Heidegger's 'Being and Time' in Film Theory Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Being and Time: Overview
  2. Heidegger and Film Theory
  3. How Being and Time influences Film Theory
  4. Exploring Dasein in Cinema
  5. Time and Narrative in Film
  6. Authenticity and Inauthenticity in Film
  7. Heideggerian Themes in Specific Films
  8. Criticisms of Heidegger in Film Theory
  9. Concluding Thoughts

So, you're into film theory and you've heard about this German philosopher Martin Heidegger and his magnum opus, "Being and Time". You're wondering how this dense philosophical tome could possibly relate to your love of cinema. Well, you're in the right place! This guide will walk you through the fascinating connection between Heidegger's "Being and Time" and film theory. Let's get started!

Being and Time: Overview

At its core, Heidegger's "Being and Time" is a hefty exploration of the concept of 'being'. The book is a bit of a puzzle, filled with unique terminology and intricate concepts. But don't worry, you don't have to be a philosophy scholar to understand it. Here's a quick breakdown:

  • Being: When Heidegger mentions 'being', he's not referring to any specific being, like you or me. Instead, he's talking about the experience of existence itself — the basic fact that we are.
  • Dasein: This is a term Heidegger coined, which roughly translates to 'being there'. It's what he uses to describe human beings, who, according to him, have a special relationship with being because we can think and ask questions about it.
  • Time: The 'Time' in "Being and Time" refers to our human understanding of time. For Heidegger, we don't just passively exist in time; instead, our very being shapes and is shaped by our understanding of time.

In essence, Heidegger's "Being and Time" is an exploration of how we, as humans, relate to our existence and the passage of time. Now, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with film theory? Just as Heidegger's 'being and time' influence our perspective on life, they can also shed a new light on the way we view and analyze films. Intriguing, isn't it? Stay tuned for the next section where we dive into the heart of Heidegger's 'being and time' in film theory!

Heidegger and Film Theory

Now that we've got a basic grasp of "Being and Time", let's move the spotlight onto the stage of film theory. Film theory, like Heidegger's work, is all about understanding and exploring the human experience. It seeks to delve into how films influence us, how they reflect and shape our society, and how we, as viewers, interact with them.

So, where does Heidegger fit into this? Good question! Heidegger's "Being and Time" offers a unique lens through which we can view films. It provides a philosophical framework for examining the themes, characters, and narratives of films in an entirely new way.

  • Dasein: Remember Dasein? In film theory, Dasein can be seen as the protagonist or central character — the one whose experiences and perceptions shape the narrative of the film. When we watch a film, we essentially step into the shoes of the Dasein, experiencing their world as they do.
  • Being-in-the-world: This is another key concept from Heidegger. It's the idea that we are always immersed in the world, interacting and engaging with it. In film theory, this can be akin to the setting or environment of the film — the world in which the Dasein exists and interacts.
  • Authenticity: Heidegger talks about the importance of living authentically, of being true to our own being. In film, this idea can be seen in characters who stay true to themselves, who face their own existence and make choices based on their own beliefs and values.

By applying Heidegger's concepts to films, we can gain new insights into the narratives, characters, and themes. We can explore how films portray the human experience of being and time, of existence and mortality. But how exactly does Heidegger's 'Being and Time' influence film theory? Let's turn the reel and find out in the next section!

How Being and Time influences Film Theory

Heidegger's "Being and Time" doesn't just inform film theory — it shakes it up and gives it a fresh perspective. It's like adding a secret ingredient to a recipe: it can transform the dish, making it more nuanced and interesting.

  • Depth of Character: Heidegger's concept of Dasein — the idea of being or existence — adds a new dimension to character analysis in films. It encourages us to look beyond the surface actions of characters and consider their deeper motivations, their experiences of being in the world. This can lead to a richer, more complex understanding of characters and their journeys.
  • Exploration of Existential Themes: Heidegger's work is all about exploring the big questions of life, death, and existence. These themes often feature prominently in films, and using Heidegger's "Being and Time" as a lens can help us to understand and appreciate these themes on a deeper level. It's like having a roadmap for navigating the profound existential questions posed by films.
  • Understanding of Narrative Structure: The concept of time is central to Heidegger's work. When applied to film theory, it offers a new way of looking at narrative structure. It prompts us to think about how the passage of time is depicted in films, how characters experience time, and how time influences the unfolding of the narrative.

Heidegger's "Being and Time" offers a toolbox of concepts and ideas that can be used to dig deeper into films, to uncover layers of meaning and complexity. Whether you're a film student, a filmmaker, or just a movie lover, understanding Heidegger's "Being and Time" can enrich your experience of watching and analyzing films. But it's not just about theory — let's see how Heidegger's ideas play out on the silver screen in the next section.

Exploring Dasein in Cinema

Let's take a trip to the cinema with Heidegger. Picture this: You're sitting in a darkened theater, the smell of popcorn in the air, ready to explore the concept of Dasein on the big screen.

Dasein, or "being-there," is a key concept in Heidegger's "Being and Time." It refers to our existence in the world and our awareness of it. Movies provide a great platform to explore this concept because they can show us characters in their unique worlds, grappling with their existence.

  • Character's Existential Journey: Think about a movie where the main character embarks on a journey of self-discovery, perhaps after a life-altering event. This journey often mirrors the exploration of Dasein, as the character comes to terms with their existence and their place in the world.
  • Conflict and Resolution: Conflict is a fundamental element of many movies. Whether it's a battle against an evil villain or a struggle with internal demons, this conflict often stems from a character grappling with their Dasein, their being-in-the-world. The resolution of the conflict can represent the character's acceptance of their existence.
  • World Interaction: The way a character interacts with their world — their relationships, their responses to events, their choices — can also reflect their Dasein. By observing these interactions, we can gain insights into the character's understanding of their existence.

Exploring Dasein in cinema is like going on a treasure hunt. You're searching for clues that reveal the deeper layers of a character's existence. It adds a whole new level of enjoyment to movie-watching, doesn't it? So, grab your popcorn and let's dive into the next cinematic concept influenced by Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory — time and narrative.

Time and Narrative in Film

Imagine you're watching a film that starts at the end, loops back to the beginning, and unfolds in reverse sequence. It can be quite a mind-bender, right? This is how Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory comes into play. It's all about time and narrative.

In "Being and Time," Heidegger introduces the concept of "temporality" — the idea that our existence is fundamentally tied to time. In the world of cinema, this translates into how filmmakers use time to tell their stories.

  • Non-linear Narratives: Some films like "Memento" or "Pulp Fiction" don't follow a straightforward, chronological narrative. Instead, they jump back and forth in time, providing a unique exploration of Heidegger's concept of temporality. This can make the viewing experience more engaging and thought-provoking.
  • Time Perception: Have you ever noticed how time seems to slow down in intense moments in films, like a car crash or a dramatic revelation? This manipulation of time perception can emphasize the importance of specific moments and aligns with Heidegger's view of our subjective experience of time.
  • Flashbacks and Foreshadowing: Techniques like flashbacks and foreshadowing allow filmmakers to explore the past and future while staying in the present. This reflects Heidegger's idea that our existence is a mix of past experiences, present realities, and future possibilities.

So next time you watch a film, pay close attention to how time is used. You might discover that understanding Heidegger's "Being and Time" can make your film experience richer and more meaningful. Now, let's move on to authenticity and inauthenticity in film, another fascinating aspect of Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory.

Authenticity and Inauthenticity in Film

What comes into your mind when you hear the terms authenticity and inauthenticity? When it comes to Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory, these words carry a deeper meaning.

Heidegger uses the term "authenticity" to describe the state of being true to oneself, and "inauthenticity" to represent living in a way that conforms to societal expectations. In cinema, this can be seen in the characters we watch and the journeys they undertake.

  • Authentic Characters: Authentic characters are those who stay true to themselves and their values, despite external pressures. Think of characters like Forrest Gump or Erin Brockovich. They are the embodiment of Heidegger's idea of authenticity, living their lives according to their unique vision.
  • Inauthentic Characters: On the flip side, inauthentic characters are those who conform to societal norms and expectations at the expense of their true selves. A classic example is the character of William "Bud" Thorton in Wall Street, who trades his moral compass for wealth and status.
  • Character Arcs: The journey from inauthenticity to authenticity is a common character arc in film. It's the transformation of a character from living a life that conforms to societal norms, to embracing their true self. The journey of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is a perfect example of this arc.

So, when you're watching your next movie, take a moment to reflect on the characters. Are they living authentically or inauthentically? Understanding this facet of Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory can enrich your understanding of the characters and their journeys. But the application of Heidegger's work doesn't stop at characters - it extends to film themes as well.

Heideggerian Themes in Specific Films

Having discussed authenticity and inauthenticity, it's time to look at how Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory manifests in specific films. Here, we will take a closer look at films that have successfully incorporated Heideggerian themes into their narrative. Ready? Let's dive in!

The Matrix (1999): This classic sci-fi film presents a perfect example of Heidegger's concept of "falling". The protagonist, Neo, initially lives an inauthentic existence in a simulated reality, unaware of his true identity. His journey towards authenticity and self-discovery illustrates Heidegger's "Being and Time" in a compelling manner.

Fight Club (1999): The unnamed narrator's struggle with his alter ego, Tyler Durden, reflects the tension between authenticity and inauthicenticity. This film showcases the struggle to find one's authentic self amidst societal pressures and expectations, a key concept in Heidegger's "Being and Time".

The Truman Show (1998): In this film, Truman's life is a staged reality show, reflecting Heidegger's concept of "the they". Truman's journey from living as a puppet to breaking free and choosing his authentic life provides a poignant example of a Heideggerian theme in cinema.

These are just a few examples of how Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory has been used to shape narratives and characters. Next time you watch a film, keep an eye out for these themes. You might be surprised at how deeply Heidegger's philosophy has influenced cinema!

Criticisms of Heidegger in Film Theory

Like any great idea, Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory isn't without its critics. Some people find it hard to apply his philosophy to film theory, mainly because Heidegger himself wasn't exactly a fan of modern technology, and cinema is a product of such technology. But let's dive into some more specific criticisms.

The Abstract Factor: Heidegger's philosophy is notoriously abstract. This makes it challenging for some to apply "Being and Time" to film theory, which often deals with tangible and visual elements.

Focus on Individuality: Heidegger's emphasis on individuality and personal authenticity can be seen as limiting in film theory. Critics argue that this approach neglects the collective and social aspects of human existence which are often central to films.

Dependence on Narratives: Critics also question the dependence of Heidegger's "Being and Time" in film theory on narratives. Films, they argue, can also be about experiences and feelings, not just about stories and characters.

Despite these criticisms, Heidegger's "Being and Time" continues to influence film theory, offering a unique way to understand and analyze films. After all, isn't it wonderful that cinema can be a platform for such deep philosophical ideas?

Concluding Thoughts

As we wrap up our exploration of Heidegger's 'Being and Time' in film theory, it's clear that this complex philosophy has influenced the way we understand and analyze films. It's also clear that, like any theory, it invites a fair share of criticism. Remember, no single theory can tell the whole story of cinema, and Heidegger's 'Being and Time' is just one lens through which to view the art form.

What's truly exciting about this topic is the way it bridges the gap between philosophy and film — two fields that might seem worlds apart at first glance. It's a perfect reminder that cinema, like all art forms, doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's a part of our shared human experience, shaped by our understanding of being and time.

So next time you sit down to watch a movie, why not try to see it through Heidegger's lens? Who knows, you might find a whole new layer of meaning hidden in those cinematic frames. After all, film theory is about more than just understanding movies — it's about understanding ourselves and our place in the world.

If you found our blog post on Heidegger's 'Being and Time' in Film Theory intriguing, you might also be interested in exploring the future of cinema. Check out Jessy Moussallem's workshop, 'Online Film Platforms & The Future Of Cinema.' This workshop will provide you with valuable insights into the role of online platforms in shaping the future of the film industry and how they connect with modern film theory.