Deleuze, Gilles. "The Movement Image and its Three Varieties." In Cinema 1: The Movement-Image.
Trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1986-89. pp. 91-104.
annotation by Nick Oberly (Theories of Media, Winter 2003)

Deleuze begins the chapter with a critical interpretation of Bergson’s theory of movement-images. Deleuze notes that Bergons outright condemns the cinema, but yet that his theories implicitly support it as an ‘ambiguous ally.’ Delueze contrasts Bergson with the school of phenomenology, which establishes the subject as a site for natural perception, a condition of existence which anchors the self as a being in the world. At first, Bergon’s critique of the cinema seems similar to that of the phenomonologists, that the cinema misconceives movement. Yet for Bergson, there is no favored state of natural perception; language, sight, cinema are each simply ‘snapshots’ of a passing reality. And although Bergson is explicitly negative about the cinema, Deleuze contends that his theory of cinema, images, and matter actually places him in unlikely alliance with it. Deleuze starts to extrapolate Bergson’s theory of the image by explaining that the image is the equivalent of movement. If image is defined as the set of what appears, than there is no distinct moving thing from movement itself. All things are images, in the sense that the movements of all matter can be understood best from the perspective of imagery. The atom, the human, the eye, the brain; all images indistinguishable from the actions and reactions that network the universe of ‘flowing matter’ as one immense picture machine. It is thus that Delueze is able to argue that Bergson is allied with film, since his own theory describes the entire universe as cinema.

From Bergson’s movement-image, Deleuze derives three varieties of images: the perception-image, the action-image, and the affection-image. These images relate respectively, to the perception of sight, the interaction between characters and their positions, and to emotional experience. The perception-image is embodied in cinema, an example of subjective perception which frames reality, and separates from the objective image of the thing (which is the thing itself). The action-image is the “material aspect of subjectivity,” and relates to the actions of subjects (named verbs through discourse) (65). The affection-image occupies the gap between the first two images, and is the way the subject “experiences itself from the inside” (65).

There are several ways in which Deleuze’s theory of images adds to contemporary media theory. Delueze not only builds on the theory of the subject through its existence in movement images, but also reconceptualizes the entire project of philosophy itself (and with it the smaller nested medium of media theory). Later in the book Cinema 1, Deleuze uses his theory of the image to frame philosophy as a state of internal reflection, countering the traditional perspective that it relates to external domains. Philosophy is merely a set of concepts which are the images of thought, and they function in the same way as smells or sights. Here Deleuze is able to create a revolutionary new style of film criticism, since the philosophy of cinema is a set of concept-images separate from the movie itself. Film theory should not pretend to situate itself inside cinema, since that is impossible, but rather it should examine its own perceptions from the external flows of the three image varieties and the multiplicities of signs that they choose to draw upon.

That cinema can be understood in a direct manner as a composition of images is a far superior mode of criticism than the those being advanced in contemporary film studies, such the critiques offered by the feminist and psychoanalyst schools. If indeed the medium is the message, then the message of cinema is not critical distance or search for hidden meaning, but instead to be seduced by the film. Cinema puts the subject into a light stage of hypnotic trance, a pleasant state of seduction where the viewer is captivated by the framed reality. Psychoanalytic criticism tears apart the fabric of cinema by nitpicking at trivial details, destroying the seductive hold over the viewer and thereby annihilating the purpose of the film. In contrast, Deleuze’s approach allows the viewer to comprehend the film as it exists simply in its image components, without unraveling the seductive beauty of cinema.