Tag Archives: Cognitivist Approach

Nietzsche and the Ethics of Memory in ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’

Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind questions the ethics and morality of memory manipulation that tie into Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas of how memory existentially affirms and ethically tests the moral positions of eternal recurrence.

The following deleted scene is a mock advertisement for Lacuna, provider of the memory erasure service:

Nietzsche argues the importance of forgetting. If one were to remember every single detail, every day of our lives, one would go mad. Eternal Sunshine acknowledges an importance in forgetting: the two main characters, Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), have both willingly had their memories of each other erased by the Lacuna procedure. Both want to forget the pain they inflicted on each other.

However, Nietzsche also argues the importance of remembering. To remember is to acknowledge all elements of one’s life both pleasurable and painful. Nietzsche argues embracing all memories is the only way to live an authentic life. In the film, Joel and Clementine have failed to respect the importance of remembering that Nietzsche argues as they both decide to have the memories of each other removed. Therefore, by Nietzsche’s account, they live in self-deception and do not lead an authentic life.

Additionally, Nietzsche considers the various elements that make up a memory of some major life event to be inseparable from each other. In other words, memory is holistic. In the film, a major life event occurs when Joel and Clementine lie on the ice and fall in love for the first time. But, if Joel has only Clementine removed from this memory, how much of the experience is truly removed considering Joel would still have many other elements in his memory of that experience independent of Clementine being there or not: himself laying down on the ice, the starry sky, the passing cars, and the background noises. Traces of the experience still exist. Joel breaks the holistic memory bond that Nietzsche describes and therefore the film again questions Joel’s ethics and morality in partaking in this self-deceptive act.

Finally, Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal recurrence’ questions one’s attitude towards the idea of one’s life infinitely and exactly repeating itself. How we respond to this ‘tells us about our attitudes about ourselves and the lives we live’ (Jollimore 2009 p. 55). The end of the film presents an ‘eternal recurrence’ of Joel and Clementine who decide to live their love affair again, even though they know it will be both good and bad.

Their decision may suggest a happy conclusion, but moreover, it questions if this is ethically the right thing to do considering they both know the likely outcome is only going to cause each other pain.

Eternal Sunshine is a complex film on many levels. This Nietzschean approach to the way the film questions the ethics and morals of memory and its erasure provides only one reading of a rich text that will surely be analysed and debated for a long time to come.

 

Reference Sources

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Case Study 1 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, Lecture 19 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Troy Jollimore 2009, ‘Miserably Ever After: Forgetting, Repeating and Affirming Love’, in Christopher Grau (ed.), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Philosophers on Film, Routledge, London, pp. 31-61.

The Practicality of Deleuze’s Philosophy of Film

This week I was introduced to the work of French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. The extracts from his books Cinema 1 and 2 philosophise concepts of movement-image and time-image. They were the most complex and perplexing theory this undergraduate film student has come across. Consider the following extract from Cinema 1:

The frame is therefore sometimes conceived of as a spatial composition of parallels and diagonals, the constitution of a receptacle such that the blocs [masses] and the lines of the image which come to occupy it will find an equilibrium and their movements will find an invariant (Deleuze 1986, p. 13).

It is perhaps not surprising Deleuze’s theories have gained a reputation for being notoriously difficult to comprehend. Following is a more approachable explanation of Deleuze’s ideas, yet it still demonstrates the inherent complexity of his concepts [warning: contains nudity]:

In summary, (I think) it all ends up meaning something like this:

  • movement-image = canonical/classical film era narrative that evokes a more ‘humanist’/positive emotional flow
  • time-image = postmodern/fragmented film era narrative (from WWII/Italian Neo-Realism onwards) that evokes a more ‘disenfranchised’/negative emotional flow

However, the question remains of what point, what real-world practical use, this type of impenetrable philosophical musing proposes. I am very interested in, and open to, all kinds of film theory from psychoanalytical ‘Grand Theory’ to newer cognitivist approaches. But, this kind of overtly scientific, physics-like approach to film and art leaves me a little cold and confused.

 

Reference Sources

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Gilles Deleuze Philosophy of Film’, Lectures 12, 13, and 13a to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Gilles Deleuze 1986, ‘Frame and Shot, Framing and Cutting’ in Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-image, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis pp. 12-28.

Gilles Deleuze 1989, ‘Recapitulation of Images and Signs’ in Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-image, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, pp. 34-43.

Cognitivism Goes to the Movies with ‘Vertigo’

The cognitivist approach led by Bordwell and Carroll goes against the grain of psychoanalytic Film Theory (or ‘Grand Theory’) that began in the 1970s. So what better film to apply cognitivism to than Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958): a complex narrative of obsession that psychoanalytically explores the subconscious human mind, so the opposite of cognitivist theory.

The scene occurs when Scottie (James Stewart) saves Madeline (Kim Novak) from drowning in the ocean under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Principles of the Cognitivist Approach

Movies elicit the same cognitive responses as ordinary perception

How we see in real life is not that different to what we see in the movies. Scottie sees a woman jump into the ocean, makes a decision to act, and he jumps in to save her. The spectator does not need an understanding of psychoanalytic theory to understand what they have just seen.

Consciousness is constructivist

Humans use practical reasoning to construct and make sense of the world. We do not just passively sense something and leave it at that. If I see a ball coming towards my head, I duck; if I hear a loud explosion outside, I go to investigate. In a similar way, Scottie watches Madeline jump into the ocean, then through practical reasoning makes a decision to jump in and save her. In the real world, the same situation would (hopefully!) prompt the same response through practical reasoning. The cognitivist approach has a strong emphasis on practical reasoning rather than sensations and moods.

Movies are not as ideologically manipulative as ‘Grand Theorists’ have assumed

Spectators are not being manipulated by some form of Hollywood influenced ideology such as sexism if they use their own comprehension and judgement when watching a film. Scottie saves Madeline not because she seen as some objectified woman in constant need of saving; he simply her because Madeline is a person who will die if he does act to save her.

Do we really need more questionable entities to explain movies?

For the male spectator, the ‘male gaze’ objectifies women and identifies with men, but arguably, this psychoanalytic process is an intangible entity (much like the Oedipus complex and the unconscious). The cognitivist approach rejects this intangibility and focuses on methods that are more empirical. Madeline is not a helpless, weak object that Scottie receives perverse pleasure from saving to boost his ego. The cognitivist approach considers questions such as why Madeline jumped into the ocean and what made Scottie decide to save her.

Cognition plays a key role in perception and emotional responses through questions and answers, and therefore proposes a different approach to the more subconscious and intangible psychoanalytic analysis of film narrative.

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Cognitivism Goes to the Movies’, Lectures 6, 6a & 7 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.