A new temporal aesthetic in films such as Memento, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2046, and The Hangover

In Out of Time, Todd McGowan takes as his starting point the emergence of a temporal aesthetic in cinema that arose in response to the digital era. Linking developments in cinema to current debates within philosophy, McGowan claims that films that change the viewer’s relation to time constitute a new cinematic mode: atemporal cinema.


In the 1960s, at the peak of the Space Race, scientists were curious how humans would handle traveling in space and living in fallout shelters. Could people cope with extreme isolation in a confined space? Without the Sun, what would our sleep cycles be like? Michel Siffre, a 23-year-old French geologist, decided to answer these Cold War questions by conducting an experiment on himself. For two months in 1962, Siffre lived in total isolation, buried 375 feet inside a subterranean glacier in the French-Italian Maritime Alps, with no clocks or daylight to mark time.

Inside the cave, temperatures were below freezing, with 98 percent humidity. Constantly cold and wet, Siffre suffered from hypothermia, as massive chunks of ice regularly crashed down around his tent. But during his 63 days underground, he only dabbled in madness once. One day, Siffre started singing at the top of his lungs and dancing the twist in his black silk tights. Other than that, he behaved relatively normally.

When Siffre emerged on September 14, he thought it was August 20. His mind had lost track of time, but, oddly enough, his body had not. While in the cave, Siffre telephoned his research assistants every time he woke up, ate, and went to sleep. As it turns out, he’d unintentionally kept regular cycles of sleeping and waking. An average day for Siffre lasted a little more than 24 hours. Humans beings, Siffre discovered, have internal clocks.

The experiment’s success made Siffre eager to conduct more research. Ten years later, he descended into a cave near Del Rio, Texas, for a six-month, NASA-sponsored experiment. Compared to his previous isolation experience, the cave in Texas was warm and luxurious. His biggest source of discomfort were the electrodes attached to his head, which were meant to monitor his heart, brain, and muscle activity. But he got used to them, and the first two months in the cave were easy for Siffre. He ran experiments, listened to records, explored the cavern, and caught up on his Plato.












Chronesthesia, or mental time travel, is a mental ability first hypothesized by Endel Tulving in the 1980s. This refers to the ability to be aware of one’s past or future. While many may describe it as uniquely human, others now argue that this ability can transcend to include non-human animals as well as birds. The mechanisms of mental time travel are not yet fully understood since there is a level of obscurity and complexity when trying to measure if or when someone underwent mental time travel or not. However, studies have been conducted to map out areas of the brain that may be responsible for mental time travel.






«The days of thinking of time as a river—evenly flowing, always advancing—are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally. We all know about optical illusions, in which things appear different from how they really are; less well known is the world of temporal illusions. When you begin to look for temporal illusions, they appear everywhere. In the movie theater, you perceive a series of static images as a smoothly flowing scene. Or perhaps you’ve noticed when glancing at a clock that the second hand sometimes appears to take longer than normal to move to its next position—as though the clock were momentarily frozen.

More subtle illusions can be teased out in the laboratory. Perceived durations are distorted during rapid eye movements, after watching a flickering light, or simply when an «oddball» is seen in a stream of repeated images. If we inject a slight delay between your motor acts and their sensory feedback, we can later make the temporal order of your actions and sensations appear to reverse. Simultaneity judgments can be shifted by repeated exposure to nonsimultaneous stimuli. And in the laboratory of the natural world, distortions in timing are induced by narcotics such as cocaine and marijuana or by such disorders as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia.»






A stopwatch on the brain’s perception of time

«…But, «quite unexpectedly, sadness does not affect our perception of time, no doubt because the emotion felt when watching a sad film is not strong enough to slow down physiological functions,» Droit-Volet explains. However, she adds, work is needed on the profound sadness associated with periods of severe depression. Her team is currently looking at whether the internal clock may slow down in healthy subjects who practise meditation and relaxation. Is it possible they may step outside time in this state?»