 89–98.
Martin, A. (1998), ‘ “Gilda Didn’t Do Any of Those Things You’ve Been Losing
Sleep Over!”: The Central Women of 40s Films Noirs’, in E.A. Kaplan (ed.),
Women in Film Noir: New Edition, London: BFI, pp. 202–28.
Place, J.A. and L.S. Peterson (1976), ‘Some Visual Motifs of Film Noir’, in Bill
Nichols (ed.), Movies and Methods, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.
Schrader, P. (1995), ‘Notes on Film Noir’, in B.K. Grant (ed.), Film Genre Reader
II, Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 169–82.

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Chapter 10
The Daemons of Unplumbed Space:
Mixing the Planes in Hellboy

Anna Powell

Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, USA, 2004) is, in Deleuze and Guattari’s
terms, a mixer of planes, in that it mixes film and literature, science and
philosophy, and humour and horror. The film’s generic planes are also
a mix of science fiction, gothic horror and comedy. Its science fiction
elements include high-tech weaponry and gadgets, and an earth under
threat from alien invasion. Gothic motifs are rife: demons and abject
monsters, occult rituals, saints’ statues and reliquaries, crucifixes, the
living dead, and the apocalyptic threat of an ancient curse. Furthermore,
the film is strongly marked by both the fantastic fiction of H.P. Lovecraft
and contemporary ‘Steampunk’ film and fiction, which are themselves
hybrid mixes of gothic and sci-fi. In this essay, then, I shall explore these
and other ‘mixed planes’ in Hellboy, not least by linking Lovecraft’s
weird tales with Gilles Deleuze’s film-philosophy as a means to explore
how the whole mixture operates. Before considering Hellboy from a
Deleuzian perspective, however, I should like to discuss why Deleuze’s
thought and a popular film like Hellboy are mutually relevant.

Deleuze and the Popular

Although Cinema 1 focuses on numerous Hollywood films, Deleuze’s
personal canon is focused on auteurs, and as a result Deleuze’s Cinema
books, and Cinema 2 in particular, are mainly comprised of art-house
classics from Europe and Japan, as well as politically inflected docu-
mentaries and formally innovative films that assert minoritarian com-
munities and voices from Africa, Brazil and French Canada (see Deleuze
1995: 217; Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 218). Elsewhere, Deleuze
rejects popular ‘trash’ culture, castigates the ‘bad cinema of sex and
violence that travels through the lower brain circuits’, and ridicules the
‘pitiful grimaces’ of music videos (Deleuze 2000: 367). In other words,

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it would seem that Deleuze has little time for the popular, especially
popular film.
However, it is important to remember that in his work Deleuze is
not enforcing a dogma to be obeyed, but is instead opening up innova-
tive forms of creative theory and practice. With regard to cinema, this
is perhaps nowhere clearer than in Deleuze’s argument that ‘the brain
is the screen’: cinema both expresses and induces thought, as images at
once move us and move in us (Deleuze 2000). The brain/screen assem-
blage is, for Deleuze, an event of images in motion, which is to say both
that we think in moving images and that moving images on the cinema
screen share the mobile processes of thought. If this is the case, then the
brain/screen assemblage does not take place only when we watch art-
house films, as a superficial reading of Deleuze might seem to suggest,
but when we watch any film. Any film involves a capacity to express
and to induce thought when it comes into contact with a spectator. As a
result, we need to maximise the impact of Deleuze’s understanding that
‘the brain is the screen’ by setting this and other of his concepts to work
in conjunction with mainstream films and genres. Conversely, by using
his otherwise complex and radical concepts in tandem with popular
films, as opposed to independent films or art-house cinema, we can also
try to spark a wider interest in Deleuze and his ideas.
My work with Deleuze and horror film confirms the widely held view
that mainstream movies are less conceptually dense than more formally
adventurous films (Powell 2005). This does not mean, however, that
formulaic horror film is not concerned with time, space and movement,
which are the major concerns of Deleuze’s Cinema books. Rather, the
horror film engages with them differently. Many mainstream horror
films are strong on affective impact and offer an intensive experience of
fear and desire. This affective force can serve to isolate a particular idea
and to render it in potent sensorial ways, stimulating the brain’s field of
operations and thus stretching its ability to think. The term ‘affect’ is not
used here in the psychoanalytic sense of the release of psychic energies,
but is rather a materialist aesthetic of emotion and sensation that preex-
ists the formation of the subject. As I argue in Deleuze and Horror Film,
then, some of the richest films lie between popular formulae and more
adventurous forms of style and narrative, or they include potently affec-
tive images that depart from the formula-bound mainstream of their
Before moving on to a specifically Deleuzian analysis of Hellboy, I
should like to expand briefly upon the above and to situate this chapter
within wider discourses of the popular. Cultural tastes are a complex

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assemblage. We might enjoy both mainstream and experimental films,

but as film scholars we draw on a privileged bank of cultural capital
to inform our self-reflexive viewing choices. I am, of course, explor-
ing my own contradictory love of both Deleuze and popular culture in
what follows. Outside the academy, though, cineliteracy is increasingly
widespread across a broad spectrum due to an unprecedented growth in
the digital circulation of moving images. The spectrum may be widened
further as another culture’s populist cinematic output is invested with
the allure of exotic otherness, such as the current vogue for Japanese
anime (see Jenkins 2006; Lamarre 2009) and Korean gangster films
(Shin and Stringer 2005).
Despite plenty to celebrate in this flood of accessibility, questions
remain about the reification of pleasure in late capitalism, as what Michel
Foucault calls the ‘perpetual spirals of power and pleasure’ circulate
between the poles of top-down and bottom-up (Foucault 1978: 45). As
D.N. Rodowick reminds us, the duty of ‘the simulacral arts and a phi-
losophy of resistance’ is to mix interpretation with evaluation in order
to ‘invent alternative ways of thinking and modes of existence imma-
nent in, yet alternative to’ capitalist hegemony (Rodowick 1997: 205).
Despite the current boom in marketing the ‘ecstasy of communication’
(Baudrillard 1983), critical film studies is ever mindful of the narrowing
of creative possibilities and the blatant manipulation of audiences via
product franchises that churn out sequels and/or prequels, and marketing
campaigns that use video games, toys and other paraphernalia.

Hellboy: From Comic Book to Film

As a mainstream film, Hellboy is positioned firmly within this com-
mercial milieu. The film opens in 1944, when the failing Axis Powers
are seeking to reverse the outcome of the war by occult means ‘com-
bining Science and Black Magic’. Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), the
undead magus who is now a key Nazi, performs a ritual at night in an
obligatory gothic storm. Using beams from a Tesla-style generator and a
Steampunk-style artificial hand of heavy metal and glass tubes, he aims
to open a portal for the Ogdru Jahad, the Seven Gods of Chaos whose
avatar he is. These noxious space demons are foiled in their attempt to
enter our dimensions by a traditional combination of rosaries, crucifixes
and bullets, and so the portal shuts, leaving one red-skinned fledgling
demon behind.
Sixty years later, adopted and semi-humanised by Professor Broom
(John Hurt), the mature demon ‘Big Red’ works as an agent for the

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FBI’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence. Along with his

fellow ‘freaks of nature’, he is confined to the basement to maintain the
Bureau’s secrecy and in the interests of public safety. His activities range
from zapping demons with high-tech, yet magical, weaponry such as his
Samaritan revolver (with bullets of clove leaf, silver shavings and white
oak), to filing down his unwieldy horns to pass as more ‘normal’ in the
eyes of his human girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair).
In the opening section of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari
elaborate various interconnected concepts including the book, the
rhizome and the multiple. They figure three types of book in botani-
cal terms as root, radicle and rhizome. The traditional classic realist
root-book ‘imitates the world’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 5), whereas
the experimental modernist work (they cite the fiction of William S.
Burroughs) has ‘an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of secondary roots
[that] grafts on to it’, yet, despite its ‘abortion’ of the principal root or
the destruction of the growing tip by formal experiment, a transcendent
order remains so that the unity of the root still ‘subsists, as past, as yet
to come, as possible’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 6). The presence of
such higher unity, despite its having been displaced or concealed (for
example, Burroughs’ transcendent occult schema), keeps the radicle-
book grounded in imitation, being only ‘the image of the world: radicle-
chaosmos rather than root-chaosmos’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 7).
The third type is the rhizome-book, which is a much more conjunctive,
inclusive and productive assemblage in which ‘any point of a rhizome
can be connected to anything other, and must be’ (Deleuze and Guattari
1988: 7).
Hellboy retains mixed elements of all three types of book: root,
radicle and rhizome. An apocalyptic fantasy, the film is a generic blend
of gothic and punk sci-fi tropes. As a self-reflexive text it refers back to
its literary and cinematic roots and makes them overt, like Deleuze and
Guattari’s example of the ‘cultural book’, which makes ‘a tracing of
itself, a tracing of a previous book by the same author, a tracing of other
books however different, a tracing of the world present, past and future’
(Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 26). The wider cultural circulation of the
character Hellboy, for example, is quoted self-reflexively within the film.
We see a copy of Mike Mignola’s comic book (the inspiration for the
film) with a cartoon version of Hellboy on the cover, and a young comic
fan instantly recognises the living character when he meets him climbing
up on a rooftop.
Furthermore, there is a distinctive Steampunk flavour to the film,
which also brings to Hellboy its own ‘tracings’ via fiction, films and

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comics. A hybrid assemblage, Steampunk’s characteristics include the

self-reflexive reworking of a selective history of Victorian/Edwardian
England. This operates via a fascination with steam power, early electric-
ity generators like Tesla coils and elaborate clockwork machinery. The
subgenre blends late Victorian gothic occultism (especially the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley) with the early science
fiction of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, in versions not directly derived
from literature but from secondary reworkings in comics and films. The
hybrid figure of the mad scientist – such as Hellboy’s Professor Broom –
is another crucial icon, again mixing gothic with sci-fi.
Films with Steampunk appeal include Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (UK,
1985), La Cité des Enfants Perdus/The City of Lost Children (Jean-
Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, France/Germany/Spain, 1995), Wild, Wild
West (Barry Sonnenfeld, USA, 1999), The Prestige (Christopher Nolan,
USA/UK 2006), and Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, USA/Germany,
2009). Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen popularised
the genre via his graphic novel (1999) and its film adaptation (Stephen
Norrington, USA/Germany/Czech Republic/UK, 2003), both reworking
gothic literature by adopting its characters and plots in a creative bri-
colage. Though Steampunk aficionados overtly ‘trace’, they also invent,
producing new assemblages, such as the Arts and Crafts-influenced
‘maker’ aesthetic of recycling, constructing new objects from scrap
copper and brass, and clock parts.
Although Deleuze and Guattari’s book has a tripartite typology of
root, radicle and rhizome, this is not meant as a prescriptive classifica-
tion, but as a stimulus to further thought. Indeed, the three named types
immediately function to question their own apparent identities. Rather
than being unified, they are, rather, assemblages of forces that pull in var-
iable, even contrary directions. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari explain, there
are ‘very diverse map-tracing, rhizome-root assemblages, with variable
coefficients of deterritorialisation. There exist tree or root structures in
rhizomes; conversely, a tree branch or root division may begin to burgeon
into a rhizome’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 16). The coordinates of rhi-
zomes are constantly shifting, being ‘determined not by theoretical analy-
ses implying universals but by a pragmatics composing multiplicities or
aggregates of intensities’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 16). Accordingly,
a further cinematic tracing can be seen in director Guillermo del Toro’s
casting of Ron Perlman, with his portfolio of ‘freakish’ characters, in the
lead role of Hellboy. Perlman also plays One, the circus strongman in the
prototype Steampunk film, The City of Lost Children. It is presumably
from this film, along with del Toro’s own Cronos (Mexico, 1993), that

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178 Deleuze and Film

much of the current Steampunk iconography, such as clockwork, brass

goggles and antiquated scientific machinery, evolved. Along with the
Tesla-style generator from the opening scene described above, Hellboy’s
Steampunk credentials include retro nostalgia and elaborate clockwork
such as the concealed traps of Rasputin’s mausoleum, and Baron von
Kroenen’s (Ladislav Beran) metal prosthetics. Even Abe Sapien’s (Doug
Jones) goggles are a Steampunk fashion item.

Machines, Machinic Assemblages and Schizoanalysis

We should note here that the tripartite concept of the book is intended
by Deleuze and Guattari as a multi-purpose and general model of the
machinic assemblage. The concept is not limited to literature, and can
be applied to film, which, like all machines/machinic assemblages, is
crossed by ‘lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories;
but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialisation and destratifi-
cation’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 4). Film, in other words, is stretched
in many directions by dynamic forces of organisation and chaos.
Deleuze and Guattari explain that one side of a machinic assemblage
‘faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signify-
ing totality, or determination attributable to a subject’, but that, Janus-
like, it also has a contrary side ‘facing a body without organs, which is
continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or
pure intensities to pass or circulate’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 4). A
body without organs (BwO) is predominantly an inorganic entity not
limited by physical properties. It is, rather, a cluster of affective forces
in process, an ‘intensive, anarchist body that consists solely of poles,
zones, thresholds and gradients’ (Deleuze 1998: 131). It is this body
that Deleuze intends when he asserts that ‘it is through the body (and
no longer through the intermediary of the body) that cinema forms an
alliance with spirit, with thought’ (Deleuze 1995: 189). Given the way
in which Hellboy blends a diverse group of sources and influences, as
outlined in the previous section, the film may be pulled in divergent
and contradictory directions by the forces of stratification and destrati-
fication, reaction and radicalism – rather than simply being reified by
generic templates or ideological formulae (such as the ‘Reds under the
bed’ tradition of invasion by un-American aliens).
Working with the assemblage of brain and screen, the rhizomatic
methods of schizoanalysis can usefully be applied to reading cinema dif-
ferently (Buchanan and MacCormack 2007). For Deleuze and Guattari,
schizoanalysis offers a method of reading via the conjunctive synthesis,

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which, like Hellboy itself, also yokes heterogeneous elements together

to produce a new working assemblage. This assemblage refuses to be
fixed in signifying codes and representational equations, but rather pro-
ceeds via the open-ended conjunction ‘and . . . and . . . and . . .’, which,
they assert, ‘carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb “to be” ’
(Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 27). Such living chains of conjunction
include apparently incompatible elements welded together temporarily
to make something new – as per Hellboy’s unique blend of the rhizo-
matic, the root and the radicle outlined above, as well as its blend of
gothic and Steampunk elements. Such distinctive innovations are what
Deleuze and Guattari call singularities. They can include previously
unconnected components of a different, even an incompatible, nature,
taken from wherever relevant, including ‘semiotic chains, organisations
of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences and social
struggles’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 8).

Mixed Planes in Deleuze and Guattari and Hellboy

In Deleuze and Guattari’s last joint work, What is Philosophy?, they
present the concept of mixed planes. They identify science, art and
philosophy as three planes thrown across chaos by the questing human
mind, and which cross-fertilise to produce new forms of thought. For the
philosopher, these operate as ‘variations’, for the scientist as ‘variables’,
and for the artist as ‘varieties’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 47). The
three distinct planes comprise the plane of ‘immanence’ for philosophy,
the plane of ‘composition’ for art, and the plane of ‘reference or coor-
dination’ for science (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 48). Philosophy pro-
duces ‘concepts and conceptual personae’ as tools with which to think,
art works with ‘sensations and aesthetic figures’, and science operates
via ‘figures and partial observers’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 48).
Art transforms ‘chaotic variability into chaoid variety’ and composes
chaos into sensation images (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 49). Science is
ambivalent towards the condition of chaos necessary to its own work.
For Deleuze and Guattari, ‘if equilibrium attractors (fixed points, limit
cycles, cores) express science’s struggle with chaos, strange attractors
reveal its profound attraction to chaos’ as well as constituting the ‘cha-
osmos internal to modern science’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 51). A
strange attractor is fractal by definition. If a system with a limit-cycle
attractor is moved to a system with a strange attractor, the original limit
cycle unfolds or explodes.
In Deleuze and Guattari’s three-plane model, the brain, a centre of

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180 Deleuze and Film

indetermination in the flux of forces, acts as a vital junction-box of cir-

cuitry exchange but does not therefore impose unity upon the chaoid
planes (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 52). In order to mount an effective
challenge to the ‘derisory model’ of reality via which recognition seeks to
police the creative forces of desire, the three planes need to cross-fertilise
in the brain in order to produce new thought (Deleuze and Guattari
1991: 53). Thus the ‘vital ideas’ offered by each chaoid operate in dura-
tion ‘in the deepest of its synaptic fissures, in the hiatuses, intervals and
meantimes of a non-objectifiable brain’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 54).
Despite the irreducible aspects of the planes, Deleuze and Guattari
welcome, and consistently practise, productive ‘interference’ between
them. Three types of interference fuel conceptual progress. In the
first ‘extrinsic’ kind, the interfering discipline keeps its own methods
intact, only acknowledging the external value of the others (Deleuze
and Guattari 1991: 55). The ‘mixed plane’ type proceeds by a more
subtle and mutual ‘sliding’ between two or more planes (Deleuze and
Guattari 1991: 56). ‘Becoming indiscernible’, the most extreme form of
interference, engages in more interactive mingling, being shared by func-
tions (science), sensations (art) and concepts (philosophy) (Deleuze and
Guattari 1991: 57).
This last kind of interference is determined by the negative position. As
well as confronting the broader challenge of chaos, each plane needs to
open up to the distinctive challenges posed by other disciplines in order
to grow in unprecedented directions, hence philosophy needs ‘a non-
philosophical comprehension just as art needs non-art and science needs
non-science’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 58). Science, art and thought
are already ‘becoming indiscernible’ as interdisciplinarity stretches from
the academy to popular culture. If, as Deleuze contends, the twentieth-
century creative brain was the cinema screen, then the brain screen of
the future is digital in tendency as computer-generated imagery demands
new ways of thinking – despite Deleuze’s warning in Cinema 2 against
the dangers of digital imagery being infiltrated by fascistic tendencies
(Deleuze 1995: 255).
Sounding an optimistic note, then, Deleuze and Guattari contend that,
in its triple-headed plunge into chaos, the creative brain can reach out
towards the ‘people to come’. They advocate the nurturing of further
interaction between the three exploratory planes as ‘forms of thought or
creation’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 208). Despite the mixture of crea-
tive interference, each plane will, per se, retain irreducible singularities,
which work intensively rather than extensively to create new concepts
and forms. Using terms which strikingly evoke the plot of Hellboy’s

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ambivalent congress with the monsters of chaos, they argue that each
plane wants to ‘tear open the firmament and plunge into chaos’, to bring
back a ‘chaosmos’, a new ‘composed chaos neither foreseen nor precon-
ceived’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991: 204).
With regard to Hellboy, Deleuze and Guattari’s mixed planes are
particularly useful in light of H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on the film,
particularly the fact that Hellboy features Lovecraftian gothic sci-fi
monsters, of the kind that also features in Steampunk, for example in
Paul Di Filippo’s short story ‘Hottentots’ (1995), in which space mon-
sters and Hottentots invade Massachusetts. Lovecraft himself grafted
the relativistic science of his day on to the American gothic tradition of
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘witch-haunted’ New England (Lovecraft 2008:
789) to produce the distinct fictional universe evoked by his hypnotic
prose. Lovecraft realigned the gothic tradition with non-Euclidean
geometry and relocated some of his demons, the Great Old Ones, to
an ‘outer space’ of incongruous dimensions and non-linear time. From
this dubious locale they send their servitors to reclaim the earth from
human usurpation. Lovecraft’s blend of alien monsters from ‘beyond’
with musty grimoires and occult rites is a seminal influence on Mike
Mignola’s original Dark Horse Hellboy series (1994), and Lovecraft’s
mixed-plane vision is crucial to the first Hellboy film.

Hellboy, the Anomalous and Multiplicities

By bringing another figure from Deleuze’s solo work into the mix at
this point, I would argue that Hellboy makes its popular cultural blend
of creative interference cross all three planes via the concept of the
Anomalous. To think what happens when singularities, which were
described above as incompatible elements that are welded together,
intersect, Deleuze posits anomalies as unnatural and irregular elements
that operate at the border of a system in order to catalyse creative
change. He writes that ‘the Anomalous is always at the frontier, on the
border of a band or a multiplicity; it is part of the latter, but it is already
making it pass into another multiplicity, it makes it become, it traces a
line-between’ (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: 42). His own description of
anomalies overtly references the creatures of dark fantasy and horror
and Lovecraft’s entities, including ‘the “outsider”, Moby Dick, or the
Thing or Entity of Lovecraft, terror’ (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: 42).
The conjunctive jump here, which links abstract concepts to familiar,
culturally embedded images, is typical of the mixed plane of Deleuze and
Guattari’s methodology.

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182 Deleuze and Film

As I argue in Deleuze and Horror Film, monstrous entities are not

fixed in their identity, but move and become by engaging in proces-
sual assemblages (Powell 2005: 62–108). Thus, they can open on to
other affective elements in the sublimely mixed experience offered
by the gothic mode, such as beauty and joy. Referencing Lovecraft’s
fiction more specifically via the character of Randolph Carter, who
is Lovecraft’s authorial persona in several stories, Deleuze states that
‘ENTITY = EVENT, it is terror, but also great joy. Becoming an
entity, an infinitive, as Lovecraft spoke of it, the horrific and luminous
story of Carter: animal-becoming, molecular-becoming, imperceptible-
becoming’ (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: 66). The entity’s force lies in
the perpetual motion of becomings that both maintain transformative
potential and disseminate its impact more widely through its ambient
Humans who become with other life forms are among the anomalous
array of hybrid figures in fantasy cinema. The gothic genre’s bodies
without souls may also possess a non-human life of their own. This can
be seen in Hellboy through the character of Baron von Kroenen, whose
mutilated body is kept alive by machine elements and who at one point
shuts himself down so as to infiltrate the Bureau of Paranormal Research
and Defence, before being resurrected by Rasputin. On the one hand,
monstrous anomalies are for Deleuze and Guattari the objects of our
fascinated aesthetic contemplation, but on the other hand, it is in their
changing movements that they fascinate, incorporating us into their
virtual assemblage. In other words, by affective engagement, we also
become with the monsters. Anomalies therefore subvert fixed notions of
subjective wholeness and act to undermine cultural attempts to maintain
self-consistent typological and species norms. Despite the formulaic res-
toration of order at the end of many horror films, we mutant spectators
continue to become long after the film has ended.
In Hellboy, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence keeps
its own anomalies hidden from view – Baron von Kroenen notwith-
standing. Dwelling in its heavily guarded cellar are ‘freaks’ of nature,
hybrid elemental beings who blend human and earth, fire and water,
in keeping with other hybrid superheroes in the realm of comic books.
Hellboy himself, a demon with human habits, has a large stone hand
with magical properties. Liz, a human pyrokinetic, produces fire from
her body when angry and aroused. Like The Creature from the Black
Lagoon (Jack Arnold, USA, 1954) before him, Abe Sapien is an intel-
lectual and hypersensitive humanoid merman. Opposed to these ‘good’
monsters are arch-villains, Lovecraft’s ‘daemons of unplumbed space’,

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here as the Seven Gods of Chaos, or Ogdru Jahad, who are writhing
tentacled blobs whose mixed planes have become indiscernible.
Discussing the transformative potential of the human psyche, Deleuze
and Guattari contend that ‘of course there are werewolves and vam-
pires’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 107). Popular fantasy formations
develop by grafting and hybridising with other elements in our shifting
culture. New forms of anomaly emerge from its mixed plane media and
challenge us to produce distinct kinds of thought. Like the earlier mixes
of gothic/sci-fi, anomalies such as Hellboy refuse to remain distanced
objects of structuralist abstraction or aesthetic contemplation and seek
to incorporate us into their own dynamic mix.
Closely linked with the concept of the anomaly is the multiplicity,
both being applicable to the mixed entities of Hellboy. The film operates
a sliding scale of anomalies ranged in degrees from human to monster.
This spectrum classifies good and bad monsters via their resemblance
and relation to humans. At the human end is a woman with supernatural
powers (Liz), shading into a humanised demon (Hellboy). At the mon-
strous pole, the reanimated Steampunk-cyborg (Baron von Kroenen)
shades into the Seven Gods of Chaos (in human form via Rasputin)
then becomes the more abject entity of Sammael the Hellhound (Brian
Steele), known as ‘Stinky’ for his noxious trail of slime. As a shape-
shifting demonic entity, Sammael figures as the most rhizomatic of
terrestrial anomalies (though with roughly humanoid shape). Like the
monster from Alien (Ridley Scott, USA/UK, 1979), Sammael has canine
characteristics and the ability to reproduce monstrous progeny (for
more on the monstrous alien in Alien, see Creed 1993).
The gods remain extraterrestrial, sending servitors such as Behemoth,
which manifests its many-tentacled and completely inhuman splendour
in the climactic battle, to do their bidding. During this battle, Rasputin,
also undead/a reanimated corpse, is revealed as Behemoth in disguise,
the monster bursting out of his human shell to be born via the death
of his temporary host. Hellboy is the only one who can act as bridge
between and fitting adversary against these anomalous entities, though
he can only do this fully when he eschews his human upbringing to
become the demonic Anung un Rama.
Deleuze and Guattari argue, though, that any such scale of types can
be tested and found wanting when thrown into relief by ‘true’ multiplici-
ties which ‘expose arborescent pseudo multiplicities for what they are’,
because in the case of multiplicities, ‘there is no unity to serve as a pivot
in the object, or to divide in the subject’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988:
8). To Deleuze and Guattari’s examples of swarming rats, couchgrass

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184 Deleuze and Film

and weeds, we could easily add the self-replicating ‘group ego’ and
body without organs of Sammael. Multiplicities can spread themselves
abroad, like this amorphous Hellhound who appears in the museum as
a shape-shifting demon moving at anomalous speeds, to elude capture
and to avoid re-imprisonment by the saints and angels (the arborescent
forces of his Christian adversaries).
Via his ability to self-replicate as quickly and effectively as a fatal virus,
Sammael matches a further principle of the rhizome cited by Deleuze and
Guattari: ‘asignifying rupture’. For Deleuze and Guattari, a rhizome is
like a swarm, for it can be ‘broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will
start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. You can never get
rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome’ that can, as in the case
of Sammael after Hellboy’s first attack, ‘rebound time and again after
most of it has been destroyed’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 10). Like the
multiplicity, Sammael is numerically endless: he appears in the sewage
tank as infinite numbers of potential replicants of himself in embryonic
spawn, but he ‘never has a supplementary dimension over and above
its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers
attached to those lines. All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill
or occupy all of their dimensions’, and, finally, in their function as servi-
tors of the Old Ones beyond the edges of the known universe, ‘multiplici-
ties are defined by the outside’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 9).

The Affective Gothic Plane

As I begin in this chapter to mix film analysis with Deleuzian analysis,
I want at this point to edit in a long shot by providing a contextual
overview of Deleuzian gothic, which is an anomalous hybrid in itself.
Gothic, with its religiosity and morbid perversity, might appear to gravi-
tate against the radical optimism of Deleuze and Guattari’s aesthetics
and politics. Yet, simply to elide expressive affect with representational
content would be to keep potential lines of flight grounded. In Hellboy,
for instance, we might block off the alluring fluidity of CGI monsters
and the impact of special effects because of the film’s crudely simplistic
and problematic political polarities: Allies vs. Axis Powers, Demons vs.
Humans, the FBI vs. Evil Aliens, humans vs. monsters (and the norma-
tive schmaltz of Hellboy’s ‘what makes a man a man’ speech at the end,
which aligns him firmly with the idealised American male because of his
freedom of choice). The film clearly belongs in the protectionist para-
noid tradition of Hollywood sci-fi, as the culturalist reader trained in
cinematic representation might well argue.

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Yet, as Trevor Holmes notes in a different gothic context, despite the

majoritarian conservatism of much vampire fiction, gothic also has rhizo-
matic tendencies: ‘the transformations of, and flights from, the body [nev-
ertheless] illustrate almost too neatly the minoritarian impulse that drives
Deleuze and Guattari’s work’ (Holmes 2006: 1). For, Deleuze and Guattari
are provocative and uncompromising when they assert that the literary
assemblage (here typical of all art forms, including film) has nothing to
do with ideology, which is the framework through which the culturalist
reader might understand Hellboy. Instead, Deleuze and Guattari argue
that ‘there is no ideology and never has been’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988:
5). In their view, ideologies are inevitably bound by the existing regimes
of signification and representation in their milieu, and they replicate its
structures. Art, meanwhile, has nothing to do with signifying; it has to do
with surveying, mapping even, realms that are yet to come (Deleuze and
Guattari 1988: 5). By emphasising the distinction between tracing and
mapping here, Deleuze and Guattari endorse the need to develop the latter
in art, which, as a living rhizome of affects, reaches away from imitation
into innovation. In other words, Hellboy is not a film that lends itself to an
ideological reading, even if the film features the binaries mentioned above.
From the Deleuze and Guattarian perspective, far more important is the
way in which the film affects its viewers.
Earlier I mentioned that the schizoanalytic rhizome can and will
select elements from preexisting regimes of signs, mixing them to create
something new. However, the schizoanalytic rhizome can also incor-
porate what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘non-sign states’ (Deleuze and
Guattari 1988: 5). In the case of film, such ‘states’ might include the
use of light and colour, sound effects, framing, composition or other
formal properties such as the speed and slowness of movement. Not
reducible to signifying content, these formal properties can often affect
the perceiving mind more powerfully than the plot or theme. Later, in
the Cinema books, Deleuze designates some of these ‘non-sign states’
as types of sensory images in themselves: opsigns (vision), tactisigns
(touch) and sonsigns (sound). As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, magical
transformations occur when ‘an intensive trait starts working for itself,
a hallucinatory perception, synaesthesia, perverse mutation, or play of
images shakes loose, challenges the hegemony of the signifier’ (Deleuze
and Guattari 1988: 16). I would also argue that such effects can some-
times happen even in the most formulaic Hollywood franchise product
and the mind engaged in assemblage with it.
If a Deleuze and Guattarian approach to a film, novel or painting
looks primarily at the affective force of images and stylistic expression,

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186 Deleuze and Film

rhythms and movements, asking not what it means (inexorably to fix

signification), but what it does, then the gothic in particular has long
been regarded as a primarily sensational genre, for which Deleuze pro-
poses a logic, and language, of sensation. Sci-fi is also known for its very
different but equally sensational images and is celebrated as a genre for
its intellectually speculative use of fantasy to interrogate issues of space,
time and the nature of the cosmos and alien life. Blended together in a
film such as Hellboy, such mixed planes offer us a distinct way of think-
ing not through concepts, as philosophy does, but through aesthetic
affects. I want to ask what special kinds of sensations are induced by the
gothic and its hybrids and how these might be thought.
Despite the small number of direct references to the gothic in the
work of Deleuze (and Guattari), such as their intriguing comments on
the ‘spirituality of the body’ and the gothic line in architecture, their
broader use of examples from gothic can offer new and productive ways
of thinking (Deleuze 2003: 34). Though brief, Deleuze’s comments are
suggestive, indicating his familiarity with and enjoyment of some gothic
cinema. When referencing films such as Terence Fisher’s The Brides of
Dracula (UK, 1960), Deleuze’s main interest lies not in their gothic-
specific properties, but in their use-value as aesthetic stimuli for philo-
sophical thought (Deleuze 1986: 112). F.W. Murnau’s seminal vampire
film Nosferatu: eine Symphonie des Grauens/Nosferatu (Germany,
1922) is used to explore the metaphysical struggle of light and dark
forces (Deleuze 1986: 101), and the surreal Italian gothic of Mario Bava
exemplifies the impulse-image (Deleuze 1986: 50).
For me, provocative and pertinent images from popular fantasy attest
to the broader applicability of these rich theoretical concepts, and I set
out to defamiliarise mainstream texts as part of a project to discover a
fundamentally different kind of gothic. As a long-lived, popular cultural
mode, the gothic embodies concepts like the anomalous, becoming and
bodies without organs in an overt and accessible way. As well as the
rhizome, the anomaly and the multiplicity, there are further keys with
which to enter a Deleuzian gothic world. These include the treatment of
time as the eternal return of sinister figures and agendas. Gothic events
shift the planes of past and present to produce overlay, the over-riding
of present time with the past, leading into a pre-ordained future.

The Gothic Time-Image?

Henri Bergson, whose philosophy of duration helped shape Deleuze’s
time-image, asserts that the entire past, both personal and general, is

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preserved in virtual form as a non-chronological existence (Bergson

1991). In Hellboy, for example, the past shapes the present to an appar-
ently inexorable end that is turned aside for another sequel. The linear
power of clock-time is undermined by the infernal agenda and the Seven
Gods’ eternal nature. Here, time is a loop or a series of interlinked
planes rather than a linear progression. As monsters beyond space and
time, the Seven Gods predate or extend the Christian characterisation of
Hell, and Broom talks of ‘a dark place where ancient evil slumbers and
waits to return’. The anomalies of the Seven Gods, therefore, are partly
The 1944 backstory features other layers of (imaginary) past in the
Romanesque ruins of Trondheim, which happens to be ‘built on an
intersection of ley lines’. In the present day, the exhibition of ancient
magick at the Machen Museum, which is self-reflexively named after
real-life fantasy author Arthur Machen, showcases a sixteenth-century
statue of St Dionysus the Areopagite. We witness von Kroenen being
dispatched in 1944, but he is brought back to zombie life in the present.
Hellboy, 60 years old, seems hardly to have left adolescence. Rasputin,
ostensibly killed in 1900, appears to have been granted eternal life.
This kind of cavalier temporal elision, familiar from comics, could be
deployed, then, to posit a populist version of Deleuze’s time-image. In
Cinema 2, of course, the ‘pressure of time’ in a film (Deleuze 1995: xii)
is brought out through a self-reflexively philosophical art-house style
rather than in the literal ways of plot and theme as here.
As well as Lovecraft’s aforementioned relevance to the anomalous,
Deleuze puts one of his stories, ‘Through the Gates of the Silver Key’,
to intriguing use to evoke the process of becoming. In this tale, with
its ‘aura of strange, awesome mutation’, the narrator Randolph Carter
travels beyond ‘our narrow, rigid and objective world of limited causa-
tion and tri-dimensional logic’ and experiences the temporal anomalies
of Einsteinian relativity so pertinent to the debates of Lovecraft’s own
scientific context (Lovecraft 1985: 515). Carter encounters this ‘vast
reality, ineffable and undimensioned’, which held ‘no hint of what we
recognise as motion and duration’ so that, for him, ‘age and location
ceased to have any significance whatever’ (Lovecraft 1985: 515–16). In
a dynamic knot of interlocking lines, these temporal anomalies evoked
by Lovecraft intrigued Deleuze, influenced as he was by Bergson’s philo-
sophical response to Einstein’s physics, which in turn left its own mark
on Lovecraft’s fiction.
In Lovecraft’s anomalous space-time, Carter encounters ‘an order of
beings far outside the merely physical in organisation and capacities’

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188 Deleuze and Film

(Lovecraft 1985: 519), who bypass sensory perception to communicate

directly to his consciousness via ‘indefinable’ radiations of colours and
sounds. Moving beyond the ‘ultimate gateway’, Carter encounters the
schizoid event of his own ‘infinite multiplicity’, realising with ‘consum-
ing fright that he was not one person, but many persons’ (Lovecraft
1985: 525). Like Bergson’s vision of the common evolutionary gene pool
of humans and other life forms (Bergson 1983), these myriad ‘Carters’
are ‘both human and non-human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious
and mindless’ (Lovecraft 1985: 526). Deleuze uses this disturbing tale,
with its overload of ineffable descriptors, to evoke the gothic mix of joy
and terror in the process of becoming-imperceptible (Deleuze and Parnet
2002: 66). Like the amoeba, which opens in any direction to incorpo-
rate and absorb environmental stimuli into itself, becoming opens up
to other affective elements, both positive and negative and draws them
into the affective gothic assemblage to add further singularities to its

Summary and Concluding Plane

Deleuze’s thought is intended, then, as a starting point for new ideas.
Lovecraft’s ‘weird tales’ are conjoined to these concepts by startling lines
of flight, which jump between planes from abstract concepts to cultur-
ally embedded images and back again. This kind of move is typical of
the mixed plane of Deleuze and Guattari’s methodology. When we use
Deleuzian concepts as a way into the kind of mainstream cinema he
actually rejects, then we engage in the sort of ‘buggery’ that he himself
describes when he speaks of ‘taking an author from behind and giving
him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous’ (Deleuze
1990: 6). In schizoanalytic operations such as reading films from a
Deleuze-Guattarian perspective, it may sometimes become necessary ‘to
take dead ends, to work with signifying powers and subjective affec-
tions, to find a foothold in formations that are Oedipal or paranoid or
even worse, rigidified territorialities’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 16),
such as narrative conventions of mainstream film like the happy ending
of Hellboy here.
Hellboy’s distinctive mix of art with philosophy may fruitfully be
used both to supplement and to challenge extant approaches as used,
for example, in generic studies of gothic film (for example, Halberstam
1995; Hopkins 2005; Pirie 2009). Psychoanalytical, culturalist and
sociohistorical studies can be augmented by what is at once a more phil-
osophical, medium specific, and materially based way of reading, and

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Mixing the Planes in Hellboy 189

the process of cross-fertilisation can also operate in the other direction.

Above all, the value of Deleuzian theory lies in its experiential focus. The
gothic abounds in sensational affects, anomalous perceptions and aston-
ishing concepts. Between existing planes and new ones, between genres
and modes, lurk the anomalous spawn of a mutant gothic. By bringing
such anomalous entities together, we can experiment with the mutant
progeny of the conjunctive synthesis.
A question, posed already at the start of this chapter, remains. Do
more formulaic films actually offer greater space for creative thought
than a formally complex art-house cinema that has been engineered
by a philosophically or politically oriented auteur? In obvious ways,
mainstream narratives might gravitate against and contain the energies
released by their own more unsettling images and affects. Nevertheless,
I contend that it is possible to retain the force of this special cinematic
material and elude reification. When we view more mainstream, generic
films, particularly those with affective overload, we need to work harder
to think. Yet, their formulaic nature might actually act as an aliena-
tion device for producing conjunctions. The incongruous encounter of
Deleuze and Hellboy opens up the portal for further transformational
forces, and we can work to extend the gap to let more of them through.
Though the rhizome is at the pole furthest from the root of arbores-
cence, it also keeps on pulling in diverse directions in its own becom-
ing. It already ‘contains lines of segmentarity according to which it is
stratified, territorialised, organised, signified, attributed, etc., as well
as lines of deterritorialisation down which it constantly flees’ (Deleuze
and Guattari 1988: 10). If the most experimentally rhizomatic film
contains arborescent elements, then the most mainstream root-film
contains rhizomatic potential. As Deleuze and Guattari warn us, even in
the apparent rhizome, ‘there is still a danger that you will reencounter
organisations that restratify everything, formations that restore power
to the signifier, attributions that reconstitute a subject – anything you
like, from oedipal resurgences to fascist concretions. Groups and indi-
viduals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallise’ (Deleuze and
Guattari 1988: 10). All films, whatever their type, can be understood as
mixed plane entities, and thus subject to the same danger of reification.
Not even the most destratified of rhizomes is exempt, and, as we have
seen, Hellboy is far from destratification.
One danger for our work with film arises when the formal and
thematic differences of mainstream and art house harden into a judge-
mental, hierarchical and permanent binary. As both forms contain reter-
ritorialisation and deterritorialisation, we need to maintain an active

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190 Deleuze and Film

and endless reworking and rethinking about what each of them can do,
for ‘good and bad are only the products of an active and temporary
selection, which must be renewed’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 10). As
Deleuze and Guattari contend, we need to work schizoanalytic machina-
tions transversally ‘between things’, which ‘does not designate a localis-
able relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a
perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and
the other way, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its
banks and picks up speed in the middle’ in our experiential assemblage
with the films (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 28). From a Deleuzian per-
spective, our becomings, mobilised by the film-specific encounter, must
continue to make conjunctions. What is initially a cinematic assemblage
transmutes into another plane of experience. Mutant spectators on a
mixed plane, making living maps grow out of what appear to be only
dead tracings, we can also become-anomalous.

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Chapter 11
Digitalising Deleuze: The Curious
Case of the Digital Human Assemblage,
or What Can a Digital Body Do?

David H. Fleming

The phenomenology of films discussed in Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema

project arguably differs from that of modern forms of digital cinema,
yet his cinematic and philosophical paradigms (co-created with Félix
Guattari) remain invaluable for understanding issues raised by con-
temporary films that expressively employ digital modes. For example,
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, USA, 2009) is,
in Deleuzian terms, an action-image narrative wherein an artistically
expressive bifurcation of time surfaces through the locus of the epony-
mous character’s body, raising ontological questions about the state of
the actor/performer in the digital age.
Drawing upon various Deleuzian concepts, I particularly focus on
notions of cinematic affect and the geste in order to establish how the
eponymous Benjamin presents us with a complex virtual-actual char-
acter whose affective performance cannot be singularly ascribed to the
film’s star, Brad Pitt. Instead, the main character is built from multiple
contributions from Pitt and countless other bodies, both actual and
digital (including software, which, as we shall see, can be conceptualised
as a ‘digital body’) – and this combination, or resultant ‘body’, moves
Benjamin Button beyond the movement-image film towards the time-
image. In working to demonstrate why this is so, I further highlight the
value of Deleuze and Guattarian models of the assemblage for theorising
new forms of digital character, which emerge as multiplicit galaxies of
different ‘things’, beings, forces and agents gathered into a new form of
performing body and body without organs.

From Movement-Image to Cyberstar

Loosely adapted from a novella by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button charts the story of Benjamin (Brad Pitt [et al.]), who

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is born as an octogenarian in 1918, and ages backwards throughout his

life, before dying as an infant in the contemporary world. In the begin-
ning, Benjamin is physically old and mentally young, but his chrono-
logical movement through space and time witnesses him grow physically
young and mentally mature.
In his review of the film, Graham Fuller argues that Brad Pitt’s lead
performance as Benjamin ‘can seem as elusive as a dream in its evoca-
tion of “time out of joint” ’, with a disconnect emerging between the
‘Hollywood realism and the Borgesian ambience that flows from the
surreal premise’ (Fuller 2009: 26). The apparent antinomy between
Hollywood realism and surrealism, and whether or not it is correct
to attribute the entire performance to Pitt, are pertinent issues for this
chapter. They relate to Fincher’s exploration of new digital technologies,
which illuminate a transmutating movement ‘forward’ by actualising a
new form of digital-human character, whilst simultaneously signalling
a spiralling return (through a century-long cinematic standard) towards
pre-cinematic modes of animated artistic expression.
Having worked on various versions of the script since the early
1990s, Fincher repeatedly dropped the project, believing it to require the
casting of different actors to represent the various stages of Benjamin’s
life, which would supposedly cause ‘an emotional and visual roadblock
every time the actors changed in the movie’ (Duncan 2009: 74). For
Fincher, the film’s power would come from ‘seeing one actor play the
character throughout his whole life’ (Duncan 2009: 74). He believed,
therefore, that Benjamin Button was a project waiting for digital tech-
nology to catch up to it.
Before exploring in separate sections how digital technologies have
been utilised to create animated digital characters, and how Benjamin
Button employs a raft of innovative techniques that reportedly improve
upon these, I shall first briefly illuminate some of the non-digital tech-
niques used to depict different aspects of Benjamin, before providing a
Deleuze-inflected theoretical consideration of the ‘cyberstar’.
The first example of the more ‘traditional’ techniques used to depict
Benjamin includes what the director describes on the film’s DVD com-
mentary as a ‘monstrous’ wrinkled animatronic machine, operated by
three technicians, and used to represent/perform the role of the ancient-
baby Benjamin. Another sees Fincher employ framing, editing and a
musically gifted hand double to capture Benjamin playing the piano as
an adult. Finally, in the sequences depicting Benjamin’s regress from
childhood into infanthood, five appropriately aged child actors were
cast for the role. The use of ‘old’ techniques does not end here, however,

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for while the character of Benjamin is in these examples incarnated by

something or someone entirely different to actor Brad Pitt, at other
moments the film carries out a hybridisation of old and new within/upon
the character’s body. That is, by being constituted by a combination of
carbon-based and digitally animated elements that have been added at
different times, Benjamin’s body surfaces as a form of meta-cinematic
time-image, expressively plicating cinematic techniques from the past
and present – as I shall explain below.
In a Deleuzian reading of Fight Club (USA, 1999), Patricia Pisters
identifies Fincher as a movement-image director who expressively toys
with time-image regimes (Pisters 2003: 98). Elsewhere, I discuss Fight
Club as a parallel mind- and body-film (simultaneously movement- and
time-image cinema) that encases the body within a time-image crystal
(Fleming 2009; Brown and Fleming 2011). Similar attributes also
surface in Benjamin Button, although it is through the eponymous char-
acter’s body that the film’s time-image emerges, introducing a complex
‘before and after’ into the body and film. Indeed, Benjamin’s growing
younger before his death seems to expose, through a form of cinematic
mise-en-abyme, Fincher’s own musings on the fate of the living actor/
body in the digital age. In this reading, Benjamin artistically and expres-
sionistically actualises/embodies the views of digital film theorists like
Lev Manovich and Barbara Creed.
Creed argues that the beginning of the twentieth century saw the birth
of mechanical movie cameras, while the end witnessed their death, at
the moment when ‘cyberstars’ came into being (Creed 2000: 79). For
Manovich, the advent of digital cinema marked a shift from the pre-
dominantly indexical legacy of the kino-eye to a new age of the kino-
brush, which is more akin to animation or ‘painting in time’: ‘Born from
animation, cinema pushed animation to its periphery, only in the end to
become one particular case of animation’ (Manovich 2001: 302). In the
animated/‘cyber’ character of Benjamin, then, it is possible to read the
imagery of an old body endowed with a new spirit and fated to grow
younger (and eventually to lose his memory) as an expressive realisation
of the cinematic actor/performer’s destiny as it becomes in the digital
Such factors witness Benjamin’s body surface as a meta-cinematic
time-image, simultaneously actualising a forward movement via its uti-
lisation of new digital technologies, whilst concomitantly illuminating a
spiralling return towards pre-cinematic modes of animated expression.
Deleuze’s Nietzschean take on the ‘eternal return’ can help frame these
forms of transformation, and shed light upon the changing ontology of

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the cinematic performer in the digital era. For Deleuze, the eternal return
celebrates the transformation and evolution of forces and bodies as they
expand into new territories and formulate new connections and assem-
blages in time. Furthermore, ‘only that which becomes in the fullest
sense of the word can return, is fit to return’. These forms of ‘return’
should not be understood as a repetition of the same, then, but rather
as a form of ‘transmutation’ (Deleuze 2006: x). In this manner, the cin-
ematic performer can be viewed as a transmutating diachronic force that
returns in the digital era after formulating a new technological range of
On account of this, Benjamin illuminates a complex interplay between
real and false, actual and virtual, human and posthuman, subject and
object, actor and animator, present and past, character/film and viewer.
The fluid theories of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari are invaluable
for synthesising these concepts via the ontology and affect of Benjamin
as a photorealistic animated digital-human and, by extension, Benjamin
Button as a film. Before exploring these issues, however, I shall explain
how digital technologies have typically been utilised to create ‘cyber’
characters, and how scholars have theorised these techniques.

CGI: Towards a Posthuman Realism

For Stephen Keane, CGI can be divided into two broad categories:
‘invisible’ and ‘visible’ effects. The former constitute background
details, whilst the latter are designed to be noticed. Jurassic Park (Steven
Spielberg, USA, 1993) is an example of both, since the digital work used
to render the jungle mise-en-scène largely goes unnoticed, while the spec-
tacular photoreal dinosaurs are designed to generate awe (Keane 2007:
63). In Benjamin Button, however, these categories become increasingly
blurred and/or move into expressive relation, with the special effects
at once seeming to draw attention to themselves, while simultaneously
aiming to pass unnoticed/as natural. Indeed, casting an iconic star in
the lead role indicates that the film freely invites viewers to ‘notice’ the
visible modifications Pitt’s star body has undergone; yet at the same time
the understated and unobtrusive nature of the effects (Benjamin is not a
fantastical monster or machine) appear designed to contribute to a level
of ‘realism’ that does not detract from narrative verisimilitude.
For various film scholars (for example, McQuire 1997; Rodowick
2007), industrialised standards of photorealism remain the ‘holy grail’
for digital special effects in the digital age, even though objects and
bodies are increasingly rendered within computers. Non-photoreal

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Hollywood characters – in whose existence we do not existentially

‘believe’ – can of course captivate audiences and make them feel without
needing to satisfy any ‘realistic’ credentials, as Shrek and Wall-E testify.
There is a different level of realism required, however, when animated
characters are surrounded by and interact with ‘real’ human perform-
ers, and film scholars have extensively discussed negative feelings felt
towards CG characters like Jar-Jar Binks from Star Wars: Episode I
– The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, USA, 1999), which were felt
temporarily or even entirely to disrupt narrative verisimilitude (see, inter
alia, Manovich 2001; Keane 2007; Rodowick 2007; Brown 2009b).
When digitally animated and real characters interact upon the same
fictional plane, then, viewers and directors increasingly demand con-
vincingly photorealistic CG characters that perform on an equal footing
with their human co-stars. These characters must thus transcend their
ontological object status and surface as believable subjects with real
human depth and complexity (physical and psychological).
Jody Duncan discusses how Fincher and the Digital Domain team
believed prior to Benjamin Button that, despite huge financial outlays,
digital cinema had failed to create a ‘completely convincing, organic
and emoting human being’, nor had it managed successfully to cross
the ‘uncanny valley’, ‘a term referring to the in-the-gut unease the
average person feels when viewing artificial human beings, be they ani-
matronic or computer generated’ (Duncan 2009: 72). For Fincher, the
best CGI examples had merely produced stylised digital humans – like
those in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Horonobu Sakaguchi/Moto
Sakakibara, USA/Japan, 2001), and Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, USA,
2007). Fincher therefore strove to create and harness new technologies
that could recreate the appearance and power of real bodies, along with
their movements, performances and powers of affection. These included
compositing a variety of different bodies and forces into a multiplicit
assemblage, and challenging CG imaging technologies to follow a crea-
tive line into the realm of becoming-molecular.
D.N. Rodowick argues that the increasingly popular technological
transformation of carbon-based film actors into digitally affected virtual
bodies is symptomatic of an industrial ‘sea change’. Conceding that the
actor’s body has ‘always been reworked technologically through the use
of special makeup, lighting, filters, editing, and so on’, Rodowick says
contemporary digital cinema takes body transformation to a new level:
digital cinema’s ‘cyborg fusions’ of the body and technology are increas-
ingly used to efface and even rewrite the actor’s body, such that filmic
characters emerge as a part-human and part-synthetic ‘Frankenstein

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hybrid’. Rodowick observes that it is increasingly tempting to read this

substitution of actual for virtual as a sinister ‘remake of Invasion of the
Body Snatchers’ (Rodowick 2007: 8).
Such views are undoubtedly premised on a preference for the
human(ist) over the posthuman in art. Following this trend, Barbara
Creed postulates detrimental psychological effects if viewers become
aware of watching a digital creation born in a computer world. Creed
imagines an emotional roadblock arising because the viewer knows the
‘cyberstar’ is not flesh and blood and ‘not subject to the same experi-
ences as the living star, experiences such as mothering, Oedipal anxiety,
hunger, loss, ecstasy, desire, death’ (Creed 2000: 84). Here, the charac-
ter’s ‘false’ ontology results in uncanny feelings that prevent any ‘real’
human empathy or involvement in the cyberstar’s (spiritual-psychologi-
cal) plight. I would argue, however, that Fincher anticipates this poten-
tial problem and works through it by endowing his digital actor with a
human element that grants the character a ‘real’ psychological depth and
complexity. In this manner the director works to button together the
human and posthuman aspects of his digital creation, and to endow his
virtual actor(s) with an actual human (‘spiritual’) dimension.
Viewing such phenomena through a Deleuze and Guattarian lens
allows us to transcend traditional oppositional/binary paradigms regard-
ing the human and the posthuman, and to see them instead as modes
formulating a creative block of becoming or moving into expressive rela-
tion within an artistic assemblage. Here, the human actor is caught in
a process of becoming-digital, at the same time as digital imaging tech-
nologies shift towards a becoming-human. Such assemblages do not nec-
essarily connote any ‘irredeemable loss of something uniquely human’,
but rather open up opportunities ‘for endless self-recreation through the
creation of ever-more complex and wonderful identities’ (Brown 2009c:
67). For Brown, Deleuze and Guattarian models demonstrate liberating
potentials for hybridisation with machines and countless other forces,
and provide a means to bypass old ‘fixed’ identities and creatively to
embrace ‘becoming other’ (Brown 2009c: 67).

The Affective Digital Body: Or What Can a Digital Body Do?

Benjamin Button’s visual effects supervisor Phil Tippet explains how,
for a digital character like Benjamin to be convincing on a narrative
level, he had ‘to work in every single shot. It’s not like a dinosaur that
can be creaky in one shot, but it doesn’t matter because you still get
the overall gestalt. A human character has to be a character, and if it

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breaks, it breaks’ (Duncan 2009: 71–2). Accordingly, in the film’s final

cut, Fincher utilised 350 digital effects shots, which ultimately allowed
him to ‘shoot’ the film as if Benjamin was actually there as a performer.
Beyond being a convincing character at a narrative level, though,
Benjamin is also expected to perform as an affective and intensive force.
In an exploration into the limitations facing digitally animated char-
acters, Creed invokes the views of Ross Gibson, who argues that a
good carbon-based actor needs a very special type of intelligence that is
simultaneously emotional, intellectual and corporeal in order to be con-
vincing (Creed 2000: 83). For Fincher, it is clear that Pitt, with whom
this film marks his third collaboration, embodies all of these actorly
attributes. And yet, for the majority of the film, Pitt does not have his
own body or perform as the entire character.
For Manovich, analogue cinema – and by extension human cinematic
performance – can be understood as the art of the index. Following
theorists like André Bazin, he outlines cinema as an attempt to make art
out of ‘a footprint’ (Manovich 2001: 294–5). Indicating that this indexi-
cal standard remains an important criterion for his partially digital
character, Fincher explains how he specifically wanted to capture all the
‘weird little behavioural clues that an actor is constantly using in his per-
formance’, which he refers to as a behavioural ‘fingerprint’ or ‘footprint’
(Duncan 2009: 75; James 2009: 28). Pitt’s ‘footprint’ (captured facial
performance) was added to the digital elements of Benjamin’s character,
so that it formulated an affective force within the body-assemblage.
Here, we can recognise that even on a surface level, in the age of the
digital character, the emotional, intellectual and physical attributes of a
‘human’ performance remain key to the digital character.
In Cinema 1, Deleuze outlines the actor’s body and face as among
the most powerful agents for mobilising and communicating cinematic
affect, arguing that the ‘affection-image is the close-up, and the close-
up is the face’ (Deleuze 2005: 89). For Deleuze, the close-up or face
transmits feeling directly to the viewer prior to any search for narrative
meaning. Pitt provides Benjamin’s face throughout the film, but the
concept of the face for Deleuze and Guattari is not understood as an
envelope exterior to the person who speaks, thinks or feels; it is rather
an intensive or affective surface used to communicate feeling or emotion
directly (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 186). Furthermore, the face, like
the close-up, can ostensibly be anything, including, say, a shot of a nerv-
ously tapping foot. The Deleuzian close-up thus communicates some-
thing of the character’s inner state and introduces an affective dimension
into the image. These affection-images are realised by a combination

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of the close-up and the actor’s ability to put feeling and emotion into
their face or body. Somewhat reflecting these ideas, Digital Domain’s Ed
Ulbrich argues that Fincher had to create a digital character that ‘could
sustain up to an hour of the movie, in extreme close-up, [and be] a char-
acter that could laugh and talk and make the audience laugh and cry’
(Ulbrich 2009).
In a Deleuzian investigation into the affective forces of performance,
Elena del Río distinguishes between two broad categories of perform-
ance outlined as representational and affective-performative registers,
which she articulates through Deleuze’s ‘cinema of action’ and ‘cinema
of the body’ paradigms (del Río 2008: 16). Concentrating on the latter,
she describes how the performing body can present itself as a shockwave
of affect, so that an expression-event ‘makes affect a visible and palpable
materiality’ (del Río 2008: 10). Adopting the Deleuze and Guattarian
model of the assemblage allows del Río to view the performative body
entering into composition with a multiplicity of other forces and affects
that restore a dimension of intensity typically lost when reading the
body through a representational paradigm (del Río 2008: 3). This mani-
fests itself as the potential to make other bodies, both inside and outside
the frame, feel, think and act differently.
Adopting del Río’s affective-performative register allows me to
explore how the digital character or assemblage that is Benjamin enables
other bodies on- and offscreen to pass from one experiential state to
another. Applying these views to a digital human puts del Río and
Deleuze’s models to work, and insists that a digital character’s perfor-
mative acts, gestures and movements can also be affective and intense
rather than merely functional and extensive. The performative actions
of a digital character are here understood to deterritorialise the virtual
body and turn it into an affective body without organs.
Any ‘affective’ difference between a character like Benjamin and an
earlier digital synthespian like Grendel’s mother in Beowulf must be
attributed to the ever-changing creative block of becoming interlinking
the human and (posthuman) digital technologies. For special effects
supervisor Eric Barba to render a convincing Benjamin, the digital
technologies had to surpass the old ‘facial marker’ systems that typi-
cally resulted in plastic and plasmatic (un-human) performances. Barba
explains that ‘[e]verything we’d ever seen done with tracking markers
looked stretchy and rubbery’, because the markers, which are placed
on the performer’s face, merely provided ‘a sub-set of what the face is
doing. The more markers you have, the more accurate the sub-set; but
even with a very large number of markers, say 200, you still don’t have

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data relating to what is happening in between those markers, and that

explains the rubbery nature of it’ (Duncan 2009: 83). For character
supervisor Steve Preeg, existing techniques were therefore only capable
of showing what an actor’s face was doing, and struggled to capture or
convey what the character was feeling (Duncan 2009: 83).
Rather than try to copy Pitt’s facial-performance with markers and
animation, Fincher was driven to develop new technological processes
that allowed him to ‘literally Xerox [Pitt’s] performance over’ a CG
character. Fincher and a team at Digital Domain therefore developed a
system tellingly called ‘e motion capture’. For this, four Viper cameras
simultaneously viewed and recorded Pitt’s facial movements from
various angles, building up a 3D model of his face within a computer.
This involved a ‘volumetric capture of a library of Brad Pitt’s facial
expressions’, which were then subdivided into ‘thousands of “micro
expressions” using Mova’s Contour system’ (Duncan 2009: 83). These
can be imagined from a Deleuzian perspective as an extensive library of
digital affection-images.
A good example of the character’s/the technologies’ newly acquired
affective and intensive (‘human’) powers can be located in a subtle
scene where the previously crippled 80-year-old Benjamin bathes
alone. Benjamin is viewed in close-up vigorously washing his naked
body’s outer surface, before discovering and animatedly scrutinising
new sprouts of silver hair. The subsequent shot sees him energetically
examining himself and posing before a mirror, tensing and stretching his
strengthening muscles. Here, fractured into actual and virtual doubles,
viewers perceive Benjamin’s face and body (arrested in affective close-
up) come alive in a kinetic expression-event verging upon a dance or
thought. As he breaks into an infectious smile, the character’s face and
body synergise to communicate a renewed energy and spiritual awaken-
ing. It is interesting to note that the facial and body performances belong
to different actors and bodies at these moments (filmed at different
times), yet it is undoubtedly the composited and photorealistic char-
acter of Benjamin who makes the viewer feel. Recognition of this fact
signals that I should now begin deconstructing the affective performing-
assemblage that is Benjamin in order to create a taxonomy of bodies and
forces that contribute to the final digital character’s affective nature.

I Am Legion: The Digital-Character Assemblage

Deleuze and Guattari remind us that a multiplicity should not be defined
‘by its elements, nor by a centre of unification or comprehension. It is

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defined by the number of dimensions it has; it is not divisible, it cannot

lose or gain a dimension without changing its nature’ (Deleuze and
Guattari 2004: 275). It is in this sense that the transmutating ontological
nature of the digital actor becomes most philosophically pronounced,
for by forming an assemblage with new digital technologies, we are
encountering nothing short of a transformation in nature. Furthermore,
the digital-human synthesis of the cinematic performer should not be
understood as having a filial relationship to the ‘humanist’ cinematic
actor that came before, for the digital-human assemblage is ostensibly
‘a multiplicity without the unity of an ancestor’ (Deleuze and Guattari
2004: 266).
For Manovich, traditional analogue cinema pretends to be a recorder
of an already existing reality. This pretence is founded upon a disavowal
of the medium’s true nature as a special effects machine designed to
manufacture a fictional ‘never-was’. Traditional techniques like rear-
projection, blue-screen, matte paintings, mirrors and miniatures, always
already allowed filmmakers to construct and alter recorded moving
images. Cinema was always animation, then, which in the contempo-
rary age now constitutes a ‘melange of digital and live action footage’
(Manovich 2001: 308). Manovich further outlines digital cinema as a
kind of assemblage in and of itself, rendered as ‘live action material +
painting + image processing + compositing + 2–D computer animation
+ 3–D computer animation’ (Manovich 2001: 301). This concept of the
melange or assemblage becomes equally pertinent to the ontology of the
digital actor in Benjamin Button, who/which is likewise a heterogeneous
assemblage or multiplicity of macro and micro effects, actual and virtual
forces that move into expressive composition to help generate affective
performative powers.
A filmic character, even an analogue one, is already an assemblage of
sorts, partially created by the director, scriptwriter, the actor’s ‘type’,
the skills they bring to the role, makeup artists, costume designers, etc.
As indicated above, the most obvious and traditional force and agent
distilled into the Benjamin-assemblage can be attributed to the carbon-
based star Brad Pitt, who received top billing for the film. Fincher here
employs Pitt simultaneously in an artistic and economic fashion, adding
the star into the digital assemblage for a variety of calculated reasons.
Pitt has carved out a role as a ‘spectacular’ male body in a range of films
from Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, USA, 1991) to the overtly body-
fascist Fight Club (see Church Gibson 2004). The spectacular nature of
both Benjamin and Pitt’s body is accordingly signalled throughout the
film in a repeated mirror trope that serves to fracture the onscreen body

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into countless actual and virtual duplicates. The motif reaches its apogee
in a mirrored dance studio, where Benjamin and Daisy (Cate Blanchett)
pause to perceive themselves in infinite regress. In this crystalline hall of
mirrors at the narrative’s centre, Pitt’s star body is isolated as a virtual
reflection held in a dilated perception-image. The body is foregrounded
as an object to-be-looked-at and is subjected to a complex web of looks
and gazes within and beyond the frame. Tellingly Pitt plays his ‘real’ age
at this moment, yet his star body is signalled as being a virtual image in
a performing space. Thus, in the surreal heart of the narrative crystal,
the actual and the virtual move into expressive relation and indiscernibly
overlap as Pitt himself surfaces as a subject and object within the film.
As arguably the most famous male body in contemporary Hollywood,
the inclusion of Pitt as a governing component in the Benjamin-
assemblage functions on both an affective (body) and narrative (action)
level of performance register. As an actor, Pitt not only brings an
emotional and physical intelligence to the role, but his star baggage
encodes significant narrative ‘meaning’ to help viewers ‘read’ the (rep-
resentational) story. Cine-literate viewers will know, then, that the
decrepit Benjamin’s destiny is to age backwards, become the Hollywood
hunk, and therefore ‘satisfyingly’ claim his right to the narrative’s near-
compulsory romantic coupling. In this manner the film signals itself
as a very conventional Hollywood/action-image narrative, which only
distinguishes itself (narratively and affectively) through its inclusion of
an unusual transforming body in its lead role. But what other factors or
forces contribute to this affective body-assemblage besides Pitt?
For John Andrew Berton Jr, digital synthetic cinema relies more
than any other cinematic medium on the skills of plastic artists, such as
painters, sculptors and architects, who are essential to ‘create images, to
shape, colour and arrange every facet of every object within the screen’
(Berton 1990: 6). I shall return to the work of the digital painters and
others in relation to the Benjamin-multiplicity below, but presently shall
focus on the role of the sculptor – analogue and digital – and consider
how their contributions factor into the final performing-assemblage.
Ulbrich points out how sculptors and effects modellers were initially
employed to create life-like Benjamin maquettes made from plaster lif-
ecasts of Pitt fleshed out with silicon makeup, depicting how he would
look in his sixties, seventies and eighties (Ulbrich 2009). These ‘actual’
3D models were then scanned by digital cameras into a 3D digital form.
A group of CG artists subsequently ‘built’ three virtual heads, which
they further ‘modelled’ by adding aged details specific to each. These
heads were later used to overlap Pitt’s recorded ‘footprint’, or rather his

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‘faceprint’, so that they became virtual masks moving into composition

with his digitally recorded performance.
As all these images were necessarily fed through a series of compu-
ter programs like Lola VFX and Mova’s Contour System, we must
also consider the relationship these programs have with the Benjamin-
assemblage. For Sean Cubitt, software increasingly acquires an aura of
co-creator in cinema, or else becomes recognised as an author and star in
its own right (Cubitt 2000: 88). For similar reasons, Joohan Kim com-
pares computer programs, or digital renderings of information, as a form
of ‘digital-being’ (Kim 2001). By imagining these humanised and fetish-
ised digital-beings as virtual bodies, then, we suddenly find a whole range
of other heterogeneous forces and affects contributing to the Benjamin-
body-assemblage. These co-creating digital-beings of course demonstrate
two interfacing poles, which we can discuss through humanist (actual)
and posthumanist (virtual) terms. Indeed, these digital-beings are oper-
ated and controlled by carbon-based digital-animators and painters, with
the former allowing the latter to create new levels of 3D photorealism at
a near molecular level, which further contributes to the digital character’s
‘actual’ credibility and powers of affection.
For Berton, analogue cameras index an image of reality necessar-
ily containing vast amounts of complexity: ‘The depth of information
contained in the colour, textures and motion of nature is substantial. It
is doubtful that any human construct can rival this complexity’ (Berton
1990: 9). Twenty years after Berton wrote this, however, the digital-
beings available to the artists of Benjamin Button clearly demonstrate
that CG effects can now be rendered at a level of complexity comparable
to indexical analogue techniques for human perception. The trick to
creating a ‘real’ or believable human was simply to deconstruct it and
tackle it as a series of ever-smaller parts, which initially formulate a
creative process of becoming-molecular. Barba explains that ‘replicating
a human was a matter of breaking it down into individual pieces. We
needed eyelashes, we needed lips, we needed teeth, a tongue and eyes.
Once we broke it down into individual components, we would attack
each component and figure out how to do it’ (Duncan 2009: 83).
The digital character’s head and face undoubtedly become the most
‘special’ effects within the film, paradoxically designed to be visible in
their invisibility. Fincher strove to introduce miniscule elements into the
image that ‘looked real to the eye’: ‘We had to see a little bit of mois-
ture in Benjamin’s mouth and on his lips when he talked. We had to
see light shining through the top part of his ear. All those little details
and nuances had to be there’ (Duncan 2009: 90). For contemporary

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204 Deleuze and Film

critics concerned with synthespian performance, the eyes are repeatedly

singled out as the ‘human’ features judged most important in making
or breaking the character/performance. Kurtz quotes Digital Domain
president Scott Ross, for example, who states: ‘I’m concerned that when
you create a close-up of a virtual actor and look into its eyes, that it will
take real skill to be able to give that virtual actor soul’ (Kurtz 2005:
785). The eyes are thus judged as a ‘human’ criterion of value and as
the ‘magical’ portals leading to the other side of the uncanny valley.
Achieving human-looking eyes meant working at a microscopic level,
adding the sort of detail and complexity traditionally the preserve of
indexical cameras: ‘Every element – the amount of water in the eyes, the
different layers of the skin, the red in the conjunctiva of the eye’, says
Barba, ‘was rendered out separately for control, and then the composi-
tors layered those things together, shot by shot’ (Duncan 2009: 88).
Beyond the eyes, the assemblage of digital-beings also offered anima-
tors near-magical powers for rendering a believable fleshy character
during different stages of life. The addition of wrinkles, the use of
appendages (for example, walking sticks), and the portrayal of relation-
ships that reflect a state of dependency are techniques employed to age
Benjamin – but it is Lola VFX’s advances in wrinkle and skin imaging
that grant Benjamin a living realism that transcends all previous forms of
theatrical makeup and realise a creative process of becoming-molecular.
Barba explains that the ‘problem with old-age makeup is that it’s addi-
tive, whereas the aging process is reductive. You have thinner skin, less
musculature, everything is receding. There is no way to do that 100
percent convincingly by adding prosthetics’ (Duncan 2009: 72). Various
digital compositors, painters and ‘skin shaders’ thus worked to realise
Benjamin’s flesh at infinitesimal, near cellular, levels, beyond the ability
and fine detail level of traditional makeup. One technique involved a
high-resolution still shoot that picked up ‘pore detail’ specific to Pitt’s
face, while the computer also grafted ‘high-rez close-ups of elderly peo-
ple’s skin’, which likewise enter the organic body assemblage (Duncan
2009: 88). Their age spots and enlarged pores were transplanted on to
Benjamin’s flesh, but, illustrating that a stylised ‘Hollywood realism’
was being sought rather than a true representation of how ‘real’ aging
is, Barba stated that they did not use ‘too much of the texture from the
older people, because we didn’t want to age and discolour Benjamin’s
skin so much that he was unappealing’ (Duncan 2009: 88).
Since Benjamin ages backwards, the same digital-beings were used
to add force or remove the ravages of time from Benjamin/Pitt as he
becomes more youthful. In certain scenes Pitt had to appear some twenty

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years younger than he was at the time of shooting, and, paradoxically,

given the ‘realism’ of Benjamin’s appearance and comportment, these
scenes seem among the most ‘visible’ in their presentation as special
effects. Lola was used here digitally to enhance images and perform age-
reduction processes. The effects teams also consulted other ‘actual’ body
specialists, including plastic surgeon Andrew Frankel, who likewise
enters the creative body assemblage. Using Frankel’s advice, Benjamin/
Pitt underwent age-reduction procedures in two and a half dimensions.
This involved the digital erasure of seam lines and ‘virtual skin grafts’
whereby areas of good-looking skin were layered over blemishes, wrin-
kles or shadows (Duncan 2009: 93). Under Frankel’s guidance, Digital
Domain worked to completely rebuild the folds and structure of Pitt’s
eyes and recreate a younger version. Moreover, other digital-beings like
Mental Ray, ‘a ray-tracing system’, were used to ensure that the ‘physics’
of the character’s existence within, and his movement through, different
light-infused spaces appeared ‘real’, an effect achieved by adding subsur-
face light, scattering effects, and illumination displacement both in and
around the body (Ulbrich 2009). These procedures clearly demonstrate,
then, that the digital body-assemblage is now conceived and rendered
beneath and beyond surface and cellular levels and demonstrates an
effects movement that passes through a becoming-molecular towards a
Over and above working on realism at the micro level, an assemblage
of artists and digital-beings was also responsible for creating affective
performances on a macro level. These agents ensured the characters’
powers of affection over and above their molecular ‘realism’. Perhaps
the most obvious and apparent example can be recognised in the track-
ing of animated heads on to a series of different body performances.
Beyond Pitt’s facial performance, a further four actors were employed
to play Benjamin’s body and perform the character’s appropriately aged
and affected movements – from his eighties down to his late fifties. The
performers were not only employed for the ways their bodies looked,
but for the way their gait, movement and kinetic energy represented the
character. Their performances were captured in three dimensions by a
network of high-resolution digital cameras, before being treated to head
replacement shots in a computer.
Head replacement techniques are not new, and have been produced
since cinema’s infancy. They were originally observed in silent films like
Georges Méliès’ Une bonne farce avec ma tête (France, 1904), and were
more recently applied within Alex Proyas’ The Crow (USA, 1994) after
actor Brandon Lee died before completing shooting (see Creed 2000:

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206 Deleuze and Film

80). In the case of Benjamin, the decision was an unforced, artistic

one, and had to be far more convincing and open to greater degrees of
scrutiny. Besides its animated realism, then, the means of suturing the
head on to different performers’ bodies also relied on the refinement of
motion capture techniques.
‘Mocap’ is a procedure designed to capture an actor’s physical move-
ments as a ‘reference point’ for a digitally rendered character – as per
the aforementioned Beowulf. Traditionally, this is achieved by the actor
wearing a monochrome suit adorned with motion sensors, which a
computer tracks before storing the input as digital information. These
techniques are increasingly supplemented by facial capture to give the
character expressive capabilities, with the combination of techniques
being known as performance capture (see Keane 2007: 72–3). Markos
Hadjioannou argues that motion captured digital performances can ‘still
matter’ when considered through the Deleuzian concept of the geste
(Hadjioannou 2008). In this sense the seamless flow of the actor’s body
and performance is captured and translated into the digital character.
From this perspective, the corporeality of a motion capture performance
is reasserted in digital form so that the body becomes ‘a role’. If there
remains room for the re-emphasis of the body as a performative or even
affective-performative force in motion capture cinema, then, it is related
to a continuity in performance (see Brown 2009b: 162–4).
In the cases of Benjamin and Daisy, however, we uncover a het-
erogeneous assemblage of different actor bodies and variegated motion-
captured performances that become significantly more layered than
normal mocap. Here, instead of wearing the ‘computer pyjamas’/
monochrome suits normally worn during mocap, the body actors wore
the characters’ costumes, but with monochrome computer-balaclavas,
replete with motion trackers, over their heads. Their bodies and per-
formance remain in the final scenes, then, and the other actors and
bodies respond and react to their movements and presence on set – but
we do not see their heads. In this sense there is no continuous bodily
geste running throughout the film, even though there remains continuity
in the animated role/character.
It is interesting to consider how the kinetic performance of the differ-
ent bodies adds an affective and expressive dimension to the characters
and augments the head and facial performances. Perhaps Daisy, who is
similarly treated to mocap head replacements, provides a more extreme
affective-performative case in point here. Daisy is a prima ballerina,
and for her performance scenes Fincher tracked Blanchett’s head on to
the body of professional dancer Jessica Cropper. Visually, Daisy’s spec-

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The Curious Case of the Digital Human Assemblage 207

tacular (assembled) dance movements abound with destratifying kinetic

energy and expressive affect, and illustrate how the act of expressive-
performance allows the body to transcend subject-object divisions and
create a shockwave of affect. The ability to synthesise these different
intensive capacities and to fuse them into a single role demonstrates
how the posthuman characters can easily surpass the capabilities of any
single human.
Greater elements of control offered by digital animation technolo-
gies are often counterweighed against a perceived shortfall: the loss of
unforeseen, unanticipated or accidental actions, events or performances
that fortuitously add to the finished film and are beyond the director’s
control. However, by assembling a digital-actor constructed from a het-
erogeneous range of real performers and actors, Fincher illuminates how
a new type of unforeseen and uniquely digital ‘performance’, over and
above the unique ‘footprints’ offered by individual performers, may re-
enter the film. A good example can be located in a scene that witnesses
the tracking of Benjamin’s digital head and Pitt’s facial capture on to
the performance of body actor Robert Towers, who plays Benjamin in
his seventies. There, Fincher was amazed ‘to discover the repercussions
the gross body movement had on the performance of the face’. Fincher

One of my favourite shots . . . is at the Thanksgiving Day dinner, and little

Daisy says, ‘Isn’t it sad that turkeys are birds that can’t fly?’ Another char-
acter says, ‘I like birds that can’t fly – they’re so delicious!’ And everybody
laughs. Robert Towers, who was doing the body performance for Benjamin
in that scene, tensed his shoulders, as if he was intaking breath and then
exhaling for the laugh. When that movement was in sync with what Brad
was doing facially, it worked and looked like a singular performance.
(Duncan 2009: 84)

At least two separate performances synthesise here to create a third,

with its outcome hardly foreseeable before its final ‘actualisation’. These
elements also highlight some of the problems in singularly ascribing
Pitt’s performative geste as the sole driving force steering Benjamin’s
‘continuous’ role. It becomes even more problematic, however, if we
move on finally to consider the nature of the other artists and effects
used to manipulate Benjamin’s performance.
Fincher has discussed how almost all of Pitt’s ‘recorded’ images
required some form of ‘hand-manipulation’, since despite its advantages,
the ‘e motion’ technology tended to ‘sandblast’ the edges off his perform-
ance: ‘so you still have to go in and re-jigger that stuff, and that requires

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208 Deleuze and Film

people who are artists in their own right’ (Duncan 2009: 83). Over and
above Pitt et al.’s performance, then, a team of keyframe animators were
employed in postproduction to realise Benjamin himself. Perhaps in the
end, it is the animators who become most responsible for the nuances
of the continuous geste, with the carbon-based actors merely providing
a screed of digital information for them to work upon. Indeed, Fincher
states that the digital system relies heavily on ‘manual override’ to allow
the digital artists to complete a fully realistic performance, to ‘correct’
the image analysis, and to animate ‘on top of it through the manipula-
tion and control of key shapes’ (Duncan 2009: 83). The performance
and ‘shooting’ thus only constitute the first stages of (post)production,
providing raw information upon which animators then work.
In the end, then, the Benjamin-assemblage represents a materially
schizophrenic synthesis of actors and animators, humans and machines,
actual and virtual, and realises a believable and affective form of per-
forming subject-object. Perhaps Benjamin’s body is best explained by
what Brown calls the digital merveilleux, a term applied to help describe
digital cinema’s ability simultaneously to depict the fantastic alongside
the real (Brown 2009a: 20). In Benjamin’s case we find the real and
the fantastic, the actual and the virtual, refolded one upon the other so
that the fantastic becomes the ‘real’. Thus, the Deleuzian assemblage
that is Benjamin is uncloaked as a realistically rendered conjunctive
body, conflating actual-virtual, realism-surrealism, actors-animation,
mimesis-abstraction, human-machine, subject-object and viewer-char-
acter. Benjamin’s animated body is also found artistically refolding past
and present (human and posthuman) and so surfaces as a meta-cine-
matic time-image illuminating a creative process of transmutation and
becoming. If Pitt must still be considered the film’s star, then, he must
be recognised as that special/new type of star, which, if observed under
a greater magnification, actually reveals itself to be an entire galaxy,
composed of myriad swirling bodies and countless smaller stars.

Berton, J.A. Jr. (1990), ‘Film Theory for the Digital World: Connecting the
Masters to the New Digital Cinema’, Leonardo: Digital Image – Digital Cinema
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Brown, W. (2009a), ‘Contemporary Mainstream Cinema is Good For You:
Connections Between Surrealism and Today’s Digital Blockbusters’, Studies in
European Cinema, 6 (1): 17–30.
Brown, W. (2009b), ‘Beowulf: The Digital Monster Movie’, in animation: An
Interdisciplinary Journal, 4 (2): 153–68.
Brown, W. (2009c), ‘Man Without a Movie Camera – Movies Without Men:

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Towards a Posthumanist Cinema?’, in W. Buckland (ed.), Film Theory and

Contemporary Hollywood Movies, London: Routledge, pp. 66–85.
Brown, W. and Fleming, D.H. (2011), ‘Deterritorialisation and Schizoanalysis in
David Fincher’s Fight Club’, Deleuze Studies, 5 (2): 275–99.
Church Gibson, P. (2004), ‘Queer Looks, Male Gazes, Taut Torsos and Designer
Labels: Contemporary Cinema, Consumption and Masculinity’, in P. Powrie,
A. Davies and B. Babington (eds), The Trouble with Men: Masculinities in
European and Hollywood Cinema, London: Wallflower Press, pp. 176–86.
Creed, B. (2000), ‘The Cyberstar: Digital Pleasure and the End of the Unconscious’,
Screen, 41 (1): 79–86.
Cubitt, S. (2000), ‘The Distinctiveness of Digital Criticism’, Screen, 41 (1): 86–92.
Deleuze, G. (2005), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and
B. Habberjam, London: Continuum.
Deleuze, G. (2006), Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlinson, London:
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (2004), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi, London: Continuum.
del Río, E. (2008), Deleuze and the Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Duncan, J. (2009), ‘The Unusual Birth of Benjamin Button’, Cinefex, 116: 70–99.
Fleming, D.H. (2009), Drugs, Danger, Delusions (and Deleuzians?): Extreme Film-
Philosophy Journeys into and Beyond the Parallel Body and Mind, PhD thesis
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Keane, S. (2007), Cine Tech: Film, Convergence and New Media, New York:
Palgrave Macmillan.
Kim, J. (2001), ‘Phenomenology of Digital-Being’, Human Studies, 24: 87–111.
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Chapter 12
The Surface of the Object: Quasi-
Interfaces and Immanent Virtuality

Seung-hoon Jeong

Mysterious Object, Quasi-Interface

In Sang sattawat/Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul,
Thailand/France/Austria, 2006), a woman, Pa Jane (Jenjira Pongpas),
tells Dr Toey (Nantarat Sawaddikul) a fable: a long time ago there were
two poor farmers who, following a monk’s tip, gathered as much gold
and silver as they could around a lake (we see an adjoining field that is
said to have been the lake); suddenly a solar eclipse occurred, but the
farmers didn’t stop and one of them came back for more gold (a total
eclipse darkens the screen, which consequently loses depth of field); the
story ends with thieves robbing the greedy farmer’s house and shoot-
ing him dead. The lesson is: ‘No matter what we do, something always
watches us.’
The eclipsed sun contoured by its thin light in the deep blue sky
not only evokes the title of Weerasethakul’s debut feature, Dokfa nai
meuman/Mysterious Object at Noon (Thailand, 2000), but it also
visualises the superego gaze, a god’s eye, a surveillance camera in the
sky, or what I shall term a cinematic ‘quasi-interface’. Furthermore, the
darkened sun radiates an ineffable aura for a time-freezing moment such
that its epiphany does not seem fully represented in the human ethics
that the moral story conveys. This surreal image suggests that the visual
shift from three-dimensional illusionism to two-dimensional flatness
can facilitate a more fundamental shift towards the ‘virtual’ dimen-
sion of the ‘actual’ world. In some sense ‘time is out of joint’. First, the
image of the field described as the former lake, which is not represented,
evokes the temporal strata deposited underneath it, so that time is
rewound, now in the virtual mode. Second, the sun slowly emerges from
behind the moon, leading to a shift in light from dark blue to normal
daylight, before the film cuts back to the woman and Dr Toey. It is as

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Quasi-Interfaces and Immanent Virtuality 211

if the eclipse has occurred with them on the grass where they sit rather
than being an image from a reenacted fable; given the situation, this
nonsensical montage could only suggest that the legendary past is virtu-
ally immanent in the ordinary present.
Such a ‘crystal-image’, which for Deleuze renders indiscernible the
actual and the virtual, the real and the imaginary, the present and the
past (Deleuze 1989: 68–9), reappears in a similar form of quasi-interface
at the end of the film. In the basement of a modern hospital, a roaming
camera slowly approaches an intake vent until it begins to resemble a
huge round black hole sucking in smoke; ultimately it takes up the centre
of our visual field. The three-dimensional screen space, then, transforms
itself into an eclipse-evoking two-dimensional void that gazes at us and
absorbs our intellect, vision and sense. To where would these natural
and artificial eclipses take us, if not to an ontological ground of the
world, the real as virtual – whether Lacanian or Deleuzian – in eternal
return – whether Buddhist or Nietzschean? Furthermore, this unfath-
omable interface with emptiness abruptly cuts to the film’s last scene
of a too-ordinary city landscape, whose inhabitants – dating, playing,
exercising, etc. – seem completely unaware of what lurks underground.
An ontological rupture occurs through this ‘irrational cut’, as if the
black hole of the vent, having engulfed the entire world, now belches it
out. Likewise, our everyday life might be the actualisation of the virtual
at every moment of the present, or the realisation of the world’s own
unconscious memory, which we cannot even claim. Weerasethakul
remarkably captures the feeling of that memory by letting us sense
inhuman eyes as quasi-interfaces viewing all human desires and activi-
ties from an ontological ground.
In other words, we can move from the actual state of the world to its
virtual verso through ‘interfacial’ objects. In this essay I shall argue that
in this movement our phenomenological experience of images ultimately
leads us to their ontological stage, which is immanent in the screen. I
use the term ‘interface’ to mean the contact surface between image and
spectator. It is a notion that can be applied to the camera, the filmstrip
and the screen. Films can not only show these cinematic interfaces, but
can also create indirect ‘interface effects’ out of various surfaces; that is,
quasi-interfaces can emerge on to the surfaces that evoke but do not rep-
resent actual interfaces. These effects may open a cinematic realm other
than the representation of the actual. What matters here is to look ‘at’
the surface of the object and to look ‘through’ it, as it becomes a quasi-
interface that looks ‘like’ a camera, filmstrip or screen. Rather than
simply being our subjective impression, this becoming seems to realise a

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212 Deleuze and Film

new potential of cinematic illusion: not a mere perfect imitation of the

actual world, but a deeper immersion into its immanence that is virtu-
ally on the verge of surfacing to light. To illuminate this effect, I shall
re-engage with the notion of illusion and theorise its deterritorialisation
into ‘immanent virtuality’ in light of Deleuze’s ontology. I shall then
unfold the spectrum of quasi-interfaces, paying special attention to the
‘quasi-screen’ whose three modes can be thought in (re)view of Deleuze’s
three modes of the ‘perception-image’ (Deleuze 1986: 71–86). In short,
this is an attempt to formulate ‘interfaciality’ as immanent virtuality by
drawing on Deleuze’s core philosophy of immanence, while also taking
a ‘line of flight’ from his Cinema books towards a larger frame of illu-
sion/perception and different states or stages of interfaciality between
the actual and the virtual. The chapter does not simply apply Deleuze
to film, but interfaces his thought with other theories, as well as various
quasi-interfaces, as ways of exploring and expanding both Deleuze and,
as it were, ‘interface theory’. What matters here, then, is how better to
address a cinematic experience of the ontologically inhuman matrix of
all beings.

Illusion of Interfaciality
Let me begin with a theoretical redefinition of illusion. Weerasethakul’s
films often culminate in the traditional celluloid-based illusion of sen-
sorial space, taking one further step towards Bazin’s myth of ‘total
cinema’. A soldier groping in the dark jungle in Sud pralad/Tropical
Malady (Thailand/France/Germany/Italy, 2004) extends all his sensorial
antennae towards the opulent sound, smell and touch of nature. Not
limited to any sign system, the nature-sense circuit brings about a ‘pure
optical and sound’ situation (Deleuze 1989: 17) which may be, I add,
purely ‘tactile’ as well: a non-signifying, material surrounding that is too
pure for a modern viewer to experience outside of a darkened theatre.
Yet the ghost-beast that the soldier pursues in Tropical Malady lurks
as something that all these saturated senses miss, as a quasi-being that
his sensory-motor system fails to capture or barely traces. The multi-
sensual immersion in the hyperreal space, then, turns into the supersen-
sible encounter with virtual beings, including a tiger watching him in
the middle of the darkness. The film leaps from the phenomenological
impasse to an ontological wonderland. And while the steady panoramic
camera unfolds ecological space, a crucial shift often occurs through the
cut-in or zoom-in that guides the viewer unawares to the face of a non-
human gaze. From the tiger lit in an iris frame, the camera cuts in to its

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persistent but impenetrable gaze in close-up – the same two-dimensional

captivation as in the zoom-in to the aforementioned vent.
Here, the shift from 3D back to 2D reactivates neither the disturbing
perspective of ‘haptic’ aesthetics nor (thereby) any ideological critique
of a geometric vision that organises the totality of Cartesian space. The
illusion of depth is disturbed, but it seems to give way to a new ‘cin-
ematic’ illusion. Like the black sun and the vent, the tiger’s eye works
like a camera lurking in nature, that is, as a quasi-interface. This ‘illu-
sion of interfaciality’ changes the representation of things more or less
immanently or virtually. It does not solely depend on one of the illusion
mechanisms Richard Allen lists, for instance: it is neither trompe l’oeil
entailing a loss of medium awareness, nor ‘reproductive illusion’ created
with different sources, nor ‘sensory illusion’ like the duck-rabbit figure
(Allen 1995: 81–106). However, in somewhat deconstructive ways
it could be a trompe l’oeil with medium-interfaces appearing out of
things, a reproductive illusion somehow intended by the director, or a
sensory illusion oscillating between depth and surface. The same applies
to Allen’s notion of ‘projective illusion’, which implies that an active
spectator voluntarily invests belief in the reality effect despite medium
awareness. In this regard I first assert that the illusion of interfaciality
could also be a sort of negotiation between the image and the spectator
rather than a given hallucination, but then, what matters is that even if
so invested, it elicits from the image not transparent reality but imma-
nent virtuality. It does so by changing the ‘cinematic iconicity’ of that
reality, thereby thwarting its transparency without revealing the raw
cinematic apparatus.
One could compare this ‘interfacial vision’ with the Russian for-
malist notion of ‘enstrangement’ or ‘defamiliarisation’ that aims at
recovering the sensation of life, making us feel objects through vir-
ginal perception. As Viktor Shklovsky says, ‘by “enstranging” objects
and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and
“laborious.” The perceptual process in art has a purpose all its own
and ought to be extended to the fullest.’ It thus delays habitual recogni-
tion based on schemata while enabling us to see through what ‘makes
a stone feel stony’ (Shklovsky 1990: 6). In fact, similar ideas permeate
what Malcolm Turvey (2008) calls a ‘revelationist tradition’ of film
theory, which has underlain the formative and realist approaches of
European theorists from the early pioneers (Jean Epstein, Dziga Vertov,
Béla Balázs, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin) to modern thinkers
(Stanley Cavell, Deleuze). According to Turvey, all of these theorists
commonly assume that cinematic vision escapes the limits of human

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sight and reveals the true nature of reality. This revelation occurs as the
‘photogenic’ epiphany of the ‘optical unconscious’; it is the interfacial
becoming of the world’s being. Thus the effect of interfaciality can
(only) be experienced on and through the screen. The pebble and the
coffee captured in Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End (France/Italy, 1967)
suddenly manifest the shocking alien beauty of their surfaces with scru-
pulous indifference. The keyword for cinematic perception seems to
change from (formative) creation or (realist) discovery to (interfacial)
I nonetheless emphasise the decisive difference between this revela-
tion effect and the illusion of interfaciality. The latter concerns not the
stoniness of a stone, but the immanence of its becoming something
other, whose iconicity can surface immediately rather than laboriously;
the eclipsed sun resembles a camera. However, the analogy between a
thing and a ‘quasi-’cinematic interface ‘immanent’ within it is neither
pure similarity (metaphor) nor mere contiguity (metonymy), neither the
classical imitation of an original nor the postmodern simulation without
original. It is rather evocative of what Vivian Sobchack names simile-
ation or simply similation, because a thing appears only as if it were
an interface, not really but virtually. A pertinent rhetorical term may
be catachresis: a false, improper metaphor that mediates and conflates
the literal and metaphoric, ‘seeing’ and ‘seeing as’, ‘real’ and ‘as if real’,
when no proper term is available (Sobchack 2004: 81–4). There are two
points to note here. First, what matters is not ‘seeing’ an image of the
sun ‘as’ the sun, but ‘seeing’ (an image of) the sun ‘as’ (an image of) a
camera. The former concerns the primary psychological illusion that has
been the basic issue of all the established theories of illusion, whereas
the latter suggests a sort of semiotic, rhetorical illusion, or ‘figuration’ as
often addressed among French critics, which involves our interpretation
of the diegetic world. Second, this illusion is not the same catachresis as
Sobchack’s example of the animal on screen that oscillates between its
metaphoric meaning and its physical being as such – what Akira Mizuta
Lippit calls ‘animetaphor’, and which does not serve as a figure but
rather leads to the extra-textual animal beyond language (Lippit 2002:
9–22). While animetaphor takes an image of an animal to its actual
body in full tactility (re-embodiment), the illusion of interfaciality leads
an image of a thing to its bodiless immanence (dis-embodiment). The
shift from 3D to 2D is crucial in the latter, as it signals losing actual cor-
poreality and gaining virtual sense-effect. In Syndromes and a Century,
the sun and the vent appearing like quasi-cameras clearly marks the
transmutation between the 3D and 2D illusions, just as the tiger does in

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the jungle of Tropical Malady. These figures imitate a camera in their

whole body, but by becoming bodiless. In short, the illusion of interfaci-
ality is an optical allusion to a virtual interface immanent in the surface
of the object.

Spectrum of Quasi-Interfaces: Singular (Camera), Plural

(Filmstrip), Molecular (Screen)
I shall now use other examples to flesh out the theoretical basis for the
quasi-interface, and its three manifestations as quasi-camera, quasi-
filmstrip and quasi-screen.
As seen above, many circular objects can take on the appearance of
the eye and thus of the (quasi-)camera whose ‘gaze’ we can suddenly feel
looking back or leading us beyond. The title object of Le ballon rouge/
The Red Balloon (Albert Lamorisse, France, 1956) is not simply the
child hero’s toy, but a quasi-camera that watches and follows him like a
smart bomb. Moving autonomously, the balloon performs the cinematic
agency of continually opening our perceptual field where all things are
rendered visible around it. Furthermore, in Donnie Darko (Richard
Kelly, USA, 2001), the zoom-in to the dark hole of a fallen jet engine
sucks in our vision, marking the diegetic shift to a ‘tangent universe’.
Upon its apocalypse, we see the very traumatic Thing falling through
a supernatural wormhole, looking like a detached mechanical eye. It
is soon matched with the skull image residing within an eye, Escher’s
vanitas print hung in Donnie’s room, returning the diegesis to the actual
There are also cases where we can take the point of view of a quasi-
camera from the position of the Lacanian Real. In Citizen Kane (Orson
Welles, USA, 1941), for example, Kane’s glass ball first appears in his
hand in normal 3D perspective, but upon his death, it falls onto the floor
and lets us look back at the space now distorted on its convex surface,
a sort of post-mortem perception of reality. Similarly, La double vie de
Véronique/The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieślowski, France/
Poland/Norway, 1991) has a scene where Weronika (Irène Jacob) looks
through a magic glass ball in the train. Reality around this artificial
interface dissolves into a formless smear while its fantastic refraction is
revealed clearly – but upside down. Slavoj Žižek sees these glass balls
as what Lacan calls objets a, objects which vouch for the phantasmatic
link of the subject’s reality to the unnoticed Real (Žižek 2001: 50–1). In
Deleuze’s terms, what is crystallised are the actual, which loses its 3D
visual dimension, and the virtual, which gains convex 2D visuality.

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216 Deleuze and Film

As for the quasi-filmstrip, one conspicuous example will suffice. In

Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (USA, 1947), the multiple oblique
shadows of bars in the entryway to the Magic Mirror Maze look like
haphazardly hung filmstrips, recalling the spidery curves decorating the
wall of Dr Caligari’s cabinet – both disorganise represented depth by
pictorial lines stretching in similar expressionist style. Within the Maze,
then, every shot resembles a series of sliced mirrors, that is, a 2D quasi-
filmstrip of photograms in plural. A barely possible distinction between
the heroine and her images soon gives way to the total indiscerniblity
between the actual villain and his virtual doubles. Moreover, the con-
densation of a shot and its reverse shot between these two characters
proliferates both within a shot and through shots, continuously derang-
ing the classical suture system. There are three references to make here.
First, the seriality of Welles’ images reflected from slightly different
angles undoubtedly reminds us of motion photograms captured by a
pre-cinematic zoetrope or zoopraxiscope, as well as in ‘post-cinematic’
bullet-time shots. Second, quite apposite is Jean Epstein’s poetic experi-
ence of a pit walled with mirrors in Mount Etna: ‘There are as many dif-
ferent and autonomous positions between a profile and a three-quarter
back as there are tears in an eye . . . Each one of these mirrors presented
me with a perversion of myself’ (Epstein 1926: 135–6). Third, such an
image of ‘tears in an eye’ that cause ‘perversion’ would be a perfect
‘crystal-image’, the smallest internal circuit in which the actual and its
virtual image are in continual exchange. Within this circuit, as Deleuze
explains in reference to Welles’ maze scene, the two characters ‘will
only be able to win it back by smashing all [mirrors], finding themselves
side by side and each killing the other’ (Deleuze 1989: 70). In short, the
entire scene creates and reinforces an amazing maze of quasi-filmstrips
until the crystallisation of the actual and the virtual unbearably confuses
the subject, both character and spectator.
As for the quasi-screen, I shall briefly return to the quasi-camera.
Deeply rooted in film history, the quasi-camera effect often exposes the
movie camera/kino-eye’s obsession with the human eye and its ontologi-
cal ground. Early experimental films such as Anémic Cinéma/Anemic
Cinema (Marcel Duchamp, France, 1926), Filmstudie (Hans Richter,
Germany, 1926) and Emak-Bakia (Man Ray, France, 1927) exhibit a
variety of floating eyeballs, lighting spots, camera-looking objects that
lose their ‘thing-ness’ while appearing like or connecting to abstract
forms ‘as part of the world we live in, as its nearest expression underly-
ing the unending manifoldness of appearances’ (Mekas 1957: 5). The
robot Maria’s dance scene in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927)

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magnifies her fetish body whose singularity, however, shatters over the
surface of a flock of male eyes exploding with testosterone, a multitude
of impersonal bodiless organs. Varieté/Variety (Ewald André Dupont,
Germany, 1925) pulverises this effect: a trapezist’s POV shot from
above accelerates dizziness until the audience space looks like nothing
but a sea of 1,000 eyes molecularly waving in cubist style. Here there is
an asymmetrical dynamics between the (camera) eye as a single organ
and the multitude of inorganic eyes immanent in the world. The latter
may be the potential, primordial state of the former; conversely, the
former is a sutured, organised form of the latter. When looking like the
former, a thing appears as a quasi-camera; the entire surface of multi-
ple quasi-cameras could then lead to the illusion of a quasi-screen. By
the screen, basically, I mean the Real whose gaze the quasi-camera often
delivers, or rather, the fundamental space of Bergsonian matter in which
everything exists as image and ‘photographs’ everything else, receiving
and reflecting each other’s image at every molecular moment (Bergson
1990: 31–2). Matter-as-movement in Deleuze could thus be said to
consist of numerous inorganic eyes whose ‘pure perception’ renews their
content while repeating their form, just like the screen. Though the phe-
nomenological screen with actual images is not equal to this ontological
screen, the open whole of all screened images in ceaseless change would
form this ‘plane of immanence’ (Deleuze 1986: 56–61). The quasi-
screen effect could be viewed as barely ‘visualising’ immanence that is in
essence invisible and at best indirectly sensible through the change of all
images and interstices on the screen.
Now, if we think of plural eyes in a quasi-filmstrip as situated between
the single eye of a quasi-camera and molecular eyes-in-matter on a quasi-
screen, this gradation of singularity-plurality-molecularity may indicate
the degree to which objects are less and less translated into our human
recognition, and thereby more and more deterritorialised into inhuman
immanence. And if this quasi-screen signals the plane of immanence as
a body without organs (BwO), all visual ‘molecules’ like 1,000 eyes –
in the sense of being innumerable rather than plural – would look like
infinitesimal organs floating on the screen as a not-yet-organised body.
The BwO does not necessarily mean the absence of organs but concerns
potentials of organs, say, quasi-organs that traverse an undifferentiated
body in the form of a multiplicity of pure affects, machinic desires and
impersonal intensities (Deleuze and Guattari 1977). The BwO therefore
embodies the virtual of becoming that generates the actual of being.
In contrast to the quasi-screen, the quasi-camera could then fit within
Žižek’s notion of ‘organs without bodies’ (OwB). Criticising Deleuze’s

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218 Deleuze and Film

becoming/being for repeating the old dichotomy of production and

product, Žižek draws attention to another pair, being and event, found
in early Deleuze. The virtual is then redefined as the site of the sense-
event, which does not generate actual reality, but which is generated
from reality. And the OwB appears through ‘the virtuality of the pure
affect extracted from its embeddedness in a body, like the smile in Alice
in Wonderland that persists alone, even when the Cheshire cat’s body is
no longer present’ (Žižek 2004: 30). Here, rather than fully following
Žižek, I suggest that OwB are equivalent to (disorganised) organs on a
BwO, only with the difference that we cannot identify this source body.
That is, when apparently detached from a BwO, an organ may look as
though it has lost its body, becoming an OwB. And since it is an objet
a, it interfaces with the unseen Real, its virtual body. So the eclipsed sun
in Syndromes and a Century takes on the familiar image of the camera,
while its appearance is unfamiliar because we see no body, no camera-
man, and no contextual matrix of its emergence. We just experience an
uncanny sense of what is behind and beyond this quasi-interface. In
short, the spectrum of interface from quasi-camera (to quasi-filmstrip)
to quasi-screen implies a pathway from OwB to BwO, the former inter-
facing with the latter.
In order for the sun to appear like an OwB, it must be eclipsed or
cinematically processed so that light no longer prevents us from facing
it head-on and we can look into it. That is, the sun can evoke the OwB
on the condition that it looks like an ‘eye without a face’, or a camera
without a cameraman. In the case of the ‘grin without a cat’, we (are
supposed to) directly recognise it as a virtual grin and nothing else, but
in our example, we first recognise the actual sun and then take it as a
virtual eye or camera. Both the grin and the sun are analogous to the
OwB, but the sun needs figuratively to appear as a quasi-interface in
the first place. We could then take one more step from Žižek. His focus
on Deleuze shifts from the virtual as BwO (the cause of the actual) to
the virtual as OwB (the effect of the actual), emphasising the rupture
between these two virtual dimensions. And the latter virtual presumably
occurs within, from, and against the actual (diegetic) world. Yet signifi-
cant is the cinematic power figuratively to visualise the virtual as sense-
effect in the form of quasi-interface from the surface of actual things,
thereby evoking the virtual as matrix-cause. Virtuality therefore comes
full circle forming a Möbius strip without any spatio-temporal passage:
the immanent virtual generates the actual diegetic world, whose surface
turns into the ground of the sensual virtual, which interfaces back with
the immanent virtual.

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The kernel of this circuit lies in the figurative transformation of things

becoming quasi-interfaces. This becoming as figuration is thus a sort of
cinematic illusion that enables immanent interfaciality to surface on to
visuality. And the gap between interface and immanence decreases along
the spectrum from quasi-camera to quasi-screen, so that a quasi-screen,
often taking up most or all of the physical screen, appears not detached
from the BwO but attached to it as though two virtualities had merged
or the immanent BwO were nothing but its own sense-effect. This vir-
tuality as ‘the reality of the virtual itself’, therefore, has nothing to do
with ‘virtual reality’ (VR) that imitates reality in an artificial medium
and thus forms non-immanent actuality in diegesis (Žižek 2004: 3).
This truth is obvious but still worth mentioning, because it gives more
pertinence to the notion of interfaciality as ‘immanent virtuality’.

Quasi-Screen: Solid, Liquid and Gaseous Interfaces

To explore immanent virtuality further, I propose three qualitative
phases of the quasi-screen resonating around Deleuze’s three types of
perception-image – ‘solid’, ‘liquid’ and ‘gaseous’. Along this line, the
illusion of interfaciality seems to maximise the cinematic potential to
draw a ‘line of flight’ from the surface of the world into its immanence.
Let me begin with just one suggestive scene regarding the solid quasi-
screen. Among many riveting scenes in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo/
Mirror (USSR, 1975) is a long take that epitomises the screen metaphor.
It first shows a kitchen-like room with furniture and an open window as
the camera pulls back slowly – slower than the two children who run out
of frame. The screen is a mobile ‘window’, i.e. an undetermined mask
that hides the out-of-field, revealing only part of the world, yet never
stopping the renewal of this limited revelation. It delivers the aura of the
space in duration until, with a revelatory clock sound, a bottle magically
falls off the table and on to the ground. Then the camera pans to the left
and pauses on the children in front of an open door, which soon turns
out to be a mirror reflection (evoking the idea of screen as ‘mirror’).
Finally, the camera finds its fixed position from which to transform
the screen into a symmetrically contoured ‘frame’. We see a man and
a woman, with a small building burning in the upper middle third of
the frame as if it was an altar and they were conducting or attending a
ritual. We recognise rainwater dripping here, though not heavily, from
the eaves; it brings a subtle effect of a liquid screen that consists of
molecular drops without a solid surface, distinguishing and protecting
us from this fire. But at the same time, we are allowed to see and feel the

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alchemic superimpositions of the solid and the liquid, of the hot and the
cold, and of the burning Real out there and our safe reality in here. One
of the children reflects our spectatorial desire to get close to the Real.
Passing over the boundary between offscreen and onscreen spaces, he
enters the amalgam of Window-Mirror-Frame.
Some East Asian films saliently display this ‘screen chemistry’ in com-
pletely different manners and contexts. A mall scene in Cheung fo/The
Mission (Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 1999) almost consists of a series of
tableaux vivants – another kind of quasi-screen as a painterly frame. The
extreme tension and suspense nearly stops every motion of characters
so that the movement-image of the film is punctuated by photographic
‘privileged instances’. At such moments, pictorial expressionism reigns,
as killers look like 2D shadows in dark profile, making black holes in
the empty, slick, hygienic 3D space. In the middle of this silent stillness,
shooting is initiated and mediated through the interface effect when the
surface of a steel cart reflects a gunman. This type of mirroring pen-
etrates the core characteristic of a new millennium Hong Kong noir,
Mou gaan dou/Infernal Affairs (Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak, Hong
Kong, 2002). A cop working as a mole in the mafia and a mafia member
infiltrating the police become doppelgängers, each of whose image is
also split whenever reflected on any reflective surface. Notably, the final
showdown occurs on a quasi-screen, as a slight distortion of the image is
reflected on the glass wall of a building; it not only splits a figure but also
warps the surroundings like choppy waters of an ocean. It is as though
solidity is about to take on liquidity, and as though the heroes could
resist the world only through this virtual impact on the world, however
minute, contingent and unconscious it may be.
The same liquidity is found at the end of Qing meu zhu ma/Taipei
Story (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 1985). The main character faces her
mirror image in front of a window, when the solid quasi-screen exposes
an anamorphic effect due to the mirroring wall on the opposite side.
The last shot fully shows that wall looking like a partly liquid screen
on which cars run as if to ride the surf. Though not furthering fluidity,
Yang’s Yi yi/A One and a Two (Yi yi) (Taiwan/Japan, 2000) updates his
observation of doubling in every aspect of Taiwan’s postmodern life and
on every level of the film’s structure, including the title. For example,
a night-time office shot through its window overlaps the inside and
outside, the right and left units, and 3D and 2D, all appearing only as
‘shadows’ on ‘windows’ whose actual locations are hardly discernible.
When the characters step in the dark, their silhouette takes on more
than the pictorial flatness of The Mission; they look even ghostly, as

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part of multilayered simulacra – everything virtually onscreen is actually

Finally, Wong Kar-wai embodies this aesthetic in his films. The depth
of field and the surface of reflection typically overlap, intimating the
prevalent motive of the double in Chung Hing sam lam/Chungking
Express (Hong Kong, 1994) – another film of fissure and fusion, but
this time, between two parts, two loves, two cities (Hong Kong and
Los Angeles), and allusively, two eras (before and after Hong Kong’s
retrocession to China). In fact, the split national identity underlies all
these pan-Chinese obsessions with the mirror image. Wong’s signature
of step printing, then, adds another effect to the solid screen; it starts to
become gaseous at its dizzy speed. The subject is not statically poised in
the interfacial environment, but dynamically fused into it.
At this point, it would be better to check more explicit liquid screens
prior to hardcore gaseous screens. The mirror is crucial in this regard, as
the surface of water that reflects Narcissus is also a mirror, that is, not
far from a liquid quasi-screen. A memorable shift of the mirror from a
solid to a liquid screen can be found again in Welles. In The Lady from
Shanghai, we should not forget a magic mirror standing in the hallway
to the real maze. It is just a single mirror without subdivided slices,
but it reflects Welles in fluidity; his solid body stretches and shrinks as
comically as it does haphazardly. This type of liquid screen effect dates
back at least to Abel Gance’s La Folie du docteur Tube (France, 1915),
for instance. Gance is certainly a magician, the successor of Georges
Méliès. If Méliès mechanically devised unreal situations in front of the
camera, though, Gance operates surreal effects by chemically manipulat-
ing the camera lens; in other words, the former was mostly pro-filmic,
the latter highly filmic. The 3D stage as an object of the camera then
becomes a 2D screen, an extremely malleable membrane-like mirror that
bends, folds, twists and distorts the world as if it were just a design on a
spandex swimsuit one can wear, soak or throw into a washing machine.
Moreover, this liquidity results from Dr Tube’s experiment rather than
just being inserted by Gance. The diegesis affects the apparatus (screen),
which in turn affects the characters to the extent that what counts are no
longer simply diegetic events, but their immanent plane as nothing other
than the surface of the apparatus. And taking the form of slapstick, this
self-circuit magic nurtures some early Pathé comedies and prefigures
Gance’s own Au secours/The Haunted House/Help! (France, 1924).
When it comes to the gaseousness of a quasi-screen, it does not always
result from special cinematographic techniques, nor does it always
pass through liquidity. Hindle Wakes (Maurice Elvey, UK, 1927) has

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222 Deleuze and Film

an impressive amusement park scene in which the entire world picture

turns into both solid and gaseous interfaces. At night, the entertainment
complex appears only as a clearly lit contour as if on a completely even,
solid blackboard. In the inside of a dance hall, meanwhile, the flatness of
the whole space continuously shimmers with the molecular movement
of human particles, just like tiny leaves minutely swaying in the wind.
Here, all subjectivity is shattered on the huge plane of interfaciality,
whose infinitesimal restructuration at every molecular moment is its
consistency. Deleuze takes Vertov’s ‘montage’ as ‘gaseous’ because of
the extremely disorganic relations between shots (Deleuze 1986: 80–6);
I add that Vertov’s shot, and even just one photogram within it can
be perceived as gaseous because of the extremely disorganic relations
between human molecules on the evaporating surface of the world. ‘All
that is solid melts into the air’ – Marx’s Communist Manifesto might
also sound like an Interface Manifesto in Vertov.
Not coincidentally, early avant-garde cinema in general innovatively
experimented on/with this unspoken manifesto. Among others is László
Moholy-Nagy’s Ein Lichtspiel schwarz-weiss-grau/Light Spill: Black-
White-Gray (Germany/USSR, 1930), a product of a 3D device that is
less complex than its 2D visual effect. A small set of rotating iron poles,
balls, holes and mirrors casts much greater reflections that almost erase
their metal body in multilayered shadows. Even in close-up, the device
dissolves into an illusion of flattened fluidity. Furthermore, the liquid
surface becomes gaseous as ‘black, white, and gray’ facets of light cir-
culate on the whole screen as if in the air. Visual illusion then melts the
reality effect of the solid substance into the screen effect of substance-
less surfaces that are already immanent in it, yet more immense than it.
Some contemporary experimentalists continue to explore the poten-
tial of the ‘object-becoming-screen’. Franco Piavoli’s Il pianetto azzurro/
The Blue Planet (Italy, 1981), a stunning love-poem to mother nature,
captures the surface of the world that looks as though it changed into
all the three types of quasi-screen. A solid screen: the dark yellow sky
appears just like a canvas, a frame of the unlimited space with a sharp
trace of its immanent verso. A liquid screen: not rushing of water, but
its reflection of light, casts a hypnotic spell of fluidity on to its waving
surface. And a gaseous screen: the wind in the trees is emblematic of the
slow, lingering, but continuous and relentless movement of matter at
every moment. A similar symphony of nature, or of the nature of things,
is played in a more ‘enstranging’ way by Nathaniel Dorsky. Sarabande
(USA, 2008) updates Dorsky’s typical captivating guide to the immanent
virtuality of our ordinary reality. When a show window space of a fur-

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Quasi-Interfaces and Immanent Virtuality 223

niture store is displayed from an oblique angle, simple decorative balls

suddenly look like planets afloat in space without any ground of gravity.
With all its 3D spatiality, the image disorients our habitual sense of
topology as if we were looking at the cosmos. The tactile sense of solid
substance in this shot, then, rather disappears when the camera looks
into the slightly liquid surface of red leaves and expressionist black lines
that look like worms wriggling out of leaves or abstract waves flooding
out of immanence. This still, inorganic life force between pattern and
environment evokes the notion of the ‘dynamic sublime’ of German
Expressionism (Deleuze 1986: 51), only now on the microscopic scale.
But Dorsky’s imagery is quite static rather than literally dynamic. A shot
from Threnody (Nathaniel Dorsky, USA, 2006) elicits from a spidery
entanglement of twigs and branches an illusion of an ‘action paint-
ing’ à la Jackson Pollock. In complete stillness, the 2D surface of our
vision somewhat takes on gaseousness here, because of those haphazard
inorganic lines – still dynamic in essence rather than in actuality – and
interstices that take over every molecular space of the screen. The world
calmly evaporates there.

Virtual Reality, Virtual Screen, the Virtual on Screen

The illusion of a quasi-screen causes an imagination of the world’s trans-
formation. It amplifies the flatness, fluidity and fluorescent effects of the
surface of objects – reflected or refracted, natural or artificial – which
thereby enables the screen to sway, flow and evaporate with inorganic
particles. The world then reveals itself as an interface that is a cin-
ematic plane of immanence. If this is one way of liberating what Martin
Heidegger calls the ‘world picture’, or the world conceived and grasped
as habitual image (Heidegger 1977: 115–54), then this leads me briefly
to discuss the possibilities of and for interfaciality in the digital era.
There are two major tendencies regarding virtuality in the digital era.
Firstly, VR is still a dominant concept in digitisation. The efficiency of the
world picture is rather reinforced through the digital approach to reality,
still based on Alberti’s perspective for the world of the picture itself to be
a virtual space. It is a vividly immersive space that facilitates the illusion
of tactility in the continuum of actual and virtual realities. However, the
existence of the frame distinguishes two realities anyhow, and the specta-
tor’s enhanced identification with virtual characters is somewhat owed to
his sense of safety and distance from VR (Morse 1998: 19). Moreover,
Human-Computer Interfaces (HCIs), as the apparatus of VR, display
their own spatiality that combines haptic and optic spaces, not within

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224 Deleuze and Film

VR but on the monitor in reality. That is, we have the sense of the ‘space-
medium’ of the interface that we use, and which is different from the 3D
totality we want to enter. Simply put, computer windows overlap each
other, constantly awakening their utilitarian nature. In addition, far from
being ‘post-symbolic’, VR must also find its symbolic means, conventions
and signifiers, whether they be adopted from other media practices or
newly developed over time (Lister 2005: 38–47).
Second, perhaps as an attempt to overcome these conditions of VR,
there is a tendency to liberate the notion of screen from its usual location.
The point is not to make a virtual space, but to take any actual space as
a virtual screen for projection. Many installations’ media art works now
develop this screen-creating capacity by projecting images on to the wall
of public buildings and so on. As one might trace the primal screen back
to the mother’s breast, it would be possible to think of the evolution of
the screen in its largest sense regarding such expanded cinema (Connor
2004: 59 and 285). More profoundly, this might suggest that the pro-
jected image implies, elicits or creates its own immanent screen above
and beyond the screen that first exists and shows the image. Therefore,
we meet again with the idea of immanent interfaciality here.
Still, we could discuss the virtual on screen in its own dimension rather
than confusing it with VR or the virtual screen. The digital update of the
illusion of interfaciality thus deserves attention. Steven Spielberg’s War
of the Worlds (USA, 2005), for example, opens with a great water drop
on a leaf whose convex surface reflects other leaves in high resolution.
As the camera zooms in on this quasi-camera, however, it turns into
the blue earth while the surrounding green nature gradually becomes
a dark space/surface. The earth here looks less like a camera than like
an object seen from outside, namely an objet a for aliens that will soon
desire/attack it. Our planet then changes into a red traffic light, an eye
in the air, as if the outer gaze were sutured into it. This iconic montage
epitomises the suture/de-suture dynamics between nature, the universe
and civilisation, with the quasi-interface looking not only ‘back’ but also
‘beyond’, and/or enabling us to do so. The ending of the film is more
radical: while the narrator explains how bacteria defeated the aliens,
the camera focuses on another big water drop, before zooming into it to
show similar-looking bacteria cells within. 3D tactility thus gives way to
2D interfaciality, while the quasi-camera is magnified until it operates
as a quasi-microscope that lets us look ‘into’ it. This immersion into
biological immanence continues, disorganising eye-looking bacteria into
a sheer empty plane with floating strings of microbial molecules alone.
The microscopic plane then transforms into the macroscopic one, with

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Quasi-Interfaces and Immanent Virtuality 225

strings becoming stars – visually, a universe of eyes. Our subjective

vision is then liberated to a quasi-screen of visuality based on emptiness,
blankness, openness.
Genesis (Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, France/Italy, 2004)
will serve well as our final example. Resonating with Piavoli’s and
Dorsky’s films, this cinematic bravura goes back to immemorial time
and translates it into spatial immanence. The title tells everything: in
the beginning was no Word, but a wordless Big Bang. The first shot
is nothing other than a cosmic gaseous screen with nameless particles
floating through light, their innumerable crashes and atomic dances,
faceless surfaces of undetermined brown waves. Then we see the
birth of the earth, the seas and the heavens, which is followed by the
indefinable force of a water drop that horizontally traverses a transpar-
ent surface of the world, i.e. a liquid quasi-screen. Germs of life appear
in the form of eye-looking cells, or quasi-cameras that look back, and
through which we look beyond on a rather solid dark screen. This chi-
asmus of microcosm and macrocosm, all that dynamism of chaosmos,
godless struggles and inhuman drives in the origin-less and goal-less
world, is now replayed after digitisation and on sleek digital interfaces.
The digital infiltrates into the immanence of our vision and illusion in
this way. There now unfolds, so to speak, digital immanence.
In sum, we have reformulated the concept of illusion by investigating
the ways in which the surface of the object takes the visual form of a
quasi-interface. The illusory 3D reality effect leads to the total cinema
of virtual reality that invites us to the saturation of the senses and thus
to a spectatorial mode of ‘phenomenological’ embodiment. The illu-
sion of 2D interfaciality, however, hints at the ‘ontological’ shift of the
sensory-motor system to ‘immanent virtuality’ as the cinematic plane of
Deleuze’s immanence. These two illusions are not only being updated
on the digital surface of the cinematic image, but they are also visually
invigorating both the actual – even within VR – and the virtual as such –
even within this actual. While the former will never stop fascinating our
eyes, the latter will remain a Deleuzian playground for our continuous
rethinking of cinema.

Allen, R. (1995), Projecting Illusion: Film Spectatorship and the Impression of
Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bergson, H. (1990), Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer, New
York: Zone Books.
Connor, S. (2004), The Book of Skin, London: Cornell University Press.

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 225 17/02/2012 16:59

226 Deleuze and Film

Deleuze, G. (1986), Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and B.

Habberjam, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. (1989), Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. H. Tomlinson and R. Galeta,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari (1977), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,
trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H.R. Lane, New York: Viking.
Epstein, J. (1926), Le Cinématographe vu de l’Etna, Paris: Les Ecrivains Réunis.
Heidegger, M. (1977), ‘The Age of the World Picture’, in The Question Concerning
Technology, and Other Essays, trans. W. Lovitt, New York: Harper & Row, pp.
Lippit, A.M. (2002), ‘The Death of an Animal’, Film Quarterly, 56 (1): 9–22.
Lister, M. (2005), ‘Dangerous Metaphors and Meaning in Immersive Media’, in
J. Furby and K. Randell (eds), Screen Methods: Comparative Readings in Film
Studies, London: Wallflower, pp. 38–47.
Mekas, J. (1957), ‘Hans Richter on the Nature of Film Poetry’, Film Culture 3 (11):
Morse, M. (1998), Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Shklovsky, V.B. (1990), Theory of Prose (1929), trans. B. Sher, Elmwood Park:
Dalkey Archive Press.
Sobchack, V. (2004), ‘What my Fingers Knew: The Cinesthetic Subject, or Vision
in the Flesh’, in Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment And Moving Image Culture,
Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 53–84.
Turvey, M. (2008), Doubting Vision: Film and the Revelationist Tradition, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Žižek, S. (2001), The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieślowski Between Theory
and Post-Theory, London: British Film Institute.
Žižek, S. (2004), Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences, New York:

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 226 17/02/2012 16:59

Notes on Contributors

William Brown is a Lecturer in Film at Roehampton University. He is

the author of Supercinema: Film Theory in the Digital Age (Berghahn,
forthcoming), which is a theoretical consideration of digital cinema,
particularly digital special effects. He is also the joint author (with Dina
Iordanova and Leshu Torchin) of Moving People, Moving Images:
Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe (St Andrews Film Studies,
2010). He has published essays in various journals and edited collec-
tions, including Deleuze Studies, New Review of Film and Television
Studies, animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Studies in European
Cinema, and Studies in French Cinema.

David Deamer lectures in film at Manchester Metropolitan University.

He has published in J. Bell and C. Colebrook’s Deleuze and History
(Edinburgh University Press, 2009), Deleuze Studies and A/V, the online
Deleuze journal. David blogs on Deleuze and cinema at and is preparing a book on Deleuze, Japanese cinema and the
atom bomb.

Elena del Río is Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University

of Alberta, Canada. Her essays on the intersections between cinema
and philosophies of the body in the areas of technology, performance
and affect have been featured in journals such as Camera Obscura,
Discourse, Science Fiction Studies, Studies in French Cinema, Quarterly
Review of Film and Video, Film-Philosophy, The New Review of Film
and Television Studies, Canadian Journal of Film Studies, SubStance,
and Deleuze Studies. She has also contributed essays to volumes on the
films of Atom Egoyan, Rainer W. Fassbinder, and on the philosophy
of film, and Deleuze and cinema. She is the author of Deleuze and the
Cinemas of Performance: Powers of Affection (Edinburgh University

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 227 17/02/2012 16:59

228 Deleuze and Film

Press, 2008). Her current book project re-examines the phenomenon

of violence in the cinema from the perspective of a Deleuzian ethics
informed by Spinoza’s philosophy of the affects and Nietzsche’s philoso-
phy of bodily forces.

David H. Fleming is a Lecturer in Film, Media and Communications at

the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China. After completing his PhD
at the University of St Andrews in 2009 he has published film reviews,
review articles and academic papers engaging with Deleuzian and schizo-
analytic approaches to identity and affect in different forms of cinema.
He co-edited Cinema, Identities and Beyond (Cambridge Scholars Press,
2009) with Ruby Cheung, and is currently working on completing his
first monograph that explores a Deleuze and Guattarian approach to
‘extreme’ and ‘event’ cinemas (Blowing Minds and Breaking Bodies: The
Philosophy of ‘Extreme’ and ‘Event’ Cinemas [Intellect: Forthcoming]).

Markos Hadjioannou received his PhD from the Film Studies Department
at King’s College London (2009), where he also lectured until 2011.
Recently, he was appointed to the position of Assistant Professor in the
Literature Program at Duke University, where he will be teaching film
theory and film history. His research interests include the ontology of
cinema, film and new media, film theory and philosophy, and spectator-
ship and ethics. He has published a number of articles on these topics,
and his monograph From Light to Byte: The Question Concerning
Digital Cinema is forthcoming (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

Amy Herzog is coordinator of the Film Studies program and Associate

Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New
York. She is also on the doctoral faculty of theatre and film studies
at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of Dreams of
Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment in Film (University
of Minnesota Press, 2009).

Seung-hoon Jeong is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at New

York University Abu Dhabi. He has published extensively on a variety
of topics including indexicality, cinematic ontology, Korean horror, and
animals in film, as well as on filmmakers and theorists including André
Bazin, Werner Herzog, Michael Haneke and Peter Greenaway.

David Martin-Jones is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University

of St Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of Deleuze, Cinema

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 228 17/02/2012 16:59

Notes on Contributors 229

and National Identity (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), Deleuze

Reframed: A Guide for the Arts Student (I.B. Tauris, 2008) (with
Damian Sutton), Scotland: Global Cinema (Edinburgh University Press,
2009), and Deleuze and World Cinemas (Continuum, 2011). He is also
the co-editor of Cinema at the Periphery (Wayne State University Press,
2010). He is a member of the editorial boards of Deleuze Studies, Film-
Philosophy and A/V, and co-edits the Continuum monograph series
Thinking Cinema.

Serazer Pekerman has recently acquired her PhD in Film Studies from
the University of St Andrews. She holds a BArch in Architecture from
Middle East Technical University and an MA in Visual Arts and
Communication from the University of Bahçeşehir. In her PhD thesis
she worked on the representation and perception of the female body and
female intimacy in contemporary transnational cinema. She is interested
in film space, hybrid non-human imagery, transnational cinemas and
schizoanalytic approaches in film studies. She writes film scripts, novel-
las, short stories, film reviews and scholarly articles on film in Turkish
and in English.

Anna Powell is Reader in Film and English at Manchester Metropolitan

University. She is the author of Psychoanalysis and Sovereignty in
Popular Vampire Fiction (Mellen Press, 2002), Deleuze and the Horror
Film (Edinburgh University Press, 2005) and Deleuze, Altered States and
Film (Edinburgh University Press, 2007). She is also the co-editor (with
Andrew Smith) of Teaching the Gothic (Palgrave, 2006). Anna directs
A/V and is a member of the Deleuze Studies editorial board.

Richard Rushton is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at Lancaster

University, UK. He is author of The Reality of Film: Theories of Filmic
Reality (Manchester University Press, 2010), Cinema After Deleuze
(Continuum, 2011) and (with Gary Bettinson) What is Film Theory?
(Open University Press, 2010).

Damian Sutton is Reader in Photography at Middlesex University. He

is the author of Photography, Cinema, Memory: The Crystal Image of
Time (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and, with David Martin-
Jones, of Deleuze Reframed: A Guide for the Arts Student (I.B. Tauris,

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 229 17/02/2012 16:59

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 230 17/02/2012 16:59

Action-image, 2, 8–9, 13, 18–19, 23–34, 146, 158, 164, 180, 182, 186–90,
37, 39, 43, 48–51, 56, 84, 98, 100, 196–7, 199, 203–5, 208, 211,
157, 192, 202 214–15, 217–19, 225
ASA⬘, 50 Ben-Yishai, Ron, 115
SAS⬘, 26, 49–53, 98 Benjamin, Walter, 213
Actor’s Studio, 46 Bentham, Jeremy, 124, 126
Affection-image, 23, 25, 198, 200 Bergson, Henri, 18, 23–4, 56, 64,
Ahn, Dong-kyu, 68 109–10, 111, 117, 186, 187, 188,
Ahn, SooJeong, 68 217
Aldrich, Robert, Kiss Me Deadly Matter and Memory (1896),
(1955), 170 23–4
Allsop, Samara Lea, 22, 34 Beugnet, Martine, 2
Almodóvar, Pedro, 151 Body without organs, 8–9, 15, 37,
Andrew, Dudley, 2, 3 45–51, 53, 178, 184, 192, 199,
Anomalous, 14, 181–4, 186, 187, 189, 217
190 Bogue, Ronald, 2, 155
Antonioni, Michelangelo, 138 Bollywood, 55
Any-space-whatever, 99 Borges, Jorge Luis, 138, 193
Arnold, Andrea, 12, 121 Braidotti, Rosi, 122
Red Road (2006), 12, 121, 124–6, Buchanan, Ian, 2, 121, 178
129–31, 134 Burroughs, William S., 176
Arnold, Jack, 182 Buscombe, Edward, 38, 40, 42
The Creature from the Black Lagoon Butler, Alison, 2
(1954), 182
Asian economic crisis (1997), 9, 62 Cavell, Stanley, 213
Assemblages, 1, 4, 8, 55, 177–8, 182, Chakravarty, Sumita, 44–5
195, 197 Chang, Kyung-sup, 62
Attraction-image, 24 Chaplin, Charles, 37
Chauvel, Charles, 86
Badiou, Alain, 22 Jedda (1955), 86
Balázs, Béla, 213 Chow, Rey, 4–5
Baudrillard, Jean, 175 Chronosign, 24
Bava, Mario, 186 Cinemes, 108, 110–12
Bazin, André, 110, 198, 212 Cineosis, 23–4, 34
Becoming, 6, 7, 12, 14, 34, 46–8, 56, Cliché, 13, 82, 101, 140–1, 145
86, 88, 90–3, 96, 98, 100–2, 105, Cold War, 20, 65
109, 122–4, 131–2, 134, 140, Colman, Felicity, 2

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 231 20/02/2012 16:44

232 Deleuze and Film

Cornell, Joseph, 148 Duchamp, Marcel, 216

Rose Hobart (1936), 148 Anemic Cinema (1926), 216
Thimble Theater (1938), 148 Dupont, Ewald André, 217
Creed, Barbara, 183, 194, 197–8 Variety (1925), 217
Cromwell, John, 156
Dead Reckoning (1947), 156 Eastwood, Clint, 38, 40
Crowley, Aleister, 177 The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), 40
Crystal, 64, 79, 83, 141, 146, 194, 202, Eisenstein, Sergei M., 18, 72, 73
211, 216 Elsaesser, Thomas, 106, 150–2
crystalline regime, 56, 60, 111–13, Elvey, Maurice, 221
116–18, 137, 202 Hindle Wakes (1927), 221
Cyberstar, 192–4, 197 Epstein, Jean, 213, 216
Escher, M.C., 215
de Heer, Rolf, 85 Eurocentrism, 4, 6
Ten Canoes (with Peter Djigirr,
2006), 85 Fajr International Film Festival, 88,
de Palma, Brian, 39 93
Scarface (1983), 38 Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, 12–13, 139,
del Río, Elena, 8, 13, 121, 139–41, 149, 149–52
151, 199 Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), 151
del Toro, Guillermo, 13, 173, 177 Faulkner, William, 145
Cronos (1993), 178 Fellini, Federico, 146
Hellboy (2004), 13–14, 173–90 film farsi (Iran), 93–6
Deleuze, Gilles film noir, 1, 13, 156, 164
Cinema 1 (1983), 3, 37, 98, 173, 198 film-e ejtema’i (social justice films in
Cinema 2 (1985), 3, 37, 55, 72, 74, Iran), 94–5
90, 93, 99, 104, 146, 157, 173, filmha-ye dini (religious film, Iran), 94,
180, 187 96
Difference and Repetition (1968), 142 Finch, Spencer, 148
Logic of Sense, The (1969), 47 West (Sunset in my motel room,
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari, Monument Valley, February 26,
1, 6–9, 14, 18–19, 37, 46–8, 51, 2007, 5:36–6:06 pm) (2007), 148
53, 101, 121–3, 125, 126, 134, Fincher, David, 148, 192–208
157–60, 173, 176–86, 188–90, The Curious Case of Benjamin
192, 195, 197–201, 217 Button (2008), 14, 192–208
Anti-Oedipus (1972), 19, 47, 157 Fight Club (1999), 194, 201
A Thousand Plateaus (1980), 14–15, Fisher, Terence, 186
47, 122, 176 The Brides of Dracula (1960), 186
What is Philosophy? (1991), 7, 14, Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 192
179 Flaxman, Gregory, 2
Demy, Jacques, 151 Fleming, Victor, 84–5
Denis, Claire, 139 Gone with the Wind (1939), 85
Derrida, Jacques, 162–3, 167, 169–70 The Wizard of Oz (1939), 84
Deterritorialisation, 8, 12, 24–5, 123–4, Folman, Ari, 11, 104–19
129, 141, 144, 148, 153, 177–8, Waltz with Bashir (2008), 11, 12,
189, 212 104–19
Di Filippo, Paul, 181 Ford, John, 37, 53, 74, 148
digital imagery, 14,15, 106, 180 The Searchers (1956), 148
Discourse-image, 24 Foucault, Michel, 124, 138, 175
Doane, Mary Ann, 105–11 Fried, Michael, 75
Dorsky, Nathaniel, 222–3 Fukasaku, Kinji, 9
Sarabande (2008), 222 Battles Without Honour and
Threnody (2006), 223 Humanity (1973), 9

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 232 17/02/2012 16:59

Index 233

Gance, Abel, 72–3, 221 Kaige, Chen, 44

La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915), kaijū eiga (mysterious creature film),
221 18
The Haunted House/Help! (1924), kalatesa (timeliness), 42, 44–5, 52
221 Kar-Wai, Wong, 221
Gemayel, Bashir, 116 Chungking Express (1994), 221
Gilliam, Terry, 177 Kazan, Elia, 46
Brazil (1985), 177 Keaton, Buster, 37, 50
Globalisation, 68 The General (with Clyde Bruckman,
Godard, Jean-Luc, 141, 214 1926), 50
Week End (1967), 214 Kelly, Gene, 76
Griffith, D.W., 73 Kelly, Richard, 215
Broken Blossoms (1919), 73 Donnie Darko (2001), 215
Guattari, Félix see Deleuze, Gilles Kennedy, Barbara M., 2
Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah, 95
Hamer, Bent, 12, 121 Kieślowski, Krzysztof, 215
Kitchen Stories (2003), 12, 121, 124, The Double Life of Veronique
126, 131–4 (1991), 215
Haneke, Michael, 125, 228 Kim, Dae-seung, 9, 54, 57
Caché (2005), 125 Blood Rain (2005), 57
Harrison, Rachel, 38, 40–2 Bungee Jumping of their Own
Hawks, Howard, 37, 38, 43, 74, 85 (2001), 57
Red River (1948), 85 Traces of Love (2006), 9, 54–69
Scarface (1932), 38 Kim, Jee-woon, 57
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 181 A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), 57
Heidegger, Martin, 223 Kim, Tae-yong, 57
Henckel von Donnersmarck, Florian, Memento Mori (with Kyu-Dong Min,
12, 121 1999), 57
The Lives of Others (2006), 12, 121, Klossowski, Pierre, 144–5
124, 126, 128, 130–1, 134 Kong, Su-chang, 57
Herzog, Amy, 2, 12–13 R-Point (2004), 57
Herzog, Werner, 37 Kracauer, Siegfried, 213
Hiroshima, 9, 18, 20 Kubrick, Stanley, 170
History (antiquarian, critical, The Killing (1956), 170
monumental, universal), 30–4 Kurosawa, Akira, 8–9, 37, 138
Hitchcock, Alfred, 72–4 Rashomon (1950), 9
Hobart, Rose, 148
Holland, Eugene W., 122–3 Lamorisse, Albert, 215
Honda, Ishirô, 8, 18, 20–1 The Red Balloon (1956), 215
Godzilla (1954), 8–9, 18–34 Lang, Fritz, 156, 161, 168, 170, 216
Hume, David, 142–3 The Big Heat (1953), 170
Hyalosign, 24 Metropolis (1927), 216
Scarlet Street (1945), 161
Im, Kwon-taek, 63 The Woman in the Window (1944),
Sopyonje (1993), 63 156
International Monetary Fund (IMF), 62 Lau, Wai Keung, and Alan Mak, 220
inversion-image, 24 Infernal Affairs (2002), 220
Israel-Lebanon War (1982), 114–15, Lectosign, 24
119 Lee, Ang, 42
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Jeunet, Jean-Pierre, 177 (2000), 42
City of Lost Children (with Marc Lee, Brandon, 205
Caro, 1995), 177 The Crow (1994), 205

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 233 17/02/2012 16:59

234 Deleuze and Film

Lee, Jang-ho, 63 Miller, George, 86

The Man with Three Coffins (1987), Mad Max 2 (1981), 86
63 Minnelli, Vincente, 10, 18, 74–8, 80, 81,
Leone, Sergio, 38, 40, 43 83, 86, 150
The Dollars trilogy (1963–1966), An American in Paris (1951), 74
40 The Bad and the Beautiful (1952),
Lewis, Joseph H., 161 74
Gun Crazy/Deadly is the Female The Band Wagon (1953), 74–6, 83
(1950), 161 Brigadoon (1954), 74, 76
Limit situation, 6 Gigi (1958), 74
Linklater, Richard, 125 Madame Bovary (1949), 75
A Scanner Darkly (2006), 125 Meet Me in St Louis (1944), 76
Losey, Joseph, 138 The Pirate (1948), 76
Lourié, Eugène, 20 Some Came Running (1958), 75
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Minoritarian, 11, 92–6, 99, 122–4, 126,
(1953), 20 134, 173, 185
Lovecraft, H.P., 173, 181–2, 187–8 Moffat, Tracey, 86
Lucas, George, 196 Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989),
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom 86
Menace (1999), 196 Moholy-Nagy, László, 222
Luhrmann, Baz, 1, 10–11, 71–86 Light Spill: Black–White–Grey
Australia (2008), 74, 77, 80, 83–6 (1930), 222
Moulin Rouge! (2001), 74, 77–83 Moore, Alan, 177
Strictly Ballroom (1992), 74, 77–8 The League of Extraordinary
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet Gentlemen (comic book, 1999),
(1996), 74, 78–82 177
Lynch, David, 139–40, 151 motion capture (mocap), 200, 206
movement-image, 3–4, 10–11, 13, 15,
MacArthur, General Douglas, 20, 32 23–5, 37, 43, 48–9, 51, 53, 55, 71,
MacCormack, Patricia, 2, 178 72–3, 76, 81, 84, 86, 88, 92, 98,
Machen, Arthur, 187 100–1, 108, 111, 140, 156–7, 192,
Machine, 14, 18–19, 22, 30, 34, 100, 194, 220
124, 126, 158, 164–5, 177, 178, Mullarkey, John, 2, 73
182, 193, 195, 197, 201, 207–8 Multi-plane existence, 8
Mak, Alan see Lau, Wai Keung Multiplicity, 7, 176, 181, 183–4, 186,
Manovich, Lev, 194, 196, 198, 201 188, 199–202, 217
Marks, Laura U., 2 Muni, Paul, 38
Marrati, Paola, 2 Murnau, F.W., 186
Martin-Jones, David, 2, 4, 10, 43, 72, Nosferatu (1922), 186
123 Murray, Timothy, 2
and Damian Sutton, 2, 123
Marx, Karl, 222 Nanking, rape of (1937), 34
Massumi, Brian, 122 Neorealism, 13, 55, 138, 155–6, 171
Melford, George, 148 Nichols, Bill, 105, 108
East of Borneo (1931), 148 Nietszche, Friedrich, 7, 11, 18–19, 30,
Méliès, Georges, 205, 221 34, 36n, 90 118, 114–15, 152, 163,
Une bonne farce avec ma tête (1904), 169, 194, 211
205 Beyond Good and Evil (1886), 169
Melodrama, 1, 12–14, 57, 62, 74, The Gay Science (1882), 169
139–40, 142, 149–52 Twilight of the Idols (1888), 169
Mignola, Mike, 176, 181 Untimely Meditations (1876), 19
Hellboy (comic book, 1994–), 176, Nietszche/Dionysus, 7
181 Nimibutr, Nonzee, 41

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 234 17/02/2012 16:59

Index 235

Nolan, Christopher, 177 Ray, Man, 216

The Prestige (2006), 177 Emak-Bakia (1927), 216
Nomadism, 8 Ray, Nicholas, 150
Non-Oedipal desire, 8, 158, 160 Ray, Satyajit, 144
Noosign, 24 Recollection-image, 23, 25
Noriega, Chon A., 20, 21–2, 34 Redner, Gregg, 2
Norrington, Stephen, 177 Relation-image, 23
The League of Extraordinary Renoir, Jean, 79
Gentlemen (2003), 177 Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932),
Noyce, Philip, 85 79
Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), 85 Toni (1935), 79
Nuridsany, Claude, 225 Repetition, 12–13, 32, 101–2, 138,
Genesis (with Marie Pérennou, 142–3, 147, 153, 195
2004), 225 Resnais, Alain, 141, 146
Rhizome, 8, 14, 176–7, 184–6, 189
Olkowski, Dorothea, 72 Richie, Donald, 18, 19, 20, 36n
Ophüls, Max, 83 Richter, Hans, 216
Opsign, 24, 185 Filmstudie (1926), 216
Orwell, George, 124–5 Ritchie, Guy, 177
Ozu, Yasujiro, 55, 138 Sherlock Holmes (2009), 177
Robbe-Grillet, Alain, 141
Pacino, Al, 38–9 Rodowick, D.N., 2, 4, 72, 104, 107,
Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 18 118, 175, 195, 196–7
Pastiche, 38, 43, 53, 83, 85, 145 Rohmer, Eric, 85
Pearl Harbor (1941), 32 Rushton, Richard, 2, 10–11, 12, 13, 73,
Peirce, Charles Sanders, 18, 23, 75, 100–1
105 Russell of Liverpool, Lord, 34
People to come, 85, 92, 96, 98, 102,
180 Sabra and Shatila massacres (Lebanon,
Perception-image, 23, 25, 202, 212, 1982), 115, 119
219 Sakaguchi, Horonobu, 196
Perrault, Pierre, 85 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Perry, Commodore Matthew, 32 (with Moto Sakakibara, 2001),
Pestonji, Rattana, 41 196
Piavoli, Franco, 222, 225 Sampoong department store, collapse of
The Blue Planet (1981), 222 (1995), 58, 61–2, 63, 68
Pisters, Patricia, 2, 3, 72, 101, 194 Sasanatieng, Wisit, 9, 37
Pitt, Brad, 14, 192, 198, 201–2, 204–5, Tears of the Black Tiger (2000), 9,
208 37–53
Plane of immanence, 15, 217, 223 Schizoanalysis, 8, 121–35, 178
Pollock, Jackson, 223 Scott, Ridley, 183, 201
Powell, Anna, 2, 8, 13–14, 15, 57, 63, Alien (1979), 183
101, 174, 182 Thelma & Louise (1991), 201
Powers of the false, 11, 12–13, 90–1, Shapiro, Jerome F., 22, 34
111, 137–8, 141, 144–6, 160, shari’ah law, 91
168–9 Shaviro, Steven, 2
Preminger, Otto, 156 Shohat, Ella, 6, 127
Laura (1944), 156 and Robert Stam, 6
Proust, Marcel, 64 Sirk, Douglas, 12–13, 139, 140–1,
Proyas, Alex, 205 149–52
The Crow (1994), 205 Written on the Wind (1956), 141,
Pusan International Film Festival 151
(PIFF), 68 Songkhram, Phibun, 43

MARTIN-JONES 9780748641215 PRINT.indd 235 17/02/2012 16:59

236 Deleuze and Film

Sonnenfeld, Barry, 177 Verne, Jules, 177

Wild, Wild West (1999), 177 Vertov, Dziga, 213, 222
Sonsign, 24, 185 Vidor, King, 38
Soroush, Abdolkarim, 88, 91–3, 98 The Crowd (1928), 38
South Korea, 1, 2, 9, 54–9, 62–9 virtual, 14–15, 22, 24, 46, 56, 60, 64–5,
Spielberg, Steven, 125, 195, 224 83, 100–1, 111–13, 115, 119,
Jurassic Park (1993), 195 143–4, 146, 159, 182, 187, 192,
Minority Report (2002), 125 195–7, 199–205, 208, 210–25
War of the Worlds (2006), 224 virtual reality, 219, 223, 225
Spinoza, Baruch, 121
Starbucks, 67–8 Weerasethakul, Apichatpong, 210–12
Steampunk, 14, 173, 175–9, 181, 183 Mysterious Object at Noon (2000),
Steinbeck, John, 145 210
Stewart, Garrett, 2 Syndromes and a Century (2006),
stolen generations (Australia), 85 210, 214, 218
Straub, Jean-Marie, 138 Tropical Malady (2004), 212, 215
and Danièle Huillet, 138 Welles, Orson, 146, 168–9, 170, 215,
surveillance, 2, 12, 121–35, 210 216, 221
Sutton, Damian, 2, 8–9, 15, 123 Citizen Kane (1941), 215
The Lady from Shanghai (1947),
Tabrizi, Kamal, 11, 88 216, 221
The Lizard (2004), 11, 88–102 Touch of Evil (1958), 170
Tanaka, Tomoyuki, 20 Wells, H.G., 177
Tarantino, Quentin, 95–6 Wilder, Billy, 156
Pulp Fiction (1994), 95 Double Indemnity (1944), 156
Tarkovsky, Andrei, 219 World War Two (1939–1945), 8, 10,
Mirror (1975), 219 13, 55, 69, 84, 134, 171
Teo, Stephen, 5
Thailand, 8, 9, 34, 36n, 37–44, 210, Yang, Edward, 220
212 A One and a Two (Yi yi) (2000),
Thornton, Warwick, 85 220
Samson and Delilah (2009), 85 Taipei Story (1985), 220
Time-image, 3–4, 8–11, 13–16, 24–5, Yau, Esther C.M., 5
37, 48, 54–69, 71–4, 81, 83, 86, Yeo, Kyun-dong, 63
88–102, 104, 108, 111, 140–1, Out of the World (1994), 63
146, 156–7, 164, 168, 186–7, 194,
208 Zemeckis, Robert, 196
To, Johnnie, 5, 220 Beowulf (2007), 196, 199,
The Mission (1999), 220 206
Tourneur, Jacques, 156 Žižek, Slavoj, 22, 46, 51, 52, 215,
Out of the Past (1947), 156 217–19

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