Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

The Eternal Return: Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia

Academic journal article Studies in the Humanities

The Eternal Return: Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia

Article excerpt

One of the main themes of Gilles Deleuze has been the relation of time and the image. Deleuze's intriguing exploration of this relation appears in his two-volume work on the philosophy of cinema titled Cinema I: The Movement-Image and Cinema II: The Time-Image. Deleuze shows us that the cinema, to the extent that it represents a unique sort of narrative text, offers perhaps the best field of inquiry to investigate time in an image-oriented medium.

When Deleuze was writing these texts, a narratological model of criticism that emphasizes the textual or narrative systems found within films had long dominated film theory. This model has many shortfalls, the most predominant of which is its systematic neglect of the complexities of filmic temporality. The temporal structure of film (narrative and non-narrative), though multi-faceted, differs from other texts mainly in how it organizes and dominates the process of participation by the spectator. (1) Yet, most film theorists interpret this temporal construction within the framework of the "ordinary concept of time"--as theorized by philosopher Jacques Derrida--which privileges the "present" as the dominant temporal mode of narrative and spectatorial experience. (2)

The conditions under which the cinema struggles to present time--with its different forms of temporalities such as the "past," "memory," and "recollection"--within the limits of its form, along with the narrative and stylistic devices developed by directors to overcome the complexities of resolving these temporal problems on the screen, is the focus of Deleuze's writings about film. Beginning with his Preface, Deleuze argues that since WWII, time has become the dominant figure in the cinema. In the first volume, Deleuze claims that before WWII, the cinema presented an indirect image of time that was chronological in nature, constituted time in its empirical form, and produced it on the basis of movement. He calls this the "movement-image." The movement-image subordinates time to movement, presenting an indirect image of time by mobilizing a succession of presents in an "extrinsic relation to before and after" (the past is a former present and the future is a present about to appear), deploying the false notion that the cinematographic image exists in the present (Deleuze, Tomlinson and Galeta 271). But in the second volume, he claims that there is a post-war shift in the cinematic image from the "movement-image" to a "direct time-image." Post-war cinema finally achieves the direct presentation of time, the realization of showing a "before and an after" inseparable from, yet coexisting with the "present" of the image (38). Here, movement subordinates itself to time. The direct time-image is no longer empirical, but transcendental, in the Kantian sense of the word: "time is out of joint, and presents itself in its pure state" (Deleuze 271). (3)

One of the key directors to make time a central theme in his entire body of cinematic work is the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The film Nostalghia is his best attempt to explore time, especially the temporal past, as a critical facet of cinema through a narrative that hinges upon the tension between the certainty of the past in a person's memory and its fragmentation within each moment of the present to which it is subjected. Nostalghia therefore offers some intricate possibilities for scrutinizing the idea of presence in a cinematic text. In this paper, I wish to intercut between Deleuze and Tarkovsky to argue that in Nostalghia Tarkovsky creates a unique cinematic image, one that is crystallized (to use Delueze's idea) around the temporal fluidity of the "past" rushing through the filmic image at the expense of projecting the static "present" contained within it. I specifically focus on the idea of return as it doubly functions in both the narrative and cinema-specific style of the film.

First, a brief narrative synopsis of the film. …

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