Control: the Nexus of Neurology and Film Theory?
by Niels Tubbing
“The encounter between two disciplines doesn’t take place when one begins to reflect on the other, but when one discipline realizes that it has to resolve, for itself and by its own means, a problem similar to one confronted by the other.” (Deleuze, 2000: 367)
The Brain is the Screen: Interdisciplinary Approaches
When the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze sought answers in cinema, it was because there were philosophical problems that urged him to look elsewhere. This interdisciplinary approach of Deleuze not only resulted in answers (and two books about cinema), but also in new problems. The thing with seeking answers is that you always end up finding more problems, especially in philosophy. These new problems are no necessary evils; on the contrary, they may lead to interesting new questions and insights. It is in principal the raison d’être of philosophy; no more problems means no more new ideas. Deleuze understands this very well and sees a field of potentials in interdisciplinary approaches between philosophy, science and art.
According to Deleuze cinema is such a field of potentials. Film can be seen as a junction of art, science and philosophy and could perhaps answer questions that concern all of these. More importantly though, film can bring forth new problems and questions that concern all of us, which for Deleuze is an essential aspect of art. (2000: 370) Especially in our mediated age with ceaseless flows of information it is important to look critically at any information given and to try to make sense of everything. The Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland states it firmly in his novel Girlfriend in a Coma:
“Every day for the rest of your lives, all your living moments are to be spent making others aware of this need – the need to probe and drill and examine and locate the words that take us to beyond ourselves.
“Scrape. Feel. Dig. Believe. Ask.
“Ask questions, no, screech questions out loud – while kneeling in front of the electric doors at Safeway, demanding other citizens ask questions along with you – while chewing up old textbooks and spitting the words onto downtown sidewalks – outside the Planet Hollywood, outside the stock exchange and outside the Gap.
“Grind questions onto the glass on photocopiers. Scrape challenges onto old auto parts and throw them off of bridges so that future people digging in the mud will question the world, too. Carve eyeballs into tire treads and onto shoe leathers so that every trail speaks of thinking and questioning and awareness. Design molecules that crystallize into question marks. [my emphasis] Make bar-codes print out fables, not prices. You can’t even throw away a piece of litter unless it has a question stamped on it – a demand for people to reach a finer place. (…)
“Ask whatever challenges dead and thoughtless beliefs. Ask: When did we become human beings and stop being whatever it was we were before this? Ask: What was the specific change that made us human? Ask: Why do people not particularly care about their ancestors more than three generations back? Ask: Why are we unable to think of any real future beyond, say, a hundred years from now? Ask: How can we begin to think of the future as something enormous before us that also includes us? Ask: Having become human, what is it that we are now doing or creating that will transform us into whatever it is that we are slated to next become?
“Even if it means barking on street corners, that’s what you have to do, each time baying louder than before. You must testify. There is no other choice. (Coupland, 1998: 272-273)
Ask questions. Starting from here I will embark upon a journey from film to the brain and back to film, with Deleuze’s famous quote ‘The Brain is the Screen’ as starting point. (Deleuze, 2000: 366) My interest lies in the possible advantages that could emerge from looking at film with not just a film theoretical view, but also with a neurological view.
What Deleuze meant by coining the brain as equivalent of the screen is that whatever happens on the screen also happens in the brain. Not just on a linguistic or symbolic level, but even on a molecular level. ‘Cinema (…) never stops tracing the circuits of the brain.' (2000: 366) Paul Virilio also points out the molecularity of perception: ‘light detection, and the intensity of the reaction to light stimuli and ambient light, have a molecular basis’. (Virilio, 1994: 26) This would mean that there is a very direct relationship between the brain and the screen. One aspect that is important for both film and its tracing the circuits of the brain is movement. Movement is an essential asset of cinema. Film not only consists of movement as the succession of images, but it also puts movement in the image. This is Deleuze’s notion of the movement-image. (Deleuze, 2005) If the brain is the screen, then the movement in the image also results in a movement in the brain, molecular movement. The common characteristic of these movements is speed. Film images reach our brain with the speed of light, where molecules also react with the speed of light and affect our brain. The brain is the screen is the brain. Coupland’s quote ‘Design molecules that crystallize into question marks’ could then be seen as descriptive assignment on how to make a good film that affects our brain. A film, a work of art, that brings forth problems and questions that concern us, that creates questions in our brain. These new questions could give us new insights; make us see further and make new connections. It is possible to talk about a spiritual relationship between cinema and the brain, spiritual in that this relationship could manage to ascend beyond the limits of linguistic or even iconic meanings. This spiritual relationship is connected to Deleuze’s notion of the time-image. I will later explain his notions of the movement-image and the time-image further.
Cinema and the brain thus seem to share common ground. In this respect it is rather surprising that relatively little attention has been paid to this relationship in the past two decades since Deleuze wrote his two books on cinema. Patricia Pisters has applied the relationship between film and brain in a number of articles, in which she advocates a ‘neuro-image’. (Patricia Pisters, 2006/2008a). From neurological perspective there has recently been an increase in the focus on filmic images and more research is expected to follow. (Ulrich Hasson, 2004). Still, neither from neurological or film theoretical perspective has there been a large amount of research. Of course the question remains if there is any empirical truth in this relationship, but it nevertheless is a very intriguing starting point for philosophical questions about the status of contemporary cinema.
In this article I will take a closer look at the film Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007). Control is Corbijn’s first full length feature film, in which he has managed not only to capture the story of the life of one of the legendary singers of the past decade in a respectful yet unbiased way, he also managed to make a film with a lot of qualities that do not rise to the surface straight away. After the first viewing the film had affected me in a certain way. Puzzled and full of questions I returned the other day for a second viewing. The questions that had arisen in my mind were not at all like questions that can arise after having seen a story with a complicated narrative. They were more fundamental and self-reflexive. Why had I been so affected in my mind, in my brain? Why did I experience a sense of loss of control for some time? Surely this could not just be because of the title or the song “She’s Lost Control” by Joy Division. The film seems to a have a quality to affect the spectator in a spiritual way, to influence one’s being.
The film deals with Ian Curtis, singer of the band Joy Division in the late seventies of the last century. Living in a depressing part of industrial England, Curtis’ initial good life gradually degrades into a state of depression and self-despair. An important factor of this seems to be his suffering from epilepsy. During his occasional seizures he loses control over his body and brain, which starts to reflect on his life. He starts to lose control over his love, the band and eventually his entire life. In the end the singer commits suicide by hanging himself. Even though the story and the fantastic black and white shots could be enough for spectators to walk out of the theater feeling all gloomy, there seems to be more to this film than just that. One gets the feeling that during the film one gets physically challenged or even altered and there seems to be a sense of spiritual change. This could be because of the combination of the portrayal of neurological disorders, depressing surroundings and the presented images. This film is a great invitation to ask not just film theoretical questions, but also to look at in a neurological way. In what follows I will first look at Deleuze’s view on the different cinematographic images, then followed by some probing at neurological research.
The Epileptic Movement-Image and the Schizophrenic Time-Image
Deleuze wrote his two cinema books in 1983 (Cinéma 1 - L’image-mouvement) and 1985 (Cinéma 2 - L’image-temps). In this part I will look at the two types of images proposed in these two books and at the possible neurological implications and relationships. The first book deals with the movement-image. As I have stated above, cinema possesses the quality of movement. Film not only represents movement in the succession of images, it also presents movement within the image itself. Not just by moving characters, but also by the use of light and shades. By presenting movement film alters our brain on a molecular level. In a reaction to the images that hit our neurological receptors with the speed of light, neurons start firing in many areas of our brain, causing a lot of movement inside our head. This movement on neurological level can alter us in many ways. We can get bodily reactions when we see certain films, for example goose bumps when we watch a scary film or arousal when we watch films showing nudity. The neurological movement in our brain causes these bodily reactions, or bodily movements even. Deleuze’s movement-image can be extended from the filmic image to our brain and body, not just at the surface, but also through our entire body, our entire being. Neurological research could perhaps shed some more light on how certain films provoke certain bodily reactions. What makes a film a good film? A lot of directors somehow seem to know the answer, but the scientific background is still missing from the picture.
Apart from bodily movements, cinema can also create new thoughts in our minds. These are connected to the universe as a synthetic Whole. There’s a direct correlation between the images and their meanings, which are stored in our memory and (un)consciousness. Patricia Pisters points out that a central feature of the movement-image is the relation between man and the world. (Pisters, 2008a) This relation is an organic one, where all the parts are linked into one organic Whole. The movement-image can create a shock in our brain, resulting in new thoughts and therefore new links in the organic Whole. This is another way in which the screen can not only affect our brain, but also create new visions in which to view the world.
Not all movement of neurons in our brain has a desirable bodily effect though. There are brain disorders that are caused by an aberration of normal molecular movement. Epilepsy is one of them. I will investigate some research on epilepsy later on in this article, for now I will look at the relation with film and movement. The abnormal movement in the brain can cause uncontrolled bodily movements. The brain takes control over the body and the mind for the duration of the seizure, often leaving no memory of what has happened. Filmic images can have a negative influence on persons suffering from epilepsy. A lot of videogames are accompanied by a warning that states that the rapid succession of the images could potentially be harmful for epileptic patients. If neurons are being fired around in the brain by transmitters with the speed of light, chances are that something could go wrong, creating a disorder. In a column entitled “Onmiddelijke onzichtbaarheid” [‘immediate invisibility’] Eric Kluitenberg refers to the absolute acceleration of the brain during an epileptic attack. (Kluitenberg, 2005) The loss of control is not a result of a loss of brain activity, but of an acceleration that the brain can’t keep track of. The filmic image can trace the circuits of the brain in a way that’s too fast for the brain to catch up with, leading to uncontrolled movement and possibly a seizure. Sound can also play an important role here. Music is also closely connected to the concept of speed and movement, both in its aural aspect as in its ability to make people dance. A filmic image with sound or music can thus have epileptic qualities in that it can affect spectators in an epileptic way.
In his second book about cinema Deleuze leaves the movement-image and moves to the time-image. This step is not an absolute one. Although he sees in the cinema after World War II a preoccupancy with the time-image, the movement-image does not disappear completely and even continues to exist to a certain extent in the time-image. Movement and time are inextricably intertwined and the same thing can be said for the movement-image and the time-image. The difference is that the time-image not so much deals with the movement of the image, but with the time in between the movements. Instead of the organic Whole to which the movement-image refers, the time-image deals with the crack in between. From this interstice between possible images, a wide variety of possible meanings can emerge. Thinking or seeing does not happen through association anymore, but rather becomes a process of differentiation. (Pisters, 2008a: 5) Time does not stand still in this interval, but becomes virtual. At the same time the present, the past and the future. Deleuze sees such a time-image as governed by a crystalline regime. (Buchanan, 2006: 136) The different flows of time crystallize into one crystal image with a field of potentials. Coupland’s quote ‘Design molecules that crystallize into question marks’ can again be applied. The time-image brings forth questions that fill up our brain, crystallizing new thoughts, questions and visions.
Within the brain itself, the function of time can also play an important role. The neurons and molecules that fire around with the speed of light require very precise time mechanisms. If there is something wrong with these mechanisms, if there is for example a delay or an increase in the normally required time for neurons to hit receptors, strange things could happen. A person could see things that are not in front of them at that particular time, but that are a memory or an after-image. The same thing can happen with thoughts. If the normal linear time structure of thinking disappears, a rhizomatic way of thinking takes its place. Deleuze and Guattari advocate the heterogeneous structure of the rhizome above the hierarchical structure of the tree root. The rhizome exist of a multiplicity of possible connections: ‘(…) any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.’ (Deleuze, 1988: 7) This fragmented thinking can be rather confusing. Cinema can play with this fragmentation, both in movement and time. Time becomes virtual and is always becoming the past, the present and the future. The time-image has therefore been characterized as having schizophrenic qualities. (Pisters, 2008a) A key element of this schizophrenia of the time-image seems to be the idea of control. Because of its fragmented character, there is not just a singular or linear way the time-image can be interpreted. It is in essence rhizomatic, in that it can connect to a lot of different meanings at different times. The crack from where the connections start is always in between, always in the middle, leaving multiple directions to choose from. ‘Thought becomes irrational and not necessarily organic’. (2008a) Pisters recalls different time-images that Deleuze connects to different film makers and says ‘In all these types of time-images this power of thought is related to a confusing and confused experience of time and the reality of the virtual of the past and future’. (2008a) This confused experience is also a quality of schizophrenia and derives from the sense of a loss of control over the images in your brain.
If we would relate Deleuze’s idea of the movement-image and the time-image to neurology, I argue that we can speak of an epileptic movement-image and a schizophrenic time-image. Epilepsy is closely related to movement and speed, which are as we have seen two important assets of the movement-image. The time-image deals with a confused experience of time, a deterritorialization. Schizophrenia has similar qualities. I am not saying that epilepsy and schizophrenia equal the movement- and time-image, but that they share qualities and that they can enhance each other when attention is being paid to their common characteristics. Since the movement-image and the time-image are not two isolated concepts but interrelated, we could ask ourselves the question whether that is also the case with epilepsy and schizophrenia. In the next part I will look at some neurological research on epilepsy and the possible link with schizophrenia, to see if we can find anything that creates new questions concerning film theory.
A Rhizomatic Relationship Between Epilepsy and Schizophrenia?
In this part I will look at some clinical aspects of epilepsy and schizophrenia. Pisters refers to the clear difference between Deleuze and Guattari’s critical use of schizophrenia as a process and the clinical use of schizophrenia as a disease. (Pisters, 2008b: 1) The critical use of schizophrenia can be related to the schizophrenic time-image, while the critical use of epilepsy can here be related to the movement-image. In this part I will look at epilepsy and schizophrenia in a clinical way, to gain a better understanding of what we are talking about, so we can later on apply its critical use in a clearer way.
In Control, Ian Curtis suffers from epilepsy, which hits him quite unexpectedly halfway during the film. Let us first take a look at some definitions of epilepsy:
A disorder characterized by transient but recurrent disturbances of brain function [my emphasis] that may or may not be associated with impairment or loss of consciousness and abnormal movements or behavior. (www.epilepsy.com)
A chronic neurological disorder [my emphasis] characterized by recurrent seizures.
Seizure: abnormal electrical discharge in the brain [my emphasis]. (www.nlm.nih.gov)
Epilepsy is a brain disorder [my emphasis] that causes people to have recurring seizures. The seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain send out the wrong signals. People may have strange sensations and emotions or behave strangely. They may have violent muscle spasms or lose consciousness. Epilepsy has many possible causes, including illness, brain injury and abnormal brain development. In many cases, the cause is unknown [my emphasis]. (www.nlm.nih.gov)
These definitions make clear that epilepsy is first and foremost a neurological brain disorder. Something goes wrong in the brain, neurons that fire too rapidly or in the wrong direction, resulting in seizures. This is exactly something that filmic images can influence, as we have seen earlier on. The movements of images can cause an alteration in the brain. These definitions strengthen the idea that film theory can gain insights by looking at neurological knowledge. The causes of epilepsy are various and to a large extent unknown. This is also the case in the film Control. Curtis does not suffer from his epilepsy until he is in his late teens. The question remains whether his epilepsy had already been present in his brain in a latent form for a long time, or that its onset happens right before the first attack. His doctor in the film advises Curtis to take medicines, while adding that he does not know whether they will work or not. The medication of epilepsy is difficult, because each case is different and requires different drugs. Epilepsy can obviously result in a loss of control over the body (violent muscle spasms) or over the brain and mind (loss of consciousness). The brain and body take over; they seize control, which is where the name epilepsy derives from. The epileptic qualities are not only to be found in the story of the film, but also in the filmic image. Certain parts are filmed in such a way that it almost resembles a temporal loss of consciousness, when the camera lingers for a while and the image seems to absorb the spectator. The film focuses on Curtis’ epilepsy, but never for too long. Yet the feeling of epilepsy is present throughout the entire film.
There are a lot of misconceptions about clinical schizophrenia. A lot of people think for example that schizophrenic patients suffer from a split or multiple person syndrome, which is basically a different affection. This misconception is mostly due to the misleading name. The term schizophrenia was coined in 1910 by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler and literally means ‘split mind’. Here are some definitions for clinical schizophrenia:
Schizophrenia is an illness of the brain [my emphasis]. Scientists believe its symptoms are caused by abnormalities in the transfer and processing of information in the brain. Nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other by releasing chemicals from their nerve endings. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Many of the symptoms of schizophrenia have been linked to abnormal activity of particular neurotransmitters. (…) it is believed that schizophrenia may be, in part, a disorder of the development of the brain [my emphasis]. (www.psychiatry24x7.com)
Experts now agree that schizophrenia develops as a result of interplay between biological predisposition (for example, inheriting certain genes) and the kind of environment [my emphasis] a person is exposed to. These lines of research are converging: brain development disruption is now known to be the result of genetic predisposition and environmental stressors early in development (during pregnancy or early childhood), leading to subtle alterations in the brain [my emphasis] that make a person susceptible to developing schizophrenia. Environmental factors later in life (during early childhood and adolescence) can either damage the brain further and thereby increase the risk of schizophrenia, or lessen the expression of genetic or neurodevelopmental defects and decrease the risk of schizophrenia. (www.schizophrenia.com)
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three broad categories:
- Positive symptoms are unusual thoughts or perceptions [my emphasis], including hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and disorders of movement.
- Negative symptoms represent a loss or a decrease in the ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion, or find pleasure in everyday life. These symptoms are harder to recognize as part of the disorder and can be mistaken for laziness or depression [my emphasis].
- Cognitive symptoms (or cognitive deficits [my emphasis]) are problems with attention, certain types of memory, and the executive functions that allow us to plan and organize. Cognitive deficits can also be difficult to recognize as part of the disorder but are the most disabling in terms of leading a normal life. (www.nimh.nih.gov)
Again we see that the brain is where the ailment starts. Schizophrenia can also be seen as an illness of the brain or a disorder of the development of the brain. The development of the brain is partly genetically predisposed and is partly influenced by the environment a person lives in. The environment, what a person gets subjected to, can alter the brain in subtle ways and therefore increase or decrease the susceptibility of developing schizophrenia. ‘The brain is the screen’ again comes to mind. What we are being subjected to, be it the environment or film, happens in our brain and has the potential to make alterations, to trace the circuits of the brain. In the last definition given there is mention of positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. These refer to the degree that they are noticeable. Positive symptoms are easy to spot, while negative symptoms are more difficult to spot or relate to schizophrenia. Depression is an important negative symptom, often misrecognised. Cognitive deficits are important in the sense of loss of control. When one can not organize ones own thoughts anymore, thinking becomes fractal and linear logic is difficult to follow.
All the above definitions are reminiscent of the ones of epilepsy. Both diseases are in the brain and deal with a loss of control over ones body and consciousness. The neurological link between epilepsy and schizophrenia has often been made in the past decades, although a lot of researchers have found opposite findings. The problem with neurological research is of course that it is not easy to look inside brain. Even with modern equipment such as EEG and MRI scans, the brain remains a mystery. Nevertheless research has been important and there have been interesting findings. As in philosophy though, new findings create new problems and new questions. Here I will focus very briefly on some research of the possible links of epilepsy and schizophrenia.
The interesting thing with a lot of neurological research is that it resembles film theoretical research in many ways. In film theory often a certain viewpoint of theory appears to be a great theory, a ‘true’ way to look at certain aspects of cinema, only to be repudiated by a new theory. The same thing happens in a ‘hard science’ like neurology. Statistical findings claiming one thing are often contradicted by a similar study with completely different results. This is also the case with possible links between epilepsy and schizophrenia. There is no evidence of an absolute link, but there are many findings that suggest a possible link. F. Lamprecht reviews evidence in neurological literature and finds a possible neurochemical bridge between epilepsy and schizophrenia. (Lamprecht, 1976) These findings see epilepsy and schizophrenia both as a malfunction in the dopaminergic regulatory circuit. With schizophrenia too many neurons are being received and with epilepsy too few, both causing the symptoms belonging to the diseases. This implies an antagonistic relationship between the two, meaning that the one could make the other disappear, or even cure. One disease could nullify the other.
Mellers, Toone and Lishman studied the location of epileptic seizures in the brain to see in which part of the brain the risk of developing schizophrenia is the highest. (Mellers, 2000) Their expectation was that epileptic patients with seizure starting in the left temporal lobe would be at greatest risk of developing schizophrenia-like-psychosis of epilepsy (SLPE), since this was what a lot of literature suggested. Their findings though were that a more general disturbance of the brain was of influence of developing schizophrenia. Their findings suggest possible links between the severity and duration of epileptic seizures and SLPE, and they conclude with ‘the neuropsychological profile of SLPE is very similar to that found in primary schizophrenia’. (2000: 333)
In another article about schizophrenia-like psychosis and epilepsy, Perminder Sachdev summarises some findings. (Sachdev, 1998) He finds both antagonistic and affinitive hypotheses of epilepsy and schizophrenia, but ‘overall evidence suggests that schizophrenia-like psychosis is 6-12 times more likely to occur in epileptic patients than in the general population’. (Sachdev, 1998: 329) He also refers to another study where there was not much difference between a group of epileptic patients with schizophrenia and a group of nonepileptic schizophrenics, except for an increased suicidal behavior in the first group. Another study focused entirely on these risk factors for suicide in epilepsy: ‘Suicide is considered to be an important contributor to the increased mortality of persons with epilepsy’. (Nilsson, 2002) Their findings suggest that these risks are highest with people who have an early onset of epilepsy, especially in their teen years. The weight of having to deal with your disease, losing control, having to take lots of medicines; these are all important factors for an adolescent, whose life is already difficult without having to deal with epilepsy, schizophrenia or a combination of both. In Control this is the case with Ian Curtis, whose depression might well be a symptom of schizophrenia. He ends up committing suicide as well, leaving a lot of questions for us to probe into.
This very brief summary of some findings on the possible relationship between epilepsy and schizophrenia suggests that, whether they are truly neurologically related or not, these two diseases at least share common ground. There are at least two things we can say about this common ground. First, they both seem to have a rhizomatic structure. Sachdev describes epilepsy as a dynamic process: ‘epilepsy is not a static process, and the brain of the epileptic patient is undergoing structural and neurochemical change before and after the development of the seizures’. (Sachdev, 1998: 326) Epilepsy can be seen as being rhizomatic, with neurochemical connections that change with every seizure. Schizophrenia can happen in the entire brain (a general disturbance of the brain) and the relationship between epilepsy and schizophrenia is not a stable one, it seems to change and involve a lot of different neurological connections. The symptoms of both diseases also seem to intertwine in a rhizomatic way, not just with each other, but also with the world the patient occupies. The second link is that of psychosis. Both schizophrenic patients and epileptic patients often have a history of psychosis, be it hallucinations or altered consciousness. Psychosis is exactly that thing that Deleuze and Guattari try to understand with their schizoanalysis of culture in L'anti-Oedipe and Mille Plateaux. Against Freud’s psychoanalysis, which solely deals with neurosis, they advocate a schizoanalysis to better understand the rhizomatic structures of the psychosis of culture and society. The neurological findings I have mentioned here seem to support an epileptic and schizoanalytic reading of film, especially in relation to the movement-image and the time-image. In the next part I will return to cinema and combine these neurological findings with Deleuzian film theory in an analysis of Control.
A Schizo-Epileptic Reading of Control
“Meanwhile, in Ian’s real life, which was accelerating as crazy as his singing dancing alternative life, he had been diagnosed with epilepsy. He was prescribed strong medication. Strobe lights could trigger a fit. The diagnosis and his sense of always being on the edge of control, of breaking down, seizing up, hitting the ceiling and falling through the floor, would feed directly into the dynamically disjointed ‘She’s Lost Control’, one of the classic songs that were now bursting, seeping, leaping, thrusting up from inside his mind, and inside the group, which were becoming one and the same thing.” (Paul Morley, 2008: 16)
Deleuze himself has never applied a schizoanalysis of cinema, but as Ian Buchanan and Pisters have shown an analysis of that kind can result in interesting new ways that film theorists can look at cinema. Buchanan states that ‘Delirium is to schizoanalysis as dream is to psychoanalysis: as such it is the essential touchstone for a schizoanalysis of cinema.’ (Buchanan, 2006: 119) Delirium can be seen as the manifestation of psychosis. Not being ignorant of the real negative aspects of clinical schizophrenia and delirium, analyzing a film or culture by means of critical schizophrenia and delirium can result in interesting new questions. Here I would like to advocate a schizo-epileptic reading of the film Control, not as something different from a schizoanalysis, but rather an extension or a division of it. Control deals with epilepsy, but that is not the sole reason for focusing on this aspect of the film. As stated above, the movement-image, which can be found in many different kind of films, could be seen as having epileptic qualities. Since the epileptic movement-image and the schizophrenic time-image are interrelated, I here will look at Control with both these dispositions.
If we look at the earlier given definitions of epilepsy and at the film, we can clearly see that Ian Curtis is suffering from epilepsy, even without the story telling us. The interesting aspect is that the cause of Curtis’ epilepsy is unknown, he unexpectedly has his first seizure in his adolescent years without any apparent warning. Up till that point in the film there already have been indications of epilepsy though. At school in a chemics class, Curtis’ attention seems to slip away when they are talking about chemicals that are out of balance. The molecules on the blackboard do not have the right connections. Both the wrongly connected molecules and Curtis’ sudden attention deficit are already signs that epilepsy is already present in its latent form. He even seems to be treating this latent form, when he steals drugs from elderly people. The drugs he takes are medications against epilepsy and schizophrenia, among other ailments. Instead of trying to cure these ailments, Curtis takes these drugs to reach states connected to these diseases. An unconsciousness effort to view the world through epileptic or schizophrenic processes, still unaware of the severity of actual clinical epilepsy. This changes when he comes face to face with a girl having an epileptic seizure. This event leaves a big impression on Curtis, one which he is not easy to shake off. Not much later, he himself has his first epileptic seizure. We can translate this to ‘the brain is the screen’: not until after he has seen a seizure, being face to face with it, does the latent epilepsy manifest itself. The circuits of his brain have been traced by witnessing an epileptic attack, much like the rapid succession of images in videogames can trigger a seizure.
The attacks continue on a very irregular basis, a couple of times when he is performing on stage with his band. On stage Curtis dances with an enormous intensity, with movements that resemble those of an epileptic attack. Paul Morley writes in his book about Joy Division about Curtis’ way of dancing the following: “If rock ‘n’ roll is having your own dance, dancing in your own world, dancing for an audience to know just how much you’re in control of being out of control, dancing on top of your dreams, dancing through your nightmares, then Ian Curtis is the greatest etc.”. (Morley, 2008: 309) This dancing is perhaps another subconscious effort to reach that state of epilepsy. As Morley describes in the quote at the beginning of this part, Curtis dancing, the lights on stage, the craziness of the alternative music life could trigger an epileptic seizure. Yet Curtis is there, on stage, dancing and singing his demons out. He needs the music and the physical outlet to have a “sense of always being on the edge of control, of breaking down, seizing up, hitting the ceiling and falling through the floor”. Morley sees all of this coming together in the song ‘She’s Lost Control’, both musically and lyrically. The film Control also focuses on this song, both in the title and in the attention that is being paid to this song. We see the reason for Curtis writing this song (the death of the epileptic girl he meets) and the act of him writing and performing the song. Anna Powell refers to Deleuze’s notion of music as ‘a potent catalyst for molecular becomings”. (Anna Powell, 2007: 45) Curtis is using his music in his becoming delirious, becoming schizophrenic. The music can be seen as having epileptic qualities, connected to movement and speed. Through epilepsy, Curtis is becoming schizophrenic. Pisters talks about music and Deleuze as well and notices that “It tends to dissolve and connects with other elements easily in a machinic way”. (Pisters, 2003: 188) Through his music Curtis can make new, rhizomatic connections. He can put himself in the crack in between, from which he has the potential to connect to almost everything.
Both the music and the attention paid to this song in the film put a heavy focus on the sense of control. During his life, Curtis seems to become more and more tangled up in a loss of control. He starts to lose control over his love, over the band, over his body and eventually his entire life. He is aching to reach a state where he can have control. Ironically, the only time he has control is when he has a seizure, when he loses control. This is where his brain seizes control, where a delirium kicks in. This seems to happen unconsciously and is greatly illustrated in the film during the live shows of the band, where “(…) Curtis’ voice sometimes drifted behind the sound. But he was discreetly dominant, truly the voice, the mind, the body of the band. Slowly he started to move onstage, slowly he started to move faster, slowly he turned into a performer possessed, flailing across the turbulent rhythms as if he was physically representing the wired state of his imagination.” (Morley, 2008: 14) This is where his epilepsy meets schizophrenia.
Delirium is a way to unravel the rhizomatic structure of the schizophrenic character of the image. If we apply delirium to Control, we can discern two different levels. The first form of delirium exists in Curtis’ epileptic attacks. His use of medications, his performance on the stage, all the time he is aiming to reach the schizophrenic state of the delirium. The second level overarches the entire film. We could see the film as one delirious state, in which Curtis’ is trying to make choices, to become free, to achieve a break-through. I will focus on the first level first.
Buchanan describes delirium as ‘an aberration of the mind’ that we could become attached to. (Buchanan, 2006: 119) Ian Curtis, who longs to be free of all the external forces that bear down on him, also seems to become attached to his aberration of his mind. On the one hand there is his wife, representing the normal life, with love, kids and a place to live. On the other is his band, representing the rock’n’roll life, with traveling, carelessness, a sense of freedom. Curtis is right in between this two modes of life, in the interstice between these two images. He is in the crack, because he has the potential to reach a state of break-through, to open minds to new questions. As an artist he has the potential to change the world with his works of art, to make people wonder and therefore create new ideas and new expectancies. This is a third direction where pressure comes from. His deliriums form a field of potentials, to break out, to change things, to see the world in a different perspective, in a new field of rhizomes. He tries to reach these states, but he is not strong enough to grasp their full potential, he only feels the pressure.
Deleuze and Guattari have argued that schizophrenia is the key to escape from the desiring-machines of capitalism, which constantly try to connect to you and make you part of their machinic organism. (Deleuze, 1983) In Control there is the capitalist machine that tries to connect to Curtis, but there are also the machines of society and rebellion. All these forces bear down on Curtis without ever really seeing him, without acknowledging his spiritual existence. Curtis can be seen as a body-without-organs that repels the desiring-machines that constantly try to break into him. His spirit is being crushed under all the expectancies. The state of delirium is important here to become aware of all these desiring-machines and ones own state as BWO. The delirious awareness that one could be a BWO could cause a schizophrenic sensation, realizing that the normal hierarchy of connections does not apply to you, but that there is a rhizomatic structure instead and that you are in the middle of it.
Realizing that you are in the center of a rhizomatic Whole, you could be able to make new connections, to break through the old order. One thing that is essential here is belief. It takes a spiritual belief that you can create new things. This belief is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maintain, which is also clear in Control. Not everybody sees what the schizophrenic seer of the crystalline regime sees. According to Pisters, schizoanalysis marks a new episteme. ‘The epistemological uncertainties that the schizoanalytic episteme entails, puts choice and belief (the choice to believe) before knowledge’. (Pisters, 2008b: 12) This belief is closely connected to the power of thought. Buchanan sees montage as the thinking element of cinema. (Buchanan, 2006: 142) In Control, we can gain access to Curtis’ brain. Not by focusing on his thoughts, they remain chiefly blurred. Through montage, through the interplay of the movement-image and the time-image and a schizo-epileptic viewing, we enter Curtis’ brain and can almost feel his belief, the spiritual choice he has to make. Because of our proximity, our being in his brain, or rather him being in our brain, the choice he makes is all the more shocking. The cold choice he eventually makes, committing suicide, almost feels like a betrayal. By taking his life he finally took control over it. The only way to regain control is by losing all control.
The second level of delirium could be seen as being a meta-delirium. On this level, the entire film is the delirium that Curtis is in. At first sight the film does not look at all like a delirium, at least not like the ones we are accustomed to in Hollywood cinema. Usually a delirium is accompanied by phantasmagoric images of smoke, lights and dizziness. A delirium does not necessarily have to be a disturbing hallucination. In epilepsy and schizophrenia, a person can have a delirium when consciousness goes into a momentarily relapse, while showing no outward appearance. Buchanan sees The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963) as an example of a film that ‘doesn’t depict what a delirium looks like so much as capture what it feels like’. (2006: 123) He also refers to its sudden onset and compares this to the attack of the birds. In Control, the epilepsy of Curtis plays the role of the sudden onset, creating ‘an arc of instability’. (2006: 123) We could say that the delirium of Control starts when Curtis has his first attack, but the already mentioned signs of latent epilepsy suggest that we are in the delirium from the beginning. Here I will look at the film as if it is all a delirium, a hallucination in which Ian Curtis tries to figure out the universe of his brain.
There are many signs in the film that refer to the brain and schizophrenic connections. We often see Curtis looking at telephone poles and the cables that are leading in every direction. The telephone wires resemble neurological connections and Curtis is looking at them as if to find out how his brain is functioning. The use of telephones in the film is related to this. The different phone calls to and fro seem to correlate with a sense of loss of control. Curtis hardly ever calls anybody up himself, it is usually he that is being called. He does not have the power to control to whom he is speaking on the phone. Again, the desiring-machines try to plug into him, through the telephone wires.
Curtis’ delirium mostly deals with control, or rather not having control. His epileptic seizures are the most obvious examples of this, but there are more. He does not seem to have control over his love life, being unhappy with his wife and child, but also not completely happy with his lover. He seems to act spontaneous when he asks his wife to marry him, or when he proposes that they have a baby, but it looks more like he can not control these urges. When the girl that will become his lover comes close to him for the first time, he can not control falling in love with her. The film portrays this in such a way, that it almost feels like Curtis is lost in his delirium and knows that he does not want to take control, but rather let it all happen. He seems incapable of using his delirium in a positive manner, he seems stuck in his delirium, which he unconsciously was aiming for.
There is a way out of this delirium. All through the film, signs tell us Curtis needs to get out of his delirium and needs to belief in his power to take control. ‘Exit’ signs in bars and hospitals, ‘way out’ signs, numbers of cab services on the walls backstage. These signs tell us that his epilepsy and his schizophrenic loss of control can be over won, by noticing the signs in his delirium. In the end of the film, the signs become more and more apparent, resulting in an anxious Curtis, who does not dare to step forward. The night before he kills himself, Curtis watches the film Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977) and we see the scene where an auctioneer is selling a house. The man talks so fast that it almost resembles an epileptic attack. We see the house and its interior all being sold. Curtis then realizes he must leave as well. He needs a spiritual belief to be able to make a choice: believe in the natural order of things or take control of his life and make his own new connections.
The most delirious part of the film is when Bernard Summer tries to hypnotize Curtis. Curtis is then sitting on a chair and while the camera is circling around him, he hears dialogues from earlier on in the film, constituting a delirious blueprint of his life. This is where the first and second level of delirium seem to touch each other. By trying hypnosis, he is trying to gain access to a delirium, and by gaining that access, the delirium of the second level becomes apparent. This is the crucial part in the film, the cinematographic symbiosis of control, delirium, epilepsy and schizophrenia. This is where the movement-image and the time-image touch and embrace each other in a schizo-epileptic way, creating a new kind of image that Pisters has appropriately called the ‘neuro-image’. (Pisters, 2008a: 2) The neuro-image deals with the brain and all its fractal connections. This scene in Control shows in a delirium the rhizomatic connections not only of Curtis’ life, but of his brain and his disease.
Cinema as Spiritual Interdisciplinarity
By looking at the relationship between neurology and film theory, interesting new questions can arise. Through montage, where the movement-image and the time-image are interrelated, where the epileptic meets the schizophrenic, film can make us think, make us belief. A delirium can function as a stepping stone in schizoanalysis from where one can reach a breakthrough. Cinema can assume this role as well, when looked at in a schizoanalytic way. The schizo-epileptic reading I have given of Control, shows that we are as much on the screen as in our brain. The screen can teach us what it is that is in our brain and mind. Not just neurologically, but also culturally. Control shows us that we are all familiar with a sense of loss of control. It is not just Ian Curtis, it is not just a troubled singer of a rock band. It is all of us. We are all schizo-epileptics trapped in a capitalist society, where desiring-machines try to connect to us all the time. We are all these desiring-machines and perhaps we should all strife to become a body-without-organs. We need belief for this though. Believe that we can achieve a break-through, that we can change the hierarchical structure in the world and make new connections in a rhizomatic way. As Deleuze has pointed out, cinema has the ability of restoring our belief, in giving us faith that we can make a spiritual choice. It may be too much to grasp, it may result in becoming the ultimate BWO like Curtis, who ended up killing himself. This needs to be prevented, one needs to try to achieve a break-through without it resulting in a break-down. More and more people are becoming aware of the need to believe, not in a religious way, but in a spiritual and rhizomatic way. As Coupland wrote: ‘Scrape. Feel. Dig. Believe. Ask.’
Interdisciplinarity appears to be the key to gain a better understanding of our world and of ourselves. Cinema is a place where a lot of paradigms can come together, and the filmic image has the power of making us question, making us believe. If we would lose the cinema screen, we might get lost in the brain. Virilio points out that the power of the image has already been recognized a thousand years ago by Nicephorus: ‘If we take away the image, not only Christ, but the whole universe disappears’ (Virilio, 1994: 17)
2006 ‘Is a Schizoanalysis of Cinema Possible?’ Redha Bensmaia (ed.). Deleuze et le Cinema : Prolegomenes a une esthetique future? Special Issue Cinemas : Revue d’Etudes Cinematographiques. Vol. 16, no 2-3. Montreal : University of Montreal: 117-145
1998 Girlfriend in a Coma. New York, NY: HarperCollins
2000 ‘The Brain is the Screen’. Gregory Flaxman (ed.). The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
2005 Cinema 1.Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Continuum
2005 Cinema 2. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Continuum
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari
1983 Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
1988 ‘Rhizome’. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The Athlone Press
Hasson, Ulrich et al.
2004 ‘Intersubjective Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision’. Science. Vol. 303, 12 March 2004.
1977 “Epilepsy and schizophrenia: A neurochemical bridge”. In Journal of Neural Transmission, 40: 159-170
2005 "Onmiddellijke Onzichtbaarheid". Column at InfoWarRoom, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 10 oktober 2005
Mellers, J. D. C, B. K. Toone and W. A. Lishman.
2000 “A neuropsychological comparison of schizophrenia and schizophrenia-like psychosis of epilepsy”. In Psychological Magazine. 30: 325-335
2008 Joy Division. Piece by Piece. Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus.
Nilsson, Lena et al
2002 " Risk Factors for Suicide in Epilepsy: A Case Control Study". In Epilepsia 43 (6), 644–651
2003 The Matrix of Visual Culture.
2006 ‘The Spiritual Dimension of the Brain as Screen: Zigzagging from Cosmos to Earth (and Back)’ in Robert Pepperel and Michael Punt (eds.). Screen Consciousness. Cinema, Mind and World. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. 2006: pp. 123-137.
In press (2008a) 'Mathematics, Madness and Metaphysics. Two Poles of the Neuro-Image in Pi and The Fountain'. In Peter Gaffney (ed.) Deleuze and the Forces of the Virtual. University of Minnesota Press
In press (2008b) ‘Delirium Cinema or Machines of the Invisible?’ in Ian Buchanan and Patricia McCorwick (eds.). Schizoanalysis and Cinema. London: Continuum
1998 "Schizophrenia-Like Psychosis and Epilepsy: The Status of the Association". In Am J Psychiatry 155: 325-336
1994 The Vision Machine. Trans. Julie Rose. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977)
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)