This essay takes up a paradoxical problem articulated by Buddhist philosopher, Nishitani Keiji: the eye does not see the eye itself. It argues that film has a therapeutic function by virtue of its ability to draw our attention to this precise aspect of our existential situation; namely, that we alternate between being in
our experience and perceiving
ourselves in our experience. Or, to borrow Nishitani’s terms, we alternate between the act of seeing and the quest to see the eye itself. The essay explores this theme with reference to specific elements of formal cinematic language. Rather than focus on a particular film or set of films for analysis, we focus instead on how the grammar of cinematic language draws our attention to aspects of our existential situation that ordinarily escape our awareness. Insofar as this may also be a goal of Buddhist practice—that is, to expand one’s ability to perceive reality for what it is, beginning with one’s own experience of it—this essay highlights a few of the salient ways that perennial aspects of the human condition have been articulated through the languages of both Buddhism and film.
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