PhD Oral Exam - Adam Szymanski, Film & Moving Image Studies
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Since the turn of the millennium, diagnostic rates of depression have skyrocketed to unprecedented levels across the globe, constituting a veritable mental health pandemic. During this same historical period, numerous art films have aesthetically explored the political and existential sense of depression. This dissertation selects five of these films as case studies, and closely analyzes how they use the aesthetic resources of the “cinema of poetry” tradition to critically perceive the experience of depression in a manner that breaks from psychiatry’s clinical gaze and the diagnostic models that it serves to support. By perceiving the depression pandemic through a critical lens which shifts its focus from the clinical individual onto the field of subjectivity production where the individual is produced, these films propose an event-based symptomatology of depression which unsettles many of psychiatry’s assumptions pertaining to the nature of depression.
To theorize the political stakes of this perceptual shift enacted through film aesthetics, I invoke Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theory of minor cinema, which has its roots in their collectively written book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. This present study brings to the forefront Guattari’s overlooked solo writings on minor cinema where he allies the concept to an anti-psychiatric and schizoanalytic praxis, and it lays out the ways in which the principles of minor cinema facilitate a re-politicization and re-existentialization of depression in light of its systematic depoliticization and de-existentialization.
Close analyses of the following five films facilitate the discovery of speculative, event-based symptom of melancholy: The Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964), Afternoon (Angela Schanelec, 2007), Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010) and Palawan Fate (Kanakan Balintagos, 2011).