Time-Image

So, Time-image, described as an image “imbued with duration: a component of time that is neither successive nor chronological. Seen less as matter than felt as pure duration”(286). These images are described as tending “not to favor narrative” and can be seen as a spatialising of time (286), which means it is NOT a flashback and NOT derived from cuts/montage made in a film.

More conventional examples of the time-image in film come from films like Alain Renais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) where shots of the city itself become an example of the time-image because the trauma of the atomic bomb creates a fissure in time such that it is felt like a physical presence informing every scene despite being an event of the past.

More recent examples of the time-image that stood out to me include one of the closing scenes in Jauja (2015) a recent Lisandro Alonso film, a scenic period piece set in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

In this closing sequence, Viggo Mortensen’s character who has been traveling for days in search for his daughter who has run off and eloped with a soldier, comes upon a cave in which he meets an old lady.

This sparse, barren, yonic space, with this tiny lit central area surrounded by an encroaching dark that gives you very little information about when or where this is, seems like a place that exists outside the flow of time. To add to this sense of the cave being a place outside of time, at one point we see the same compass Mortensen’s onscreen 15 year old daughter took before she left cradled in the old woman’s hand. And in the exchange between Mortensen’s character and the old woman you get this strange confusion of pronouns:

  • VM: I’m looking for my daughter.
  • OL: What did she look like?
  • VM: Blond… very young, 14. No, 15 years old.
  • OL: What did my mother look like?
  • VM: Your mother?
  • OL: I mean the girl’s mother.
  • VM: why?
  • OL: I’ve always wanted to know.
  • VM:… (provides a description)… She left us right after you were born.

Then he looks at her like he didn’t mean to say that, like the pronouns slipped out unconsciously, like the place they’re in is making him speak those words.

  • VM: I’m looking for my daughter.
  • OL: If you’d like to come back some time for a longer visit, I’ll always be here.

With Jauja and Hiroshima Mon Amour there’s a clear spatialization of time and there’s also a representation of multiple, non-successive, non-chronological time streams in the same scene. The Old woman, old before her time, who less than 2hrs before in terms of runtime, and less than a week ago in terms of diegetic time, was a girl of 15; now, stands next to her father, suddenly equal in terms of age.

With both of these films, there is a spatialization of time but there is also a sense of time crawling forward in terms of the long takes used in these films. This drag of time moving slow as molasses is an extra-diegetic effect not quite part of the definition of Deleuze’s  time-image but an effect that always seemed to accompany it.

That is until I saw X-men: Days of Future Past (2014). It didn’t occur to me at the time when I watched it but that one scene – you know what scene I’m talking about – is a really great example of time-image. There’s just something magical about this scene that makes me grin from ear to ear. It’s that feeling one gets when all the stars align and all the moving bits of cinema just fall into place. This scene alone was worth the price of entry, and luckily too because frankly speaking, I wasn’t too charmed with the rest of the film.

Quicksilver Scene Breakdown

This whole scene is spectacle. And like all spectacle, it is non-narrative. It exists somewhat outside of the flow of narrative time. This scene is also clearly time-image driven given the multiple representations of time that co-exist in the scene and for once, it is NOT a scene that unfolds at a snail’s pace in long-takes and deep focus shots. Its concentration on the portrayal of speed also really highlights the ironic way in which cinema consistently represents the greatest of speeds in the most novel uses of slow-motion. And here I’m thinking about things like slow-motion in martial arts fight sequences, bullet-time in The Matrix (1999) and of course Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

So I thought, just for fun, let’s count the types and the ways in which time has been spatially represented in this scene:

  1. Quicksilver’s time: represented by the regular speed he moves at juxtaposed against the entire mise en scene that’s still moving, but in incredibly slow-motion
  2. Diegetic time: which has slowed to a crawl from Quicksilver’s perspective
  3. Collision of the two different movements in time: represented by the scientifically realistic impact sites along the wall where Quicksilver’s foot makes contact with the tiled walls
  4. Extra-diegetic time/ Camera-time(?): spectator’s view of time marked by the especially slow tempo of the song on the soundtrack
  5. And missing time-image of Quicksilver moving in real time although its presence is certainly implied in the rest of the scene

That was fun. Do comment, add on, correct me if I missed anything or got anything wrong. Till the next post!

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