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toward an integral cinema

the application of integral theory to cinematic media theory and practice

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Images from "The Fountain" "I Heart Huckabees" "Groundhog Day" and "The Matrix"

ABSTRACT: Germaine Dulac’s “integral cinema movement” of the 1920s and her integral cinematic work, La Coquille et le Clergyman (1928), are analyzed from a historical and theoretical perspective. Results suggest an early introduction of integral consciousness into cinematic media that corresponds to and predates the integral theories of both Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber. Defining characteristics of what may constitute an integral cinematic work are mapped out and developed into a set of evaluation criteria using the works of Dulac, Gebser, and Wilber. A test of these evaluation criteria with the viewing of several motion pictures is summarized; the results suggest that several past and recent films demonstrate qualities that could be said to constitute an integral cinematic work. A preliminary typology of forms of integral cinematic creation, and the potential benefits and challenges for the application of Integral Theory to cinematic theory and practice are presented and discussed.


There is a long tradition in the cinematic arts of applying advances in human understanding to cinematic theory and practice. These applications, including the adaptation of practical and theoretical approaches from psychology, philosophy, history, linguistics, anthropology, art, the physical and applied sciences, and cultural and social studies, have helped to advance our understanding and appreciation of the cinema, and have served to expand and deepen the technical and artistic capacity of the cinematic medium (Andrew, 1976; Brady & Cohen, 2004). This capacity for expansion has led to the ability to create more powerful and effective cinematic realities with an increasing potential to influence, in both negative and positive ways, human physiology, psychology, culture, and society. This impact can be seen from the extreme physical and emotional effects reportedly induced by films like Psycho (Hitchcock et al., 1960), The Exorcist (Friedkin & Blatty, 1973), and Jaws (Spielberg et al., 1975) to the cultural and social influences of films like The China Syndrome (Bridges et al., 1979) and An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim, 2006) (Harrison, 1999; Kaplan, 2005; McLuhan & Fiore, 1967; Nielson Company, 2007; Petric, 1973).

While the advances in cinematic theory and practice have been valuable in many ways, “none of these approaches appeared without controversy or has maintained its relevance without polemic” (Brady & Cohen, 2004, p. xvi). Given the power and influence of the medium, as well as the eclectic mix of sometimes conflicting, complex, and controversial theories and practices, it is my belief that the application of a metatheory to integrate the truths of these many different approaches could advance our understanding and appreciation of the cinematic medium, and bring us to a new level of technical and artistic capacity. This article is a preliminary attempt to apply the metatheory of Integral Theory (Wilber, 1995) to cinematic media theory and practice, and an initial exploration into the development of an integral cinema.

The complete article is available for download at:





The contents of this document are Copyright © 2010 by Integral Institute. This paper originally appeared as an article published in The Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 2010, Volume 5, Number 4, Pages 112-138. Used with permission.



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