Sculptures In Time: Cinematic Mandalas

Quick Thoughts: Films as Mandalas

An open question as to whether or not films can be thought of as mandalas.

As an extension of the last post, today we are going to again delve into some Jungian film theory. Taking a step away from his most famous ideas - those concerning archetypes and the collective unconscious - we are going to use Jung's ideas around mandalas as to possibly re-conceptualise the the form of cinematic narratives.

In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and practice, the mandala is considered to represent the cosmos, universe and body. They are then used in meditation and ritualistic contemplation. Jung, seemingly inspired by this idea and years of drawing mandalas himself, considered mandalas to represent the psyche and tools of self-diagnosis; a means of extracting one's archetypes out of the unconscious mind. The mandala, for Jung, then operates a little like the dream - it even appears at many points that he even considers the mandala more useful than the dream. One can read deeper into Jung's ideas and analysis concerning mandalas in his two essays 'A Study in the Process of Individuation' and 'Concerning Mandala Symbolism'. I shall be drawing from these two essays as we go on.

The importance of the mandala as a symbol for Jung lies in the structure's ability to force what is scattered and disarrayed into some kind of harmonious whole - even if that whole represents chaos and confusion. The mandala then so often conforms to fundamental rules that express archetypal ideas with the use of very similar structures. Some of the highly recurrent elements of mandalas that Jung picks up on are as follows:

Quarternity; a circle split into four sections
A central light or star
An over-world and an underworld
Snakes and other beasts
Implied rotation and flight
Fractal and repetitious shapes
Floral and optical shapes and unfurlings

I pick up on these elements to only ask a simple question in this post: Can some films be considered and interacted with as mandalas? It is best to frame this question within a Tarkovsky-esque conception of what cinema exactly is. To Tarkosvky, films were sculptures in time. That is to say that films are plastic constructs that are moulded with seconds, minutes and hours; a director shapes time as to film and edit a scene, and that remains their most fundamental job. Tarkovsky uses this idea to explain what it is that he believes he is doing when making a film. In turn the idea of sculptures in time and sculpting in time explains how and why he extends his shots to produce a transcendent image of an almost impossible photogenic quality. Alas, this idea of Tarkosvky's holds unexplored potential that I don't think such a poetic-minded artist would care to explore. Nonetheless, the idea that films are constructs made up of time opens up a field of study into the different classes of cinematic sculptures. One could then ask and then categorise what kind of shapes Hollywood films exist in, the kind of form experimental films assume, what the difference between Bresson's and Kubrick's sculptures are, etc.

This is not what I want to do today, however. All I'd like to propose is a collision of the Jungian idea of the mandala and Tarkosvky's sculptures in time. If films make shapes in time, then can these shapes represent mandalas? Do they have formal elements similar to over and underworlds; do they have rotation and flight; are they fractal, floral or optical; do they have a central light and a quaternal nature; do they house snakes and various other beasts? As a result, do and can films represent a unified whole, a microcosm of the self and/or universe? Does this idea begin to explain why films have structural elements that are seemingly imperative and sometimes universal?

I do not want to make an attempt at answering or even analysing these questions today as they would require a lot more time and thought on my behalf before being approached. However, I leave these ideas open and in your hands. Can films be thought of as mandalas? Is there a potential new form of film criticism and analysis that uses mandalas to express how one engages a film?

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