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“Animals, Communists, Caves”

2012 April 6
by Shared by Steve Rust

As part of an ongoing effort to expand the scope and scale of ecomedia studies, we’ve asked a number of folks from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies to post abstracts of their conference papers or send something to us to post.  Today’s entry is from Scott Nygren, who has graciously submitted the abstract for his paper…


“Animals, Communists and Caves: Benjaminian Time in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee who Can Recall his Past Lives (2010)”


“Uncle Boonmee” has been described as difficult or confusing even by its admirers, although its story is straight-forward. The argument of this paper is that the apparent confusion of the film is less a question of how to decipher the narrative, and more an effect of the work the film does to reconceptualize narrative events and time. Narrative events are constituted as differential relationships rather than objects, and narrative time is organized as a series of relays that accumulate into a network rather than as a developmental sequence. The implication of this narrative work is political in that it asks us to rethink social relationships in a transformative experience of history. . . . .

Throughout the film, a series of figural strategies position time as a double activity of virtual past and actual present, parallel to Benjamin’s concept of the dialectical image or Deleuze’s crystal-image. The virtual image of history is figured as reincarnation and ghosts, cinema and TV, animals, paleolithic cave paintings, medical discourse, and science fiction, always next to an image of present life as a singular intensity. On the basis of this doubling, the end of the film – in which the same characters simultaneously watch protests on TV and go out to dinner, in an understated use of digital processing – no longer seems puzzling.

In my book, Time Frames: Japanese Cinema and the Unfolding of History, I sought to understand Japanese film in a postcolonial and postnational context. I am currently extending that project as an approach to world cinema by past SCMS papers on Tariq Teguia’s films in Algeria, on William Kentridge’s installations from South Africa, and now this presentation.

Dr. Scott Nygren is a Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of English and Chair of the Faculty Senate at the University of Florida.  He is the author of “Time Frames: Japanese Cinema and the Unfolding of History” (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), and has previously published essays in a number of books and journals.

One Response leave one →
  1. smonani permalink
    April 9, 2012

    Scott, thanks very much for this take on the film. I like it very much. I watched the film recently and while I found it fascinating, I have been trying to puzzle out the ending for quite a while. As you articulate, the doubling effect doesn’t seem quite as strange if recognized as an overall play with time. Since the film also speaks to buddhist and spiritual relationships, I’m curious too how time functions in these constructs as they are explored in Thai culture. Did you find any readings on these dimensions? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

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