Slowness as a Pure Form af Time: Tsai Ming-Liang’s Stray Dogs

In recent years, the term “slow cinema,” often circulated simply as a buzzword for a trend of global art cinema, has been theorised in more sophisticated ways. Despite the differences in their focuses, the recent theories of slow cinema have a common tendency to highlight how slow cinema, by slowing down the pace of life and restoring the supposedly insignificant details of life, challenges the accelerated pace of global capitalism and thereby renders the viewing subject more contemplative. While this form of challenge is significant, however, it runs the risk of endorsing the neoliberal packaging of slow life. Is slow cinema now subsumed under the economy of global cinema, albeit under its niche market? Would it be possible to rethink the notion of slow cinema in a way that undoes neoliberal economy and at the same time creates a new mode of affective life?

This paper retheorises slow cinema by resituating Deleuze’s philosophy of cinema in the context of his theory of the three syntheses of time, as well as in the historical context of neoliberalism. In this retheorisation, I show how the limitations of recent discourses on slow cinema can be attributed to their exclusive reliance on the Bergsonian second synthesis of time and how slow cinema at its most radical can be theorised as a type of time-image characterised by the Nietzschean third synthesis of time or its pure form of time. In this alternative theory of slow cinema, I would argue, slowness is no longer regarded as the degree to which the plenitude of life is restored, but rather as that to which time returns the power of becoming and dissolves the homeostasis of life. In this sense, slow cinema ceases to serve the neoliberal valorisation of affective life and instead produces, in Deleuze’s terms, a pure form of time that can bring affective life beyond (or below) this valorisation. From this perspective, I also argue how Malaysian Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s recent film Stray Dogs (2013) radicalises this power of slowness. By comparing an impoverished family’s and an upper-middle-class family’s slow life, the film debunks the packaged “mainstream” slow cinema and, instead, suggests alternative images of slowness in a way that resituates Glauber Rocha’s aesthetic of hunger in the context of neoliberalism. This alternative slowness is especially embodied in the impoverished family members’ instinctual bodily attitudes, such as those of sleeping, eating, urinating, and weeping, as they are shown in excessively extended durations. This excess enables slowness to break with the second synthesis of time and, instead, to constitute a pure form of time that forces the viewer to cross the limit of neoliberal governmentality against the now “mainstream” slow cinema’s tendency to compel the viewer to “contemplate” life in its economic sense.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. London: Athlone.

—. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2015. Governing by Debt. Translated by Joshua David Jordan. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e).

Lim, Song Hwee. 2014. Tsai Ming-liang and a Cinema of Slowness. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Rocha, Glauber. 1997. “An Aesthetic of Hunger.” In New Latin American Cinema, edited by Michael T. Martin, 2 vols., 1:59–61. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Schoonover, Karl. 2012. “Wastrels of Time: Slow Cinema’s Laboring Body, the Political Spectator, and the Queer.” Framework 53 (1): 65–78.