Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Time the Redeemer: Time as an Object of Cinema in a Post-Metaphysical Age

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Time the Redeemer: Time as an Object of Cinema in a Post-Metaphysical Age

Article excerpt

There is a sense in which time is fundamental to the cinematic experience - on the one hand, the physical medium has a constant, mechanical rhythm (the frame-rate of whatever is being projected); on the other hand, the content of any particular movie is free to play with the pace and even the 'direction' of time. Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky titled his important book about cinema Sculpting in Time, as if that phrase somehow captured the essence of filmmaking. So, even though one could argue that the manipulation of time is inherent to film as an art form, there has been a curious increase in Hollywood movies that take time itself as a central narrative thread to achieve dramatic purposes (see Inception (2010), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Interstellar (2014) as recent examples with very high box office receipts). And if it is working for Hollywood, it might be an indication of a larger, cultural trend, at least in the United States. The project of this paper is to take a look at this trend and to think out loud about what it might be saying about religion and religious sensibilities, at least in a preliminary way. In my own mind, I have been drawing loose connections between this trend and certain philosophers and theorists of religion. This paper will explore those connections and - at least, this is my hunch - will ultimately suggest that the experience of time as an express object of thought in movies has been driven by the operation of the religious imagination in what I will call here a 'postmetaphysical age.' In a secularized culture - where transcendental and supernatural realms are in competition with one another, highly contested, or flat out denied - the religious imagination turns to a meditation on the nature of time itself as a kind of hermeneutical key to human purposes and meaning in the broadest sense. The specific religious sensibility I see emerging in these types of movies aims at a kind of sacralizing of the hereand- now present moment of the audience rather than, as in most religious tropes, connecting the present moment to some other, external sacred reality by means of which the present moment is transcribed into sacred narratives of time and space. Put another way, the sacred is approached not by way of transcendent movement but rather by eliciting an inherently sacred quality of the present moment itself. In turn, it is my view that this would be a distinctively modern expression of a religious sensibility precisely in the fact that it forgoes metaphysical claims about sacred realities and provides, instead, the experience of a redeemed or transfigured or otherwise sacralized present through narrative fictions that entertain a certain experience of time. That is to say, the movies that interest me are not religious in the sense that they make hard-nosed propositions about the actual nature of time; rather, they construct a fiction about the nature of time in order to arrive at a transfigured sensibility about the everyday here and now.

The Gnostic Trope in Space, the Gnostic Trope in Time

As part of a course I teach in - which is a year-long, great books program - we regularly show Chris Marker's landmark film La Jetée (1962). In showing it, we are trying to accomplish two things: 1) it is the first film we show to the students, and it is meant to be their introduction to serious cinema. Indeed, the more I have seen it, the more I have become convinced that it is a kind of perfect gem of a movie - that it exhibits a kind of crystalline perfection of plot and style that is, at the same time, a meditation on the medium of film itself; and 2) we pair it with the students' reading of Plato's Republic, in particular for its resonance with the allegory of the cave (2004:208-213 [VII:514a-520a]).

For those of you who may not have seen this movie, its basic plot is somewhat easily re-told: in a post-apocalyptic age, after the third world war, men are confined to living underground.1 Because the world has become uninhabitable, the leaders of the underground camp have begun experiments in time travel, using the strong, personal memories of some of the camp's inmates as bridges to the past. …

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