The Molecular Poetics of Before Night Falls

Teresa Rizzo

The important thing is to understand life, each living individuality, not as a form, or a development of form, but as a complex relation between differential velocities, between deceleration and acceleration of particles. A composition of speeds and slownesses on a plane of immanence [1]

[1] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's philosophy offers a range of intriguing possible tools for feminist and queer analysis. The distinction between rhizomatic and tree logic presents a means of understanding bodies and sexuality beyond rigid categories and hierarchies. A rhizomatic logic offers an understanding of bodies and sexuality as open to change or in a state of becoming. Also contained within Deleuze and Guattari's approach is a rhizomatic understanding of life as made up of relations of movements and intensive affects on the plane of immanence. This understanding conjures up an image of life as a kind of molecular energy that is constantly fluctuating between different registers. It also has implications for how we think about sexuality. For if life itself is made up of relations of movements, velocities and different kinds of affective connections then sexuality can be considered in the same way. This possibility is not without its difficulties, however. For Deleuze and Guattari show us that while life, bodies and sexuality can be rendered along the molecular line they can also be produced along the molar line which is structured by binaries, fixed categories and hierarchies.

[2] These concepts—rhizome, life, immanence, molar and molecular—arguably open up new horizons for thinking about identity and sexuality. They are concepts that leave room for thinking about multiplicity and difference, and furthermore make thinking about multiplicity and difference a condition of philosophical, cultural, political and aesthetic analysis. This is true, also, of film analysis. This essay is based on the assumption that the concepts mentioned above offer tremendous potential for the study of film viewing. But at the same time, what is clear is that these concepts bring with them a methodological or ethical requirement to be 'true' to difference and the body, conceived in Deleuzoguattarian terms. These concepts are resources, tools, but also set down conditions for a kind of praxis. As Philip Goodchild points out:

The frequent failure to comprehend Deleuze's philosophy on the part of readers and critics is a result of attempting to represent it, reinscribing it within a foreign semiotic regime, as opposed to rethinking it, repeating the act of thought, which will always be repeated differently. For the Deleuzian unconscious differs in principle from that which can be represented: it consists of real activities (creating, speaking, loving etc.) [2]

This is a significant demand when it comes to the study of film works, as Deleuze's approach to difference and aesthetics is extremely wary of representational logic and thought. Taken to a radical point, even the concept of film, or the spectator can represent molar capturings of intensities and desires. Rather than focus on a film's meaning or what certain images represent, a Deleuzoguattarian approach to the study of film viewing would enquire about the affects, qualities and intensities it generates. Although not specifically addressing film Elizabeth Grosz expresses a similar sentiments when she argues, that it is "no longer appropriate to ask what a text means, what it says, what is the structure of its interiority, how to interpret or decipher it. Instead, one must ask what it does, how it connects with other things." [3] It is precisely the questions of what a film does and how it connects with the viewer that are of great importance to a feminist and queer approach to the study of film viewing.

[3] It is against this background that Before Night Falls (2000), Julian Schnabel's film about Cuban writer/peot Reinaldo Arenas, offers itself as a useful object through which to think through these issues, and the possibilities offered by Deleuze and Guattari's work. The film offers an understanding of bodies, life and sexuality as made of affects, movements and differential speeds. What is particularly interesting about Before Night Falls is that it does not simply represent Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of bodies, life and sexuality as molecular through its story but seems to enact it. This is achieved through particular camera, sound and editing techniques that generate a kind of contagious febrile molecular energy that infects the viewing body, encouraging a state of becoming, and producing a molecular film-viewer assemblage. The story at the centre of Before Night Falls may be about the life of Cuban writer/poet Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), but rather than focus on the facts of Arenas' life the film adopts Arenas' poetic style so the viewer gets to know him not so much through a chronology of events but through an exploration of the kind of sensual and dynamic connections he had with the world. [4] In this respect the sense of a molecular sexuality conveyed in the film emerges from a fusion of film form and subject matter.

[4] In drawing together Deleuze and Guattari's work, film studies and queer theory, this essay operates at the juncture of three significant trajectories in contemporary theory. The first trajectory is a Deleuzian influenced film theory. [5] The second is an emerging feminist film theory that engages with Deleuze's cinema books as well as with Deleuze's work with Guattari. [6] The third is a feminist and queer philosophy that has turned to the concepts of becoming, time and movement. [7] Working between these trajectories this essay explores the political power of film for feminist and queer theory beyond an examination of the film's so called content or its representations to an exploration of the film's form. Using Deleuze's work to engage politically with a film necessarily requires an emphasis on form, as this is what Deleuze privileges in his cinema books. [8] This approach is one that is attuned to a Deleuzian ethics that is interested not so much in representations but in activities. In relation to film this approach demands attention to the film as an event or as something experienced as a dynamic of exchange rather than something analysed for meanings and representation.

[5] This essay is divided in three sections. The first section outlines how a film's formal elements connect with the viewer to produce a molecular viewing experience. The framework used for understanding this experience is Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the assemblage. The second section explores how Before Night Falls enacts Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of life and bodies as relations of movements and affective connections. It does this by examining how particular cinematic techniques generate a felt molecular energy in the viewing body that produce becomings and form a kind of assemblage between film and viewer. The third section addresses how this particular notion of life and bodies extends to the way the film expresses a kind of molecular sexuality. In addressing how this revolutionary molecular energy extends to a molecular sexuality it considers the way the film's style and energy connects with and articulates a rhizomatic image of thought. It explores how the rhizomatic image of thought articulated by the film privileges a non-binary understanding of difference and sexuality that conceives of difference as always differing from itself rather than understanding it in relation to a privileged term.

Section 1: Queering the film-viewer assemblage

[6] Before Night Falls is interesting for feminist and queer theory because the film articulates a certain tension between fixed identities and subjectivities and the breakdown of identities and subjectivities. This occurs not only to the characters on screen, but, more importantly to the film viewer. In this respect the film could be understood as engaging in a kind of queering of the viewer. Having said this I wish to also place a few caveats on this process of queering the viewer. The first is that in order to understand how the film achieves this it is important to return to the concept of the spectator in feminist film theory and build on this concept. While the spectator as understood in feminist film theory is constructed through processes of identification either with the protagonist on the screen or with the camera as an all-knowing look, a consideration of the affective embodied experience of film viewing presents a shift from an identification based form of spectatorship to a kind of film viewing that is attuned to the rhythms, movements and velocities of the film. This brings me to my second caveat. While I may talk about the viewer, I contend that any process of queering the viewer must foreground the way in which this occurs through a dynamic interaction with the film. That is, the way the viewer becomes with the film and in the process disrupts human organisations that are based on binary structures. This process requires not only that the film include queer subjects on the screen, or queer personnel behind the scenes but also that the film style and form connect with and encourage a queer and molecular configuration with the viewer. For Deleuze and Guattari affective connections always undo binaries and encourage molecular becomings that result in a multitude of different kinds of sexes rather than two. They state:

If we consider the great binary aggregates, such as sexes or classes, it is evident that they also cross over into molecular assemblages of a different nature, and that there is a double reciprocal dependency between them. For the two sexes imply a multiplicity of molecular combinations bringing into play not only the man in the woman and the woman in the man, but the relation of each to the animal, the plant, etc; a thousand tiny sexes. [9]

The aspect of the process of queering the viewer I am interested in privileging here is what I term the film-viewer assemblage. Using the example of Before Night Falls, it is not just that the main character is homosexual, nor that the film is about (homo)sexuality, but rather that the film is 'queer' on the level of assemblage.

[7] Before Night Falls engages with the viewer to produce a film-viewer assemblage. This assemblage emerges from the kinds of connections that are formed between film and viewer. In addition to this, a film assemblage is medium specific. It connects with the viewer in specifically cinematic ways such as bodily affects produced by the techniques of editing, camera movement, colour, framing, sound design and music amongst many others. Even though Before Night Falls is at times based on the book of the same name the film should not be mistaken for a book assemblage, which is an entirely different medium. As Barbara Kennedy points out in relation to the application of Deleuze and Guattari's work for film, "We need to rethink a post-semiotic space, a post-linguistic space, which provides new ways of understanding the screen experience as a complex web of inter-relationalities. The look is never purely visual, but also tactile, sensory, material and embodied." [10] Like Kennedy I am interested in going beyond a linguistic approach to one that is attentive to the embodied experience of film viewing. [11]

[8] Understanding the film viewing experience through the concept of assemblages has much to offer both feminist and queer theory because some assemblages resonate more with feminist and queer politics than others. (I would add that these kinds of assemblages also connect to a rhizomatic image of thought.) Different films utilise different cinematic techniques and as a result produce different kinds of assemblages. [12] The notion of the assemblage is a direct response to the issues of representation and molarity raised above. Deleuze and Guattari argue that while some assemblages tend towards representation, signification, codification and territorialization other kinds of assemblages tend towards affects, intensities, disorientation and deterritorialization. They write:

One side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate…. [13]

As an assemblage a film operates on both a molar level, which is interested in meaning structures and representations and a molecular level, which operates through affect and intensities. Some assemblages tend toward one kind more than the other. Attention to the molecular articulations of a film might take into consideration the way film viewing is an affective encounter between the body of the film and the body of the viewer. In Deleuze and Guattari's work affect does not refer to emotional states or personal feelings but to a kind of force on the body that either enhances that body's capacity or diminishes it. A film's affective qualities produce connections with the body of the viewer where that body is augmented or experiences a transformation from one body state to another.

[9] Cinematic techniques such as editing, lighting, music, sound, camera movement and framing, for example, have the potential to create affects that augment the body of the viewer and produce becomings. This is particularly the case when a film's themes and concerns are expressed not only in the storyline but also through its formal elements. Claire Colebrook suggests that the affective qualities of film are a form of pre-personal perception. Rather than producing conscious responses, affect, for Colebrook, creates bodily responses. She states:

I watch a scene in a film and my heart races, my eye flinches and I begin to perspire. Before I even think or conceptualise there is an element of response that is prior to any decision. Affect is intensive rather than extensive. Extension organises a world spatially, into distributed blocks. Ordered and synthesised perception gives us an exterior world of varying extended objects, all mapped on to a common space, differing only in degree… Affect is intensive because it happens to us, across us; it is not objectifiable and quantifiable as a thing that we then perceive or of which we are conscious. [14]

When Colebrook suggests that affect is intensive, she does so because intensities are the becoming of qualities. In other words, they produce qualitative changes from one body state to another. In this sense, certain filmic techniques have the potential to produce intensities that affect or transform the body. Affects act upon the body of the viewer to produce becomings with the outside: that is with the film. Because Deleuze and Guattari do not recognise interior/exterior, the real world/representation distinction is also put into question. "We are not in the world," Deleuze argues, "we become with the world; we become by contemplating it. Everything is vision becoming. We become universes." [15] In film viewing this distinction is disrupted through specific cinematic affects, which produce becomings with the film.

[10] Before Night Falls continually encourages an attunement between film and viewer by producing a series of intensive affects that work as a force on the viewing body. In fact, the film as a whole has a kind of musicality in that it is made up of differential velocities that produce sensations of rushing, explosiveness, swooning and soaring that all contribute to the production of the film's exuberant energy. For example, in a scene towards the end of the film, certain filmic techniques produce affects that attune the viewer to sensations of soaring, drifting and falling. In this scene, Arenas' ex-boyfriend Pepe (Andrea Di Stefano) steals a hot air balloon that was being kept as a means of escaping from Cuba. As the balloon passes through the hole in the roof, Pepe, hysterical with laughter, shouts out "see you in Times Square suckers." This cuts to a shot of the building getting further away. However, it is not solely the image of the balloon taking off and drifting away that produces affects across the body of the viewer, but a combination of cinematic techniques. Once the balloon takes off all diegetic sound is eliminated except Pepe's hysterical and contagious laughter. Music with a soaring quality is added to the sound track. We cut to an extreme close up of Pepe's head. Because of the extreme close up of the shot, every small movement is exaggerated. As he laughs hysterically his head bobs across and in and out of the frame producing a giddy, almost vertiginous, sensation. There is a cut to a long shot of the balloon against the clear blue sky. Inter-cut with the close up shots of Pepe, and the long shots of the balloon, are upside-down wide angle shots of the horizon that produce a distorted world floating in the air. Most of the edits of Pepe in the balloon are jump cuts, adding to the vertiginous feel of the scene. The many camera effects—such as the tight framing of Pepe's face, the wide angle upside down shots of the world in conjunction with the jump cuts, and unusual combinations of extreme close ups and long shots—give this sequence an ungrounded or an unhinged quality that disrupts the way vision is ordered in everyday life.

[11] Drawing on Deleuze's two books on cinema Colebrook suggests that a film is most affective when it is at its most cinematic. [16] That is when it does not attempt to copy the rules of everyday vision but instead experiments with vision or goes beyond everyday human perception. By taking images, cutting and connecting them using the inhuman eye of the camera, a number of competing viewpoints emerge. "What makes cinema cinematic," Colebrook argues, "is this liberation of the sequencing of images from any single observer, so the affect of cinema is the presentation of an 'any point whatever.'" [17] Contrary to theories which base cinematic perception on human perception, Deleuze suggests that the cinema has the potential to produce non-human forms of perception. A becoming with the film means opening up the viewing experience to specific cinematic movements, temporalities and ways of perceiving that are non-human. The way this sequence is shot and edited together disrupts any sense of the kind of central or privileged point of view that normal human vision is based on. By doing so its disorienting quality acts as a jolt to the senses that is felt throughout the body. What is produced through the way this sequence is put together is a particular cinematic form of perception that acts to deterritorialise human forms of perception. In doing so, this cinematic non-human perception produces affects across the body of the viewer, producing an attunement with the film or a kind of non-human becoming with the outside. Hence, by disrupting any sense of a privileged or central viewing/spectating position this scene operates on the affective molecular level over and above the representational level. It is this potential of film's to disorganise human orderings and hierarchies that is useful for feminist and queer theory and that Before Night Falls is a prime example of.

Section 2: Life and Bodies on the Plane of Immanence

[12] As often happens with what is commonly called a 'biopic' there has been a certain amount of public debate about the accuracy of Before Night Falls. Some critics have questioned whether the film portrays all the facts about Arenas' life accurately while others have debated the representation of Cuba's attitude to homosexuality during the historical period the film depicts. Such a focus, I believe, misreads the way the film operates primarily as an affective, intensive viewing experience that captures the poetic sensibility of Arenas and his style of living. Before Night Falls is not a historical document; it is a film experienced as an event. As I suggested above, the kinds of molecular connections produced between film and viewer are what make this film interesting for feminist and queer politics. This section takes a close look at the quality of these connections.

[13] On one level, Before Night Falls is a 'biopic' because it chronicles the life of Cuban writer/poet Reinaldo Arenas from his birth to his death. It covers his escape from a poverty stricken childhood by joining an army of rebels at the age of fourteen, his introduction into intellectual society at university, his discovery of his gay sexuality, his ascent as one of Cuba's best writers, his arrest and prison sentence as a political prisoner, his exile to the USA, his battle with HIV and finally his suicide. While Arenas' life might be just the kind of story that would suit the Hollywood biopic, the film's style is very different to the average Hollywood film. Most Hollywood biopics—such as Braveheart (Mel Gibson, 1995), Quills (Philip Kaufman, 2000), Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984), A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001), The Hurricane (Norman Jewison, 1999), Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982), Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) and Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970), to name but a few—tend to be overly sentimental and focus on the psychology of the main character. These films operate primarily by producing a psychological character for the viewer to empathise and identify with.

[14] Before Night Falls is neither sentimental nor psychological. While the narrative may revolve around Arenas' life story it is more than just a biopic dealing with the life of one man: if it is about anything it is, above all, about life defined in terms of movements and connections. It is this kind of non-sentimental and non-egocentric style of life that Deleuze explores in his essay "Immanence: A Life…" Using the work of Charles Dickens as an example Deleuze writes:

The life of the individual has given way to a life that is impersonal but singular nevertheless, and which releases a pure event freed from the accidents of inner and outer life; freed, in other words from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens; 'Homo tantum' with which everyone sympathizes and which attains a sort of beatitude. This is a haecceity which now singularizes rather than individuating: life of pure immanence, neutral and beyond good and evil since only the subject which incarnated it in the midst of things rendered it good or bad. [18]

It is life as haecceity and as event that Before Night Falls captures through its style and subject matter. Life, in Before Night Falls, is presented as something molecular: it is understood as something that is made up of constant movements and endless connections and therefore in a state of continual becoming. This particular idea of life as molecular, or as a constant becoming, seems to inform every aspect of the film. It informs the camera work, dialogue, sound track, performances, colours used, film stock chosen, use of lighting, editing and every other filmic technique. In this respect, the idea of life as molecular underlies the film's structure and narration. All scenes, even the most serious—like those that deal with Arenas' persecution as a gay man, or even his death—express a contagious exuberance about life as change and movement. In order to explore how Before Night Falls connects with Deleuze and Guattari's concept of life it is first necessary to take a closer look at their understanding of life. Before illustrating this through a discussion of the film's style it is important to look at Deleuze's concept of life.

[15] Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of life is very similar to their understanding of bodies. Both are framed in terms of speeds, connections and affects. Both are forms of assemblages that connect to other assemblages through relations of movement. Deleuze and Guattari talk about two planes in relation to assemblages: the plane of immanence and the plane of transcendence. The plane of transcendence is an organisational plane. It understands the world in terms of the development of forms and the formations of subjects. [19] The plane of immanence, on the other hand, is in a constant state of flux: it contains unformed particles and only knows relations of motion. It consists of pure molecular becomings that can be congealed into fixed categories and hierarchies but it is always firstly made up of molecular movements. As such, all order is vulnerable to movement and change. The plane of immanence can undermine even the most fixed and rigid categories. Deleuze says of the plane of immanence:

This other plane knows only relations of movement and rest, of speed and slowness, between unformed, or relatively unformed, elements, molecules or particles borne away by fluxes. It knows nothing of subjects, but rather what are called 'haecceities.' [20]

A haecceity is a mode of individuation that is unlike a subject or a person. It is defined by what Deleuze calls a thisness or an event. [21] For Deleuze and Guattari all individuation is a happening or an event before it is a subject or form. They explain haecceities as such:

A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfect individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject. They are haecceities in that they consist entirely of relations of movement and rest between molecules or particles, capacities to affect and be affected. [22]

Furthermore, Deleuze and Guattari do not understand life in terms of forms, substances and subjects but as events. In fact, for Deleuze and Guattari we are all events first and foremost because we are in continual transformation and are made up of our connections to other bodies. They state:

It is the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity; it is this assemblage that is defined by a longitude and a latitude, by speeds and affects, independently of forms and subjects, which belong to another plane. It is the wolf itself, and the horse, and the child, that cease to be subjects to become events, assemblages that are inseparable from an hour, a season, an atmosphere, an air, a life. [23]

Hence, as a haecceity, a body, or a life, is nothing more than its connections and movements across other assemblages. In other words, haecceities are becomings with other assemblages—they are inter-assemblage assemblages.

[16] In Before Night Falls these movements and connections are not exclusive to the human body or human life. They also define political bodies, military bodies, and intellectual bodies, even bodies of water. In fact, all bodies seem to exist primarily on the plane of immanence and appear to be made up only of relations of movements, and affective connections. It is not that the film ignores the organisational plane but rather that it is more concerned with the way it is constantly disrupted and undermined. In this sense the film favours a world of movements, speeds and affects. In doing so it creates a contagious energy that affects the viewer. Sometimes this energy is noisy and chaotic, at other times it is rhythmical and harmonious, but it is never particularly still or quiet. In most scenes this kind of energy is produced by foregrounding movements of one kind or another, be it loud and frenzied movements, like bands of revolutionaries waving their rifles and shouting whilst riding on the back of a fast moving truck, or delirious and drunk men and women dancing on tables, or soldiers storming in on everyday events and shooting and arresting people.

[17] The film is also full of gentle and ethereal movements such as the graceful rise of a hot air balloon, or the euphoric movement of riding around in a convertible on a hot day, or the fluttering of snow filmed in slow motion as it gently falls onto the face. Of equal importance is the way Before Night Falls focuses on the movements of nature, and particularly water, such as shots of rain running down gutters and trees, torrents of water sweeping away everything in its path, trees swaying in the wind and the many shots of the ocean with its eternal movements. This idea that all bodies exist on the plane of immanence as relations of movements and affective connections resonates with the way Arenas is shown in the film to have a close affinity with natural events and the landscape around him. There are many scenes that capture the wonderment and connection Arenas felt toward nature.

[18] For example, a scene at the beginning of the film recounts the sense of wonder and excitement experienced by Arenas, as a child, during storms. The scene begins with close up shots of raindrops dripping down dense lush leaves, followed by water running down gutters and then cascading and bouncing off the ground like thousands of molecules. Streams of heavy raindrops falling from the sky are slowed down, emphasising the force of their unstoppable movements. This is followed by a montage of larger bodies of water cascading down and across rocks, torrents of water forming rivers and finally rivers of water forming paths of destruction. No diegetic sound is used with these images: instead, they are accompanied by emotive ethereal music and Bardem reading from Arenas' writings:

The most extraordinary event of my childhood was provided by the heavens. Water rushed down gutters, reverberating over the tin roofs like campfire. A massive army marching across the trees. Overflowing, cascading, thundering into burrows, a concert of drums. Water falling on water, drenched and whistling and out of control. And under the spell of violence let loose that which would sweep away almost everything in its path, trees, stones, animals, houses. It was the mystery of destruction: the law of life. As I saw it, the currents were roaring my name.

Through these sensual and rhythmical scenes Before Night Falls generates a feeling that life and the body are made up of relations of speeds and slownesses, and affective connections. The most extraordinary event of Arenas' childhood is a sensual experience where he comes into contact with the movements and affects of nature and where, because of this, as he suggests, the currents roar his name. As the currents roar his name he becomes attuned to the movements and energies of this event. It is through this kind of sensuality and molecular energy that Before Night Falls expresses beautifully an idea of life as something in a state of flux on the plane of immanence.

[19] If Before Night Falls produces any kind of individuation it is as a haecceity, not as a subject and this is the case, both in the film itself (its diegesis) and between film and viewer. [24] Bodies in Before Night Falls are haecceities because they only make sense through their spatio-temporal relations. In the film, all forms of life—in particular Arenas' life—are expressed as events or haecceities. Arenas is not presented primarily as a subject or a psychological character but as a haecceity that is always becoming with the assemblages he comes into contact with. He is continually caught up in, and part of the movements, the speeds and slownesses of the world around him. When he describes how he is affected by storms—that is, as he puts it, how the current roars his name—he is becoming-current: its movements, its force and its energy. The speeds, affects and movements of this current of energy that Arenas connects with (and is infected with) also run through the film, generating an infectious energy that in turn affects the viewer. Hence, as the viewer experiences the film's sensual affects s/he comes into contact with its movements and affects. The film's currents run through the viewer, calling their name and forming a becoming with the film, a becoming Arenas, and a becoming current. What is produced is an individuation without subject, an event or a haecceity. Using Deleuze and Guattari's terms we could say that as the viewer comes into contact with the film's spatio-temporal relations, the viewer is the film.

Section 3: The Film's Image of Thought and Molecular Sexuality

[20] In his book, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine D.N. Rodowick suggests that what is important for Deleuze is not the meaning of an image, but rather the way images are put together, or the way they interconnect with one another and the kinds of affects produced by these interconnections. Furthermore, the way images are put together, or the way the various segments are edited, tells us something about the kind of image of thought a film articulates and connects with. [25] Like Rodowick, Patricia Pisters also argues that the way films are put together articulate and connect with different images of thought.

[21] This notion of an image of thought is related to Deleuze's critique of representational thought. When Deleuze speaks of an image of thought, he is not referring to the representation of a kind of thought or the method of thought but "something deeper that's always taken for granted, a system of coordinates, dynamics, orientations: what it means to think, and to 'orient oneself in thought.'" [26] Pisters turns to Deleuze's work on representational logic as a way of explaining how the concept of an image of thought operates. She reminds us that representational thinking is still the dominant way of thinking and that it operates through the four terms of identity, opposition, analogy, and resemblance. [27] She argues that according to Deleuze, this image of thought is

a restrictive one, one that does not allow thinking to occur unless there is something with which we can compare. It does not allow us to think of real difference, the way things differ from themselves, because there is always a principium comparationis at work (that is, one is either good or bad, young or old, man or woman). [28]

This kind of logic can only conceive of difference along a binary or in relation to an ideal term.

[22] Pisters notes that Deleuze also discusses another kind of thought that is open and multiple. This kind of thought has a rhizomatic structure that privileges multiple connections and, as a consequence, produces an understanding of difference as becoming, transformation, or of metamorphosing into something else. As such, a rhizomatic image of thought does not acknowledge hierarchies, binaries and teleological logic. Because of this, rather than producing a spatialised understanding of difference, a rhizomatic image of thought produces a temporal understanding of difference where difference is not what differs from something else, but what differs from itself. As Pisters writes:

this rhizomatic way of thinking implies a type of thinking in assemblages, where heterogeneous aspects come together. It also implies terms that differ from those to which we are accustomed, for instance, territorialisation and deterritorialization, speed and slowness, and affect. [29]

What is most significant about the concept of images of thought for Before Night Falls is that it links issues of editing to forms of thought.

[23] Rodowick argues that not only are different eras "defined philosophically by their images of thought" [30] but also, the movement-image and the time-image reflect two different images of thought. The movement-image, for example, tends to order shots through an idea of continuity and a relation of cause and effect. In this respect, while the arrangement of shots changes the logic of film as a whole, it is nonetheless oriented toward an idea of a unified stable whole. Deleuze suggests that by constructing a film through the association of images this idea of the film as a whole is continually made "by internalising the images and externalising itself in the image." [31] This produces an image of thought represented through the internal workings of the film as a kind of inner monologue. Hence, as a unified whole it expresses a kind of thought that is also unified and based on continuity. Rodowick writes:

The plane of consistency of the cinematic movement-image is the open totality in movement that gives rise to the model of the True as totalization. Two coordinates map this classical image: images are linked or extended according to principles of association and continuity, and associated images are integrated into a conceptual whole and differentiated into more extensive sets. [32]

But as Deleuze points out, "Cinema doesn't just operate by linking things through rational cuts, but by relinking them through irrational cuts too: this gives two different images of thought." [33] "What counts," Deleuze argues, is "the interstice between images, between two images: a spacing which means that each image is plucked from the void and falls back into it. [34] For Deleuze, the interstice counts because it offers the possibility of infinite variation and difference.

[24] Because the time-image does not link images through association or continuity, it contains no unifying logic and therefore no longer forms a whole that conforms to an idea of totality. For this reason Deleuze claims that in relation to the time-image, the whole becomes the outside. Bogue explains it as such:

The 'outside' is the modern counterpart of the classic 'whole,' a whole paradoxically conceived of as a gap or interval and yet as a generative force, a constitutive 'between-two of images' … If in classic cinema each image is an expression of the whole, an unfolding or explication of the whole in an individual part, in modern cinema each interstice is an expression or unfolding of the outside, the outside dispersing itself in multiple interstices, constituting in each interstice non-rational links, spacing the world through the force of its generative intervals. [35]

In the time-image then, the whole becomes a force because it is open to an infinite number of possibilities. In this respect, the time-image liberates thought from a rational, coherent, logic and instead opens thought up to the unthinkable. Because the movement-image contains its own internal logic that the viewer is encouraged to identify with, it does not offer the possibility of a new type of thought. This internal logic can be understood as a form of thought that has already been thought. The time-image, on the other hand, has the potential to produce the unthought, or a new kind of thinking because it is always forming new connections. This makes the time-image amenable to reconfiguration through an affective logic of the assemblage. Time-images operate on the molecular plane of the assemblage through a rhizomatic image of thought that is made up of a series of connections where the outcome of these connections cannot always be predicted. In this respect, I would argue that the time-image film opens up to the outside through affective connections.

[25] The way Before Night Falls produces a molecular felt energy that undermines a stable view of the world in favour of a world in motion connects with a rhizomatic image of thought. It challenges a logically ordered world in favour of an idea of a world made up of relations of movement and affective connections. Before Night Falls can be understood as a time-image film because it breaks with an ordered progressive logic. Although it takes on the guise of a biographical film—in that its overall structure on the surface appears to have a beginning, middle and an end—it also continually undermines this narrative structure. Before Night Falls is made up of a collection of scenes that sometimes produce a sense that there is progressive narrative flow, even though it may be loose, and at other times it diverts completely from a narrative structure. For example, the scenes that deal with Arenas' life in prison are inter-cut directly with scenes from after his life in prison. The latter scenes are not presented as a flash-forward that helps us to make sense of the present. They seem to have no logical reason for being inserted into the prison scenes, yet they produce a pleasurable, dizzying and disorienting sensation. The inter-cutting of the two scenes in such an irrational manner produces time-images that skew the faculties and connect with the viewer through an intensity of sensations. The logic of thought the film produces is one that is based on relations of movements and affective connections rather than one that conforms to an idea of totality and rationality. It is a kind of thought where life is no longer ordered in a predictable or habitual way but instead acts as a multiplicity.

[26] The style of editing adopted in Before Night Falls is central to the logic of thought it produces as well as its connection with the viewer. An important way the film does this is by exploring different kinds of narration that occur at the same time. These place us at different points in the story at the same time. The way the prison scene is inter-cut with later events in Arenas' life is one example of how this overlapping narration is explored, but other techniques also produce this effect. For example, some scenes seem to slide into each other, making it difficult to know when one scene ends and another begins. This is partly because two connecting scenes often share the same sound track. In one scene Arenas escapes being arrested by jumping into the ocean at the back of the prison and swimming away. Walking out of the ocean he comes across a friend. He asks his friend to help him leave Cuba. What occurs next is a conflation of two scenes, as the sound track does not match the images. While the sound track continues to play the conversation between Arenas and his friend on the beach, the image track shows Arenas arriving home tired and frightened. There is a disjunction between the sound track and the image track of the film that is disorienting, as it disrupts a sense of temporal placement. As Arenas' approaches his home, the sound and images come together momentarily as he cautiously greets his landlady. However, once he enters the house, sound and image are skewed again as the conversation with his friend replaces sound that belongs to the image track. Visually the scene exudes a frantic energy as Arenas desperately prepares for his escape. Through the use of jump cuts, the scene has a frenetic feel. The desperation of the scene is all the more palpable because of the disembodied conversation with his friend. It is as it as if two scenes are playing at the same time, because we hear the audio from one scene but see the images of the next. Like the previous scene, this one also manages to confound the senses and produce an intensive felt quality.

[27] Another example of this sliding of scenes occurs when Arenas has just given his novel to an acquaintance at the airport to smuggle to Paris for publication. As he leaves the airport, the scene is devoid of any diegetic sound and instead is accompanied by a melodic Cuban song. It is a hot day and everyone looks tired. The camera pans up to the sky to reveal a kite. It twirls against the blue sky. As the camera pans down the kite, we see Arenas at the beach lying on the sand. The first scene slides into the next through the use of the kite and the Cuban song, as well as through the way the diegetic sound is repressed from the end of the first scene and the beginning of the second. This sliding effect disrupts a sense of perception as grounded and progressive in favour of an open whole that expresses a rhizomatic image of thought. Becoming attuned with the film through affects produced by the open style and structure of Before Night Falls must also mean an attunement with a logic of thought that is based on openness and connections. Rodowick argues that, "the primary question for Deleuze is how can thought be kept moving, not toward a predetermined end, but toward the new and unforeseen in terms of what Bergson calls the Open or 'creative evolution." [36]

[28] What is interesting about this idea for feminist and queer theory is the kind of sexuality that emerges from this logic of thought. A central part of the narrative of Before Night Falls deals with the impact of Castro's revolution on sexuality. In the film Castro's regime does not tolerate homosexuality. Arenas himself was imprisoned for several years for homosexuality. Nevertheless, this relationship is not a straightforward one of repression as there is a kind of exuberant sexual energy throughout the film. Moreover, this molecular sexual energy emerges not in contrast to nor despite of the revolution, but precisely because of it. It is almost as if the revolution itself creates a molecular energy that is far stronger than any form of law and order it attempts to impose. Nevertheless the revolution does attempt to over-code this process. Although it may be curious to link the Cuban revolution with capitalist processes, this dynamic has similarities to the relationship between capitalism and a deterritorialising schizophrenic process that Deleuze and Guattari describe in Anti-Oedipus. They write:

Capitalism therefore liberates the flows of desire, but under the social conditions that define its limit and the possibility of its own dissolution, so that it is constantly opposing with all its exasperated strength the movement that drives it toward this limit. At capitalism's limit the deterritorialized socius gives way to the body without organs, and the decoded flows throw themselves into desiring production. [37]

Before Night Falls is not a study in the Body without Organs but rather in the disruption of molar organisations of the body. Through this disruption what emerges is a molecular body and a molecular poetics that challenges the heterosexual/homosexual binary. The environment of upheaval and change generated by the revolution infects everything it comes into contact with. [38] Hence, in Before Night Falls there is a sense in which the revolution is not defined by its laws and hierarchy but by a contagious energy that works to undo order and hierarchies despite itself. Like everything else in the film, the revolution is not dealt with either in a factual or a didactic manner but as an unstoppable irrational or deterritorialising force where anything can happen.

[29] Even the military body is caught up in this molecular sexual revolution. There is an extraordinary sequence in the middle of the film that exemplifies the connections between the revolutionary energy and a molecular sexuality. This sequence begins with a scene of Arenas and a group of male friends driving to the country in an open convertible. The scene is imbued with a vibrant energy. The young men are joking and laughing. They wear open shirts that flap in the rushing wind. The colours are all incredibly vivid and saturated. Cool jazz music with breezy melody adds to the free and happy feeling of the scene. The camera work also creates a carefree euphoric atmosphere with gliding canted shots, smooth pans and subtle jump cuts. The convertible speeds up and recklessly overtakes an open truck full of soldiers in a friendly gesture Arenas and his friends throw packs of cigarettes up at them. Catching the packets the soldiers cheer and wave back at them. The framing of the shots of soldiers catching the cigarettes also conveys excitement as the foreground features a mass of waving arms through which we see Arenas and his friends standing up in the convertible and throwing the cigarettes. This scene cuts to a scene of Arenas and his friends reading poetry around a campfire that night. Suddenly a truck full of soldiers screeches to a halt near them. The scene takes on a menacing atmosphere, as the young men look up frightened. A group of soldiers emerge out of the dark, moving quickly and aggressively toward them. They fire their rifles into the sky all at once. The Captain questions Arenas in a threatening tone. Arenas replies provocatively by making jokes about the Captain's sexuality. The Captain in return threatens Arenas with stories about prison camps for homosexuals. Smiling at the captain, Arenas asks him for his cigarette. Taking the cigarette from the captain, he inhales and then exhales the smoke into the captain's mouth kissing him. The risk of this action is palpable. The frame momentarily goes black and we a left contemplating the worst, but then suddenly our senses are thrown into confusion as we cut to a wide shot of the soldiers and Arenas' friends running hysterically around the campfire naked and waving rifles in orgiastic excitement.

[30] The building up of tension in the previous shot is used not as expected to repress sexuality, but to explode it out in all directions, or to molecularise it. The very force intended to repress sexuality is caught up in its own revolutionary energy. Through the molecular sexuality produced in this scene, and throughout the whole of the film, the notion of a binary sexuality, where heterosexual and homosexual are understood as opposites, makes no sense. In this sense, sexuality can be thought of in terms of becomings rather than fixed. Of great importance to the way a molecular sexuality is liberated in the final shot of this scene is the exuberant energy and carefree atmosphere created in the previous scene. Because the previous scene created an atmosphere of excitement and freedom through an exchange between the young men and the soldiers, this scene is able to pick up on this energy and turn order and repression into a kind of molecular sexual energy. This molecular energy is central to the particular poetics of the film and to how it solicits a particular kind of viewer response that is attentive to velocities, speeds and intensities rather than its meaning and signification.

[31] Over the last images of the naked men running around in the scene described above, Bardem's voice is heard saying, "There was also a sexual revolution going on that came along with the excitement of the official revolution. But the drums of militarism were still trying to beat down the rhythm of poetry and life." This statement encapsulates a sentiment and a feeling that is expressed throughout the film where poetry is linked to a style of living and a style of sexuality that is open and unpredictable. This open and unpredictable logic of thought poses a threat to the restrictive order and hierarchy imposed by the military regime. For example, poetry is seen as such a threat to order that in one scene a poet is brought to trial for hosting a poetry meeting. In another scene Arenas is forced to smuggle his poetry out of the country to get it published. One of Arenas' teachers clearly expresses the threat poetry poses to a dictatorship when he states:

People that make art are dangerous to any dictatorship. They create beauty and beauty is the enemy. Artists are escapists, artists are counter-revolutionary and so you are a counter-revolutionary Reinaldo Arenas. And do you know why? Because there is a man that wants to govern the terrain called beauty, but he can't, so he wants to eliminate it.

Poetry, like molecular sexuality, is perceived as a threat to the regime and therefore must be governed and policed because its sensuality and affectivity, its movements and speeds can amount to an explosive force that has the potential to undo order and destabilise the State opening up a space of chance and unpredictability which is impossible to control. [39] This is what the poetics of Before Night Falls achieves as its affects, movements, and differential speeds slip in and connect with the viewing body, encouraging a becoming with the film. This is an important point for feminist theory and queer theory because it creates a logic of thought that privileges movement, change, and connections rather than fixed subjectivities and identities. [40]

[32] Before Night Falls is an example of the way some films challenge a representational logic that orders everything into binaries and hierarchies by privileging identity as a key term. Rodowick says of the different logic of thought expressed by the movement-image and the time-image, "The former is the discovery of concepts through negation, repetition, and identity toward ever more self-identical Being; for the latter it is the creation of concepts through difference and non-identity in a continually open Becoming." [41] The logic of thought Before Night Falls articulates and connects with resonates with a molecular sexuality that does not recognise binaries and hierarchies. Its affective and dynamic style emphasises the way bodies are always part of larger assemblages, and the way connections with, and movements across, these assemblages decompose and recompose bodies. Before Night Falls does not just show us this relationship in representational terms on the screen but produces a cinematic assemblage with the viewing body through affects, movements and speeds.

[33] The way Before Night Falls presents life and bodies as endless becomings is interesting for feminism and queer theory because it connects with an understanding of difference as difference in itself. Before Night Falls articulates this becoming in the way it treats life and bodies. It expresses the way bodies have a temporality and this temporality is conveyed through the endless becomings or changes bodies go through. By connecting and articulating a rhizomatic logic of thought based on openness, movement and change, bodies are always understood through their connections and affects rather than through fixed categories. In this environment sexuality too cannot be ordered into hierarchies and binaries but must be understood as a constant becoming or what Deleuze and Guattari call a "thousand tiny sexes." [42] Grosz draws on this notion of a thousand tiny sexes in her essay of the same name in an effort to demonstrate the usefulness of Deleuze and Guattari's work for feminist and queer theory. She further takes up the idea of a non-binary notion of difference in relation to temporality and duration in her book The Nick of Time, where she states, "Sexual difference is not a measurable difference between two given, discernible, different things—men and women, for example but an incalculable and continuous process, not something produced but something in the process of production." [43] In Before Night Falls this process of production or of becoming extends to the viewer through affects and intensities that produce a molecular film-viewer assemblage. What occurs in this process is a form of queering the viewer where sexuality, as Grosz suggests, is in a state of continuous production that cannot be reduced to a difference between the two.


[1] Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988) 123.

[2] Philip Goodchild, "Deleuzian Ethics," Theory, Culture & Society 14:2 (1997) 41.

[3] Elizabeth Grosz, "A Thousand Tiny Sexes: Feminism and Rhizomatics," Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy, eds. Constantin V. Boundas and Dorothea Olkowski (New York: Routledge, 1994) 199.

[4] As happens with many biopics there has been a certain amount of public debate about the accuracy of the facts of Arenas' life. Such a focus misses the point of the film, which is to capture Arenas' poetic sensibility. In an interview for Showtime Australia, Schnabel stated that he never intended his film to be a chronological account of Arenas' life but wanted the viewer to get to know Arenas through an affective experience. He states: "I feel like Reinaldo Arenas wrote the script to the movie … When you make a movie you want to make the movie interesting you want to make the movie filmically emotional and you want to effect some kind of change in your viewer so things are done just physically with sound or editing or images or words that have to do with rhythm more than just a literal translation of somebody else's work so it's sort of an impressionistic view in a sense." "Before Night Falls," Showtime Movie News, interviewer Andrew Warne, prod. Teresa Rizzo, Showtime Australia, from 25 August 2001 to 2 September 2001.

[5] Here I would include the work of Ronald Bogue, D.N. Rodowick, Patricia Pisters, Claire Colebrook and Laura Marks for example. See Ronald Bogue, Deleuze on Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2003), D. N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine (Durham: Duke UP, 1997), Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003), Claire Colebrook, Gilles Deleuze (London: Routledge, 2002), Laura Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and The Senses (Durham/London: Duke UP, 2000).

[6] This includes the work of Patricia Pisters, Patricia McCormack, Amy Herzog and Barbara Kennedy. See Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture, Patricia McCormack, "Christopher Lee: His Italian journey into Perversion," Senses of Cinema, «», Amy Herzog, "Affectivity, Becoming and the Cinematic Event: Gilles Deleuze and the future of Feminist Film Theory," Conference Proceedings for affective encounters: rethinking embodiment in feminist media studies, «», Barbara Kennedy, Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2000).

[7] The best examples of this work are Elizabeth Grosz, Rosi Bradotti, and Moira Gatens. Elizabeth Grosz, The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution and the Untimely (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2004), Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), Moira Gatens, Imaginary Bodies: Ethics, Power and Corporeality (London: Routledge, 1996).

[8] This is exemplified by Deleuze's distinction between the teleological leanings of the movement-image and the randomness and affective leanings of the time-image.

[9] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1980) 213.

[10] Barbara Kennedy, Deleuze and Cinema 3.

[11] There is a growing area of film studies that focuses on the embodied experience of film viewing that understands film as an event rather than a text. For example see the work of Barbara Kennedy, Patricia McCormack cited above as well Steven Shaviro's The Cinematic Body (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994).

[12] For a further explanation of how the concept of assemblages can be applied to film viewing see, Teresa Rizzo, "The Alien Series: A Deleuzian Perspective", Women: A Cultural Review 15:3 (2004) 336.

[13] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 4.

[14] Claire Colebrook, Gilles Deleuze (London: Routledge, 2002) 33-39.

[15] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia UP, 1994) 169.

[16] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986) and Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989).

[17] Colebrook 31.

[18] Gilles Deleuze, "Immanence: A Life…" Theory, Culture & Society 14:2 (1997) 4.

[19] Discussions of the two planes can be found in Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia UP, 1987) 90-93 and Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 260-272.

[20] Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues 92.

[21] My understanding of haecceity is informed by two discussions; Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues 90-93 and Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 260-272.

[22] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 261.

[23] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 262.

[24] Deleuze uses the idea of individuation as an event or haecceity to emphasise the way an individual is always made of connections. Speaking about the way he experiences himself as a individual without subjectivity through the connections he comes into contact with through the writing process Deleuze states: "Félix and I, and many others like us, don't feel like we're persons exactly. Our individuality is rather that of events, which isn't making any grand claim, given that haecceities can be modest and microscopic. I've tried in all my books to discover the nature of events; it's a philosophical concept, the only one capable of ousting the verb 'to be' and attributes. From this viewpoint, writing with someone else becomes completely natural. It's just a question of something passing through you, a current, which alone has a proper name." Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations: 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia UP, 1995) 141.

[25] D. N. Rodowick, Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine (Durham: Duke UP, 1997) 172.

[26] Deleuze, Negotiations 148.

[27] Patricia Pisters, The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003) 5-6.

[28] Pisters 6, emphasis in original.

[29] Pisters 6.

[30] Rodowick, Time Machine 172.

[31] Deleuze, Time-Image 179.

[32] Rodowick, Time Machine 177.

[33] Deleuze, Negotiations 149.

[34] Deleuze, Time-Image 179.

[35] Bogue, Deleuze on Cinema 176.

[36] Rodowick, Time Machine 85.

[37] Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: The Viking Press, 1977) 139-141.

[38] It does not draw a distinction between the social and the individual just as in Deleuze and Guattari's account of desire "there is no such thing as the social production of reality on the one hand, and a desiring production that is mere fantasy on the other (28).

[39] Olkowski says of the potential of becomings: "'Becoming,' for Deleuze and Guattari, is not a metaphor, not a matter of acting like something or imitating something; it is a deterritorialization, which involves more than simply undermining or doing away with hierarchy. To deterritorialize is to turn toward 'lines of flight' so as to dismantle the subject, disorganize the body, or even to destabilize the state. Dorothea Olkowski Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation (Berkeley: U of California P, 1999) 34.

[40] It should also be pointed out that this molecular sexuality is not solely the result of Arenas' homosexuality but emerges from the kinds of connections and affects the film produces. Filmic representations of homosexuality are not in themselves necessarily molecular. For example, Strawberry and Chocolate (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, 1994) is also a story about a homosexual man in Cuba, but it operates mainly on the representational molar plane. While it certainly contains scenes that are highly affective, structurally it adopts a classical narrative style with a focus on the exploration of psychological characters. The images are grounded through an adherence to monocular perspective, the editing links each scene with the next in a progressive fashion and all scenes use diegetic synchronised sound. Like Before Night Falls the film deals with the revolution and its intolerance of homosexuality, but it does so in a very different way. It may ask the audience to identify and empathise with the main character's struggle as a homosexual in Castro's Cuba but structurally the film does not challenge the ordered, hierarchical structure of life, it only manages to lodge a complaint against it. While a wonderful and challenging film in its own way, it maintains and utilises the dominant way of thinking about the world and life as ordered and progressive.

[41] Rodowick, Time Machine 85.

[42] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 213.

[43] Elizabeth Grosz, The Nick of Time 160.