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The Vestibular in Film: Orientation and Balance in Gus Van Sant’s Cinema of Walking

  • Antunes, Luis Rocha (University of Kent, United Kingdom & NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
1 August 2012


For decades, the audiovisual nature of the film medium has limited film scholarship to the strict consideration of sound and sight as the senses at play. Aware of the limitations of this sense-to-sense correspondence, Laura U. Marks has been the first to consistently give expression to a new and emergent line of enquiry that seeks to understand the multisensory nature of film.

Adding to the emergent awareness of the cinema of the senses, neuroscience, specifically multisensory studies, has identified autonomous sensory systems beyond the classic five senses: the vestibular (orientation and balance), proprioception (posture and body position), pain, and temperature perception. This essay investigates the principles of the multisensory film experience when applied to our sense of orientation and balance in film – the vestibular in film. Here I seek to outline the neural and physiological evidence supporting the idea that we can have access to the multisensory exclusively through sound and image, based on the nature of our perception and cognition.

I then apply this frame of reference to a new understanding of Gus Van Sant’s cinema of walking composed by the so-called death trilogy of Gerry (2002), Elephant (2003) and Last Days (2005) plus Paranoid Park (2007). With this analysis I show how the vestibular sense can be a powerful aesthetic and cinematic mode of filmmaking, as well revealing of the sensuous nature of film.


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