Manifesto toward a cinema of spiritual life.

Spiritual Cinema: Seeing with the Mind

Manifesto Hypothesis

The creative process of cinema occurs via the mind’s eye. This can be elucidated through an understanding of mental and ‘spiritual’ imagery.


The moving image is the dominant language of our age and the crucial means of communication in the 21st century.

Cinema attendance has progressively risen since the mid 1980s, to the extent that a total of over 170 million admissions were made to British cinemas in 2004 alone. By the turn of the century somewhere in the region of two thousand cinema screens are in operation in the United Kingdom.
Together with the mass ownership of television and the development of digital broadcasting, with the attendant opportunity for, literally, hundreds of television channels to be accessed in every household in the country, twenty-four hours a day - it does not seem wide of the mark to suppose that the realm of the media has now come to be the primary means by which information is communicated and imparted to individuals and social groups.

According to the postmodern theorist, Jean Baudrillard, our own post-industrial society is very much the “society of the spectacle”, living enclosed within an “ecstasy of communication.”

Margaret Miles, in the study ‘Religion and the Movies’ makes the assertion that the representation of values in contemporary culture may be seen to occur most persistently not in the temple of worship but in the movie theatre. In her words, those who hold religious affiliations of some kind ‘now gather about cinema and television screens rather than in churches to ponder the moral quandaries of life.’

The race to comprehend cinema and the effect on the viewer is in its infancy, with cinema being only around 100 years old itself. Beyond theories of sensory perception and sociology, much of cinema seems to bring an experience beyond the sum of its parts.

In a world wallpapered by the visual image, the central question becomes does seeing = believing?
Film is the new text. The image is the word of the 21st century.

The collection and intense level of current filmmaking now creates the possibility for a meta-analysis. Youtube and other video and media sites are adding to this growth at a phenomenal rate.
By now, millions and millions of images have amassed across the globe to build up into a more coherent picture of oneness. This can be understood as a visual map of collective global consciousness.

This chain of thought places collective phenomena into the centre of evolution and the generation of consciousness. The argument is substantiated by the work of Lewis Thomas in ‘The Lives of a Cell’:

" A solitary ant, a field, cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed, with only a few neurones strung together by fibres, he can't be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look more like an idea. They fumble and shove, gradually moving the food toward the Hill, but as though by blind chance. It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now you observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits."

As mental comprehension becomes more attuned to cinema we get deeper and more precise understandings of our new reality, sculpted further by more innovative imagery.

Cluttered amongst the images that traverse time and space are cinematic icons brandished into our global psyche – the flying statue of ‘La Dolce Vita,’ the boy in the water of ‘Death in Venice’ or the sepia memories of Tarkovsky’s ‘Nostalgia’ – the poetic expression of the spiritual soul.

Film, as the new reality, is possibly the new religion. Thus, the fusion of film theory with a study of meta-religion and spiritual practice is a new way to understanding the potency and communicative abilities of cinema.

Traditional systems of religion have long used text, visual ritual and narrative myth as their guiding principles. As society consumes more information, searching for new pinnacles of human endeavour, meaning and spirituality - these traditional systems are being scrutinised.

To map the progress of humankind and the visual image, the need is to analyse the use of visualisation and narrative within religious belief systems, to suggest innovative ways that film will be used to speak its messages. This will encourage these systems to adapt, to communicate and maybe even build new platforms of thought and human development.

The underlying claim of this thesis is that the closest system of ancient thought to cinema was the processes used by spiritualists – the development of imagery as a source of spiritual rapture plus the use of hallucination, mental projection and dream.

Spiritual cinema is a breed of cinema where the images have permanence and resonance, something that cannot be rationally explained. They become something beyond mere projected images and ooze secondary meaning and mysteriousness.

To highlight this point it is worth hearing the voice of Andrei Tarkovsky:

‘The idea of infinity cannot be expressed in words or described, but it can be apprehended through art, which makes infinity tangible.’

‘Art could be said to be a symbol of the universe, being linked with that absolute spiritual truth which is hidden from us in our positivistic, pragmatic activities.’

The origin of cinema is the crystallisation of these spiritual concepts into the filmic matter, through the ritual process of recording time and space.

Research from other disciplines can further express this point. One example is the work in the realm of mental imagery by psychologists. Studies reveal how different parts of the mind work to produce moving imagery and mental transition through time and space.
Furthermore, extended from the work of Luis Bunuel is the notion of cinema as dream. Throughout his works, reality breaks down and becomes blurred, sometimes into absurdity. These dream like effects suggest cinema is similar to dream matter itself. Even the process of watching films – allowing the mind to be open whilst the body is static is like the sleep process. This fits with the Buddhist philosophy of one seeing a dream rather than having a dream.

Ignored by many schools of thought since the Renaissance, there is an incredible rich and vibrant history of the use and development of esoteric imagery in world religions, mysticism and movements. These mental images have been used as tools to initiate religious ecstasy and experience.

The biblical book of Ezekiel contains the famous image of the divine chariot, supposedly the meta-physical emanation of God. This chariot, bursting with fire, electrical charge, angels and beastly protrusions has been used as the basis for mystical theology and meditation. The images break down into an energy map of the kinetics of divine action inside the physical world.

Another example from ‘Shamanism’ by Mircea Eliade explains the extreme importance of spirit visions in all varieties of shamanic initiations. Seeing a spirit, either in a dream or awake, is a certain sign that one has, in some sort, obtained a spiritual condition.

It is the combination of spiritual visions and seeing that is most interesting in this regard. In some way, cinema can point to a new way of seeing, one that may hold reference to a means of spiritual engagement that society has lost through a preoccupation with rationalism and logical explanation.

The aim is to make cinema to research deeper into the seeing of the mind and into the landscape of the subconscious and the mysterious.

The fundamental idea is that images can live, becoming almost organic, pulsating and qualitative.

One method to achieve this would be to use very intense and fast edited imagery, to symbolise a tribal rite, that would take the audience into a different phase of consiousness and even be hypnotic. The images will take the minds of the audience on a journey of new discovery.

This is an alternative theory of film as a form of seeing. It contends that cinema holds the ability to represent the emotions, energy and shifting equilibrium of global consciousness.

In the film ‘2001’ by Stanley Kubrick, the narrative suggests a series of monoliths guided by a hidden and unknowable force interacting with the development of mankind. The film, like the mystics before us, astonishingly claims that spiritual imagery and mystery is transcended intelligence.

A deeper understanding of image history can help open up the mental fixations of society and provide fresh means of understanding new technology.

Furthermore, innovative processes of understanding the mind through cinema can lead to therapeutic effects. Mental image projection is being used to great effect by many counsellors and holistic therapists.

This manifesto of cinema will lastly help us to understand ourselves in a transformational way and how our mind negotiates with the visual world.