Chapter 4 Cinema as Eye – Look and Gaze

Blade Runner– Active and Passive Eye – The Mobile Eye of Early Cinema – Dziga Vertov – Apparatus-Theory – Suture – Continuity Editing – Laura Mulvey – Feminist Film Theories – The Silence of the Lambs – Historicity of Modes of Perception – Regimes of the Gaze – The ‘Big Other’ (Jacques Lacan) – Slavoj Žižek – Panoptic Gaze (Michel Foucault) – Niklas Luhmann and Self-Monitoring

PERSONA: Mirroring as confrontation with the human face.

Two men face each other sitting at a table on which are arranged devices that register eye movement as well as record and measure pupil dilation. The purpose of this set-up is to establish whether the test subject is human or a so-called ‘replicant,’ an artificial being with the external appearance of a biological organism. The interview proceeds in orderly fashion until the interviewee feels provoked by a question about his mother, upon which he pulls out a gun and shoots the interviewer with the words, “I’ll tell you about my mother.” This ‘Voight-Kampff-test’ can, by measuring empathy, supposedly distinguish between impassive replicants and empathetic people. Already the opening sequence of Blade Runner (US 1982, Ridley Scott) foregrounds the eye as its central motif. Initially, the eye functions as the organ of truth (and the soul) in a Cartesian sense, given that the boundary between a real human being and an artificial one is regulated by an eye test. On the other hand, it is not the active – searching, penetrating, or investigating – eye that serves as a source of knowledge or defines this boundary. Rather, it is through the passive, receptive, or reactive eye turned into an object of investigation that the distinction emerges in this science-fiction film. What complicates matters further is the fact that Deckard (Harrison Ford), the protagonist who in contrast to the artificial beings seems to have neither a first name (normally a strong marker of individuality) nor strong feelings, in the end turns out to be a replicant,1 while the emotionally more sensitive beings are the artificial ones, whose possession of memories makes the division of human and nonhuman even more fragile and porous, if not altogether untenable. Already the very first shot of the film reflects a series of distant gas explosions in a giant pupil, thus firmly establishing the central role of the eye while also alluding, through the motif of reflection, to the precarious status of the eye between subject and object, between being an agent or instrument of control and subject to overwhelming and disempowering sense impressions.


1 At least this is what the so-called ‘director’s cut’ suggests, i.e. the supposedly authentic version edited by director Ridley Scott and released theatrically in 1992 (a second ‘more authentic’ version has recently been released on the home market). More about the genesis, analysis, and interpretation of Blade Runner can be found in Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner, BFI Modern Classics (London: British Film Institute, 2000),and Will Brooker (ed.), The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic (London: Wallflower, 2005).

kogonada: Kubrick // One-Point Perspective

kogonada: Wes Anderson // Centered


Both Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson are known for their strict and symmetrical image composition, which kogonada has impressively collected and orchestrated. These two corresponding pieces are also powerful statements on the importance of one-point perspective in the Western tradition, as outlined in Chapter 4. Equal part homage and critique, they also show how frontality can be used as a stylistic parameter.

Kevin B. Lee: Steadicam Progress: Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots

From Hard Eight (US 1996) to There Will be Blood (US 2007), the prolonged free-floating shots from Paul Thomas Anderson’s films guide spectator attention, open up space, and function as a signature of auteurist intent. Lee’s careful and poignant commentaries provide an object lesson in film analysis.

Jacob T. Swinney: POV Shots ( and kogonada: Breaking Bad // POV

Cinema has the unique capability to put us visually into the perspective of characters or even objects in the film; Swinney’s compilation impressively collects many such memorable shots, in the process also outlining the markers and conventions of subjective perspective, while kogonada’s supercut from the acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad demonstrates the baroque excesses of putting the optical perspective time and again in fridges, toilets, below liquid surfaces, and behind glass.

Catherine Grant: True Likeness: On Peeping Tom & Code Inconnu

Connecting two films (Peeping Tom, GB 1959, Michael Powell and Code Inconnu, FR/GE/RO 2000, Michael Haneke) that deal with visibility, vision, and optical machines, the essay draws attention to the way that the act of making images is framed both aesthetically and narratively. See also the accompanying essay:

Kevin B. Lee: Dreaming of Jeannie: Tag Gallagher on Stagecoach

Tag Gallagher’s analytical voice-over is illustrated by Kevin Lee’s equally analytical re-editing of Ford’s classic Western functions like an alternate commentary track.

Elsaesser / Bachmann /Moberg: Machines of Vision and Audition in Bergman: Eye and Ear (also relevant to Chapter 6)

A compilation of scenes from Ingmar Bergman’s films that put two of the ‘senses’ in dialogue with each other, while also linking body-based sense perception to the technologies that produce or mediate these perceptions. Bergman emerges as both a very ‘physical’ director, but also one fully aware of the many metaphors that can serve to signify (aspects of) the cinematic apparatus.

Celovek s kinoapparatom (SU 1929, Dziga Vertov, The Man with a Movie Camera)

Vertigo (US 1958, Alfred Hitchcock)

Peeping Tom (GB 1960, Michael Powell)

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (US 1963, Roger Corman)

Repulsion (GB 1965, Roman Polanski)

A Clockwork Orange (US 1971, Stanley Kubrick)

The Eyes of Laura Mars (US 1978, Irving Kershner)

Blade Runner (US 1982, Ridley Scott)

Dead Ringers (US 1988, David Cronenberg)

Minority Report (US 2002, Steven Spielberg)