David Martin-Jones: Cinema Against Doublethink: Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History

In: Studies in World Cinema
Benjamin BrownPhD Candidate at The Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK,

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David Martin-Jones: Cinema Against Doublethink: Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History. Oxford: Routledge. 2019. 242 pages.

Bringing together world-systems analysis and Deleuzian film theory, David Martin-Jones argues in Cinema Against Doublethink: Ethical Encounters with the Lost Pasts of World History that filmmakers across the globe use similar aesthetic strategies to evoke the multiplicity of histories suppressed by the singular narrative of colonial modernity. Martin-Jones forcefully suggests that the continued use of the same Western thinkers in film-philosophy is a fundamental weakness which limits the field’s ability to conceptualise film in a properly transnational context. To rectify this, Martin-Jones draws on the world-systems analysis of Argentinian scholar Enrique Dussel. Dussel insists on the link between the acts of genocide and barbarity that birthed colonial modernity and the West’s continued economic dominance and imperial hegemony. Building off of this, Martin-Jones labels the continued obfuscation of this fact in the narrative of colonial modernity which reduces the “myriad pasts of the world history to a singular narrative” as a form of Orwellian ‘Doublethink’ (p. 9). The reappearance of lost pasts on screen encourages us to think again about this singular narrative and resituate ourselves (and our analysis of cinema) within the transnational world-system of capitalist modernity.

Martin-Jones comments that a “direct address to the spectator by a face from within the film is a feature of nearly every film in the book” (p. 22). One such face is presented on the book’s front cover, where the two red eyes of a silhouetted figure gaze out towards a prospective reader. These moments are the titular Ethical Encounters in which “a world of cinemas attempt[s] to archive within world memory the pasts eradicated by colonial modernity” (p. 84). We can only glimpse the outline of these histories, like that of the silhouetted figure, but we can be sure of their existence and the role of colonial modernity in their destruction. Martin-Jones suggests that these cinematic encounters are best understood through Gilles Deleuze’s time-image categories. The time-image provides a “short-hand view of (world) history” (p. 27) in which “time is perpetually splitting into a present that passes (actual) and a past that is preserved […] creating ‘crystal history’” (p. 67). The time-image encourages a non-linear understanding of history and draws attention to both temporalities and histories repressed by the rationalisation of time in colonial modernity to facilitate its transnational expropriation of surplus. Central to Martin-Jones’ argument is the idea that these crystal histories provide a clear rebuttal to the “seemingly universal nature of the Hegelian idea of world history” (p. 66) which is singular, teleological and figures the nation-state as its crucial political entity. The past and the present can be brought together to clarify how contemporary structural inequality is linked to the establishment of the capitalist world-system. Martin-Jones explains Deleuze’s key ideas concisely but the dizzying implications of his philosophy of time might have benefited from more explanation than a short paragraph when the reader first encounters it within the text.

Across four chapters, Martin-Jones analyses how films from across the Global South use time-images to tell the history of colonial modernity, with each chapter focusing on two films. The time-images that provide the cinematic encounters with lost pasts are the focal points of each chapter’s analysis. Chapter 3 examines Loong Boonmee raleuk chat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Spain/Netherlands, 2010) and Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light, Patricio Guzmán, Chile/Spain/France/Germany/USA, 2010). Martin-Jones argues that these films draw attention to our “entangled history with the planet” (p. 117) and present the landscape as though it is attempting to communicate its own history to us. This cinematic encounter forces us to realise the relationship between the capitalist world-system and the sixth mass extinction event.

Chapter 4 analyses Como Era Gostoso o Meu Francês (How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Brazil, 1971) and También la lluvia (Even the Rain, Icíar Bollaín, Spain/Bolivia/Mexico/France, 2010). The chapter argues that both films use time-images to show how the intertwined relationship between European colonisers and Indigenous peoples have been “rendered ‘lost pasts’” (p. 119). In How Tasty, a time-image is used to imagine the forgotten first encounter between the coloniser and the to-be-colonised. Martin-Jones suggests that the coloniser is confronted (and subsequently eaten) by “alteriority: pre-modern, indigenous, woman, cannibal” (p. 130). This sequence subverts the typical tropes of encounter films where Indigenous people are tamed in their encounter with ‘civilization’. In Even the Rain, Martin-Jones argues, the past and the present become so blurred as to be indistinguishable, demonstrating the continuity between colonial exploitation of natural resources at the commencement of the capitalist world-system and neo-colonial exploitation of natural resources today.

Chapter 5 considers how the destruction of leftist movements radically reconstituted a collective sense of public life in The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Norway/UK, 2012) and Al pie del árbol blanco (At the Foot of the White Tree, Juan Andrés Alvarez, Uruguay, 2007). Martin-Jones argues that these films use crystals of time to demonstrate how personal memory can destabilise official narratives and provide a “public sense of an occluded past” (p. 151). The past that re-emerges from personal memory can provide a horizon for a collective future, one that demands a recognition of the genocide that accompanied the maintenance of imperial hegemony in both the relatively short phase of the Cold War and since the establishing of the capitalist world-system.

Chapter 6 shows how the body’s non-linear relationship to time provides a potential escape from the “eternal present” (p. 185) of neoliberalism in Carancho (Vulture, Pablo Trapero, Argentina/Chile/France/South Korea, 2010) and Chinjeolhan geumjassi (Lady Vengeance, Park Chan-Wook, South Korea, 2005). The chapter draws on Deleuze’s notion of the everyday and the theatrical poles of the body in time-image cinema. Martin-Jones suggests that debt capture and precarity discipline individuals into repeating profitable behaviours to prevent a future emerging that will both be unprofitable and challenge the status quo. The repeated gestures of the fatigued everyday body demonstrate that the films’ protagonists are constrained by the past that repeats in the present. By contrast, the theatrical body is the focal point for dramatizing novel forms of mutual indebtedness that do not rely on money. The theatrical body produces a glimpse of a perspective communal future that is not defined by the ‘eternal present’ of debt capture.

Martin-Jones’ close reading is wonderfully detailed and provides new insights into the films which have already been the subject of numerous studies by positioning these films in a transnational context. The book adds to a small but growing body of work using world-systems theory to analyse film, such as recent studies by Angelos Koutsourakis (2020) and Keya Ganguly (2018).


  • Ganguly, Keya (2018). World Cinema, World Literature, and Dialectical Criticism. In: Ben, Etherington and Jarad, Zimbler, eds., The Cambridge Companion to World Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 211226.

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  • Koutsourakis, Angelos (2020). The Politics of Humour in Kafkaesque Cinema: A World-Systems Approach. Film-Philosophy 24 (3), pp. 259283.

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