Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams – currently playing at the IFC Center – does not illustrate but, perhaps nods at a few Deleuzean ideas that I thought I could share with the class.

The film describes a culture of people who saw their world and the animal worlds as being, at times, overlapping. The cave paintings and sculptures created by the occupants of the area suggest many possible iterations of becoming-animal. The entire idea of ‘humanness’ is rejected. Instead, the concept of identity is both ‘fluid’ and ‘permeable’ (these are two terms used specifically by the filmmaker). In sculpture, the role or identity of ‘lion’ is shifted to suggest that of ‘man’. Similarly, in a cave painting (the only one to depict a human being), a woman is shown engaging in the act of lovemaking with what appears to be a bull or minotaur. And, although this could be said to be interpolation or conjecture by the site’s scientists, the people are described to us as being closer to an animalistic relationship with a territory by shifting with it and adapting to changes in it.

Also, in understanding a physical site occupied by human beings over 30,000 years ago, the film is a sort of negotiation between the smooth and the striated. As there is little solidity in the information about the Caluvet caves, the scientists, the filmmakers, and the viewer are all caught in a back and forth between applying contemporary ideas and structures to spaces that have a a foreign and at times unsettling appearance. For example, seemingly unfathomable, wavy shapes of crystal structures are almost instinctively described as having a ‘cloth-like’ appearance. The shape and form that we cannot identify is projected with the likeness of one that we can not only identify, but that we are comfortable with (this also can be compared to Deleuze’s ideas of the refrain and re-territorializing the foreign space).

Those are my comments on the ideas of the film and how they might be understood by Deleuze.

The 3D element of the film is just that – an element of the film. I can’t say that it enhances or detracts from the piece beyond the oooooh aaaahh nature of seeing inaccessible spaces simulated to appear as being in three dimensions – at times it was distracting and at other times it created some weirdly interesting, unstable visual effects. But I will say that even if you have trepidations about the simulation of three-dimensional space (especially in a documentary) the film could be worthwhile. It does, at times, seem to possibly reinforce a few of the main points we have been discussing in class.

-Matt Whitman

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