THE DISCLOSURE OF BEING IN CINEMAS REALISM
Susan Elizabeth Stites
B.F.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
This thesis for the Master of Humanities
Susan Elizabeth Stites
has been approved
Susan E. Linville
Stites, Susan Elizabeth (M.H., Graduate Interdisciplinary Program)
The Disclosure of Being in Cinemas Realism
Thesis directed by Professor Margaret L. Woodhull
In our everyday lives, we encounter beings in many modes. Our experiences
provide us with an understanding of ourselves and being in the world. For
every encounter that we experience, we come closer to a perception of our
own existence. The cinematic image is a unique type of phenomena that
assists in our understanding of Being. It does so because it reveals life
through its practice of realism. I posit that cinemas spectator gains access to
Being through the appearance of existence in the visual image, which then
reflects back onto the viewers own notion of life. In this paper, I examine
Martin Heideggers method of phenomenology in conjunction with Jacques
Lacans psychoanalytic theory of development in order to gain an
understanding of how one may come to know Being through the perception of
the cinematic image.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication. ^
largaret L. Woodhull
My thanks to my advisor, Margaret L. Woodhull, for her understanding,
inspiration, and support to my research. I also wish to thank the members of
my committee: Melinda Barlow, for her continual support beginning with my
undergraduate studies to the completion of my masters, and to Susan Linville,
who revived my enthusiasm in the analysis of film. To my family, I give my
gratitude for all their love and encouragement in my academic endeavors.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. ENCOUNTERING THE FILM IMAGE..................1
2. REALISM AND THE FILM IMAGE...................9
3. PERCEIVING FILM THROUGH PHENOMENOLOGY........23
4. PERCEPTION AND THE WORLD.....................30
5. PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE FILM IMAGE............37
6. THE FILM IMAGE AS APPEARING AND SEEMING......48
7. CONCLUSION................... ...............53
ENCOUNTERING THE FILM IMAGE
The everyday objects we encounter in our daily lives influence our
understanding of our surrounding world and of ourselves. Through such
encounters with things, we find their usefulness for us. A useful thing is
essentially, in Martin Heideggers words, something in order to... (Being and
Time 64; Â§15, 68). This in order to... contains a reference that extends
beyond itself and ultimately refers back to the user. When we encounter a
chair, for example, we do not see it as consisting of particular substances
which maintain its function; rather, we see it as an object that is already
present and its in order to is for us to sit on. We view it with an
understanding of what it is and that it is here for us. A things usefulness is
not a characteristic of the thing itself; it is a part of its constitution.
Discovering a things usefulness shows how it is for us, and through this
reference, we discover the world and Being, or existence.
The visual image is another type of thing in the world through which
this process demonstrates itself. It expresses information about how we exist
among things and others. The in order to of the visual image becomes in
order to bring forth existence for us to discover Being. We do not initially
perceive the visual image as made up of some particular substance, such as
paint or silver halides; instead, when we look at a visual image, we see the
expression of existence before us. The image refers beyond its immediate
depiction to signify the significant relationships humans have with the things
they encounter; it is referential. It is referential because the image refers
beyond its material appearance and signifies beings various modes of
existence. What we find in our encounter with the visual image is that it is for
us to see existence at work in its various manifestations. The visual image
moves us beyond our average everydayness of encountering things in the
world to a possibility of understanding of being. Viewing the moving image
discloses being and makes it accessible to us.
As we recognize existence through our visual perceptions, we
construct ideas of self and world. The moving image is a self-showing of
existence and is both the seen and the seer. It is the seen because it reveals
existence as unfolding before us and it is the seer because it refers back to
our own existence within the world. Each encounter we have with a visual
image assists us in establishing the nature of our being.
The moving image permeates our lives more than ever in the twenty
first century. With DVD players in our cars, homes, offices, the Internet, and
video billboards outlining city streets we find the moving image almost
everywhere we go. Such visual representations interconnect who we are with
what we know of our existence. As we encounter other people, things, and
objects within the images, we find a semblance of our own world reflected
back at us. We view the expression of life as we gaze upon the visual image.
Vision is a skill involving our experience, language, and other senses;
it is a transformation of stimuli, which according to Dudley Andrew, the
regularity of this transformation permits a consistent world to be constituted,
one generally in harmony with our other senses and with the experience of
other people, (Concepts 29). Viewing the cinematic image both extends and
constitutes our perception of the world as it is. It extends because we are
able to perceive many different forms of existence and it constitutes because
as we view the world through the image, we discover the nature of Being.
The cinematic image is at once a window, mirror, and frame to Being.
Classical film theory divides the criticism of the purpose of cinema into
two factions: formalism and realism. Formalist theorists, such as Sergei
Eisenstein and Rudolf Arnheim, emphasize the artistic process of film above
films capability of representation. Eisenstein conceives film as both machine
and organism. Films form, for Eisenstein, makes way for the purpose of film.
Although the filmmaker may be at the mercy of actual events, it is his or her
responsibility to construct meaning from the raw material recorded. Through
the mechanics of filmmaking, such as montage, the filmmaker creates
meaning. Arnheim stresses the analysis of film as an artistic process of
expression over the filmic process of representation. For him, film has the
capability to represent the world in an artistic way and to rely on realism is to
deny films function as art; physical matter as subject matter should not be the
focus of film. The screen is a frame that constructs meaning and shapes the
images appearing in it. As an art form, it should hover aesthetically and
separately above the everyday world.
Realists, including theorists Siegfreid Kracauer and Andre Bazin, focus
on how film records the physical world. Kracauer differs from other film
theorists in centering on the material aesthetic founded on the priority of
content rather than on artistic form. Instead of film creating a new world for
the spectator, it turns back to its raw material. The cinema exists
overwhelmingly as a medium that presents life in its raw form while other
visual media present life through recreation (Major 108). Films purpose is
not to make the spectator forget the physical world, but rather to display the
world itself. Kracauer blends the technical capabilities of film with reality. The
world exists as photographable for Kracauer, and he asserts that denying this
is to deny the primary function of the medium: to explore and expose the raw
material of brute reality (Major 137). For Kracauer, the cinematic image
brings us face to face with the world we live in (Kracauer 305). In his essay
La Strada, Bazin asserts, cinema attains its fullness in being the art of the
real (20). Fie describes reality as an aesthetic space where visual and
spatial realities constitute cinema. Cinema is an art of the real because it
represents the temporality of objects and the space they inhabit. In this
sense, film is like a window to reality. Both Kracauer and Bazin argue that
there is little difference between the perception of cinema and the perception
of the world in general (Concepts 19).
Whether films primary function is ultimately an aesthetic or a realist
presentation, it is, nonetheless, a representation of a world. Such a world
may be a connotation of ones inner psychological world or a denotation of
ones outer physical world. In some instances, it is a combination of both. As
Bazin asserts, the surrealists took advantage of the photographys blending of
the dream world with the reality of the physical world. It produces an image
that is both real in nature and in the mind (Cinema 16). One question that
remains from both debates is the question of the spectators experience in
What is film if not viewed, either by one or by many? Films ultimate
reception lies with the spectator and it is within such a reception that the
viewer discovers Being. Andrew claims that for cinema theorist Jean Mitry,
the cinema is a world open to brute perception. Through our perceptions, we
blend what we see with what we know from experience. Andrew
Being is meaningful only insofar as man transforms it through all the
devices, powers, and limitations at his command. In this venture
cinema is his greatest tool, for while proceeding like natural perception
it builds another, more intense world alongside that natural perception.
It thereby allows us to compare our ways of seeing and valuing reality
with those of other people. It allows us to project new meanings back
on reality, meanings which necessarily enrich us and pay tribute to the
inexhaustible world in which we live. (Major 211)
Drawing on Andrews observation, I posit that the spectators viewing
experience of the moving image of film provides knowledge of the self and the
surrounding world. As an illustrative image that simulates a real object, film
offers a form of reality itself. The cinema not only provides examples of the
world to be looked at, but the viewer also learns how to exist within the world
from his or her viewing practice. As we perceive events, people, and objects
unfolding in front of us on screen, we are experiencing ways in which the
world exists. We gaze at the screen like a window to the world waiting to be
viewed; however, it is also like a mirror. The screen reflects back our own
lives, even as others perform them. By viewing others, viewers come to know
In order to examine how the spectator experiences the moving image
of cinema, my analysis will take both a phenomenological and psychological
approach. Firstly, I characterize how cinemas moving image is distinct from
the still image of painting and photography. Unlike the production of images
in other art forms, cinema displays time and space in a manner that is similar
to human perception. Secondly, I will define what phenomenology is in
accordance with Martin Heideggers ontology of Being. Finding ourselves
already in the world, we understand our existence through our encounters
with things in the world. Thirdly, I examine Jacques Lacans psychoanalytic
study of human development, particularly his analysis of the Mirror Stage, in
order to ascertain how humans develop their subjectivity and understanding
of existence through the perception of others. Psychologically, cinema does
indeed affect us as a natural phenomenon, Andrew maintains. Viewers
employ their eyes and ears to apprehend visual and aural forms
corresponding to things, beings, and situations in the world (Concepts 19).
Cinema is an extension of the world and our perception of that world
correlates to our comprehension of our own subjectivity. Lastly, I return to
Heidegger, in his analysis of appearing and seeming. Heidegger argues
that through our encounters with everyday things in the world, an awareness
of our fundamental nature of Being appears to us. The experience of viewing
film as a thing in the world reveals what it is to exist within the world. Both
Lacan and Heidegger examine how we perceive our surrounding world in
The moving image affects us because we are able to place our minds
and bodies into the filmically expressed world. (B]y recognizing a reality [in
film], asserts Maya Deren, our attendant knowledges and attitudes are
brought into play; only then does the aspect become meaningful in reference
to it (Cinematography 220). As I will explain, film places the spectator in
the film through its psychologically mirroring apparatus. The spectators
psychology enhances this apparatus by placing his or her self in the film. I do
not assert that viewers experience domination over the images by their
placement in the film, but rather the experience happens phenomenologically
and psychologically. In other words, the spectator positions the world viewed
as his or her own and this assists in establishing his or her character. When
one perceives an image, ones mind comprehends the reality represented as
an extension of its own and assimilates the expression of experience as its
own experience. Whether the spectator finds the filmic image as satisfying or
unfulfilling aesthetically is not in debate here. My analysis focuses solely on
the perceptual experience of the spectator. Film presents different modes of
existence and through this display of reality, we discover a humans Being.
REALISM AND THE FILM IMAGE
The film screen is a window to the world that presents existence as it is
in its basic form; however, it is also like a mirror as the reality it presents is
reflective of our own. There are many films that do not seem to fit within our
individual notion of reality, such as horror or science fiction, but the above
holds true even with these films. The basic forms given in film are the people
playing the characters and the objects around them. Regardless of the
narratives situation, the forms remain in physical reality. Bazin posits that the
plastic arts are more for presenting the likeness of an ideal real than having
aesthetic proficiency (Cinema 10). This is not to deny aesthetic qualities or
abilities of the visual arts, but an artistic depiction of man is still man no matter
how well it is produced. The real remains in the photograph regardless of its
aesthetic quality or lack thereof. In describing this quality to the photographic
image, Bazin maintains, No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no
matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares...the
being of the model of which it is the reproduction; it /s the model, (14).
Viewing the moving image blurs the line between perceived and actual
reality. Even though the thing represented is not present in the audiences
physical reality, the spectator, nonetheless, perceives the image as real. The
reflection of the world that the cinema presents us is real in physical reality as
well as in our minds. In his book John Dewey and the Lessons of Art. Phillip
Jackson argues this premise: The objects and events are as much a part of
experience as we are ourselves, Jackson maintains. We are fully immersed
in experience, its components so interpenetrate one another that we lose all
sense of separation between self, object, and event (3). In viewing moving
images, our experience becomes that of experiencing what the image offers.
As we gaze at the film screen, we see things and people, not unlike
ourselves, encountering situations similar to our own. Since we already
understand what it is to experience life in our own existence, we transfer that
experience to the visual image in order to understand what is presented
Why do I privilege films moving image above the images of other
media, such as painting and photography? Does one not experience the
world through these media? Visual art, in general, expresses physical reality
in ways that are characteristic to its particular medium. However, the filmic
image does not need the painters touch, for example, to interpret the world,
for the camera records it automatically. For the first time, between the
originating object and its reproduction, Bazin asserts, there intervenes only
the instrumentality of a nonliving agent... .the world is formed automatically,
without the creative intervention of man (Cinema 13). Bazin separates the
painters creative touch from the recording mechanism of the camera itself.
The camera can record movement, depth, and time without the creative
influence of humans. This is not to assert that there is not a human operator
of the camera, but this does assert that the human agent is not the
manufacturer of the image. Other images found in paintings, photography, or
print may suggest movement, time, and depth but they, because of their
specific media, are not able to portray these things in the same captured form
While painting and drawing are techniques for creating images,
photography and cinema can produce images of physically existing objects.
Even when a painting illustrates an actual object, the depiction is not real. An
example for this would be Marcel Duchamps painting Nude Descending a
Staircase (1912). This piece depicts a figure in the various stages of
movement while descending a staircase. The lines suggest movement and
give a sense of motion, but the movement of the figure is ultimately in the
mind of the viewer. The painter must create the essence of motion or depth
within the frame of the canvas for it is not inherently given. The painters
portrayal of motion and time are conceptions conveyed through paint. The
viewer must conceive movement in a painting, whereas the viewer of film
does not, as it is inherent within the medium; for film, movement is literal.
Even with a painting that is a perfect illustration of an object, such as a
Trompe Ioeil painting, the object depicted is a fooling of the eye rather than a
re-presented object. Photography and cinema provide their viewers with a
different way of seeing the world from that of classical visual arts. The
aesthetic of paintings, similar to trompe Ioeil, alludes more to illusion than
realism. Painting is a trick of the eye rather than an appearance of reality
(Cinema 19). Viewing images represented through photography and cinema
is similar to viewing an object through both a window and a mirror; the film
image offers a expansive world were we are able to see objects as they
reflect back at us from the screen.
Kracauer expresses four affinities particular to photography, which
separate it from painting. These are portraiture, action, infinity, and
indeterminateness. Photographys material properties have particular
characteristics in making us aware of the physical world. The first is
photographys affinity towards un-staged reality (Kracauer 18). The
camera captures the world as it is. It renders the raw material of nature,
within any given moment. The painters image, even in the most
representative still life, yields to the capability and expression of the artist.
The camera is not bound to the invention of the artist; it captures objects as
they are without creative re-interpretation. The object photographed by a
camera, aesthetic ability aside, remains the object. When we view a painting,
we understand that it is still a painting regardless of its aesthetic quality.
The second, which aligns with the first, is photographys ability to catch
random events as they occur. Its ability to seize any moment at any time is
unlike any other medium. The painter may capture a moment in time, but that
moment is translated from the painters memory to the canvas. Because of
the time that it takes to paint a scene, the painters representation may only
be as the painter perceived it, rather than as it actually was. A photographs
ability to capture the action of a drop of rain falling in the air is unique to its
medium; reflection on the moment does not occur with photography.
Photographys tendency to express endlessness is the third property.
Photographs preclude completeness and present the world in fragments
rather than in wholes (Kracauer 19). The border of the photograph may
suggest a limit, but its subject refers infinitely. The entity within the image
denotes physical existence, which the camera cannot encompass. The
photographic image cannot capture the entire world in one photo. The world
exists beyond the edges of the frame, and in this way, the photograph is
unable to render wholeness. In this respect, Kracauer argues, there is an
analogy between the photographic approach and scientific investigation: both
probe into an inexhaustible universe whose entirety forever eludes them
(20). The object photographed becomes an example of all similar objects and
because of this; the object is never within our grasp.
Finally, the photographic medium has an affinity for the indeterminate.
The photograph isolates a moment and does not define it (20). Although
photographic images have structure and meaning, they remain ambiguous,
uncontained by any one particular definition. Kracauer stresses that a
painting carries a variation of meanings as well but because of the human
intention of the painter, the possible meanings have limits. The photographer
may choose what object to capture with the camera, but he or she does not
determine the form the object takes, as with a painter. The photograph
necessarily has indeterminate meanings because it conveys unshaped nature
Although photography captures the world in a manner that is distinct
from painting, photography, like painting, limits how we view an image.
Because both painting and photography produce still images, their
representations are frozen within their media. These media are unable to
produce the continuum that cinema creates. Bazin argues that the cinema
does not preserve images in the solitary instant like painting or photography,
but rather presents objects in their duration (Cinema 14). The element of
motion that only cinema has breaks through the limitations of other media.
This affinity for real surfaces, states Micheal Roemer, combined with great
freedom of movement both in time and space, brings film closer than any
other medium to our own random experience of life (256). The world opens
up to viewers for they are able to experience the third side of an object, the
present, the past, and the future within the cinematic image. Film presents
the world as it actually is in ones everyday mode of viewing. The lens of a
camera becomes a window or mirror to existence. While painting describes
and the photograph depicts, cinema presents the world in an expression that
is similar to our own. When we view a film, we are experiencing visually,
audibly, and kinetically. In its world picture, films boundaries of space and
time are fluid. Similar to Kracauers analysis of photography, films images
refer beyond themselves. In our physical lives, we can remember to a time
past, see our present, and envision our future. Likewise, in film, we are
shown flashbacks, experience things in actual time, and are shown what the
possibilities of the future are. The realism of film synchronizes our vision of
the world we actually live in with the world presented on the screen.
The realism of cinema is not simply because it records objects in their
natural state without any assistance from the filmmaker. The mode of
representation is realistic because it employs the same capacities of human
perception. Film has the ability to record fictitious forms of reality, but that
reality plays out, in actuality, in front of the camera. Film cannot produce
objects that are not already presented to be viewed. The objects have
existence, and thus, they are real. [T]he closer the experience of film
watching approximates to the experience of seeing the real world, Gregory
Currie asserts, the more effectively film engenders in the viewer the illusion
that he or she is actually watching the real world (326). Spectators correlate
what they view to their natural process of perception. Cinematic existence
resembles physical existence and this resembling places the spectators
outside-of-the-picture viewing as the perception of the camera.
It is not the realism of images alone, which assists in conveying the
world as it is and how we actually see it; it is also how cinema presents the
image. The givenness of an image, as representation, does not exclusively
express the spectators relationship to his or her existence. How film
technically presents Being to the viewer is as important as what the image
signifies. We should examine phenomena in any form and in phenomenas
many modes of givenness (Moran 11).
Both montage and the long take are techniques of expressing reality.
Montage, in the most simple of definitions, is the process of joining two
separate shots in a predetermined order to create a particular meaning
(Kuleshov 47). The technique of montage presents disjointed images and
places them in a certain manner so that together the combined images
convey a continuity of time and action. In one montage experiment by Lev
Kuleshov, he manufactures a representation of a woman created from shots
of different females. [W]e shot the lips of one woman, the legs of another,
the back of a third... .and created a totally new person Kuleshov asserts.
This particular example likewise demonstrated that the entire power of
cinematic effect is in montage (53). Through montage, film can condense
time and present new forms, but also maintain the realism of the subject. The
images of parts taken from one person and applied to another remain
authentic in reality. There is a reality beyond the surface of the image. Some
theorists, such as Andre Bazin, however, argue against montage as a
compelling technique in representing reality.
Bazin asserts that it is the use of the long take and deep-focus shot
that brings the notion of films realism to the spectator. He argues that
montage does not offer spectators the event; it only alludes to it (Cinema 25).
The long take allows the action to present itself in a natural manner in front of
the camera. In his description of Erich von Stroheims approach to filming,
Bazin asserts that in the long take, reality becomes naked and raw for the
world to see. Take a close look at the world, keep on doing so, and in the
end it will lay bare for you all its cruelty and its ugliness (27). Although
Bazins thesis that the long take allows events to unfold without particular
emphasis on any one object has value, I argue that viewers do not always
perceive events in this fashion. As we proceed through our daily lives, we do
not necessarily encounter one event in entirety before proceeding to the next;
we cut our perception into fragments. For example, we may glance from a
face to a street and then to the sky in one instance of viewing. There are also
moments in life where the action is only audible and we glance from object to
object to locate what it is that we hear. Observations of this type align closely
to montage, which Bazin argues is jarring to the viewer because it lacks
fluidity. In some filmic instances, this may be true; however, it is not my
emphasis to argue one type of representation over another; but rather, how
film exhibits its expressions of reality in various modes.
Film is a unique medium of communication that presents a dialect of
narrative mediation and visual immediacy. The viewer must balance between
being a passive spectator and an active interpreter. Film has the capacity to
stimulate thinking in and knowledge-acquisition by the spectator as he or she
participates directly in the cinematically created world. Its dynamic and
temporal nature, however, intensifies the interactive experience of film. The
fluctuation of moving images continually creates new meanings and
experiences for the spectator.
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) is a film that both challenges and
represents the spectators knowledge-acquisition and discovery of self. The
films protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), experiences a loss of short-
term memory after the murder of his wife and is only able to comprehend life
through viewing Polaroids, which he takes as memory archives, and through
tattooing his body with information of the past. These archives provide him
with a type of long-term memory that his brain is unable to provide for him.
With each loss of memory, Shelby finds himself existing already in a world
where his wife is dead and he must rediscover his existence.
Similar to Shelbys existence, we also find ourselves already existing in
the world. For example, when we wake up each morning, we discover that
we already exist and that the world is already there for us. The surrounding
world reveals our possibility of being. As the spectator gazes upon the
screen, he or she sees how others, in this case Shelby, exist in certain
situations. Being reveals itself through the film image as it exposes the
happening of truth. Heidegger asserts, The essence of art, on which both
the artwork and the artist depend, is the setting-itself-into-work of truth
(Origin 197). The truth that is revealed is not pre-determined or fixed in
time; rather, it is understood and interpreted by the spectators own mode of
viewing. We come to understand existence by viewing life unfolding in front
of us on the film screen. As we understand our own pre-existing lives, we
come to understand the truth of being displayed on the film screen. Through
cinemas reflection of existence, the spectator perceives Being.
The film explains the story through two narrative styles: one in color
and one in black and white. The main style, color, works the narrative
backwards, where each new sequence reveals events that precede the
previous one. Although this style is not initially associated with how the
spectator gains knowledge, it is aligned with the function of memory and how
past knowledge informs new and unknown experiences. When humans
encounter new situations, they use previous knowledge mechanisms to
handle such experiences. In the film, Shelby demonstrates this procedure by
examining his Polaroids and tattoos, which ostensibly give him the knowledge
that his memory has forgotten.
The second narrative style, of black and white, progresses forward in
time, within the narrative. These sequences inform the spectator of Shelbys
condition and serve as a buffer to define the two differences of time.
Memories can be distorted, Shelby asserts in the film. Theyre just an
interpretation theyre not a record. And theyre irrelevant if you have the
facts. Having the facts, provided through the black and white sequences,
demonstrates that his assessment of memory may not be enough for either
the spectator or Shelby. He needs both types of perception to understand the
world he lives in.
The film also displays, to the viewer, the process of memory and
knowledge-acquisition. One uses knowledge previously recorded to interpret
current situations. In the film, memory works backwards and the spectator
must remember the present or future to understand the past. The film,
however, remains coherent because as the viewer discovers the past, the
future is brought into light. The mode of the narrative is similar to our own
existence. In perception, we live in the here and now while simultaneously
able to project ourselves in the future or to the past. Time references are not
separate from our present time: the past, present, and future occur within the
same moment as our immediate existence. We are continually in a state of
becoming. Although we are always changing through time or other means,
we do not become different from ourselves. Our existence is not divided from
one moment to the next; it is both what we will become and what we are. It is
imprudent to cut Being into segments of time as independent selves; more
accurately, being is one self that continuously exists. If this were not so,
Being could not reveal itself because each moment would be separate and
individual; we would not evolve or have a potentiality of being (Being and
Time 124: Â§28, 132).
We simultaneously exist in every moment. In pur everyday lives,
memory reactivates the objects of the then and there, but during the here and
now. We exist in all moments of time at once. Understanding the becoming
of being is important because Being reveals itself through this process. The
memory of future events, in Memento, informs the past and the spectator
discovers meaning through his or her knowledge of the present. The
spectator understands this unfolding because he or she experiences it in life.
For this thesis, I contend that the use of still images, such as Shelbys
Polaroids, ultimately do not provide enough information for him to
comprehend reality. Each photograph presents but a single moment in time
and does not provide enough of a context for complete understanding. A
photograph may be of the world, but it only suggests the surrounding world.
The moving image presents the world in motion and in time. The moving
images in Shelbys reminiscences, which depict memories of his wife before
her murder, offer more information than the written words tattooed on his
body or the Polaroids that he relies on to give him information of his current
life. [Cinemas images] present to us that special way of being in the world,
asserts Maurice Merleau-Ponty, of dealing with things and other people,
which we can see in the sign language of gesture and gaze and which clearly
defines each person we know (58). Perceiving the moving image allows one
to experience things and other people in a greater context than language or
The reason for isolating the moving image from other types of images
is to assist in defining why viewers are able to experience the world more
directly through film than other media. Perception is not a sum of visual,
tactile, and audible givens; viewers perceive with their whole being and the
cinema speaks to all senses at once (50). In viewing the film image, the
spectator sees, hears, apprehends, and comprehends at once.
PERCEIVING FILM THROUGH PHENOMENOLOGY
Ever since Plato developed the analogy of the cave, a focus on
perception has remained the main approach in examining a humans
awareness of existence. Phenomenology, a philosophical approach in
understanding existence, is significant in the investigation of Being because it
relates perception and interaction with being in the world. Phenomenology is
unique from other philosophical approaches because it examines the world
itself as it is perceived by us in order to come to an understanding of
existence. In this chapter, I discuss Heideggers phenomenological approach
in order to later illustrate how the moving image reveals Being.
Heidegger asserts that the term phenomenology comes from the two
Greek terms phainomenon and logos. Phainomenon means what shows
itself, and this is where the term "phenomenon derives its meaning (Being
and Time 24; Â§7, 28). Things in the world reveal themselves through our
encounters with them. Through our senses, we are able to come in contact
with things that we experience in our everyday lives. As we touch or gaze at
a thing in the world, our senses enlighten us about the phenomenon. A
phenomenon goes beyond the self-showing of phainomenon to semblance,
which aligns its meaning to representation. The semblance of a phenomenon
has the appearance of being one thing when it is not. This does not indicate
that the self-showing of phenomenon is a pretense, but it does assert that
when we encounter phenomena, we may not always discover the actual
being of the object. The film image may seem paradoxical in the sense that it
reveals existence but is not actual existence; however, the camera recreates
and reveals physical reality only because the object reflecting back through
the image is real. Films semblance of reality is not to be confused with going
against the idea that film captures reality with its specific medium. Things
encountered in the world reveal themselves in many ways and this revealing
depends on the mode of access we have to them. As I will demonstrate,
although the film image is a semblance of existence, the spectator views the
image as an avenue in which to gain understanding of his or her self.
The second term logos derived from Geek means word or thought,
although Heidegger defines it more closely in meaning to discourse (Moran
229). If we define the meaning of logos as speech, we discover that the
significance of speech is interpretation, judgment, or relation. Heidegger
asserts, however, that logos as speech actually means: to make manifest
what is being talked about (Being and Time 28; Â§7, 32). The logos of
phenomenology, which is the making manifest through the discourse of our
encounters, directs our attention to the concealed being and reveals it.
Together phainomenon and logos, or revealing and making known,
encompass the phenomenology of existence. Being reveals itself as
semblance through the film image and as it reveals itself it is making itself
known to us. We apprehend our own being through the things that are made
known to us. Through the discourse of interpretation, the significance of
things is shown.
Phenomenology describes things in the world just as they are, in the
manner that they appear, and engages them with all areas of our experience.
Edmund Husserl, the leader of the phenomenological movement, writes:
This phenomenology must bring to pure expression, must describe in
terms of their essential concepts and their governing formulae of
essence, the essences which directly make themselves known in
intuition, and the connections which have their roots purely in such
essences. (249; Â§1)
Phenomenology is the study of essences through experience, as Husserl
asserts, in their purest form, as unadulterated by intentionality. In attempting
to describe the role of consciousness for apprehending knowledge,
phenomenology does not split subjectivity from the objective surrounding
world; rather, it recognizes that the process of constituting objectivity involves
subjectivity. Identity and intelligibility are available through our encounters,
and when we encounter things within the world, we encounter ourselves.
Although a student of Husserl, Heidegger differs in his notion of
phenomenology. He argues that it involves an interpretation of the world
rather than a description (Moran 20). He views phenomenology as a question
of how Being shows itself to humans. Heidegger analyzes that question by
considering how existence appears in and through humans. Existence is
ambiguous and indeterminate, for Heidegger. Thus, traditional logic, which
relies on determinateness, does not provide a means for understanding
Being. His answer to this question is by examining the ontic level of being in
order to determine the ontological level of Being. Heidegger separates being
from Being. Being with a b is the various manifestations of things. Each of
us and the things around us are beings in the world, but being is not itself an
entity. It is existence, essence, and presence at once. Being with a B is the
basic structure of being; it is the constitution of our existence. In examining
the Being of beings, he argues that in the ontic level, we encounter and
observe things, or beings, in the world, as useful; through their usefulness, we
discover how the world is meaningful to us. Ontologically, the structure of
Being reveals itself through the analysis of the ontic. We have immediate
access to our own selves and in order to understand Being we must
understand the being of beings. Through this process, we come closer to an
understanding of what it is to be human, as a thing or being, and ultimately
know what Being is, or in other words, what it means to exist.
Humans already have a certain understanding of themselves. From
birth, we find ourselves already in the world and know certain involuntary
actions, such as breathing. Yet, we may not know how or in what way we
already understand. We vaguely understand already in the sense that when
we encounter a thing there is a pre-understanding that the object is there for
us. With each thing we encounter, whether it is a situation or object, we
develop a deeper understanding. As life presents itself to us, we discover
existence. Such encounters do not control our understanding rather we are
able to choose certain possibilities of existence for ourselves.
In Memento. Shelby is continuously re-establishing his existence.
Every morning when he wakes up or any moment when his memory erases
itself, he must discover what existence means to him. He understands that
he has short-term memory loss, but he does not understand his potentiality of
being until he encounters his tattoos and photographs. As Shelby searches
his hotel room looking for clues to inform him about himself, he states, You
know who you are and you know kind of all about yourself. Finding himself
already existing in a world that is created for him, he must discover his
possibilities of existence. As Heidegger maintains:
Dasein always understands itself in terms of its existence in terms of
a possibility of itself....Dasein has either chosen these possibilities
itself or got itself into them, or grown up in them already (Being and
linne 12; Â§4, 33).
For Heidegger, Dasein is an entity whose essential character it is to inquire
about Being. This entity which each of us is himself and which includes
inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, we shall denote with the term
Dasein (Being and Time 40; Â§ 9, 42). Humans, or Dasein in Heideggers
terms, do not exist in the world as separate entities from the world where
situations and things occur around them or to them, rather, they mutually exist
together as a unified phenomenon. Heidegger asserts that being-in is a
formal existential expression of the being of Dasein which has the essential
constitution of being-in the world (Being and Time 51; Â§12, 54). We may be
individual beings with unique perceptions and experiences, but we are beings
within the world who affect and are affected by other beings in the world.
Humans may already have an understanding of existence, but getting
at that understanding is not always easy. Phenomena may hide their true
selves from us or even not show themselves at all. The visual arts
demonstrate this concealing and revealing aspect of phenomena. As
explained earlier, the visual arts may not always be as they seem; they are a
semblance of their references. When examining a film, we find both the real
object and its semblance. It is the real object because beyond the lens of the
camera exists the object itself. The camera as mechanical tool captures the
image of the physically real object and then projects the image onto the
filmstrip. The filmstrip presents the object in the form of a semblance to the
actual object. The thing that shows itself to the spectator is both the thing
itself and its likeness. Because film depicts both the thing itself and its
likeness, the spectator is able to discover how things actually are and how
they present themselves to be. We learn that existence both reveals and
conceals itself to us.
Heidegger also asserts that humans may find it difficult to understand
Being because we are intellectually pre-occupied with traditional theories and
opinions that keep Being hidden from us (Being and Time 6; Â§ 2, 25). To
begin an analysis of Being as revealed in images, we must first acknowledge
what we already know, so that the understanding of Being does not elude us.
This line of reasoning involves a relatedness backward or forward (Being
and Time 8; Â§ 2, 28). In the next chapter, I examine the theoretical history of
perception, as conceived through film, to advance our understanding of the
PERCEPTION AND THE WORLD
Cinema positions the viewer so that he or she simultaneously
understands the characters, the camera, and the image itself. Scientifically,
as Jacques Aumont argues, the filmic image is a double perception of reality
(40). The image is both a fragment of a two-dimensional flat surface, which
can be touched, moved, and seen; and is a three-dimensional fragment that
only exists through sight. In order for the image to encapsulate both
dimensions, it must be carefully constructed. In his analysis of vision, Aumont
explains the double perception of reality in the hypothesis of point of view:
In 1970 Maurice Pirenne put the following hypothesis: to the extent that
one can register both the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional
realities of an image, first, the correct point of view of the image can be
determined (the view which corresponds to the perspectival
construction), and secondly, the retinal distortions created by an
incorrect point of view can be compensated for. In other words, it is
because the image is seen as a flat surface that the pictures imaginary
third dimension can be readily perceived. (42)
When viewing the cinematic image, the spectator rarely occupies the precise
position constructed for the viewer by the images perspective. Because the
spectator understands that the image is flat, he or she compensates for the
point of view given in the image; without this allowance for compensation, the
viewer would only perceive distortion. Through ones compensation for point
of view, the viewing process of the image imitates the characteristics of
natural perception. [Perception permits us to understand the meaning of
cinema, Maurice Merleau-Ponty asserts. A movie is not thought; it is
perceived (58). The spectator apprehends the filmic world as he or she
apprehends the physical world; however, films spatial and temporal nature
enables the viewer to experience reality without physical interaction.
Films image does not require anything, but perception from the viewer.
Without any conscious notion of its interpenetrating, counterinfluencing
organisms, Lewis Mumford argues, it enables us to think about that world
with a greater degree of concreteness (299). Mumford maintains that film
isolates material objects, or organisms as he terms them, of the world but
also maximizes them. Without physically engaging with the presented
objects, the spectator sees these objects in their natural mode of existence.
Even if one stages the objects for the film camera, they inherently have a life
of their own. Through film, spectators examine the world up-close and in
context of other worldly objects.
Perceiving the world in this manner allows the viewer to gain a unique
understanding of self and other. More than any other medium of human
communication, Vivian Sobchack asserts, the moving picture makes itself
sensuously and sensibly manifest as the expression of experience by
experience (3). The expressed world, which the viewer experiences through
the moving picture, becomes actual experience for the viewer. The spectator
discovers the world through the projected expression and he or she
assimilates that expression of experience into his or her existence.
In our everyday existence, our focus is typically world-directed. We
are caught-up in the world and discover life through our perceptions of it. In
the film Memento, because of his short-term memory loss Shelbys existence
depends on his world-directedness. Every time his consciousness
refreshes itself and rids the new memories Shelby has recently made, he
must re-discover the world around him. This is what Heidegger would
describe as finding oneself existing already in the world. Shelby continuously
finds himself thrown into the world without understanding from where or how
he arrived. He already understands that he is alive, but he does not know
how. It is, however, only when we reflect upon our perceptions that we come
to understand our everyday world-directed experiences. Shelby confines his
world-directedness to his personal articles, such as his car or the things that
he discovers in his room. Each item directs him to some definition of who he
is and why he finds himself in certain situations. How he perceives the
objects reflects what he understands himself to be.
Within both approaches, the world-directed and reflective, we express
intentionality. By intentionality, I assert that we have a conscious relation to
the thing perceived, rather than having a purpose in mind when we encounter
a thing in the world. The awareness that we have toward objects is our
The world is not an object that we recognize outside of ourselves; it
does not compete with us as something that exists. The world opens up to us
as we discover it in our everyday lives. Heidegger asserts that the world is a
context, environment, and set of references within which meaning is located
(Being and Time 73; Â§ 17, 79). We involve ourselves with the world as it
simultaneously involves us; we are always caught-up in the world. Through
the perception of physical objects or images, we apprehend our existence.
Even through our perceptions of events or things that we have not yet
experienced, we integrate them into our experience of life. Heidegger defines
the concept of Being-in-the-world as an account of our basic contact with
things in the environment, and our initial contact with objects is in terms of
their availability to us for certain tasks (Moran 233). The world, with all its
beings and things, is the place where we find our selves and experiences.
If the world is the most encompassing context and perception is a
mode in which we gain knowledge of it and our selves, then how are we to
distinguish ourselves from it without being separate from it? The I is within
the world, but as a unique being. Robert Sokolowski, in Introduction to
Phenomenology, asserts that the I cognitively captures the world while
being in the world and to whom the world as a whole, with all the things in it,
manifests itself (44). The world and all the beings in it reveal themselves to
Being and it is in existence that knowledge is given.
Reflecting on our perceptions allows for the analysis of how our
perception of film opens up the world of existence to us. I assert that when
we direct ourselves toward something, like the film image, we do not stand
outside the encounter and contemplate it; rather, the viewer dwells together
with the object and comes to understand it through interaction. We do not
gather up our perceptions and store them in our consciousness for later
comprehension; instead, our understanding of the world is a perpetual
process of the potentiality of becoming whole. Memento's character
demonstrates this premise as he attempts to maintain some type of
understanding of his existence through his Polaroids. Shelby ultimately fails
in understanding his world because he is unable to exist together with his
photograph. He views the images as separate from himself; he does not
account for his subjectivity. Through this process of dwelling with our
perceptions, we continually develop an understanding of Being. Furthermore,
we are not a sum of our perceptions because this would indicate that our
perceptions are isolated experiences. In our everyday lives, we do not
experience things in isolated moments; similar to Being, our encounters with
things in the world are constant. We discover new understandings of our
being and the world around us in an overlapping, simultaneous manner.
While viewing Memento, the spectator is able to experience Being in a
way that is different from our own existence. Shelby exists in a world of
isolated moments. Because of his short-term memory, each new moment
separates itself from other memories. Because the average brain does not
function in this manner, the spectator is able to experience a different aspect
of existence. The process of viewing film, though, is also an example of our
everyday encounter and perceiving process. The inherent motion that
cinema expresses gives a continuum of experiences that we apprehend,
comprehend, and ultimately come to recognize as existence.
In our natural attitude toward everyday existence, we have a sense of
belief that the things we encounter are real. This attitude is a mode of living
that examines objects in a non-contemplative approach. One might argue
that during our natural attitude, we displace ourselves from our encounters.
Conversely, in this mode we are even more connected with the world.
Because we do not consider the world in our natural attitude, the world
immerses us even more, as lifes natural course. In The Idea of
Phenomenology, Husserl distinguishes our natural attitude from the
Constantly busy producing results, advancing from discovery in newer
and newer branches of science, natural thinking finds no occasion to
raise the question of the possibility of cognition as such... .Cognition is
a fact in nature. It is the experience of a cognizing organic being. It is
a psychological fact. (15)
Philosophy occurs when we question the manner in which thinking, or
cognition as Husserl states, refers to the object revealed and the surrounding
world. The phenomenological attitude concerns itself with the relationship
between subjectivity, objectivity, and the possibility of Being.
It is our anticipation of the possibility of wholeness that incorporates
our sense of belief, found within our natural attitude, into our reality of what
we desire. This is distinct from illusion in that anticipation provides knowledge
that our imagining is possible for us. Viewing film is this type of anticipation.
As we experience the filmic image, we do not disconnect from our viewing
self; we project our potential-being into a different time or place while
remaining in our present viewing position. We view images and through our
perceptions, we go towards our selves; cinema allows the thing perceived to
be present in our here and now.
PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE FILM IMAGE
Vision is an act of seeing where the object being seen is also the
person who is doing the seeing. This act of seeing also presupposes an
understanding of what seeing is and what it is like to both see and be seen
(Sobchack 52). If we understand what it is to be seen and what it is to see,
then our perceptions are understood as reflexive. What we see in the world
also sees us, so as we constitute the world it also constitutes us.
Through the psychoanalysis of Lacan, particularly his analysis of the
development of subjectivity, one discovers how the spectator comprehends
his or her sense self through perception. He distinguishes three
developmental orders, which form identity: the Real, the Imaginary, and the
Symbolic. During the level of the Real, the child experiences unification with
the world and the separation of self is nonexistent. Any idea of self is
incomprehensible to the child because everything is a part of its existence. It
is only when the child experiences its first visual recognition and enters into
the Imaginary stage that it understands that its idea of self is separate from its
The founding moment of the Imaginary is an infants recognition of its
own image in a mirror, which occurs in a child around the age of six to
eighteen months (Lacan 1281). Lacan terms this stage of development the
Mirror Stage. When the mother holds the child up to the mirror, the child
assumes that the reflection it sees is itself, in totality. The child experiences
jubilance in the narcissistic identification as a unified being at the center of the
world, but this experience is short lived. The specular image produces a
sense of alienation for the child as it recognizes that the image seen is
different from how the child views its own body. As the child gazes down at
its body, it sees only fragments of limbs. The image in the mirror, as other,
is the Gestalt, or wholeness, of the perceived body (Lacan 1286). Able only
to view ones own self in parts, the child desires its reflected Gestalt image.
Through the mirror, the child perceives its body as having total form,
but this sense of totality is not real or attainable as the child only experiences
wholeness through its reflected image. The notion of a unified body is thus
fantasy before being a reality, Daniel Dayan states. It is an image that the
child receives from outside (121). The reflection in the mirror becomes the
ideal-l for the child. The child also assumes that the mirror image is the
mothers ideal perception of the child; thus, its fragmented physical self is
separate from and less than that image. It experiences desire to attain the
image of its other, but the child is unable to do so because it is not in
command of the image. The child is a divided self between, on the one
hand, the ideal image...and the false sense of unity with the self, asserts
Susan Hayward, and on the other, the need for its subjectivity to be
confirmed by another (294). According to Lacan, the perceiving infant
discovers in objects and people, as Other, an image of him- or herself.
Others, as the external image constituters, ascertain the definition of ideal self
and not the perceiver. The perceiver is unable to attain completeness
because the definition of subjectivity is manifest through another. The mirror
self is asymptotic. As we attempt to become the Gestalt, the Other changes
and we must re-define ourselves.
Drawing from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Christian Metz derives the
concepts of the Mirror Stage for the analysis of film: how the moment of self-
recognition and distinction marks the perceivers subjectivity in film. In tying
the signifying system to the Imaginary realm, Metz shifts the focus of film
criticism to the construction and reception of film and demonstrates that film
functions both as a sign system and as a process of identity for the spectator.
Identification occurs for Metz in the Imaginary realm of the signifier, where
film narratives create the conditions for identification to occur in a secondary
order of reality. Lacan argues that identification is the basis of subjectivity,
since the ideal-1 is understandable only in and through the other (Bordwell
15). The Mirror Stage is the first step toward this other-based identification in
In order for identification to be successful, perception must be an
interplay between subject and other. From the perspective of the spectator,
identification functions as an assertion of identity. The mirror phase
corresponds to the pre-individualistic, pre-mimetic...stage in aesthetic
organization, posits Fredric Jameson, whose distinctive work lies in the
frequent shifts of the subject from one fixed position to another, in a kind of
optical multiplicity of insertions (354). The Imaginary expands experience
that is not yet structured around the subjectivity of the self. While there may
be division or differences among characters on the screen, the viewer
pursues the identification as one way of expressing his or her correlative
existence. The spectator desires to become the other represented, to inhabit
that psychological and physical space.
The perception of the other, however, contains both a presence and an
absence (Metz 801). The image has presence because the reflection is of
something with a physical reality. Filmmaker, Jean-Luc Godard maintains,
Cinema is not the reflection of reality, but the reality of the reflection (qtd. in
Film and Realism). In this sense, film is most like a mirror. The film image
reflects a mode of reality to the spectator. The presented world seems like
the real world with people and objects to encounter. It is not imaginary
because it is a fabrication, as it appears to the viewer as quite real. It is
imaginary, however, in the sense that it lacks actual physical presence. As
the camera records an object, the object does not exist on the celluloid; it is
an ostensible image of the object. Metz asserts that the film image is similar
to the mirror image in this manner. [Tjhe activity of perception which it
involves is real...but the perceived is not really the object, it is...its replica in a
new kind of mirror (802). Film is a new kind of mirror because it presents
the viewer with a reflection of the world, but is unique because it does not
present the physical manifestation of the object.
In the Lacanian mirror, the child recognizes its body as other, but in
film, the other is replaced with another. As Metz argues, what makes the
spectators transference of identity from object of self to the object of another
is the fact that he or she has already gone through the original Mirror Stage
(802). As the child experiences the initial displacement of self, from non-
subjectivity to subjectivity, he knows himself and he knows his like: it is no
longer necessary that this similarity be literally depicted for him on the screen
posits Metz (802). Because of the mirror experience we have during infancy,
we understand ourselves through reflections. Our acts of seeing give us the
experience of being the seer and the seen. Because of this viewing process,
the spectator understands that what he or she perceives is an object different
from his or her self, which can both be gazed upon and return the gaze.
When perceiving an image, however, the spectator attempts to
discover something about its representation. Representation allows the
spectator to view reality, which is physically absent; through something, that
takes its place. The representational image stands in for what it is presenting.
The viewer is the place where the narrative is organized and experienced.
The viewer identifies with himself as the Gestalt of perception.
Identification is not to say that the spectator embodies the objects
within the frame or that the spectator actually conceives that he or she is in
control of the camera and narrative. Based on Lacans work, I suggest that
identification is a process of gaining knowledge of self and other. Lacan
asserts that the mirror-self is ever reaching in unattainability. Embodiment is
not accomplished by the spectator because the positioning is ever changing
and indefinable. David Bordwell argues that theorists need to clarify what
identification is before they argue cinemas effects on the spectator. I assert
that the subject is an individual that positions but does not embody his or her
self with the representations in film and gains the knowledge of experience
from that position. The knowledge gained is an understanding of existence.
Not that the existence is under the control of the spectator but that the
individual viewing apprehends the world in all of its forms, whether that is self,
other, or surrounding world. What is learned from the comprehension of the
spectator? What it looks like to exist and how the mirror enables the
individual to function within the world.
As Shelby attempts to restructure his lie, in Memento, he relies on visual aids
to assist him in understanding his life. When one short-term memory
replaces another, Shelby searches for his photographs to define his
existence. He is not in control of his understanding, but he still attempts to.
After meeting Natalie (Carrie-Ann Moss), Shelby must decide whether to trust
her. Just as with his own life, he examines her possessions in hopes to
understand her. During his searching, he finds a picture of her embracing a
man in her arms. Shelby realizes that the man in the photograph is the
deceased loved one Natalie previously mentioned. Because he too lost a
loved one, he decides to trust her. As the spectator experiences this scene,
he or she is gaining knowledge of others and of oneself. The spectator gains
an understanding of others because the spectator uses the culmination of
previous personal experiences to comprehend Shelbys situation. An
appreciation of self comes from being both an object and a subject. While
viewing, the spectator uses the experience of the mirror to comprehend other
similar experiences. Gazing into the mirror, we find that we are both the
subject and the object. We are the subject because we find our identity within
the reflection and we hold the gaze. On the other hand, we are the object of
desire and quest for understanding; the thing being seen. Applying this to the
film scene mentioned above, viewing Shelbys method of discovery enlightens
the spectators grasp of existence. [A] movie has meaning in the same way
that a thing does, Merleau-Ponty asserts, neither of them speaks to an
isolated understanding; rather, both appeal to our power tacitly to decipher
the world or men and to coexist with them (58).
Film is a metaphorical attempt to understand and explain the world, as
we perceive it. During the Imaginary order, we harbor experiences, which we
visually register but do not categorize. In this realm, we identify with forms, or
images, that present themselves to us. We view these forms as the
potentiality of wholeness. Our sense of lack, within our selves, necessitates
the constitution of identity through the process of identification with available
objects. We locate and define our perceptions in the transference from the
Imaginary to the Symbolic order, which categorizes our perceptions into
socially constructed signifiers. Forms become definitions for subjectivity. The
visual image finds ultimate determination in social constitution, particularly in
language constitution. Language gives us opportunity to situate what we
visualize into designation.
The Imaginary and Symbolic orders always are in combat with one
another. Every time we perceive an object in the Imaginary, we perceive it
without categorization. It is only after initial perception that our consciousness
places the image into socially constructed knowledge, which lives within the
Symbolic. This is not to say that each occurrence is separate from one
another. Transference from Imaginary to Symbolic is an overlapping
structure occurring in continuous action. This action, however, does not
mean that once we define and categorize an image we become whole, rather,
the transference only situates the thing seen into a socially defined context.
The perception of the other remains only a possibility of wholeness. It is
something that we gage ourselves against, refer beyond it, and achieve
toward. The perception of the other escapes attainability.
Similarly, the transference from Imaginary to Symbolic does not allow
us to overcome our sense of alienation. Within the Symbolic, we displace our
alienation to symbols of our subjectivity. For example, as a child discovers
symbolic designation, that child learns what it socially means to be human.
The child assimilates representations of gender, class, and other categories
into its definition of being. The ego that is so constituted is the ideal I,
formed out of an identification and alienation from that primordial other
...This is what Lacan calls a primary or narcissistic identification and it
provides the model for identification with others (Malone 356). The image of
the qualifier represents the idea of self. As humans, we learn to recognize
ourselves in others because they represent particular symbols. This,
however, creates a deeper sense of lack because now we see nothing of our
own selves reflected back to us. There is no primordial mirror other found in
the perception of the Other.
The identification with the process of viewing and with the camera
allows the spectator to identify with the characters and narrative on the
screen. The spectators interest in film involves the film image itself rather
than the object represented. Although the film image does not show the
spectators body, the position of the camera, with point-of-view shots for
example, displays the world represented for the viewer. In everyday viewing,
we do not perceive our bodies. Similar to film, the spectators body is absent.
As we go about our lives, we compare, examine, and experience others
without seeing ourselves. The film image is a transference of this viewing
practice. As we perceive film, we are not disconcerted by not viewing
ourselves in the frame. The representative screen is a window through which
human spectators contemplate the scene represented in the painting as if
they were seeing a "real" scene of the world. The transition from everyday
viewing to the perception of cinema appears normal to us.
In Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan asserts that
the mind is a screen to perception. Through the gaze, we imagine ourselves
in the field of the Other (84). We conceive the Other gazing at us and that
perception constitutes us. What determines me, at the most profound level,
in the visible, maintains Lacan, is the gaze that is outside. It is through the
gaze that I receive its effects (106). As we give meaning to the Other,
meaning is also given to us. This process is both reflexive and circular. We
determine others, but that also gives our being meaning; therefore, we learn
about Being through the perception of Others.
THE FILM IMAGE AS APPEARING AND SEEMING
When we look out at the world, we believe what we see is true. We
perceive other beings and objects before us as corporeal and not just lines
and colors. In looking at another persons face we perceive his life, posits
Alphonso Lingis in his book Phenomenological Explanations, In touching
another persons hand we touch his very sensibility (73). In perceiving
another person, we recognize that Being is more than material assemblage; it
has existence as well. The existence is more than a collection of ideas and
more than a duplication of ourselves. The being has existence in the world
and we give recognition to that fact. But it is you as other I recognize
there, not my double (79). The subjectivity we give to others is subjectivity in
general. When we perceive others, we find an association of others
subjectivity with our own. As with the mirror, we perceive others and that
perception reflects back and gives meaning to our own existence.
Comparatively, when we view the cinematic image, we believe the
bodies and objects presented are previously recorded physical beings.
Although those beings are physically absent from the screen, their filmic
presence continues to hold their sensual existence. We understand that we
cannot touch the filmic represented image; nonetheless, we still recognize
that their represented subjectivity is actual. Returning to the description of
phenomenon as previously expressed in this thesis, phenomenon derives its
meaning from the verb to show itself. In other words, phenomenon signifies
that which shows itself in itself (Being and Time 25; Â§ 7, 29). A being may
show itself in many ways, depending on the kind of access we have to it. In
film, we see characters, situations, and places presenting themselves to be
shown. Each of these instances is showing itself in itself, but film also
shows itself as something that it is not. It is not reality we perceive in film;
rather, it is a seeming of phenomena. Seeming, or semblance, is the
perception of a thing that is not what it actually is. When we perceive the film
image, we see the physical things previously recorded onto the film. This
gives us the illusion of presence, but not literally present on the film screen.
Instead, the things given to us in the film are only silver halides allowing light
to pass through the celluloid in order to show forms, which represent figures
that we comprehend as familiar things in the world. This demonstrates how
film uses semblance, or showing something as something it is not. Heidegger
maintains, In this self-showing beings look like... (Being and Time 25: Â§7,
29). The seeming of film, begins the process of phenomenologically
understanding how the film image embarks on revealing Being.
In examining phenomena, Heidegger also investigates the mode of
appearing. Appearance is the appearance of something. It does not
indicate that something shows itself; rather, it means that something makes
itself known which does not show itself. It makes itself known through
something that does not show itself (Being and Time 25; Â§7, 29). Being is
what does not show itself and at the same time makes itself known. Being
cannot show itself as itself because things in the world conceal it. Every
being shows Being because Being is not graspable in and of itself. Being is
only able to reveal itself through other beings, and in this way, it is
appearing. The film image exemplifies this premise. As the cinema
presents the world to us, existence is made known; however, it is also
concealed because there is not one thing that only is existence. Being
conceals itself in everything. The cinema is a form of semblance because it
presents itself as existence, but ultimately actual existence is hidden from us.
Appearing has both qualities of revealing and concealing. As the film
image reveals everyday life, it conceals the existence of the spectator and the
physical presence of the represented forms. [S]elf-showing essentially
belongs to the wherein in which something makes itself known Heidegger
posits (Being and Time 26; Â§87, 30). The film image is a self-showing of
reality, wherein existence makes itself known. We presupposed existence on
the film screen. Although Being is manifest through appearing, appearing
allows Being to step-forth from concealment. In Introduction to
Metaphysics, Heidegger asserts:
Because Being...consists in appearing, in the offering of a look and of
views, it stands essentially, and thus necessarily and constantly, in the
possibility of a look that precisely covers over and conceals what
beings are in truth that is unconcealment. (110)
The manner in which things look merely so is seeming, or semblance. Both
seeming and appearing are not illusion as magic, but rather, illusion because
they are something that conceals being. Seeming happens in and with
beings themselves. But seeming not only lets beings appear as what they
are not, it not only distorts the self-showing it is; in all this it also covers itself
over as seeming (Metaphysics 114). Seeming distorts the self-showing of
Being; therefore, appearing can be deceiving. We take images as real.
A picture of a thing is not the actual thing; it is not reality but
someones representation of reality. Film constructs events together to
represent something that does not actually happen; however, we find truth in
the unfolding of the story. The screen confirms this idea when we view
cinemas narrative device of plot structure, where a situation presents itself,
which is then disrupted, and finally must be resolved by the end of the film.
The world reveals itself through this plot structure; however, the world viewed
is Being as appearing and seeming.
It is appearing because it makes something known which does not
show itself. In other words, what is known is the expression of experience
that the spectator obtains from his or her viewing practice. However, this is
not present within the film. As we view a film, we see others in their strife,
love, action, etc. What we do not see is ourselves in the image, but the
expression of experience informs us of existence in the world. We gaze at
the images and learn how to love, act, and ultimately to exist.
Film is seeming because it is showing something that it is not. As we
perceive cinema, we believe it as a type of existence. We see people and
things existing in a world not unlike our own, in the sense that we live among
others and encounter things in the world. Even with science-fiction films, we
perceive a world similar to our own. Although we have not traveled to Mars,
we understand that even on that planet, we would encounter beings in their
various modes of existence. The seeming is that the situations presented
through film may appear as similar to our life, but it is not. Existence reveals
itself through such situations, but is unable to be represented truly.
In this analysis of the revealing of existence through cinematic realism,
I examined both phenomenology and psychology in order to glean an
understanding of the moving images role within a spectators life.. In my
examination, I show that within the world we encounter many things; one of
those things is the cinematic image. In the manner that the film image shows
itself to us, we are able to discover existence. Firstly, through our
perceptions, we view others as existing in the world. Secondly, we assimilate
that information into our own experience. As we encounter objects, in our
many ways, we continually discover and re-discover meaning in the world.
The film image is unique in this process because it simulates physical
existence, as no other medium can.
Heidegger asserts in The Origin of the Work of Art, Works of art are
privileged things, things which work on us, setting truth to work, disclosing the
truth of things, disclosing the world in which things manifest themselves and
the earth which draws them back into itself (164). In a work of art, Being is
both concealed and revealed. Art conceals through its materiality. Form is
the distribution and arrangement of the material of the work of art. By
focusing on the material of the medium, existence is concealed. As we
attempt to understand Being, we go astray when we examine a work of art by
the formal properties of the work alone (164). Instead, we should concentrate
on what is happening metaphorically within the work; by doing so, the work of
art reveals Being. The art work opens up in its own way the Being of beings.
This opening up, i.e., the truth of beings, happens in the work, maintains
Heidegger, In the art work, the truth of beings has set itself to work. Art is
truth setting itself to work (Origin 166). The truth of existence displays itself
within a work of art.
It is not only the showing of Being that makes the film image unique, it
is also the reciprocal nature of film and the spectators psychology, which
completes the cycle of revealing and concealing Being. Art may place
existence on display, but it is through the spectators psychology that Being is
interpreted and comprehended. As we gaze at a film, we view life as we
understand it; however, we find true meaning in the images because the
image refers back to us and our existence. As it does so, it opens-up
existence and we are able to perceive what it is to be.
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