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The European Cave: Jan Patočka and Theo Angelopoulos’s Film Ulysses’ Gaze

Alex Forbes

Contradictions: A Journal for Critical Thought II, no. 2 (2018): 57–78

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Keywords: Patočka, Angelopoulos, Plato, Žižek, Iordanova, Ulysses’ Gaze, Balkans, European, Cinema, Lenin, Ukraine, post-Cold War

The image of a dismantled statue of Lenin from Ukraine being transported up the Danube in Theo Angelopoulos’s 1995 film Ulysses’ Gaze is the starting point for a discussion of the fi lm’s urgent resonance with the questioning of “Europe” in the present day. This image foreshadows the destruction of Lenin statues in Ukraine during the ongoing civil war and is more than a fortuitous indicator of the historical context of the present Ukrainian crisis in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exploring the territory of seven post-Cold War Eastern European states and ending amid the rubble and destruction of the besieged city of Sarajevo, Ulysses’ Gaze offers a panoramic, yet highly subjective, depiction of a Europe undergoing a painful and as-yet-undecided transition. This article will show the strong connections between the understanding of Europe that emerges from the film and that elucidated in the work of the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka. Both the film and Patočka’s thought seek the European on a utopian level that transcends particular temporal and territorial borders, recalls Classical polity and philosophy, and consists primarily in introspective thinking. The recurrence, in today’s Europe, of questions from the immediate post-Cold War era indicates that the work of definition undertaken after 1989 is not yet completed and suggests that films from that period may contain images that have the capacity to guide the process of understanding Europe in the present day.

doi: 10.46957/con.2018.2.4

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