Feeling Time: Deleuze's Time-Image and Aesthetic Effect

Dyrk Ashton


[1] In this essay I explore how concepts from Gilles Deleuze's cinema books, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (French 1983, English 1986) and Cinema 2: The Time-Image (French 1985, English 1989), can be utilized in discussing aesthetic effects that films can have on viewers. When I speak of aesthetic effect, I specifically mean, "how does film do to us what it does?" – emotionally, physiologically, consciously, and perhaps unconsciously (or sub-consciously). I realize that this may be what many consider an obsolete or played out endeavour, but I believe that Deleuze gives us a basis from which to speak about effect that revives and revitalizes bygone debates.

[2] There are times when affective experiences brought upon by viewing film cannot be attributed simply (or at least attributed only) to shock tactics, empathy, sympathy, symbolism, representation, storylines, or narrative manipulations. These experiences come in many forms: a quickening of the pulse, widening of the eyes, tightening of the skin on the neck and scalp, increased perspiration, flushes of warmth, chills, confusion, apprehension, fear, satisfaction, pleasure or displeasure – or a bewildering mixture of both – and we simply cannot easily explain why we feel these things, or where they come from. Many of these and other affective experiences of film are not only un-attributable entirely to everyday, common sense rationales – but are also practically indescribable. I propose that, at least in some cases, these affective experiences might be attributable to an experience of images themselves, and the arrangement of images – particularly Deleuze's time-images, or what he also calls direct images of time (T-I 41-42).

[3] Many viewers may have an intuitive sense of how and why we have such experiences when watching sequences of a film, or an entire film – but it is quite difficult to put these feelings or ideas into words. Deleuze himself does not seem to be particularly interested in effect in his writing of the cinema books – nonetheless, he provides us with many concepts and terms with which to talk about these feelings and ideas. It is my intention with this essay to explicate a number of these concepts and terms and propose how they may be used to talk about possibilities of how and why these aesthetic effects might come about. Before I can attend to aesthetic effect per se, however, there are a number of concepts that I must address. These include image, the sensory-motor schema, montage, narration, originary or transcendental time, recognition, interval, gap, and interstice, among others.

[4] For my film examples I draw upon Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). These films may seem to be unlikely subjects for use in explicating Deleuze, but I believe they contain sequences that aid tremendously in describing certain of Deleuze's ideas. Though I cannot claim that the particular sequences I have chosen have the effect(s) that I speak of on all viewers, there may be a sense that they can for some, and these ideas may be ported to other films that might more profoundly affect particular viewers.

Moving Image and the Sensory-Motor Schema

[5] For Deleuze, drawing on French philosopher Henri Bergson, everything is image (M-I 58; Bergson, Matter 18-20). Furthermore, everything moves (M-I 58-59). Therefore, it can be deduced that everything is moving image. According to Deleuze, the governing mode of existence in the normal, everyday, common sense scheme of things, human beings function through sense-stimulus and motor-response, definable action and dependable reaction, what Deleuze calls the "sensory-motor schema." The sensory-motor schema can also be considered to be a mode of thought or way of thinking, motivated by intention, selection, need for use value, action, and relation (T-I 40). It is this mode of existence, thought process, and perception that makes movement-images of the moving images of the world. However, many people may have a sense that the world goes beyond the sensory-motor schema, and beyond Cartesian binaries of mind and body, basic phenomenological (even Platonic) distinctions between subject and object, everyday divisions between real and imaginary, self and other, teleological dialectics, and Derridian claims that everything is language – all of which rely upon the sensory-motor schema being the dominant, and perhaps only, mode of existence for human beings. For Deleuze, this is not all there is; this not the only way to experience the world, to formulate images and relations of images, to think, or the only way to describe the experience of film.

[6] If everything is moving image, as Deleuze claims, including film, then images in film must be more than just shots or individual frames. A film "image" can be any and all elements within a shot (such as an object or person), a portion of a shot, an entire shot, a group of shots, a scene, a group of scenes, or even an entire film. An image can also be visual or auditory, or a combination of both. In addition, shots or images within shots can be separated in chronological or linear time – for example one early in a film, one later in a film – yet for Deleuze they can form, or exist, as one image.

[7] For Deleuze, how images are presented or organized in film relate directly to how images of the world appear according to modes of existence. In our everyday activities, the moving images of the world appear to and are normally and habitually perceived by human consciousness as movement-images, formed or "framed" via attention, intention, selection, and the sensory-motor schema. Not surprisingly, then, the vast majority of films exhibit mostly, if not entirely, movement-images.

Montage and Narration

[8] Deleuze spends a tremendous amount of effort discussing images themselves, but what is equally or perhaps even more important is the formal presentation, organization, and linkage of images, or how images are put together. In my reading of Deleuze, one can consider thought as a process or activity of human consciousness connecting and relating images – perceived images as well as images from memory. In film, this is akin to "montage." From a Deleuzian perspective, however, montage takes on a far broader definition than merely the editing of shots or the cutting of shots together – though in Deleuze's very own writing it often seems like it is just editing or cutting. In my reading of Deleuze, however, montage must involve the linking and relationship of all the types of film images described above, including the linking of images within shots, as well as images separated by chrono-linear time.

[9] Moreover, in Deleuze's use of the term "montage," it becomes clear, if odd, that he not only means the linking of images, but also takes into account many other formal elements in terms of relationships to one another based on modes of human perception. According to Deleuze, drawing from Bergson, human perception filters out or ignores various stimuli or images that are not of interest or use due to physical or mental limitations, intention, attention, and selection or choice of what to look at or see. This happens in the framing of a film image, which has to do with technical as well as aesthetic considerations and implies the relationship of images, but also in what is emphasized within the frame and what gains our attention. Consequently, Deleuze's idea of montage includes framing (the choice of the image border and what is seen or even heard and what is not), composition (the arrangement of elements within the frame), and camera movement, as well as editing, including sound editing and mixing. Along these lines, lighting, various uses of focus, movement within the frame, movement of the frame, even performance (gestures, expressions, dialogue) can all limit or highlight elements (or images) of a film and must in my view also be incorporated in a Deleuzian conception of montage. Be that as it may, I attempt to limit my use of the term "montage" to the linking of any and all images (though still not just shots), and what could be Deleuze's grand, more ambiguous notion of "montage" I refer to as "formal strategies."

[10] Deleuze calls the regime of movement-images the "organic regime" and the regime of time-images the "crystalline regime" (M-I 11; T-I 127). For purposes of clarity and explication in the remainder of my study, I refer to the montage strategies exhibited by time-image films as "crystalline montage strategies," their formal strategies as "crystalline formal strategies," and their narration as "crystalline" (and/or "falsifying") narration. By the same token, I refer to montage strategies exhibited by movement-image films as "organic montage strategies," their formal strategies as "organic formal strategies," and narration as "organic" (and/or "truthful/logical") narration.

[11] There are films that may be primarily regulated by organic formal strategies and exhibit organic or truthful narration, but that have images that escape what could be an overall narrative "sanction," and due to their appearance there arises a falsifying narration (Stam, New Vocabularies 110; T-I 132, 134). I believe Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films contain many such images. One of these occurs in The Return of the King (2003), when Frodo has just escaped Shelob's lair. He collapses from exhaustion on a dark stony path, but falls into a sunny green meadow and is approached by the Elf queen Galadriel. She reaches out her hand to help him up, and suddenly he arises back on the path outside of Shelob's lair.

Frodo and Galadriel (film clip: click to play)

Real, Imaginary, and the Sensory-Motor Link

[12] The event involving Frodo and Galadriel described above plays on both organic and crystalline formal strategies, and is an example of the many passages that Deleuze claims exist between these two strategies (though I believe it certainly comes closer to being crystalline than organic) (T-I 127, 270). It also exemplifies, for me, an event where a movement-image morphs or transforms into a time-image, and it is perhaps this very transformation, more than the image itself, that makes the image stand out and be all the more apparent as something different, strange, and powerful – and, in my view, this is not just because it is weird.

[13] In this sequence, there is organic continuity of movement between the stony path, the meadow, and then the path again. We cannot simply say this was a dream, however. Frodo did not fall onto the path, become unconscious, have a dream, and then wake up, as an organic formal strategy would normally present or exhibit. Frodo never says anything of this to anyone, and neither does Galadriel, and no comment or reaction by him or Galadriel, or any other "voice" in the film validates this event as being either definitively real or imaginary. There is no direct link between this image and the others in the film other than the continuity of movement at the beginning and the end of the scene. This image has become de-linked from the others in the film.

[14] The idea of the de-linking of images and the "indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary" are very important to any discussion of time-images (T-I 132). The conscious human mind/body engages in an activity or process of combining images via the sensory-motor schema that provides a link "between" initially perceived or sensed images and appropriate action. This is Deleuze's "sensory-motor link" (T-I 272). At the same time, the sensory-motor schema links initially perceived images to each other and to images from memory (in order for us to know or recognize what it is we are perceiving), as well as linking us as human beings to the world in a common sense manner.

Originary Time

[15] For Deleuze and Bergson, the everyday chrono-linear concept of time – where time is a line and the past is behind us, the future before us, and the present is moving along this line into the future – simply does not make sense. For them, the past exists only as memory and is entirely virtual. Only the present is actual, and it is impossible to measure, calculate, or separate it from the virtual past. Both past and present exist in every present instant, each doubling or reflecting the other. They are distinct, but indiscernible from one another. In addition, while the past as memory is virtual, perception is present and actual. Therefore we live in constant and continuous virtual/past/memory and actual/present/perception in every moment, simultaneously (T-I 50-52). This is perhaps the ultimate paradox of our existence.

[16] Now, everything exists or moves "in" time, and since everything is moving image, and assuming that the form of time is originary time, then every initially perceived actual image is immediately doubled, becoming virtual memory, at the same time that virtual memories are accessed and actualized in the image. Every image then has two distinct but indiscernible aspects, an actual "side" and a virtual "side." This is the case with every image, even movement-images, but with organic formal strategies, as well as in our normal everyday lives, we may not get a sense of this Real condition of the world. Where we may get a sense of this, Deleuze proposes, is in the experience of time-images.

Crystalline Formal Strategies and Recognition

[17] Crystalline montage or formal strategies come in a wide variety and are never as clearly classified by Deleuze as his four types of organic montage. They can also be far more varied and complex than simply the appearance of a seemingly disconnected scene or shot like the event in The Return of the King that I previously described. However, I believe that it is possible to identify two broad categories of ways that crystalline formal strategies present direct images of time. The first of these involves Deleuze's concept of "crystal-images" and their definitive characteristic of presenting "reflections," double or multiple images that represent, or even present, indiscernibility of the actual/past and virtual/memory, as well as real and imaginary (T-I 68-69). This presentation in particular insists that montage involves not just cuts between shots, but all film images, even if presented far apart chronologically, one after the other, or in the same shot. There are many examples of reflections or doubles in The Lord of the Rings, but the creature Gollum/Sméagol may be the best for our purposes here.

[18] Important to this discussion are the ideas that, for Deleuze, reflections of many types are used in crystalline formal strategies, and they represent the originary form of time, where everything, including we as human beings, is doubled in every instant. To "see" the world in terms of the originary form of time, is to see "the world as a proliferation of reflections" (Bogue 122). Deleuze's simplest example of a reflection in film is that of a character looking in a mirror. For instance, in The Return of the King, in a relatively wide shot, Gollum approaches a pond and looks into it, seeing his reflection. From the use of relatively common sense angles drawing from conventions of the continuity system when the shots change from wider to closer, it appears to be clear when it is that we are looking at the actual Gollum and when we are looking at the virtual reflection of Gollum. We can "look" from one to the other in a wider shot, back and forth, and "know" which is the reflection and which is the character, and as closer shots cut back and forth, we still know which is virtual reflection and which is actual character. In this analogy, the reflection can stand in for virtual memory and the character for actual perception. Actual and virtual follow each other, where each is distinct and they are discernible from one another. This is an example of reflections or doubles as presented via organic formal strategies, and can be thought of as representing Bergson's "automatic recognition," where an initially perceived (seen, heard, sensed) image is reflected into virtual memory, an image of memory is reflected back on the actual perceived image, and we immediately recognize the image and know what action to take or not to take (T-I 44).

[19] With Bergson's "attentive recognition," the actual is reflected into virtual memory, which reflects back to the image, just like with automatic recognition, but the process continues in an ongoing cycle of actual object reflected into virtual memory and virtual memory reflected onto actual object, because automatic recognition does not work (T-I 44). Images or situations are more difficult, perhaps even more abstract, and we do not immediately recognize them, or know what to do in reaction to them. We cannot directly recall a memory-image to replace the image with or completely describe it. We have to pay closer and closer attention in an effort to grasp it (T-I 20, 279). As this process of ongoing reflection or continuous cycling between actual image and virtual memory happens, according to Deleuze, the image or "present situation attains 'deeper levels of reality,'" and therefore we, going through this process, could be said to experience deeper levels of reality (Bogue 115, inside quotes from T-I 69). An image in film that presents or represents this process is also presenting or representing actual and virtual, present and past, as indiscernible from one another, an image that is both at the same time, presenting an image of originary time, time-image, or direct image of time.

[20] Returning to our example of Gollum/Sméagol as reflection – I have described the scene at the pond as following common sense organic formal strategies, but there is much more to the image than this. "Gollum" is the common name by which most in Middle-earth know him. This name is an onomatopoeia deriving from the odd coughing sound that he makes. As we see in these films, Gollum can be considered an alternate personality to Sméagol, the "original" personality of the entity I call "Gollum/Sméagol." However, they are contained in one physical entity, no matter which personality we think we might see or hear speaking, and there are times when we simply cannot tell which it is. Also, there is not a good Sméagol and a bad Gollum that are continuously at odds concerning what is right and what is wrong. Their goals are ultimately the same, and in this Sam is completely correct, to retrieve the Ring at whatever cost to others. To this end they do not compete with each other. Throughout the entire film, but specifically at the scene at the pond, can we really so easily ever know which image is actual and which is virtual? Is not the actual image of Sméagol standing on the bank also a virtual reflection of Gollum, while at the same time the virtual reflection of Gollum in the water also an actualization of a virtual aspect of Sméagol? In response to my suggestions here, one might say that Gollum and Sméagol are both just parts of a split personality, and I would agree – if they are perceived or understood via sensory-motor perception and thought. But which aspect of Gollum/Sméagol is actual or virtual, real or imaginary, even true or false? Or are they all of these at once, distinct but indiscernible aspects of the same image, paradoxical in its very nature?

[21] Even when Gollum and his alter ego Sméagol are shown in separate shots, following rules of the continuity system (as in the scene at the pond when we see a reflection, or in The Two Towers (2002) when in shot-reverse-shot Sméagol "banishes" Gollum), it feels to me that the common sense connection of space and time that guides organic formal strategies is disturbed, disrupted, even suspended. In many scenes with Gollum/Sméagol where there is complete continuity of movement, contiguous space and chrono-linear time, there is also a complete, "felt" discontinuity. This feeling can be considered the result of an alternative formal strategy, a crystalline formal strategy which is not regulated by any particular schema, but has significant conditions of discontinuity and paradox founded in Bergson's originary form of time.

A Second Crystalline Formal Strategy

[22] Another manner in which crystalline formal strategies present images that also exhibit this felt discontinuity as well as falsifying narration is similar to the Frodo/Galadriel encounter outside of Shelob's lair, but involves a manner of organizing or presenting images that are not doubles or reflections yet still present an indiscernibility between actual and virtual, as well as the real and the imaginary, and exhibits direct images of time. There is a sequence in The Two Towers that I believe provides an exemplary instance of this formal strategy.

[23] This sequence occurs shortly after a typical, normal, organic, continuous, and linear battle scene where Aragorn has been dragged over a cliff by a Warg wolf-creature and disappeared into the river far below.

Aragorn in the river (film clip: click to play)

There is a series of shots of Aragorn, unconscious, floating in the river and coming to rest on the riverbank. "Between" these shots are long dissolves, and superimposed over them are out of focus shots of the running water of the river, adding a dream-like quality to the images. These superimpositions remain through the following: a close-up of Aragorn, which goes out of focus and dissolves to a shot of Arwen, an Elf maiden and Aragorn's love, lying on a couch in the Elf city of Rivendell with her eyes open, then a dissolve to another close-up of Aragorn, still unconscious on the riverbank. In this shot Arwen's face lowers into frame from an impossible angle, as if she is floating above Aragorn, and she kisses him gently on the lips, her eyes closed. There is then her voice-over, saying "may the grace of the Valar protect you." She begins to rise and both she and Aragorn open their eyes at the same time, looking at each other. She continues to rise but fades away before she exits the top of the frame. Aragorn takes a deep breath as if it was his first since he fell in the river. There is then a dissolve to the superimposed water and a dissolve to a pan along Aragorn's body to his head and a cut to a close-up of his face, where it is obvious that he is unconscious, and this is where the superimpositions of the water end. There is then a series of shots where a horse (Brego) wakes him with much effort and kneels for him to climb on. In another several shots Aragorn is seen riding, wearied and weak. There is then a dissolve to the earlier shot of Arwen lying on the couch, eyes still open, and a cut to a wider shot as her father, Elrond, enters the room.

[24] Even with the dream-like quality of this sequence, it is difficult to definitively determine whether the visual and aural image of Arwen reviving Aragorn was a dream, a visitation, a vision, or an actual event that Elves are possibly capable of. Arwen makes no expression or reaction that would indicate a conscious visitation to Aragorn or that she had a vision of him, and she makes no indication of this to her father, who has just entered the room, or to anyone else later in the film. We do find out, however, that she was thinking about Aragorn, at least in a general way, while she was lying on the couch, and we already know that her love for him is why she does not wish to do her father's bidding and leave Middle-earth. Aragorn also never says anything of this event to Arwen or anyone else, even to himself, and makes no indication that he even remembers it.

[25] I posit that this event escapes narrative sanction. We never know whether it is either definitively real or imaginary. We have been given clues that it was a dream in the dream-like presentation of the images of the sequence, and in that Aragorn was unconscious before and after Arwen's appearance above him, but I believe this reading of the event is problematized in a number of ways. First, it is never sanctioned as either a dream or as an actual event (by the same token, this could be thought of as a virtual event, merely possible – yet there is no way to know for certain if it is supposed to be actual or virtual). Second, by the images of Arwen herself on the couch before and after – she is actually there, not at the river, and awake. Third, I believe we cannot assign the event as having happened to or being initiated by either Arwen or Aragorn. If it was a dream, or an actual event, was it Aragorn who was dreaming or calling Arwen to him, or the other way around? Or was it both? There is simply no way to tell. The event has been disconnected from the linear narrative, separated from the Whole of the movement-images that predominate in the film. As in practically every, if not all, time-image, on an intellectual level, we cannot "think" what is, but what might be.

Absolute Discontinuity

[26] With crystalline formal strategies, as I have stated, continuity or discontinuity can take place between any two or multiple film images, and not just between shots, and discontinuity in film can be more than just discontinuity editing. Unfortunately, Deleuze very often uses discontinuity editing to exemplify crystalline formal strategies. When reading the cinema books, it can seem that only through discontinuity editing can direct images of time arise in films – but I argue that this is simply not the case, and that to hold to the idea of discontinuity editing as being a criterion for time-images can be quite detrimental to Deleuze's cinema project in its entirety. I propose that the continuity of images in organic montage strategies can be thought of as "relative continuity," and the discontinuity of images in crystalline montage strategies as "absolute discontinuity" – as opposed to what could be called the "relative discontinuity" that we see in discontinuity editing in a film, such as a Renny Harlin-directed fight scene, a Michael Bay directed car chase, or practically any scene in The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004).

[27] Absolute discontinuity forges paradox, and reveals as well as issues from the paradox of the originary form of time and its distinct but indiscernible actual/virtual and real/imaginary aspects. I believe that all of the examples that I discuss from The Lord of the Rings exhibit this absolute discontinuity – a formal presentation of images exhibiting the originary form of time. Gollum/Sméagol can be thought of as standing in for a direct image of time – a distinct but indiscernible actual/virtual reflection in and of himself; alone a paradoxical figure in its entirety, but also a figure that imbues the entire film with a paradoxical, crystalline nature. Gollum/Sméagol is in himself not one image but multiple, reflective images. Frodo's encounter with Galadriel after escaping Shelob's lair and the sequence of Arwen's resuscitation of Aragorn at the river's edge, while guided by a somewhat different formal strategy, also illustrate the same paradoxical nature and felt discontinuity. All of these cases seem to exhibit not only the indiscernibility of actual and virtual, but also of the real and imaginary, as well as the coincidence of these seemingly "opposite" aspects in the very same image.

The Experience of Time

[28] Regardless of the many variations of how organic formal strategies may present or organize film images, the images are presented and perceived as movement-images and, in essence, it all makes sense, even if only after much contemplation or a strenuous effort of fabula. Crystalline formal strategies, on the other hand, are those that present or exhibit time-images, direct images of originary time, which do not make sense in a normal, everyday manner. I propose that these images present viewers with a possibility to experience some degree of the suspension of the sensory-motor schema, some intuition of the paradoxical form of originary time, and not just the originary form of time, but also the possibility of alternative ways of perceiving, thinking, and even feeling, that is different from our everyday, habitual, sensory-motor existence.

[29] The degree to which the above effect, or any that I describe, happens or is experienced by a viewer, depends on how conducive or receptive an individual is to such a thing, or on their personal proclivities. In his reading of Deleuze on Resnais's and Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad (1961) (arguably Deleuze's favorite example in describing time-images), D. N. Rodowick points out that when watching this film, "we are only confused or disappointed to the extent that we cannot or will not adapt to this new logic." The film seems weird: difficult, if not impossible to follow or understand. Certain viewers feel they must be able to figure it out, or, rightly or wrongly, have figured it out, or they dismiss it as boring or not making any sense and cannot wait for it to be over, or even just walk out of the theater. Some, however, find it fascinating and deeply affective. It is not radical to claim that different viewers have different proclivities to an experience of certain films. I make no claim as to what this proclivity entails or who may be more or less receptive to the effect of time-images that I propose is possible. It undoubtedly has to do with innumerable matters of taste, personal experience, inclination, and perhaps biological factors.

The Interval/Gap/Interstice

[30] In many theories of montage there is the idea of a "gap" that exists between shots. There is a "cut," a physical "splice," but this is also a theoretical "space" that is crossed by the mind in order for the shots that are "cut" together to have meaning or to make sense. Deleuze is not very consistent in his use of many terms in the cinema books, and one term can mean many things, but perhaps the most confusing of these cases have to do with his use of the terms "gap," "interval," "cut," "irrational interval," and "interstice." I propose that there is an interval/gap triumvirate, particularly as they relate to film, that applies to both movement-images and time-images. This interval/gap can be thought of as existing: 1) as the mind/body of the spectator, 2) "between" image and image "in" a film or on the screen, and 3) as a film character's mind/body.

[31] Deleuze goes to considerable length in Cinema 1 to describe Bergson's conceptualization of the attentive human mind/body as a gap, an interval "between" received (initially perceived) images and returned images (actions), as well as images from memory, where images are linked or put together. What fills and crosses the gap are perceived actual images and remembered virtual images. Therefore, I propose that the first of three components of the interval/gap is the mind/body of a spectator, by itself.

[32] Adding to this idea, Deleuze alludes to, but merely alludes to, the idea that a "cut" between film images is nothing more or less than the human mind/body as interval/gap. A cut, like an image, is not "in" the film or "in" the spectator's mind/body, it is the spectator's mind/body. Although Deleuze does not stress this identity of interval/gap and cut, I feel it is an extremely important idea to Deleuze's entire project. And as I have stated, "cuts" can be considered to exist not just between shots, but between all images, including all images in films, even in the same shot – whether exhibited by movement-image films or time-image films. This notion of the identity of human mind/body and cut, together being what lies between images, is the second component of the triumvirate of the interval/gap.

[33] When discussing various concepts, Deleuze will sometimes speak of what is happening to, with, or "in" the "mind" of a character in a film. At other times, however, it seems that he is more concerned with what is happening in the mind of a film's spectator. In yet other instances, he will discuss what is happening in a film, in regards to images or cuts, without regard to character or spectator. Most disconcerting, however, is that he will often discuss certain concepts without giving us a clue as to where this is supposed to be happening, or whom it is supposed to be happening to – is it in the film, in us, in the world, where?

[34] I believe that much of the reason for the ambiguity as to whether Deleuze is speaking of a film, a character in a film, a spectator, or the world of images issues from his very basic assumption that everything is image, the implications of which Deleuze assumes we can keep in mind at all times, as well as Bergson's conceptualizations of "absolute" and "intuition" – which I will elaborate on shortly – but first let us consider the third component of the interval/gap to be the mind/body of a character in a film. And let us think of the character's surroundings – the film world – as that character's world of images, just like our world of images exists for us. The images that the character perceives have gaps, cuts, or intervals between them, and these cuts are the mind/body of the character, just like they are for us in our world.

[35] It is tempting to claim that there might be two more interval/gaps, one between a character in a film and an image in the film that they perceive, and another between spectator and film, but if we follow the implications of the basic Deleuzian/Bergsonian claims that everything is image and that film images are the same as any others, then this distinction becomes problematized. It is not just that "the brain is the screen," as in the screen acts as a brain, but that the relationship between the spectator brain, the screen brain, and the character brain is that they are coincident (when I use the term "coincident," I do not necessarily mean one and the same, becoming-one-with, a unity or identity, though this may be entirely possible according to Bergson and even Deleuze (Flaxman 366). I mean a non-rational coming alongside of, an abnormal proximity and a blurring of rational binary distinctions). Even if we can think of there being a clear distinction between spectator brain, screen brain, and character brain because of a common sense, sensory-motor mode of existence, we create this distinction between these three components, and the discernibility between us as subject and film as object simply may not exist in the Real.

Absolute/Intuitive vs. Relative/Analytical Perception

[36] In the regime of movement-images, a sense of the linear and chronological, a Whole, and the distinction between inside and outside is inherently assumed. The interval/gap provides common sense relationships between images, linking them via a "belief" in common sense movement, space, and time. Perception and thought in this mode of existence are what Bergson calls "relative" and "analytical" (Bergson, An Intro, 1-5) Deleuze uses the terms "relative" and "analytical" occasionally in the cinema books, but he does not define them to any great length. In his An Introduction to Metaphysics (1912), Bergson expounds upon these concepts, and they are an integral part of his entire philosophical project in both Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution.

[37] For Bergson, the sensory-motor mode of existence is generally relative and analytical. Parts are analyzed, related to each other and to the Whole, and seen in relation to ourselves. In its simplest sense, this can be equivalent to studying pieces of a thing in science in order to get an understanding of the thing. We pull things apart and put them back together, just like perception and thought does with the Whole of the world. When perceiving a thing, studying it, trying to know it, this concept also involves remaining outside of the thing and utilizing "ready-made concepts" and "symbols" to aid in understanding it (Bergson, An Intro 1, 68).

[38] The notion of "absolute" perception and thought, on the other hand, carries with it a sense of absolution or purification – a purification of habits of thought, of the illusions of linear time, the imaginary distinction between image and image and subject and object, even of the sensory-motor schema itself, clearing the way for the possibility of a different perception with which to "see" and think: alternatives to connect the images of the world in ways other than strictly via the sensory-motor link.

[39] According to Bergson, an absolute understanding, perception, or thought of something is only achieved through a high degree of an intuition of it, which should not be thought of as an immediate grasp or especially an automatic recognition of a thing. In Bergsonian intuition we enter "into" a thing, in essence become coincident with it, and I posit that conversely the thing must also become coincident with us (Bergson, An Intro 5). This is not something that we do as a conscious activity, but something that we intuitively realize about a thing or concept, that we sense, feel, or realize of the Real. For Bergson, absolute perception and thought are preferable in the pursuits of science, philosophy, and even our everyday lives, but this is a difficult and rare, even painful, thing to achieve, and always has a sense of the strange or uncanny. In intuition or absolute perception, "the mind has to do violence to itself, has to reverse the direction of the operation by which it habitually thinks, has perpetually to revise, or rather to recast, all its categories" (Bergson, An Intro 69). It is a process of forming a reflective idea of a thing, an experience of a thing in which coincidence prevails over sharp distinction according to fixed, previously-held concepts. I propose that the experience of time-images presents the possibility for viewers to enter into some greater degree of intuition and absolute perception of images, including a deeper intuition of the coincidence of viewer and image, and of the originary form of time.

Inside, Outside, Out-of field, and the Whole

[40] However, drawing from Deleuze's discussion of the "out-of-field," I believe that there is some sense of the absolute in the perception and thought of movement-images as well. When Deleuze speaks of the relative and the absolute in the cinema books, he does so for the most part in terms of the out-of-field, and not specifically in reference to Bergson's relative and absolute perception and thought, though I believe this belies his interest in and even reliance upon these notions of Bergson's, even if he does not explicitly state it.

[41] For Deleuze, Noel Burch's "six spatial axes" of the out-of-field, "above or below the frame, to the right or the left, in depth away from the camera ... or toward the camera and beyond it in the audience's direction" are all "relative" (Bogue 43, T-I 17). Deleuze then adds an "absolute out-of-field," which refers (in a typically ambiguous manner) to both the expression of a Whole by the images "in" the frame and to an "Outside" beyond the images (T-I 17). The Outside is not conceptualized as a binary opposite to inside, however. In the regime of movement-images, the Outside is one and the same as the assumed but ever-changing "Open Whole," an expression of the inside. The Whole or Outside of the regime of movement-images, the absolute out-of-field, is both something that can be consciously conceptualized and/or in a way "felt" or "felt for" (Bogue 169) – through what I propose might be some limited sense of Bergson's intuition.

[42] Via crystalline formal strategies, the interval/gap becomes what Deleuze calls the "interstice" as well as the "irrational interval." This is an interval where the common sense perception or understanding of things is suspended. Deleuze is no more consistent in his use of interstice than he is with gap, interval, or cut (he is, thankfully, more consistent in calling this form of interval/gap the irrational interval) (T-I 277). For example, the interval/gap "between" Gollum/Sméagol's multiple but mutual images can be seen to illustrate interstices or irrational intervals. I make the same claim for the cuts from the stony path outside of Shelob's lair to the grassy meadow and back in the example of Frodo and Galadriel's encounter after Frodo's passage through Shelob's lair, and the cuts between shots of Aragorn on the riverbank and Arwen on the couch, as well as "between" the images of Aragorn and Arwen when she revives him – even though in this particular shot she is in the same frame with him.

[43] Images presented via crystalline formal strategies cannot be linked through a sense of a greater Whole because the parts do not add up. They do not connect in a common sense manner. When this happens, for Deleuze the Whole disappears, and what enters into the image is the "Outside" (T-I 278). In my reading of Deleuze, the Outside is in its simplest sense previously hidden or covered over portions of the "plane of immanence" (the infinite set of all images). [1] The Outside can be considered as that which is outside the images (and sets of images) that are normally and habitually perceived and thought via the sensory-motor schema. Movement-images can be considered to comprise only a portion of the plane of immanence of all images. With time-images, the Outside appears not as the or a Whole, but as images and even aspects of images (such as the mutual actual/virtual and real/imaginary nature of images) that are not usually and habitually perceived; that may have been hidden by everyday, common sense sensory-motor activities of attentive, intentive, selective human consciousness. With crystalline formal strategies, the absolute out-of-field becomes part of or infused in the image itself and "testifies to a more disturbing presence, one which cannot even be said to exist, but to 'insist' or 'subsist,' a more radical Elsewhere, outside homogenous space and time" (T-I 17). This Outside bears with it characteristics of the originary form of time, the "Open" nature of the "Open Whole," and teams with unactualized virtuality.

Feeling Time

[44] With time-images, I proffer that the Whole does not actually become the Outside at all, but the Outside permeates the image in varying degrees, from seeping into the image to coming crashing in like a thunderous clap of air rushing into a vacuum after the exploding of an atom bomb, providing a possibility for certain viewers to experience anything from a glimpse to an eruption of the Real.

[45] Earlier in this essay, I described my hypothesis of an interval/gap triumvirate. In summary, I submit that Deleuze's cut, interval, and gap can be thought of as one and the same, and that this interval/gap, as I refer to it, exists: 1) as the mind/body of the spectator, 2) "between" film images (and not just shots) and, 3) as a character's mind/body (when the image contains a character). In addition, all three of these components are coincident. There is for Deleuze no difference between perceived image and perceiver. This same hypothesis applies to the interstice or irrational interval. Therefore, if an interstice exists or appears on screen as 2 or 3 above, it also exists or appears, to some extent, as the mind/body of the spectator.

[46] In a viewer's experience of time-images, which are not presented via organic formal strategies, the sensory-motor, common sense distinction between perceiver and perceived, subject and object, viewer and film image, can become disturbed or disrupted. The effect of this alone can be bizarre, and the source of it un-assignable and un-attributable. The viewer may experience more of an intuitive, absolute perception. With this experience, there may be no clear distinction between this strange feeling as coming from or being in the film image, or coming from or being in the viewer, and can be described in terms of varying degrees from a loosening to an eradication of the suspension of disbelief, or a disruption of the sense of fiction. This experience could also be one of a greater realization, experience, sense, or feeling of the coincidence of mind and body, as well as mind/body and image.

The Link Broken

[47] In the rare and strange cases that a film exhibits genuine time-images, they cannot be dealt with in a thought process that is regulated strictly by the sensory-motor schema. There is not just normal action to be normally linked to a normal reaction via sensory-motor links (rational intervals). This is no everyday stimulus to be linked to a common sense response. The sensory-motor link from movement-image to movement-image, from action to action, can weaken or break like a bridge demolished. The interval/gap, to a certain extent, is left not completely or easily crossable with sensory-motor thought. There is not simply common sense continuity between images – for example between Sméagol and Gollum, or Arwen and Aragorn. It becomes more difficult to grasp at the or a Whole. The weakening of the link in the interval/gap, now an interstice or irrational interval, can be thought of as creating a vacuum, and what comes rushing into this vacuum is the Outside – in essence, previously undisclosed aspects of the Real. The interval/gap as interstice could be said to come closer to its primordial, most basic, or originary state, to Bergson's "void," before images are or were perceived, processed, or put together via the sensory-motor schema as just movement-images or language. This condition could perhaps also be thought of as being beneath the sensory-motor process. For Deleuze, film, like the world, at its very essence exists as "signaletic material" – non-linguistic signs, moving images prior to, antecedent to, or beneath language – and language arises as a response, an action, when the sensory-motor schema seizes moving images and sensory-motor links are made (T-I 29). I propose that some time-images might provide a possibility for certain viewers, on some level, to experience moving images as moving images and not just movement-images, but as indescribable, unlink-able, signaletic material. The interval/gap, failed by the sensory-motor link, automatic recognition, and even attentive recognition, is no longer able to link to definitive action. The movements from one image to another or between images across the interval become to some degree incommensurable, irrational.

Perception Changed

[48] Deleuze ceases to speak of the perception-image, itself a movement-image, once he enters deeply into his discussion of time-images, and he does not describe what it is that happens to perception-images in the experience of time-images other than to infer that perception changes. I propose that the perception-image per se might become no longer relevant. In the experience of time-images, when the sensory-motor schema is disrupted, the ability to link initial perception through affection to action becomes troublesome. Perception-images can no longer stretch to and through and contain affection, action, and relation, as they would in everyday, common sense, sensory-motor perception. For Deleuze, initial perception is simultaneous with affection, which is pure feeling, intensity, and quality (Bogue 37-38; 78, T-I 272; M-I 66, 98). If affection can no longer be linked through, used, or used up, to get to action; if relation cannot be easily made, if made at all; if there is no definitive habitual sensory-motor response to be had when confronted with an image, then affection is released, in varying degrees, depending on the image as well as the proclivity of the viewer, providing a coincident image/viewer with a feeling, intensity, and quality that is not normally experienced in everyday life.

[49] At the same time, the experience of time-images, automatic or habitual recognition does not entirely work, and the process of attentive recognition "fails" (it does not stop, that may be possible only in death) (T-I 98; 115). It simply goes on and on in the cycle between actual perception and virtual memory, oscillating back and forth so quickly that the actual/present and virtual/past are at least somewhat indiscernible from one another. The mind/body, after a manner, could be considered to become more "reflective." This may contribute to a discussion of why certain films might have more of an effect on some viewers than others (consider the case of Last Year at Marienbad). Recall that it is attentive human consciousness, intent on action and selection and regulated by the sensory-motor schema that produces movement-images from the moving images of the world. I propose that in the experience of time-images, selection becomes difficult and intention distressed, and that attention, depending on the individual viewer, can become either relaxed (in the case of viewers who may not be as receptive) or heightened (in the case of viewers who may be more receptive), in varying degrees.

Gandalf and Saruman: The Actual/Virtual Exchange

Gandalf and Saruman (film still)

[50] At this point there is one more example from The Lord of the Rings that may help bring together many of the concepts I have described, as well as further inform what I have dubbed Deleuzian crystalline formal strategies. This example plays on both crystalline formal strategies that I described earlier, combining the ideas of reflections or doubles with Gollum/Smeagol and the indiscernibility of real and imaginary, actual and virtual and falsifying narration presented by the example with Aragorn and Arwen at the river's edge – and perhaps carries them further. I believe that the effect of this sequence (image) cannot be attributable entirely to ambiguities of story or tricks in the narrative (though of course we are in anticipation when experiencing this scene and are ultimately relieved or even jubilant when we find that Gandalf the Wizard is still alive). This will require me to introduce a few more concepts that will hopefully be helpful.

[51] Because of their many similarities and the fact that they are both Wizards, I propose that Gandalf and Saruman act as reflections of one another, both in the simplest sense where actual and virtual follow each other via organic formal strategies, as well as reaching the crystalline state of indiscernibility of actual and virtual, hence providing us with the possibility of an intuition of Bergson's form of time as well as the Deleuzian conception of perception and memory.

[52] Characteristics of an object and its reflection are that they each offer different views or angles of something, and in seeing these, one can get a bigger picture or greater realization of the thing. Seeing Gandalf and Saruman as reflecting each other provides a better understanding of the being that is "Wizard." In terms of recognition, we look at one of them and pull up a memory of the other, and create a memory to then compare to the first. But how automatic recognition fails here is that the description of one cannot replace the other. And how attentive recognition fails is that with two of them, the image of each is constantly re-described by the memory of the other and the description is never complete; we can not just fit them into some preconfigured mold. We are, however, getting a fuller and fuller description of each. This ties into what Bergson says about ever-expanding circuits taking us to a deeper understanding or intuitive experience of the Real. Gandalf and Saruman are each still images on their own, but they have also become two sides of one image, an image of Wizard. At the same time, Gandalf himself can be seen as both actual and virtual due to Saruman's character in the film, and so can Saruman, because of Gandalf.

[53] A way to consider Gandalf and Saruman together as image is in terms of actual/limpid and virtual/opaque. For Deleuze, actual images can be described in terms of limpidity, and virtual images in terms of opacity (T-I 70). There are also varying degrees and qualities of limpidity and opacity. Deleuze describes limpid as clear, transparent, apparent, having light upon it, white, constructive, or visible. Opaque can be murky, dark, confusing, shadowy, distorted, black, destructive, or invisible.

[54] From this perspective, Gandalf can be seen as opaque, or virtual, and Saruman as limpid, or actual. Even what they are called is telling – Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. It would seem that Gandalf is merely a virtual reflection of Saruman. Saruman's higher level of limpidity is also supported by the fact that he is the head of Gandalf's order, supposedly wiser and more powerful than Gandalf.

[55] Deleuze speaks of images in films as either being actual and limpid or virtual and opaque, or as making the exchange from actual/limpid to virtual/opaque or vice versa (T-I 70). In one sense, there is a slow progression where Gandalf and Saruman exchange positions, Gandalf becoming actualized and Saruman becoming virtualized, or where Gandalf and his power as Wizard actualizes while Saruman and his power as Wizard virtualizes. Another way to consider this exchange is that a virtual power in Gandalf actualizes, while an actual power in Saruman virtualizes. At the same time, a virtual power for evil, latent in Saruman, begins to actualize, and an actual Gandalf, the one we knew, begins to virtualize. There is a scene in The Two Towers where this actual/virtual, limpid/opaque exchange is powerfully demonstrated.

Gandalf as Saruman (film clip: click to play)

[56] In this scene, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas enter Fanghorn Forest in search of Merry and Pippin. Trekking through the forest, Legolas, whose senses are very keen, tells Aragorn that "the White Wizard approaches." Believing this to be Saruman, they turn quickly in an attempt to catch the approaching Wizard off guard, before he can put a spell on them. Bathed in a blinding white light, the Wizard blocks arrow and axe with his staff, and then causes Aragorn's sword to glow so hot that he is forced to drop it. The voice that comes from the Wizard is strangely distorted, and sounds for all the world like Saruman's, though it is also mixed with Gandalf's. Aragorn demands that the Wizard show himself, and he steps forward, the light fading. It is of course Gandalf, much to his companions' surprise since he supposedly died in Fellowship.

[57] Gandalf has clean white robes, straighter and whiter hair and beard, and a staff very similar to Saruman's. Legolas apologizes for the attack, saying that they thought he was Saruman, to which Gandalf replies "I am Saruman, Saruman as he was meant to be." Moments later, Gimli calls him "Gandalf," and Gandalf responds, "that is what I used to be called, Gandalf the Grey. I am Gandalf the White."

[58] I propose that the moment when Gandalf appears, bathed in white light, with a voice that is a mix of Gandalf and Saruman, can be a crystal-image par excellence, with complete indiscernibility between Gandalf and Saruman, actual and virtual. Even limpid and opaque become completely indiscernible in this exchange. Though the image of Gandalf/Saruman is bright white, and thus limpid, the whiteness itself obscures the image and is therefore also opaque. In addition, we may believe this to be Saruman, the more limpid of the two, but it is Gandalf, who has been the more opaque – and whom we believed to be dead. If this were the only image of Gandalf in the film, or of Saruman, or if Gandalf and Saruman had not been presented earlier in the film as I have described, I could not make such a claim. In this scene, the exchange of Saruman from actual to virtual, limpid to opaque, and of Gandalf from virtual to actual, opaque to limpid, is unmistakable.


[59] Except maybe in extremely rare cases, perhaps in experimental films, I believe that with crystalline formal strategies, the other images, our everyday movement-images, do not completely disappear. They are still there. We do not necessarily see something completely different or other or are entirely transported out of normal experience, but we might perceive and feel something more in the image, with the image. The experience of time-images offers the possibility to at least sense a realm of virtuality and potential, where the imaginary is just as much as Real as our everyday sensory-motor "reality." Once the sensory motor-link between images is disrupted, we have the opportunity to "see" that there are other possibilities, multiple possibilities of how to perceive images and put images together, or make sense of them, other than strictly through the sensory-motor schema. In the cinema books, Deleuze does not tell us how images should be put together. A more important idea for him seems to be that we realize that there are other possibilities, even an infinite number of possibilities, of both how to process images and to reconfigure or combine images – and maybe come up with an infinite variety of combinations of images – even images we may already think we are familiar with.


[1] Deleuze discusses the plane of immanence in a number of his books, and at length in What is Philosophy? (1994), co-written with Félix Guattari. D. N. Rodowick notes that, "like many of his philosophical ideas, Deleuze's definition of the 'plane of immanence' shifts in subtle and interesting ways in different books," including the cinema books themselves (215). I also acknowledge Anna Powell's reading of Deleuze in her Deleuze and Horror Film (2005).


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