Dr William Brown – Schrödinger’s Cinema: The Matter of Life and Death

26 October 2016 @ 16:30 – 18:30
G.03 (Large Lecture Theatre)
50 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9JU


Wednesday 26 October 2016
Time: 16:30 – 18:30
Venue: G.03, 50 George Square

Dr William Brown
Senior Lecturer in Film Studies
University of Roehampton, London

Schrödinger’s Cinema: The Matter of Life and Death

In this paper, I shall discuss the way in which cinema regularly dissolves the boundary between life and death. This happens not just on a narrative level as characters return from the dead in films like Heaven Can Wait (1943 and 1978), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Always (1989), Ghost (1990) and Truly Madly Deeply (1990). It also happens with regard to the mise-en-scène of films, in particular through the figure of the supposedly dead body that is visibly breathing, as well as through cinema’s considerable array of ‘undead’ entities (zombies, vampires, ghosts, ghouls and more). If for Gilles Deleuze, the people are missing from cinema, then cinema also has a history of missing people, whose status as dead or alive is unsure. Indeed, these dead/alive missing people bring to mind Ernst Schrödinger’s famous experiment, in which a cat in a box is determined as both dead and alive. I should like to propose, therefore, cinema as Schrödinger’s cat, or Schrödinger’s cinema, through which lens we can read cinema’s bent towards narrative and the ‘hero’s quest’ as a means to resolve this seeming contradiction of states. While most (narrative) films try to resolve this contradiction (to determine whether dead or alive, often through the act of killing), various films nonetheless take us inside the box of life and death (The Vanishing, 1988; Kill Bill, 2003; Buried, 2010), with cinema thus revealing to us on a philosophical level that the distinction between death and life is illusory. This is most clearly discussed, and becomes a key thematic element, in the recent Girl With All The Gifts (2016) – where destiny of the human is indeed revealed to be matter of both life and death.

Bio: William Brown is a Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Roehampton, London. Among other things, he is the author of Non-Cinema: Global Digital Filmmaking and the Multitude (Bloomsbury, 2018) and Supercinema: Film-Philosophy for the Digital Age (Berghahn, 2013). He is also the director of various zero-budget feature films, including En Attendant Godard (2009), Selfie (2014), The New Hope (2015), Ur: The End of Civilization in 90 Tableaux (2015), Circle/Line (2016), Letters to Ariadne (2016) and The Benefit of Doubt (2016).