Samuel Beckett

1906-1989, Ireland

Film, 1965, U.S.A. 25 min

Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright, poet and novelist was among the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century. His work is characterised by pessimism laced with humour and is often associated with the Absurdist movement.

The film “Film” was directed by Alan Schneider from a screenplay written by Beckett, and under his personal supervision. In the film Beckett raises the problem posed by the eighteenth century Irish philosopher, Berkeley: “to be perceived: all bodies which make up the great chain of the world do not exist without a mind – through which their existence is perceived or known.”

The philosopher Gilles Deleuze pronounced this film “the greatest Irish film of all”, for the whole film is essentially Berkeley’s story, struggling between the state of perceiver and perceived.

In the film Buster Keaton plays the figure who, in Beckett’s words, represents “escape from the external perception which breaks down from inability to refrain from self-perception.” In the screenplay Beckett explains how he split the character in two: the figure Keaton plays and the eye of the camera. Thus Beckett offers us a visual metaphor for self-perception, which neither the character nor the viewer can escape. The “camera” which records and supervises is a part of our personality and identity, and it is what endows us with the ability to look outside ourselves. But in contrast to Descartes claim, it is not true that “I think therefore I am”, because there is no internal gaze establishing the self, and only the gaze of the other from outside can do that.