The End Has No End : Framing Death and the Phenomenology of Dying in Documentary Cinema

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Filmvetenskapliga institutionen


In a world denying and deconstructing mortality, the intersection between the phenomenology of image and death and the phenomenology of time consciousness seems to call for new attention in contemporary media culture. The recurrent motif of death in fictive film narratives is opposed to its far more complex and controversial counterpart in documentary cinema. In documentary, the framing of death and dying is immediately ethically charged and the image of death tends to be socially defined as obscene. At the same time, indexical moving-images of death have throughout film history achieved significance as spectacular screen attractions, where the immanent voyeurism of the film experience is linked to an intricate fascination for the real.

Through dying as a documentary screen event, our perceptual modalities and self- awareness towards the inexorable end are at stake. Turning to the film Near Death (Frederick Wiseman, 1989) as a conceptual example, the present thesis will attempt to theorize the cinematic perception and invoked affects of dying as an immediate and visceral reminder of our limited time. 

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