The Odd Illusion of Cinematic Time

You may not always know when you’re being manipulated

Hsiao-kang in Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time is It There? (image from

If my body perceives an image, how is this different from an image “existing” as such outside my own subjective position?

French theorist Gilles Deleuze’s reformulation of film studies into a new mode of viewing the world, and as a way of mapping the movement of images in time, is no less than remarkable.

He does not think that the camera (a piece of technology) supplements humans, but rather that technology approaches the inhuman.

Doane argues that with the advent of film came a renewed attention to Zeno’s paradox and the problems associated with applying it to camera movements.

These three theoretical models lead me to my own understanding of how time functions in cinema.

I am in line with Doane here; there are two conflicting tendencies within time in cinema.

Nevertheless, there is a strong illusion of what I call “true narrative time.”

Eye cutting scene from Andalusian Dog.
Eye cutting scene from Andalusian Dog.
Eye-cutting scene in An Andalusian Dog (image from

But just a few minutes after the opening, we come to realize that the film is in fact filled with disturbing images of violence and sexuality.

In Cléo de 5 à 7, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme, and “true narrative time” becomes almost undistinguishable from the spectator’s experience of time.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (image from

In Hiroshima however, time is not presented in a linear fashion and is instead broken up by constant flashbacks.

Elle being comforted by her lover in Hiroshima mon amour (image from

When he uses the first method, Tsai positions the camera in a particular spot to film the “private moments” of his characters.

Flannery has a PhD in Comparative Literature. She teaches French, Italian, and visual media. Her book on Taiwanese cinema can be found on Amazon.

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