Abstract: A Slow Dream, “As If” It were Real: Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux; Conference Presentation at Violation, Graduate Student Conference at McGill University, Feb. 20-22, 2015

Violation: Representations in Literature and Culture

An Interdisciplinary Conference Sponsored by the McGill University English Department.

February 20-22, 2015. 

Thompson House, McGill University. 3650 Rue McTavish, Montréal.

SESSION C – Saturday 10-11:30AM*

II. Cinematic Liminality

Troy Bordun, Trent University

A Slow Dream, “As if” it were Real: Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux

Yan Tang, University of Victoria

Violating the Cinematic Surface: The Specters of Socialism in Chinese Urban Generation’s Films

Robyn Clarke, McGill University

Environmental Precarity in Take Shelter and Beasts of the Southern Wild: Political Ecology and the Precariat

via Panels.

A Slow Dream, “As if” it were Real: Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux

In this paper I argue that Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux (2012) presents altered states of embodiment “as if” they were everyday experiences, first, for the fictional characters, and second, for spectators’ affective experience of the film’s reality. Reygadas offers us a difficult narrative film that is any combination of characters’ dreams, fantasies, and hallucinations. Narrative films usually treat altered states as mental rather than physical experiences, reinforcing Cartesian views of experience. Unlike narrative works that clearly mark a separation between the “real world” of the diegesis and a subjective reality unique to a character, Post Tenebras Lux refuses to do so. By not announcing which sequences are dreams, concepts, and fantasies, and through an aesthetics that aims to elicit bodily responses in viewers rather than character identification/empathy, such as depth of field, the “hyperbolic long take” (de Luca 2014), and a camera lens shaved flat so that the edges of the frame are blurred, the director constructed a film that allows spectators to feel “as if” in an altered state themselves. This aligns the film with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s one-world hypothesis (Lingis 1996). For the phenomenologist, embodiment is a continuous flow of experience, thus dreams and fantasy are parts of being-in-the-world, not cordoned off states of mind. Media theorist and phenomenologist Vivian Sobchack (2004 & 2014) helps to reinforce these claims. She argues that films can touch us bodily, thus when we utter statements such as “the film felt ‘as if’ real,” we really mean that the film made contact with our corporeality. I conclude that Reygadas’s aesthetics turns viewers back on themselves to sense, and reflect upon, experiences otherwise unacknowledged as essential components of embodiment.

Keywords: Carlos Reygadas, phenomenological film theory, altered states, Maurice Merleau-Ponty


Jennifer M. Barker, The Tactile Eye, Touch and the Cinematic Experience (Berkeley, Los Angeles, & London: University of California Press, 2009).

Tiago de Luca, Realism of the Senses in World Cinema: The Experience of Physical Reality (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014).

Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996).

Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2000).

Sheldon Penn, ‘The Time-Image in Carlos Reygadas’ Stellet Licht: A Cinema of Immanence’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 90:7 [2013], 1159-81).

Vivian Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

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