The Cinematic Bergson: From Virtual Image to Actual Gesture


  • John Ó Maoilearca Kingston University, London



Bergson, Von Trier, virtual, actual, cinema, body, gesture


Deleuze’s film-philosophy makes much of the notion of virtual images in Bergson’s Matter and Memory, but in doing so he transforms a psycho-meta-physical thesis into a (very) unBergsonian ontological one. In this essay, we will offer a corrective by exploring Bergson’s own explanation of the image as an “attitude of the body”—something that projects an actual, corporeal, and postural approach, not only to cinema, but also to philosophy. Indeed, just as Renoir famously said that “a director makes only one movie in his life. Then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again,” so Bergson wrote that each philosopher only makes one “single point” throughout his or her whole career. And this one point, he then declares, is like a “vanishing image,” only one best understood as an attitude of the body. It is embodied image that underlies an alternative Bergsonian cinema of the actual and the body—one that we will examine through what Bergson’s has to say about “attitude” as well as “gesture” and “mime.” We will also look at it through a gestural concept enacted by a film, to be precise, the five remakes that comprise Lars von Trier’s and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions (2003). This will bring us back to the idea of what it is that is being remade, both by directors and philosophers, in Renoir’s “one film” and Bergson’s singular “vanishing image” respectively.  Is the “one” being remade an image understood as a representation, or is it a gesture, understood as a bodily movement? It is the latter stance that provides a wholly new and alternative view of Bergson’s philosophy of cinema.