Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror viewed through Gilles Deleuze’s ‘time-image’

By Kierran Horner.

Tarkovsky saw himself as a creator of temporal filmic images. In his published ruminations on film, Sculpting in Time; Reflections on the Cinema, he asserts the creation of a real cinematic picture as:

‘…faithfully recording on film the time which flows on beyond the edges of the frame, lives within time if time lives within it; this two-way process is a determining factor of cinema.’ (Tarkovsky: 1988: 118)

Tarkovsky, at work.

The representation of time, and memory specifically, is of notable import throughout Tarkovsky’s films; from Ivan’s Childhood (1962) to those made outside the Soviet Union, such as Nostalgia (1983), they all share the central concern of exploring the relationship between past (often epitomised by memories of childhood) and the present. The relationship between the past and present was a staple underpinning the philosophy of Bergson. His theory of ‘duration’ is key here, that time is, in effect, spread out on a flat surface, not a linear, causal structure in which past precedes present and is succeeded by future, but where past and present exist symbiotically on the same plane, in a perennial process of ‘becoming’ (what Deleuze calls ‘sheets of past and peaks of present’). Bergson said of the past that:

‘In its entirety, probably, it follows us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought and willed from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness that would fain leave it outside.…we feel vaguely that our past remains present to us…’ (Bergson 1911a: 5)

Henri Bergson

This concept is apparent in much of Tarkovsky’s work, and most obvious in Mirror and its direct ancestor, Solaris (1972), films that can be regarded as companion pieces in the way that they deal with time. Solaris represents a science fiction future, through a more literal fusion of this notion that past and present exist instantaneously and inform the future.[i] Mirror (1975), conversely, is set in a present, the contemporaneous mid-1970s of its creation, yet still interrogates the ways the past and present, fused as they are, inform the future. This is in distinct polarity to the comments on Mirror by the British film critic Mark le Fanu, that ‘…the film splits up, unpredictably and without signalling its transitions, between present and past’ (le Fanu 1990: 71). Mirror asks, and ultimately answers, questions about the influence of the past on the present; about their inextricable link, the absence of a past/present dichotomy, and the way, as Bergson has it, ‘the past coexists with the present it has been’ (Deleuze 2005b: 80).

Gilles Deleuze, employing Bergson’s definition of ‘duration’, wrote extensively on the representation of time in the cinema, especially in his seminal Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, which assert that a ‘direct time-image’ could be found in cinema after the First World War, notably in the Italian neo-realist movement and the French Nouvelle Vague.[ii] The ‘time-image’ traumatised the causal, linear ‘movement-image’ that was so characteristic of classic narrative-led, Hollywood movies and introduced an image more attuned to depicting thought and memory, rather than action.

‘This is what happens when the image becomes time-image…The screen itself is the cerebral membrane where immediate and direct confrontations take place between the past and the future, the inside and the outside, at a distance impossible to determine, independent of any fixed point. The image no longer has space and movement as its primary characteristics but topology and time.’ (Deleuze 2005b: 121)

The ‘time-image’ is a direct image of time, not reliant on the progression of movement through film, but instead an image of time based on the Bergsonian idea of recollection-images and perception-images.

Gilles Deleuze

‘Bergson constantly reminded us that it was not by its own efforts that the recollection-image retained its mark of the past, that is, of “virtuality” which it represents and embodies, and which distinguishes it from other types of images. If the image becomes “recollection-image” it is only in so far as it has been to look for a “pure recollection-image” in the place where it was, pure virtuality contained in the hidden zones of the past as in oneself…Pure recollections, summoned from the depths of Memory develop into “recollection-images”.’ (Deleuze 2005b: 51-52)

The process described above by Deleuze is, simply, that of recollection. From a point in the present a ‘perception-image’ is formed and, in order to access a memory, one must create a ‘recollection-image’. This image, in turn, is sent to find a ‘pure recollection-image’, the pure memory or image of the past. Bergson summarises this process thus: ‘Every perception fills a certain depth of duration, prolongs the past into the present, and thereby partakes of memory’ (Bergson 1911b: 325).

In Mirror, there is a juxtaposition of actual documentary footage of influential and devastating events from Russian and world history with scenes of ‘fiction’ from Tarkovsky’s/Alexei’s subjective history. As le Fanu notes ‘Autobiography in the film is woven into history’ (le Fanu 1990: 69. The collective past, the ‘real’ footage of the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Sino-Russian conflict, sits alongside the memories and present lives of individual characters. The fusion of these two strains of history, that of the individual, fictitious character and his family and of the nation are often read as separate strains of the film, as are the fictional scenes of past and present. Yet this is not the case. Tarkovsky is attempting to blend the past with the present, not simply a subjective past of individual memory, that of Alexei or his mother, but of a national past. These national events have as much resonance to the individual as they do to the group, the nation. Vida T. Johnson and Graham Petrie summarise this in The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky:

‘…for the past which we are being shown is not built up simply out of direct experience but as a mosaic of what the narrator knew first hand, what he was told, what he dreamed or imagined, and what happened around him as part of a historical process that he shared with millions of other people.’ (1994: 116).

The characters of Mirror cannot escape this past, which haunts them; memories float in and out of the present. In the scene where Natalya (Alexei’s ex-wife and Ignat’s mother) drops the contents of her bag, which Ignat helps her collect and so receives an electric shock, he says ‘As if it had happened before…’ This experience of déjà vu becomes, as the scene progresses, one of a past literally haunting the present. Two characters appear to Ignat in the dining room after his mother has left, seemingly supernatural in origin. Yet once they disappear (as they appeared, without notification), there is a distinctly ‘real’ condensation mark visible on the tabletop from a teacup, which slowly dissolves as the camera focuses on it. It is as if these two women have appeared solely to teach Ignat a history lesson, that of Pushkin’s letter to Chaadayev, to inform him of his past. This literal existence of a past in the present occurs throughout the film, including scenes of documentary and fiction.

The scene before this, where one of Alexei’s Spanish guests recounts an anecdote about the matador Palomo Linares, begins with documentary footage of a matador skewering a bull, then cuts to the Spanish guest ‘acting’ out the anecdote, as the crowd-noise from the preceding documentary footage reverberates around him. The documentary footage acts as a representation of his memory, which he has invited into the present, willingly creating a ‘recollection-image’ in order to find a ‘pure-recollection-image’ for use in the present. As Deleuze suggests ‘…it is in the present that we make a memory, in order to make use of it in the future, when the present will be past’ (Deleuze 2005b: 50). He refers to our retention of present moments as they pass into memory, in order to refer to them again in a future present when they will be of use; pasts preserved and presents passing. This is not always a deliberate process. The past surfaces in the present without necessarily being called upon, as in the scene above of Pushkin’s letter to Chaadayev.

This overview of the film’s strains of documentary and ‘fictitious’ pasts and ‘fictitious’ presents creating other meanings suggests a certain affiliation with montage, although Tarkovsky was a filmmaker who believed that the existence of time within the individual shot, mise-en-scène, was essential to creating pure cinema.

‘Not that the cinematic image can be divided and segmented against its time-nature, current time cannot be removed from it. The image becomes authentically cinematic when (amongst other things) not only does it live within time, but time also lives within it, even within each separate frame.’ (Tarkovsky 1988: 68)

Tarkovsky believes that time exists in the individual shot and is not reliant on the sequential nature of shots inherent to montage, and the movement-image of traditional narrative. This point of view reflects Deleuze’s notion of the ‘time-image’ traumatising the ‘movement-image’. A direct image of time cannot be found in the ‘movement-image’; it is only apparent in the ‘time-image’.

‘Time as progression derives from the movement-image or from successive shots. But time as unity or as totality depends on montage, which still relies on movement or the succession of shots. This is why the movement-image is fundamentally linked to an indirect representation of time, and does not give us a direct presentation of it, that is, does not give us a time-image.’ (Deleuze 2005b: 260)

This is not to insinuate that time only exists inside individual shots, yet that each individual shot is a ‘direct time-image’, and that these shots are then edited together. ‘Editing does not engender, or recreate, a new quality; it brings out a quality already inherent in the frames that it joins’ (Tarkovsky 1988: 119). Therefore, it is within the individual shots of Mirror that time is deposited. This is made apparent throughout Mirror in literal ways; the shot, early within the film, of the internal mechanics of a clock, deposited in a vase, for example. Yet more can be read into the scenes, most involving Alexei’s young mother, where Tarkovsky employs slow motion. One, the early printing press scene, shows her running down a corridor, whilst, almost imperceptibly, the scene goes from real-time to slow motion. Another is the scene of the slaughtering of the cockerel; shot at high speed for the last ninety frames, which when projected appears in slow motion, giving the ‘effect of stretching the time framework’ (Tarkovsky 1988: 110). In each example, Tarkovsky says that he is attempting to place the audience in the same mental state as the character, not to underline a particular idea (what he calls ‘sculpting in time’). These distortions of time make distinct references to time’s malleability. For Tarkovsky, as for Bergson and Deleuze, time is not a concrete, linear construct, but a sheet, upon which all aspects of time are spread, each of which can be accessed from another point on that sheet, whether this is from a past to a present or vice versa.[iii]

As the film critic David George Menard wrote ‘There is a unified, temporal feel to the film that makes the objects and events look real and virtual at the same time; in short they become crystal-images’ (Menard 2003). Menard’s evocation, here, of Deleuze’s most complex type of ‘time-image’ is pertinent. The ‘crystal-image’ as Deleuze describes it is ‘the point of indiscernibility of the two distinct images, the actual and the virtual, while what we see in the crystal is time itself’ (Deleuze 2005b: 79). The ‘actual’ being the Bergsonian ‘perception-image’, the point at which we call for the recollection from the past, and the ‘virtual’ being that past image, memory, the ‘recollection-image’. As Deleuze develops his explanation, the crystal is at the limit ‘between the immediate past which is no longer and immediate future which is not yet… [a] mobile mirror which endlessly reflects perception in recollection’ (Ibid.). This particular type of image is apparent in the scene in Mirror, where the mother (Maroussia) of the 1930s goes to a local doctor’s dacha in order to sell valuables, amongst them a pair of earrings and (of course) a miniature mirror. The doctor’s wife (played by Tarkovsky’s second wife, Larissa Tarkovskaya) and Maroussia leave the young Alexei in the main room as they retire to a back room to carry out their business transaction.

Left alone, Alexei locates and sits in front of a large mirror hung on the wall. The next shot begins stationary behind Alexei, facing his reflection in the mirror, and the camera slowly pans in over his shoulder, focusing ever more tightly on his reflection, until, gradually, the reflection becomes the sole image of the frame, staring back toward the actual Alexei. There is then a sharp cut to reveal a medium close-up of Alexei sat contemplating his reflection from the opposite angle. This shot/reverse shot dynamic and the ‘eye-line match’ are common to most conventional cinema, establishing an object, or person, as perceived by a character from their point of view. As David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson describe it ‘shot A presents someone looking at something off-screen shot B shows us what is being looked at’ (2004: 303). However, as in this case, the ‘eye-line match’ refers conversely to an interaction between two characters, here, the actual Alexei and his virtual counterpart. It is as if he is reacting to/with his reflection. This dialectic can be read as representing the Deleuzian ‘crystal-image’:

‘In Bergsonian terms, the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is a ‘coalescence’ between the two. There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or a postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned into the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture.’ (Deleuze 2005b: 66-67)

The crystal-image is the point at which past and present conjoin, from whichever direction, creating a two-sided image, where time can be read as the present and memory the past. Tarkovsky would reflect these thoughts himself in Sculpting in Time when he suggested that ‘Time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal. It is obvious enough that without Time, memory cannot exist either’ (57).

Alexei is reacting with his past, as represented by his ‘virtual’ reflection, in order to progress in the future. Alexei is acknowledging his past in the present, an acknowledgement indicative of the crystal-image, ‘the indivisible unity of an actual image and its virtual image’, the fusion of past and present in (in)forming the future (Deleuze 2005b: 76). The shots succeeding this scene stabilise this argument, in as far as they show the ‘red-head’ girl that the adult narrator/Alexei/father tells his son Ignat of in an earlier scene, warming her hands at a fire. This brief shot is followed by the dream-sequence where Alexei’s father is stroking a levitating Maroussia’s legs, before returning to Alexei and Maroussia leaving the doctor’s dacha. This suggests that each of these memories has occurred to the child Alexei as he was sat contemplating his past. It is worthy of note that the scene in which Alexei contemplates his past in his reflection, as with the déjà vu scene, take place in Maroussia’s absence. His father’s past haunts him in the absence of his mother.

The earlier scene, referred to above, in which the adult Alexei speaks to his son, appropriately, on the telephone, asking him whether he knows any girls and, on receiving an embarrassed and negative reply, tells his son ‘At your age I was already in love…’ illustrates the father projecting his experience onto the son over the generational/time gap. It is the past influencing the present as if a pure recollection-image were being sought without being consciously initiated, as in the scene of Pushkin’s letter.

Of course, there are a plethora of mirror images throughout Mirror, both literal and metaphorical (those palpable in the dualities created by Tarkovsky between his characters). The most striking of these is that between Alexei’s ex-wife and mother, both played by the same actress, Margarita Terekhova. She is frequently reflected in mirrors, establishing a metaphorical reflection between the two of them.[iv] In the earliest dream-sequence where the child Alexei witnesses his mother washing her hair[v], the young Maroussia approaches a mirror wearing a shawl, then there is a cut to show her aged self (played by Tarkovsky’s own mother) as she would be in the 1970s, wearing a similar shawl, reflected in the same mirror. This connects the two (st)ages of the mother, that of the present perspective of Alexei with that of his past memory.[vi]

It is also of import that the above scene should be alluded to as a dream; Bergson suggests that in dreams ‘Memories which we believed abolished then reappear with striking completeness; we live over again, in all their detail, forgotten scenes of childhood’ (Bergson 1911b: 200). Again, we can see the past and present existing on the same plane, not in linearity, but repeatedly in flux, flowing from one to another. Maroussia, aged and young, and Natalya, mother to Ignat, can be read as conduits of time, human metaphors for the Deleuzian crystal-image;

‘It is time itself which arises in the crystal, and which is constantly recommending its dividing in two without completing it, since the indiscernible exchange is always renewed and reproduced. The ‘direct time-image’ or the transcendental form of time is what we see in the crystal;…(they) should therefore be called mirrors or seeds of time.’ (Deleuze 2005b: 262-263)

Tarkovsky intrinsically fuses the Maroussia of the past and present, using the mirror surface as the point at which they meet; suggesting that there is no dichotomy of these two aspects of time. This assertion is most apparent in the final scenes of Mirror. The narrator/Alexei is, throughout, a disembodied voice, he is not even in possession of a present image; his past has failed to create one for him. His conspicuous physical absence is reflected in that of his father’s absence from many of the childhood scenes and that of Tarkovsky’s own father’s prominent yet ethereal voice reciting his poetry throughout. The men/fathers of Mirror have limited, or entirely lacking, physical manifestations, in opposition to those of the women/mothers. This recurring lack suggests that the problems of the past are repeated in the present, borne out in scenes between the father/Alexei and Natalya, such as the one preceding the matador anecdote. This scene begins, tellingly, with Natalya looking in a mirror and noticing with horror how Ignat is becoming like Alexei, and, after more dialogue, Alexei suggesting that the reason that he (Alexei) is so demanding is that he was brought up by women, and advises that Natalya should remarry if she does not want their son to turn out the same. The past, again, influences the present, from generation to generation.

The coda of Mirror begins with what is ostensibly the narrator’s death or, at least, it is the ‘perception-image’ from which the final scenes are realised. In it, the audience are shown the narrator/Alexei in a physical manifestation, for the first and only time, although only from the shoulders down, as he lies on a bed. He grasps a small bird from the mattress beside him and, with a sigh, releases the bird into the air, signifying his passing: only at the moment of his death can he have a present image. After this scene the conventional boundaries of time that Tarkovsky has persistently and consistently flaunted are finally violated thoroughly, ‘a merging of time frames…’ as Johnson and Petrie suggest (129).

The succeeding scenes play out at dusk; day has not passed, yet night has not yet begun, and will not, significantly, before the end of the film. Mirror ends in a stasis of ‘becoming’ between day and night, past and present, before reaching toward a future.

Arseny Tarkovsky, 1939

Beginning with the young mother and father lying in a field in front of their dacha, discussing the immanent birth and preferred gender of their child, the scene cuts to the elderly mother, of the 1970s, walking through a field, collecting Alexei’s sister as toddler and enticing the child Alexei with her. The three walk through the fields surrounding the dacha[vii] of the childhood scenes, pass a well, full with debris (hinting to the passage of time) and into a large field, where, briefly, in the background, the young mother can be seen watching the three of them walk off into what can only be read as, a future, ‘…ever driven into the future by the weight of our past…’ (Bergson 1911b: 324).

Here there is a wilful and literal fusion of the past and present through the characters; they could not, in reality, exist in the same period. The death of the narrator/Alexei has reconciled the aged, ‘present’ mother to her son, and daughter, in the past. In earlier scenes, Natalya mentions that Alexei’s mother wants him to be a child again, and Alexei himself suggests that he is only happy when reminiscing on the perfection of his childhood. Only once he is free from the confines of a present haunted by the past can he find peace. As Deleuze asserts ‘Salvation can come only from the other side, from the side of the pasts which are preserved’ (2005b: 88) and, as Alexei could never escape the pasts that haunt his present, he can only be free to progress into a future, with his mother, once he has no present.

Johnson and Petrie suggest these scenes develop with ‘…an apparent unawareness of the double time structure that mediates between past and present…’ (131): an argument that is ultimately unconvincing. The scenes do not develop with an unawareness of the time structure between past and present, but suggest that there is not in fact a structure between them, that they are synchronous and they, together, past and present, inform the future. Once again the representation of time implicit in Tarkovsky’s individual shots and, especially, the final sequence, are reflected in the theories of Deleuze:

First, there is no present that is not haunted by a past and a future, by a past that is not reducible to a former present, by a future which does not consist of a present to come. Simple succession affects the presents which pass, but each present co-exists with a past and a future without which itself would not pass on. It is characteristic of the cinema to seize this past and this future that coexist with the present image.’ (2005b: 36)

The aged Maroussia is acting as a present conduit between past and future; filtering the virtual past through a present into a future.

Mirror does not engage with a past/present dialectic, but a past/present coalescence: they are not separate entities, but two parts of a whole, a philosophical whole, that is constantly and forever in the process of ‘becoming’. Tarkovsky is showing the processes of past informing present and the present delving into the past. One cannot escape the other; they inform one another, bleed into one another, and together, as one entity, create what we prospect for the future; a future that is marked by the present and, by association, the past. In the edited structure of Mirror, between the allegedly fictitious past and present of Tarkovsky’s narrator/protagonist, Alexei, Tarkovsky has spliced documentary footage of an existent, real, and universal history of millions of others.[viii] This creates juxtaposition between past and present throughout the film yet, when considered alongside Tarkovsky’s preference for the individual shot as the carrier of time, we can see that these time-frames are not separated but fused by the editing process, their influence on one another cannot be overlooked. As Tarkovsky notes ‘…the cinema image is essentially the observation of a phenomenon passing through time’ (1988: 67). In the individual shots time is apparent, such as the distortion of time in the slow-motion scenes, or the scene of Alexei in the doctor’s dacha where the reflective surface of the mirror acts as a sheet of time, a Deleuzian crystal-image, the limit at which past and present meet.

‘…since the past is constituted not after the present that it was but at the same time, time has to split itself in two at each moment as present and past, which differ from each other in nature, or, what amounts to the same thing, it has to split the present in two heterogeneous directions, one of which is launched toward the future while the other falls into the past…Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time, that we see in the crystal…this splitting never goes right to the end. In fact the crystal constantly exchanges the distinct images which constitute it, the actual image of the present which passes and the virtual image of the past which is preserved.’ Deleuze 2005b: 79)

The final scenes break down the supposed barrier between past and present entirely. Maroussia, both past and present, becomes a metaphorical conduit for the passing of present into past, and vice versa, the perpetual ‘becoming’ of Bergson’s ‘duration’ and Deleuze’s crystal-image, the mother of the past oversees the mother of the present progressing into the future with the children. They are not to be read as scenes of reality as many of the scenes in Mirror, they have a supernatural atmosphere: the surrealism of the dream sequences; the fantasy perfection of the narrator’s death (that he, with his last living breath, clasps the bird and propels it into the air); the lighting effects and slow motion filming that create such a maniacal visage on Maroussia after the slaughter of the cockerel. These final scenes serve as a conclusion to Tarkovsky’s ruminations on the process of time captured in the cinematic image.

Mirror can be seen as Tarkovsky’s own process of his reconciling his guilt at not devoting enough time to his own family, his son and wife. As he explains in Sculpting in Time, on the completion of Mirror: ‘Childhood memories which for years had given me no peace suddenly vanished, as if they had melted away, and at last I stopped dreaming about the house where I had lived so many years before’ (128). This comment evokes Deleuze’s theory of the ‘time-image’ and the coda of the film where, only once freed by death, can Alexei realise his dream of returning to childhood, but with a different prospect for the future. Tarkovsky’s above comment, coupled with his use of his own mother and wife as actors in the film, and his father reciting his poetry over many scenes (becoming another bodiless male voice) allude to the deep autobiographical nature of the film.

In conclusion, Mirror exemplifies the ‘time-image’, especially the ‘crystal-image’, as Tarkovsky attempts and, he believes, succeeds to reunite the perceived happiness of his childhood with the guilt of his present and by doing so release his progeny, and himself, of that burden. Yet, in counterpoint, Bergson’s words weigh heavily ‘…there is no perception which is not full of memories’ (1911b: 24).

Kierran Horner lives in London where he works and writes and previously studied English Literature as an undergraduate, and, as a postgraduate, Film Studies, both at the University of London.


Beasley-Murray, Jon, ‘Whatever Happened to Neorealism? Bazin, Deleuze, and Tarkovsky’s Long Take’, Gilles Deleuze, philosophe du cinéma / Gilles Deleuze, Philosopher of Cinema. Ed. D. N. Rodowick. Special Issue of Iris, 23 (Spring 1997): 37-52.

Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, London: MacMillan and Co. Ltd., 1911a.

Bergson, Henri, Matter and Memory, London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co. Ltd., 1911b.

Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An IntroductionNew York: McGraw Hill, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 1: The Movement-ImageLondon: Continuum, 2005a.

Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 2: The Time ImageLondon: Continuum, 2005b.

James, Nick, ‘Icon’, Sight and Sound, Vol. 15, Issue 3, March 2005, 30-33

Johnson, Vida T. and Graham Petrie, The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual FugueUS: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Lacan, Jacques, Ecrits, London: Routledge, 1989.

Le Fanu, Mark, The Cinema of Andrei TarkovskyLondon: British Film Institute, 1990.

Menard, David George, Deleuze Meets Tarkovsky: A Deleuzian Analysis of Tarkovsky’s Theory of “Time-Pressure”, Part 2: A Textual-Analysis of Tarkovsky’s Mirror, 2003.

Rodowick, D.N., Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy After the New MediaDurham and London: Duke University Press, 2001

Synessios, Natasha, Mirror; KINOfilesLondon: I.B. and Aurus Publishing, 2001.

Tarkovsky, Andrei, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the CinemaLondon: University of Texas Press, 1988.

[i] The ‘guest’ Hari in Solaris is a physical manifestation of Kris’ subconscious, a Solaris-generated realisation of his wife. She, Hari, is an interpreted transferred memory. He, Kris, has to interact with the past, a memory, in the present, which, for the audience, is the future.

[ii] For example, the ellipsis jump-cuts of Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960).

[iii] The cinematic representation of this process, that of recollecting past images, memories, to employ in the present can be discovered in an abundance in the films of Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet, especially in their masterpiece Last Year in Marienbad (1961), wherein the male protagonist reinvents past occurrences according to the present. His recollections take reference from a direct present; memories are reviewed with details from the present influencing them and appearing in them. The present and past are juxtaposed in a linear sense, yet are infinitely linked and mutually inform one another within the individual scenes, blurring any sense of truth. Resnais’ use of the concept of ‘duration’ to question the existence of a definite truth is opposed to that of Tarkovsky’s, who is attempting to create a subjective/universal dialectic, a truth reliant on past and present as one.

[iv] Metaphorical and literal reflections which occur in tandem throughout the film.

[v] Referred to as a dream he has had of her in the succeeding scene by the adult Alexei when he is conversing with his mother on the telephone.

[vi] This is also evident in Solaris, the guest Hari, wears a patchwork dress, similar, if not identical, to that of Kris’ mother in earlier scenes.

[vii] The dacha, as with the hotel in Last Year in Marienbad, can be seen as a Bakhtinian chronotope, in the sense that it is a sluice through which the links the temporal, and spatial, relationships of the film, again, combining the past and present ‘expressing the indivisible unity of time’ (Menard 2003).

[viii] Although ‘structure’ may be too strong a word for a film that violates the assumed temporal ‘order’ to such a degree.

5 Comments for “Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror viewed through Gilles Deleuze’s ‘time-image’”

  1. an amateur perspective is the perspective of most viewers. Tarkovsky doesn’t require us to know anything of Deleuze or Bergson. and this article , if anything, is about them. it adds nothing to my experience of any Tarkovsky films. time is a subjective matter of common human perception, which can only approximate via prevalent idioms. i suspect what Tarkovsky saw in the still frame was something that can more acutely imply time beyond the frame – containing it as a finite millisecond actuality – as every present moment is. there is no time but the present. everything else, past and future is reflection and pure perception. time is a virtual container devised by man to order events. i believe that is the entire point, which ties in with Deleuze’s concept of coalescent awareness of past present and future as a plain, but it is only extant/manifest through perception. Savoj Zizek talking about the virtuality of the real talks about the past being an object not of resistence but ‘insistance’ – the past we resist, the past and lateral influences that we are not conscious of, insisting itself as part of our present and pressuring our future without our consent.

    the crystal theory necessitates our prevalent preoccupation with linear time – Alexei’s image and body, coexistent, even when he is not looking at it, and from different angles not caught on camera – coalescent as you state – the idea of the crystal spanning a moment in time is fallacious when both are present in the present only when Alexei and we look into the mirror. it is a visual device used for contemplation, which takes time, of course – but this is not a process of past, present and future, it is perception in the present. just because the perception takes linear development to manifest itself, informed by the image, does not dismiss the pre-emptive coexistence of all three. there is a subtle awareness that Tarkovsky pointed to beyond the frame and beyond the common perception of linear time – past with and affecting present and future, which is unwritten and truly unknown, yet not all together unpredictable short-term, based on how we perceive. it is this limitation, this impossibility, i believe that gave Tarkovsky a special appreciation of the still image and how it translates as time captured, to us reminding us of the life and existence surrounding it within and without of our awareness.

    compare this with a scene in Bela Tarr’s ‘Damnation’ we are treated to a bizarre dolly shot, slowly passing what resembles a disused garage, with numerous openings without doors, painted white and bare inside as far as we can see. we only see so far because he has assembled extras in a still pose as if frozen whilst exiting the building en-masse. we can tell they are breathing and the dolly gives the only change in perspective in this pseudo freeze-frame with the exception of one person who only just manages to strike a pose when he misjudges coming into shot in the right frame of the camera. strangely, Tarr doesn’t reshoot it or resign it to the cutting floor. Tarr’s unique treatment of time is to dwell so long on it that we are forced to reassess our use of it, whether it is worth our while and what it rewards us with in experience. no one else seems to give such equivalence to inconsequential happenings, except perhaps Tarkovsky, where in Mirror he allows us to stay and watch the glass fall from the table after Alexei has exited in urgency, but even that has style. style is as equivalent as banal and boredom to Tarr, so that we are forced to accept it’s validity, if we choose to stick with it. no other way would we absorb the rain that falls incessantly, feel the cold, accept the interminable desperate none-event that is the accumulation of this community’s collective lethargy. in this way, Tarkovsky and Tarr draw us in beyond the periphery of the screen, so we see and feel the surroundings cerebrally. we fill in our own gaps, subconsciously. but in this shot Tarr suspends our belief in the reality he is conveying to contemplate the alternative of inaction – assimilating a single moment in time to force us to question why we feel the need to think around it, before it and beyond it. to contextualise or prioritise. why is it less significant than any other moment is what i find myself asking. and of course the answer is, it isn’t. it is only my perception of its significance that decides for me it’s relevance to life around it. experience can come out of the blue – the way it surprised that extra and us, no doubt, seeing how he at one moment ruined and made the moment. Tarr knew this scene was unbelievable. out of context. but in many ways it highlighted the inadequacy of attempting to capture and hold on to it as if memory and assimilation are our only way to assemble time past and an anticipated future of self-determination. he winks at us through the lens as did Jean Luc Goddard with his chop-cuts and bold flashed graphics and intermittent sound, to ask – is this not valid?

    ‘temporal’ is an unfortunate and inadequate way of expressing this aspect of cinema it contains the essence of spirituality, the spirit of any image with different perceptions and different images with common perceptions. and beyond these. there is nothing as boring in film as having to go through meaningless confirmations of a person’s journey, a person has to walk through a hospital entrance to be in the hospital etc. with Tarr he takes us almost the entire journey from one town to another, to experience it and where our minds lead us given this opportunity.

    Tarkovsky affords the ultimate respect, not of choosing our perspectives for us, but that we are aware of differing contexts, those of our choice or acquired perceptions and those of discovery and of others’ which we can only guess at. all of this is indefinite, yet taps into us as observers. the mozaic takes different shapes determined by individual knowledge, but the unknowing perception is as credible.

    to me, the crystal contradicts Deleuze. it depends on the linear perspective of time past-present-furture as seperate, when the only actual linear time is the speed that the image travels from the mirror to Alexei and us. the speed of light in fact, if none were coexistent before the perception. in as much as perception relies on selective memory, i understand Deleuze’s ‘peaks’ and what Mirror is ultimately only partially illustrating. but i take issue with that the way Tarkovsky acknowledges the limitation of moving images in editing. editing served to preserve the nature of time, for him that seemed the over-riding consideration. as he sought not to capture but to imply life and time beyond the frame, if memory is a peak to Deleuze, then is the suppressed subconscious a trough? surely there would be more troughs than peaks in that case, but i see no distinction between them only as far as perception exerts itself as a conscious element.

    but there is more than conscious knowledge and implicit interpretation to life and time. thus there is no distance between memory and unconsciousness in time. we know they coexist and so Tarkovsky leads us by the hand and eyes in his cinema to accept this by imitating its process on film. maybe i misunderstand you, but that’s the way I see it.

  2. another point re: that pseudo freeze-frame of Bela Tarr that illustrates Tarkovsky’s view of time in film, is that it takes time to get us past not just our impatience but the questions of why he is doing it, how is it in context, when will it change, what happens next? because we already know what happened before and after is nothing, it calls on our contemplation of the meaning of these people’s lives and all the gio-socio-political shenanigans that might leave a people so bereft and the greater questions of how spirit continues without it’s prime fuel – hope. then we are left with aesthetic composition, the same way Tarkovsky changes our landscape, beautifully, in a similarly slow tracking shot in ‘Sacrifice’ as the postman approaches. because time is always now. and film offers a unique way of conveying that in a similar way to music.

  3. Just one thing: you mention my “unpublished paper.” But it’s been published for fifteen years now:

    “Whatever Happened to Neorealism? Bazin, Deleuze and Tarkovsky’s Long Take.” Gilles Deleuze, philosophe du cinéma / Gilles Deleuze, Philosopher of Cinema. Ed. D. N. Rodowick. Special Issue of Iris 23 (Spring 1997): 37-52.

  4. Thanks for pointing this out, Jon. We have now corrected the error. / The Editor.

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