Patricio Guzmán is widely recognised as one of the most eminent Latin American filmmakers. Approaching his eighty-third birthday, he remains committed to research and cinematic production. Since the 1970s, his films have captured the intricate intersections of political history in contemporary Chile, despite having changed his film proposal from documentaries to what is now known as essay films.1 His trilogy comprising Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) (2010), El Bóton de Nácar (The Pearl Button) (2015), and La Cordillera de los Sueños (The Cordillera of Dreams) (2019) transcends traditional categorisations of nonfiction and fiction, representing a unique blend of artistry that incorporates nonhuman imagery into its montage.2 The paper proposes to denominate as ecocritical trilogy to distinguish these films from Guzmán’s previous documentaries during the military dictatorship as well as his last film My Imaginary Country (2022). Distinct from his earlier documentaries like The Battle of Chile, which employed direct language, these essay films delve into the complexities of historicity and the elusive nature of totality. At the same time, the trilogy also employs different procedures from some previous post-dictatorship films such as Chile, the Obstinate Memory (1997) as scalar conversion and long-term temporality. The trilogy is also distinct from his last feature My Imaginary Country (2022) dedicated to the recent social protests in Chile. 

At a time marked by the intensification of the debate about the degradation of the planet, in which aesthetics is reconfigured in the face of environmental urgencies, the ecocritical trilogy aims to work on issues of temporality and spatiality in cinema mainly by the contrasting human and non-human. The paper should be understood as an answer to two questions asked by Jennifer Fay: “What role might cinema play in this pedagogy for the Anthropocene? How might cinema teach us how to die?”3 Face of what Gunther Anders calls “the time of the end”,4 the trilogy is neither purely fiction nor documentary but essay films that integrate nonhuman images into a montage. They align historical research and scientific theories, opting for a non-linear, associative montage that better encapsulates Guzman’s ideas on both semantic and formal levels. Central themes in his work include state-sponsored violence and environmental degradation, symbolically represented through inorganic elements like light, water, and soil.5 Unlike apocalyptic films that emphasize a bleak future, Guzmán’s trilogy promotes a contemplative style that fosters an appreciation for ecosystems and the intrinsic value of nature’s elements  steering away from a human-centric critique of documentary historiography. They challenge anthropocentric viewpoints, encouraging viewers to reevaluate humanity’s role on the planet and advocate for conscientious action without resorting to apocalyptic fearmongering. 

Temporality and nonhuman 

In recent years, critical texts and academic works have been paying attention to what would be a trend of contemporary cinema: the emergence of films characterized by a diffuse sensation of “slowness. Beyond different definitions, Guzmán’s essay films can be understood as an answer to contemporary cinema’s speed and fast changes. Rather than simply viewing nature as a resource for material development or a landscape of extraction, the trilogy delves into the deep time of capitalist natural devastation. It offers a glimpse into the precarious state of our planet. Beyond the fear of the menace of the end of the world, Guzmán’s essay films improve the human potential to change devastated spaces in times of the Anthropocene – the new geological era, as affirms Paul J. Crutzen, when humanity acts on the planet like a force of nature.6 Against the despair facing natural catastrophes, these films improve our attention to how we represent and process the representation of nature as a first step to changing it. The paper aims to analyze Guzmán’s strategies to create a perception of the passage of time and transformation in space, mainly due to the emphasis of these films on “long-term” as Fernand Braudel considers.7 Long-term as a concept of historical social science is the first step to Braudel’s concept of “plural time” which supports our analyses of Guzmán’s human and nonhuman temporalities. It is challenging to define long-term without evoking the sensation of slowness – most of the texts on slow cinema include long-term plans among this movement’s pillars. For Erika Balsom, slowness and duration are associated with the monumental scale of the plans as strategies for “challenging the frenetic pace of editing present in contemporary media” and challenging the conception seen in cinema as “a territory of shock and distraction.”8 Mathew Flanagan lists some characteristics of the “aesthetics of slowness”: long or extremely long shots, discreet narrative structure and “emphasis in the stillness of everyday life.”9 As de Luca and Jorge consider, there is no univocal definition of slow cinema; rather, it is a movement formed by a set of disparate practices that weave some relationships between them.10 Indeed, it is not easy to conceptualize Guzmán’s essay films as slow cinema. The article focuses on the ambivalence of the long-term issue in the filmmaker’s work, which invites an interrogation of the relationships between politics and aesthetics in the Anthropocene. 

Many authors have already discussed Guzman’s films on memory and the state-sponsored violence of the Chilean government,11 but the paper focuses on the hypothesis of the relationship between long-term and the presence of the nonhuman in the trilogy, which joins together Nostalgia for the light, Pearl Button, and The Cordillera of Dreams. Patrick Blaine pays attention to the presence of “physical objects” in Guzmán films and proposes a link between Nostalgia for the light and Guzmán’s previous filmography.12 Indeed, the paper chooses another approach from some papers on Guzmán’s essay films. For instance, Nan Zheng’s paper on Guzmán’s trilogy demonstrates how their “affective materiality” leads to excavations below History’s surface, relying on non-representational methodology and the theory of haptic visuality.13 The paper engages in Chelsea Birks’ expression “Cinema at the limit”14 paying attention to the relationship between temporality and nonhumans. 

The three essay films transform our conventional relationship with time by challenging us to be patient and appreciative of nature. It demands us to see the light, the water, and the soil in its terms. The subtle path of these films believes that as the viewers become more conscious of how nature is represented, we gain more sensitivity to the ideological origins and impacts of these representations on our relationship with other humans and nonhumans. Dynamics involving the geosphere, the lithosphere, and the atmosphere at the bottom of the image compete in the extended duration of some shots for the spectator’s attention. There are three main points to the characteristics of Patricio Guzmán’s cinema present in the films and their repercussions. Firstly, there is long-term (film shots), a source of strangeness for the spectator accustomed to the editing rhythm of commercial cinema, favoring the expression of a time that is more extended and ungraspable by man. Secondly, the trilogy suggests a problematic relationship between figure and background, encouraging a more acute look at the degradation of the landscape by human action with an emphasis on inorganic elements. Finally, the visibility of catastrophic phenomena, especially those caused by human action (difficult to see and to film) encourages reflection on the possibilities of cinema and the human gaze. Rather than postapocalyptic films, Guzmán’s essay films are about a pre-human and pre-modern world that could return to our images of the destruction of nature. They are contemplative viewing experiences in which documentary images of the earth and cosmos are available to illustrate the interconnectedness between human and nonhuman beings. This cinematic language invites us to reconsider the connection between the things of the world in a temporality that denies the progress of globalization. Guzmán intends “to show what we cannot see,” reconsider our relationship with nature, and criticize the temporality of material progress, showing us the nonhuman long-term temporality. By interrogating the politics of visual representations and reflecting on the deep time of capitalist environmental degradation, these films inspire a more nuanced understanding of humanity’s impact on the planet. The cinematic language invites viewers to reconsider the interconnectedness of all things and to contemplate alternative temporalities that defy the relentless march of globalization.15 

His films capture the ephemeral nature of human existence and our collective anxieties about time, emphasizing that our perception of time is inherently social and subject to historical shifts. Nilo Couret’s paper “Scale as Nostalgic Form: Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light” emphasizes scale as the artistic process and a form to address the relationship between geographic imagery and narrative.16 My essay draws on Couret’s insight to recognise scale as an artistic process to rethink issues such as temporality, ecocriticism, and the entanglement of the universe in times of the “end of the world.” Each film in the trilogy explores unique thematic dimensions: Nostalgia for the Light contemplates the universe’s interconnectedness through the metaphor of starlight. The voice-over repeats several times, “The light from the stars is not the future but the past.” The Pearl Button delves into the role of water as a universal connector; the first image is a drop of water in a quartz stone, representing the coexistence of things in the universe and the possibility of life beyond the planet. The Cordillera of Dreams anchors itself in the geological foundations of Chile and the Earth, highlighting soil as an inorganic element. Through these essay films, Guzmán challenges conventional notions of time and invites viewers to embrace a multifaceted understanding of temporality. He employs static imagery from the cosmos and the Earth to underscore the myriad rhythms of life beyond human-centric perspectives. By foregrounding the dynamics of the geosphere and atmosphere, Guzmán compels viewers to confront the vast scales of geological time and consider the implications of our actions within this broader context. Through the voice-over in Guzmán’s essay films, we see a collective and personal exploration of time, in contrast to films that portray environmental disasters as attractive but ultimately insignificant. It also highlights humanity’s devastating impact on nature, the Earth, and our relationship with the cosmos, non-human beings, and material objects.17 The Pearl Button starts with Raul Zurita’s verse (“We are all streams of one water”), which uses water as a metaphor for the timeless bond in the universe. After, the essay film shows us an image of an ancient droplet preserved in an air bubble within quartz. The statement is that water is everywhere, an image of everything intertwined. If the essay film considers that the ocean has memory, it is because all the entities have their history concerning the water. In an ironic path, it is an element that will continue to exert its force after human life is gone. It is the same procedure as the first film, Nostalgia for the Light, using the light spread in the universe. Using light in Nostalgia for Light and material elements like water in The Pearl Button or soil in The Cordillera of Dreams, Guzmán challenges our conventional understanding of time as a future of material progress. This reevaluation also impacts our understanding of the distinction between humans and nonhumans. The universe and the human body are inextricably linked. By recognizing our dependence on others, we must rethink our understanding of human agency and question what it means to be human in terms of politics and temporality. 

In the trilogy, the “slowness” is not only an effect of the voice-over, but also the long shots and the politics of scale. The paper argues that the long-term favors the visibility of the Film fund: the scenery, the landscape, and, at the limit, the Earth and the cosmos. Long-term cinema would thus be able to convey a temporality that is initially inapprehensible to man: geological or cosmological temporality, which is divided into periods much longer than the duration of human life and even historical time. Nostalgia for the light contrasts human body and the wholeness of the Atacama Desert to suggest the loneliness of woman that search for traces of their disappeared relatives. 

Scale and the dynamics of geosphere and atmosphere

The scalar procedures reinforce the relationship between landscapes, what happens at the film fund, and the human body at the center of the image. The shot scale moves slowly between extreme close-ups of details in the landscape and extreme long shots that diminish the human figure concerning a broad horizon and cosmos. Guzmán intends to activate another scalar logic, especially when he makes an approximation of the immensity of the Universe and the desert of Atacama. The function of depth of field present in the photography of Nostalgia for the Light is exploring precisely these regions of the past. Guzmán presents images of immense plains and kilometers of distance without losing clarity. Even the very closed planes of elements, such as small bones, are related to a planetary dimension, as its surface is magnified by the camera lens that reminds us of large stellar bodies scattered throughout the desert.    

Guzmán essay films consist of several temporalities ‒ the present is both in and outside of time.18 It suggests answers to the past and the future by offering a frame of temporality less indebted to chronology. The images intend not to unearth the past to return to life or make the past intelligible as a kind of truth, as typical in his previous memorial documentary, The Battle of Chile. On the contrary, the plot and the intersection between the images of human bodies and celestial bodies underline something more profound than any definition of “the past.” Against the concept of modern temporality as progress, these essay films use static images from the universe and the slow time of the Earth. They point out that there are many different rhythms from the Earth and the cosmos beyond the short life of human beings and the wide-spread running looking for material progress. Guzmán’s essay films depict geological time in their narrative, describing a modality of looking and paying attention to the Earth. The dynamics of the geosphere, the lithosphere, and the atmosphere at the bottom of the image dispute the viewer’s attention in the long-term of some shots. So, the actions of the narratives carried out by the characters in the foreground become secondary. 

Prominent elements of temporality emerge as a recurring theme in these films. Patricio Guzmán represents time as a synchronicity of different temporal rhythms in which short, medium, and longtime have a place in the film narrative. For instance, in The Pearl Button, the narrative constructs what Elizabeth DeLoughrey has termed as an “oceanic archive”19 with many temporalities together, mainly the nonhuman’s long-term, which disrupts conventional cinematic rhythms, opening up vistas of geological time that transcend human history. This focus on temporal scales prompts viewers to reflect on the environmental crises unfolding at a pace that defies easy comprehension, challenging cinema’s capacity to represent such phenomena adequately.20 In addition, it is a kind of answer some theorists consider as to be the challenge of our anthropocentric perceptions of time and scale. As Timothy Morton argues in Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, the challenge of art is to engage with the ‘very large finitude’ of these ‘hyperobjects’, which operate on an enormous scale that is difficult to estimate. The long shots in Nostalgia for the Light, The Pearl Button, and Cordillera of Dreams are similarly disorienting. Guzmán’s trilogy highlights the connection between time and scale through the long-term of small objects such as the button in The Pearl Button, the skull in Nostalgia for the light, or the sand in The Cordillera of Dreams. The contrast between the macroscale of landscapes and the microscale of objects supports the contrast between the short lives of human beings and the long-term of nonhumans. It also highlights the complex temporality of the film where the present “does not exist” as the astronomers repeat all the time in Nostalgia for the light and the microscale object can stay with us as remnants of an ancient past. 

The complex temporality in Guzman’s essay films intends to overcome the catastrophism of our epoch. It brings attention to a “negative universal History”, as conceived by Dipesh Chakrabarty’s “Climate of History,” that the climate change poses a question of a human collectivity. “It is more like a universal that arises from a shared sense of catastrophe”.21 Climate change criticism has to contend with an event already unfolding, defined through ideas of scientific destiny and species extinction. Srinivas Aravamudan considers that climate change criticism’s use of these scientific definitions makes climate change criticism ‘catachronistic’. It is the inverse of an anachronism because it “re-characterizes the past and the present in terms of a future proclaimed as determinate but that is of course not yet fully realized.”22 Guzmán’s films represent time and nature against the permanent sensation of the catastrophe of our contemporary times. They use the intertwining between the historical and the cosmological time and do not try to define the future, especially as an image of the final catastrophe of the world’s end. The difficulty of visualizing the future is a mark of modernity and conceptually accompanies discussions on the Anthropocene. As Mirzoeff notes (2014), it is impossible to “see it directly” just to “visualize” it, which is not the same as “envisioning it.” He considers that the agent of an action typically carries out the task of visualization. Nevertheless, the Anthropocene highlights other possibilities about visualization: “The Anthropocene is a human-created machine that is now unconsciously bent on its own destruction, a purposiveness without purpose, to repurpose Immanuel Kant’s famous definition of the aesthetic.”23 Climate change criticism has to contend with an event already unfolding, defined through scientific destiny and species extinction. 

New theories, such as ecocriticism, are rethinking and politicizing the present. They ask how a conception of temporality against material progress and representation of nature can have ethical and social effects. Moreover, art plays a central role in all these propositions, which help visualize how new time consciousness is emerging everywhere in contemporary theory. As Guzmán has stated in numerous interviews, his essay films reveal new ways of experiencing time through the interconnection of all entities in the world.24 The temporality of anthropocentrism, whose main form is the belief that humans are the most crucial entity in the universe, is at the heart of progress, as Steven Shaviro’s book The Universe of Things criticizes. The essay films remember that the geological features are in motion and that there is a world beyond humans, and they aim to “get at the strangeness of things in the world,” as the voice-over mentions in Nostalgia for the Light.

In crafting these films, Guzmán aligns with the sensibilities of filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky,25 particularly in his exploration of nonlinear narrative structures and the theme of nostalgia.26 His trilogy serves as a poignant reminder of our interconnectedness with the nonhuman world, urging us to situate human History within the broader tapestry of natural History. Chakrabarty considers that human History and natural History were traditionally separated realms because nature is subject to its own laws while humans move themselves to satisfy their necessities. He also highlights that geologists affirm that this distinction is collapsing.27 It was also Dipesh Chakrabarty the first to draw attention to the new “sense of the present that disconnects the future from the past by putting such a future beyond the grasp of historical sensibility.”28 It challenges our modern sense of temporality because processual history cannot bind together the history of humanity and the history of nonhumans: the history of the former is not the prehistory of the latter as Simon considers.29 Guzman’s trilogy intends to overcome these frontiers between human history and natural history mainly by the nonhuman’s long-term temporality. He also offers a compelling cinematic experience that invites us to reimagine our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos by different scales of time. It calls to mind what Nigel Clark considered “it is about living with earth and cosmic processes that have gone on since long before our species made its appearance, look likely to go on long after us, and continue to happen all around us”.30 Contemporary geopolitical concerns are placed in the context of nonhuman timescales – the movement of water, light, and soil – and suggest that things that seem to be in the present could be in the past or the future and that their movements become visible given a long enough timeline. The nonhuman world is not a backdrop for human action but helps us to situate human History within natural History not as a separate field but as an intimate interconnection. 

Ethics, ecocriticism and the nonhuman

It is possible to agree with Jennifer Fay31 when she argues that Bazin’s ‘realism, as reimagined through animals and nature, is not merely the replication or record of the world as we humans perceive it (nor only the place that humans and animals share); rather, it reveals the details of animate and inanimate life that are lost to anthropocentric attention. As Fay suggests, André Bazin, who endorses the transcendent continuity between the world and the cinematographic image, sees the film as part of nature while ultimately separating humans from nature and the image. Immanence is vital for an eco-aesthetical that links the plane of the world (ecology) with image (aesthetical dimension). As Jennifer Fay comments, there is a narrow relationship between the Anthropocene and cinema: “The Anthropocene is to natural science what cinema, especially early cinema, has been to human culture.”32 As she argues, cinema makes the familiar world strange to us by transcribing the dimensionalities of experience into celluloid, transforming and temporally transporting humans and the natural world into an unhomely image. 

André Bazin was a defender of the long-term plans and the plan sequence. He was also a defender of a historiography of cinema that took long periods into account, which has its share of paradox given the youth of cinema compared to other arts. At a time when debates about the Anthropocene are intensifying, a frequent observation is the sensation of an “acceleration towards the precipice,” accentuating the modern feeling of speed. Thus, Guzmán’s ecocritical trilogy could provide the viewer with an experience of other forms of attention, exercising a “subversive meditation”. 

The prospect of ecological catastrophe in contemporaneity forces humans to recognize that the fate of humanity is intertwined with the future of all sorts of nonhumans. Guzmán’s essay films highlight their connection as an effective form of questioning the anthropocentrism that has long been a key assumption of modern Western rationality. The essay films represent nature as an infinite relationship between movement and stagnation not submitted to humans. Whereas Nostalgia for the Light and The Pearl Button focus on movement in the Atacama Desert and the vast waterways along the Pacific coast, Cordillera of Dreams focuses on the more monolithic symbol to tackle. The last one begins with the sentence, “In my country, the mountain range is everywhere, but for Chilean citizens, it is an unknown territory.” Historical, archeological, and cosmic scales are connected in Guzmán’s essay films to show that we live in a universe whose boundaries we cannot grasp. Researchers must understand Guzmán’s essay films in the light of recent scientific discoveries and experiments that affirm that we cannot isolate our interests and economies from processes taking place on a cosmic scale, as Shaviro considers.33 The proposition goes beyond picturing a film as a representational machine connecting multiple elements into a coherent fictional world. Contrarily, the film is a ‘catalog’ of references, citations, and allusions. This ensemble presents various preexisting media, texts, myths, stories, rituals, and other communicative practices. 

One example is the use of scale and the contrast between humans and nonhumans in the three promotional posters. 

Fragment and wholeness about humans and nonhuman in the three promotional posters

All three promotional posters consider the entanglement of tiny humans and the immense universe using different shot scales. The confrontation between concepts of cosmology and archeology concerns choices to how to represent humans and nonhumans in the first essay film promotional poster. The second release is a beautiful image of nature’s presence and connection to humanity’s history of violence and destruction. The Pearl Button promotional poster presents the same concept of the connection between micro and macro as the Nostalgia for the Light promotional poster. Though the first one highlights light as the most important nonhuman element of the universe, the second one presents water as Earth’s most important chemical substance. As in the essay film The Pearl Button, the second poster’s image is a montage that connects the moon and the pearl button with the tiny humans and the whole of nature. It realizes the ongoing erosion of boundaries between species, scales, genera, and hierarchies. Guzmán emphasizes the irreducibility of cosmology to the dualism of nature/culture, implying that symbolic classifications and processes are continuous and ternary rather than discontinuous and binary. It is about scale and connection between material things and human beings. Cordillera of Dreams promotional poster highlights the complex relationship between immobility and movement, which has ever impacted human imagination. The image is about nature’s immeasurable presence and its degradation. The voice-over emphasizes the long-term events concerning the recent State-sponsored violence in Chile: “The mountain is the witness of the past” (51″) or that “The Cordillera is a metaphor to the dreams” (52′). He would like to “translate what the stones say” (52′). The Cordillera is a metaphor for dreams because it receives the anguishes of Chilean people and sleeps. 

Another example is the first images of the Nostalgia for the light, beginning with close-ups of an old German telescope in Santiago de Chile. Guzmán considers “Chile was a backwater of peace, isolated from the world. Santiago slept at the foot of the mountain range without any connection with the Earth.” He narrates: “the present time was the only time that existed”. After this last phrase, a kind of cosmic dust overlaps the image of the facade a little colorful; “a revolutionary wind launched us to the center of the world”, here Guzmán refers to the election of Salvador Allende in 1970 and the international attention given to Chile at this time. It also shows the viewer what cannot be immediately perceived on the screen or that does not gain prominence in the images presented, such as the connections between humans and non-humans. 

Special ‘cosmic dust’ effect that juxtaposes itself on the image

Nature is not a finite terrain we share in the world but a non-spatial mode of being in the world and back to nature again with the universe. An ecocritical approach to Guzmán’s documentaries allows for a new way of re-envisioning our relationship with the natural world.34 Guzman’s films have an ambitious proposal that allows the landscape to show its images and impacts human imagination; one might more intentionally approach the occult relation between human beings, non-humans, and things. For instance, The Pearl Button’s narration follows Jemmy Button in a spatial location for a while, and then, when spatial locations shift, moves back in time and returns to talk about this character in a narrow relationship with the environment mainly when it affirms that “the water has memory” and the “the ocean has the entire human History.” In Nostalgia for the Light, the voice-over considers that inorganic constituents such as “calcium” are everywhere (in the bones and the stars). The image of the skull and the planetary surface shows its relationship in a dark fund. The image begins illegible, and after extreme close-ups, the planetary surface and the petrified skull are revealed. 

Calcium in the moon and in the skull

Guzmán’s essay films put forward the entanglement among different entities by close-ups. The camera strategy of close-up provides the technique to emphasize the narrow relation between the camera and a minimum and a maximum of inorganic elements. Deleuze considers that the close-up confuses the dichotomous distinctions in classical philosophy (subject/object, internal/external, real/imaginary).35 For instance, The Pearl Button uses close-ups to highlight non-human agents (rivers, stars, forests) and their performances to express needs and values. Guzmán uses the migratory agency of water to explore exchanges between personal, geographic, and political bodies through the idea of ​​political intentions. Water dampens the conventions of Euro-Western narratives by infiltrating across borders and symbolizing water in the most diverse societies, mainly Chile. 

In Guzmán’s trilogy, inorganic elements serve as a medium that circuitously passes a sensibility of entanglement from screen to spectators by accentuating ethical values. Calcium is part of the ruins of the film director’s nostalgia discovered by an archaeological procedure that turns the desert into an immense open-air archive that preserves the traces of history far beyond its geographic space. These essay films do not embrace a Thoreauvian perception of nature; instead, they reinforce entanglement with different scales to call attention to human responsibility. It narrows the hybridism of organic and non-organic commonly found on Earth and its humans, animals, and plants. Guzmán’s essay films foreground what Ana Tsing calls the “assemblage”36 of objects and their interactions with material force in numerous ways. “Patterns of unintentional coordination develop in assemblages. To notice such patterns means watching the interplay of temporal rhythms and scales in the divergent life ways that gather.”37 Guzmán intends to reverse the exile of objects inanimate and nonhuman creatures, bringing them back to the realms of what deserves to be narrated. The ‘logic of assemblage’ traverses past and present, material and immaterial, human and nonhuman, performing these elements equally and realistically. These essay films suggest a commitment to ecocriticism by critics against the modern devastation of the natural world. The films push against human/nonhuman dualisms to promote the interaction among multiple entities and function against the environmental destruction of the modern States. It proposes a healthier and more sustainable relationship with that world without the common strategies from environmentalist films such as Steven Soderbergh’s film Erin Brockovich (2000) and its heroic and dramatic characters’ performance.

The relationship between movement and stagnation is the main characteristic of these essay films. It provides the viewer with an experience of interdependency between humans and nonhumans, material things, and human beings. In a recent interview with the Periodico desde abajo, Guzmán affirms, “I would like to show to the viewer the connection between the things of the world.” (15’)38 Guzmán’s films can work on our perceptions of Nature and environmental issues because his contemplative style can promote a slow appreciation of Nature’s constituents–water, light, soil–and ecosystems. Guzmán’s totalizing aspiration to represent the planetary and also cosmological past highlights the fact that it becomes a way to explain how humans are agents of transformation that deny their connection with other species. Indeed, extinction will not come from an apocalyptic event as some images from the Anthropocene cinema but as a slow process mixing geological and cosmological temporality in a non-anthropocentric perception of historical time. It critiques the modern rationality that has neglected to recognise that men depend upon successful integration with plants, animals, and inorganic elements. These films can assist us in redressing this shortsightedness through the concepts of integration, connection, and assemblage. Rather than leading to the anthropomorphism of nonhuman nature, such recognition places nature at the center of the human experience of the world. It defeats the sake of promoting a narrow anthropocentric agenda common in environmentalist films, which affirms rather than challenges the culture’s fundamental anthropocentric ethos of late capitalism.39 

Rather than documentaries, they are philosophical essays that encourage us to live non-hierarchically, and they intend to play an active role in fostering environmental awareness. These essay films connect the Chilean images in movement with the cosmological static images showing the material devastation of the planet. Compared to many eco documentaries and their potential to spur audiences to action, Guzmán’s essay films are a careful meditation on the relationship between humans and nonhumans throughout the cosmos. The metaphorical allusions and graphic exposure of human violence against indigenous people and nonhuman animals seek to transform human–nonhuman relations by encouraging humans to ‘make the connection’: Guzmán essay films see the historical human development in radically non-anthropocentric terms and promote the idea of more-than-human community. 

Guzmán’s essay films commit metaphysical speculation, as summarized in Steven Shaviro’s book The Universe of Things. Essay films remark on the values of the singularity of life apart from human minds. The Pearl Button comments that “the water has memory,” Nostalgia for the Light that “the light is all over the universe,” and The Cordillera of Dreams that “there are different layers of time in the soil layers of the mountain range Andes floor.” Essay film’s intersection of astronomy and temporality and scales impact how reality is interpreted. The scalar procedures show the viewer that humans are a part of the universe and that the universe has a rhythm that goes beyond their desires. Guzmán’s storytelling practice cultivates futurity as another long-distance temporal sense, albeit one that his images of the universe bring very close in narrative form. It liberates us from confining views of the self-referential conception of the universe’s web of life. 

These sentences are not only affirmations about aesthetics. Shaviro considers this when he comments on the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s work “Ethics can only be the result of the spontaneous aesthetic decision. Ethics is not the ground or basis of value but rather its consequences.”40 Although I agree with the speculative realists that we must attempt to think beyond the limits of the human perspective, I simultaneously consider Chelsea Birks’ apparatus theory that it is impossible to think about reality outside of human thought. “This impossible imperative – we cannot, but we must think beyond the limits of the human – forms the basis of a new ecological ethics that recognizes the limits of human perceptions and concepts but also asserts the existence of a world beyond them.41 Guzmán’s films incorporate testimonials from ancestral knowledge, providing insights that can inform our understanding of the planet’s future in parallel with the presence of inorganic matter, animals, and plants. This shift from anthropocentric premises to ecocinema distinguishes these essay films and underscores their unique contribution to the discourse surrounding the Anthropocene. Guzmán’s essay films show the human impact on nature and violence, but they continue to believe in the human agency against the end of the human species under apocalyptic cinema. Patricio Guzmán’s trilogy presentation of temporality and the interdependence among humans and nonhumans can differ from how ecological destruction and catastrophe are often visualized in contemporary cinema. Guzmán’s essay films force the audience to confront their world as it manifests through the interconnectedness of humans, nonhumans, and the material world. These films echo the ethical worldview of the ecocinema that their fate as a people is bound to the fate of the land, the ecosystem on which the humans depend materially and emotionally. 

To that end, Guzmán’s essay films bring theories of temporality into conversation with more recent discussions in the humanities that seek less anthropocentric modes of thought, including posthumanism, associated with the nonhuman turn. Using a new and timely alternative to the philosophies that have become orthodox in film theories, Guzmán’s essay films put forward a unique comprehension of the relationship of humans, nonhuman, and temporality in our current environmental crisis. From images of the desert to long-distance shots of the universe, this cinema pushes against the boundaries of thought and encourages an ethical engagement with perspectives beyond the human.


  1. Until the beginning of the twenty-first century, he made several documentaries about the post-dictatorship. Guzmán affirms that “Un pais que no tiene cine documental es como una familia sin album de fotografias/ A country that has no documentaries is a book of family without photos” Guzmán, Patricio. Filmar o que não se vê: Um modo de fazer documentários. SESC edições, 2015.
  2. “exceeds the category of nonfiction, but it is certainly not fiction—or at least not entirely.” As Nora M. Alter’ book The Essay Film. After Fact and Fiction, Columbia UP, 2018 p. 8
  3. Fay, Jennifer. Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene. Oxford UP, 2018, 98.
  4. Anders, Günther. “Theses for the Atomic Age” The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring, 1962), pp. 493-505
  5. As Hans Richter considers, the essay film intends to render “problems, thoughts, even ideas” perceptible and make “visible what is not visible” because it “deals with difficult themes in generally comprehensible form” Richter, Hans. “The Film Essay: A New Form of Documentary Film.” Essays on the Essay Film, edited by Nora M. Alter and Timothy Corrigan. Translated by Maria P. Alter, Columbia UP, 2017, p. 89.
  6. Steffen, Will, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNiel. “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature.” AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 36, no. 8 (2007): 614–621.
  7. Braudel, Fernand. “History and the Social Sciences: The Longue Durée” Review (Fernand Braudel Center), Fernand Braudel Center and Research Foundation of State University of New York.
  8. Balsom, Erika. 2007. “Saving the Image: Scale and Duration in Contemporary Art Cinema.” Cineaction 72, 23-31.
  9. Flanagan, Matthew. 2008 “Towards an Aesthetic of Slow in Contemporary Cinema” in 16:9 6(29). http://www.16-9.dk/2008- 11/side11_inenglish.htm
  10. de Luca, Tiago, e Nuno Barradas Jorge (eds.). 2016. Slow Cinema. Edinburgo: Edinburgh University Press.
  11. For instance, RODRÍGUEZ, José Carlos. “The postdictatorial documentaries of Patricio Guzmán: Chile, obstinate memory; The Pinochet case and Island of Robinson Crusoe.” Duke University, 2007. or Blaine, Patrick. “Representing Absences in the Postdictatorial Documentary Cinema of Patricio Guzmán,” Latin American Perspectives 188 (2013); Sadek, Isis. “Memoria espacializada y arqueología del presente en el cine de Patricio Guzmán”. Revista Cine Documental, nº8, 2008, p.28-71
  12. Blaine, Patrick. “Representing Absences in the Postdictatorial Documentary Cinema of Patricio Guzmán.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 114–30.
  13. Zheng, Nan. “A Trilogy for the Defeated: Nonhuman Affect of Landscapes and Objects in Patricio Guzmán’s Post-Transitional Documentaries.” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos (University, Ala.), vol. 57, no. 2, 2023, pp. 293–319
  14. Birks, Chelsea. Limit Cinema. Transgression and the Nonhuman in Contemporary Global Film. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.
  15. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, two main intellectual theories emerge to describe the “historical.” First, Fukuyama’s theory about the “end of history” (Fukuyama), and second, the “presentist” theories. Both assume that the future cannot entail modification. The theories of “presentism” by François Hartog and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht conceive that after the Second World War, modern temporality as future-oriented has been pulling over to another one that focuses on the present. The present regenerates the past and the future and has become “omnipresent,” refusing any event to break the order of temporality. Guzmán’s documentaries reject the “presentist” paradigm and the present as “omnipresent” and show us catastrophes as unprecedented events. He draws from a rich body of research to address issues of ecocriticism. Ranging from art history to environmental philosophy was the way to research state-sponsored violence. As Stenger points out, “catastrophe disturbs the order of temporality” (35).
  16. Couret, Nilo. “Scale as a Nostalgic Form: Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light.” Discourse, 39, Winter, 2017, pp. 67–91.
  17. Paul Merchant considers that Guzmán’s voice-over has a paradoxal effect in his essay films mainly because Guzmán’s metaphorical meditations on indigenous connections to the ocean risk collapsing into romanticism and replicating colonial visuality. Merchant, Paul. “Collecting What the Sea Gives Back’: Postcolonial Ecologies of the Ocean in Contemporary Chilean Film” Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 209–226, 2022.
  18. For Gaspar Galaz, one of the astronomers interviewed by Guzmán, the present “happens in a millionth fraction of a second” (Nostalgia for the Light 17’) and would be like a narrow line, and “a small breath would destroy it”. (Nostalgia for the Light 17’) Galaz’s affirms that the present, in physical terms, almost does not exist and, consequently, everything that human consciousness can capture is already in the past. The scientist says, “The present doesn’t exist. It’s true. The present that exists is only in my mind” (Nostalgia for the Light 18’33”).
  19. DeLoughrey, E. Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Island Cultures. University of Hawai’i Press: Honolulu, 2017, p. 35.
  20. Torben Grodal reminds “the aesthetical experience of time in visual fiction is not directly linked to the clock-time speed of projection, but to time as constructed during perception and cognition” Grodal, Torben. Moving Pictures. A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings and Cognition. Oxford UP, 1997, p. 39.
  21. Chakrabarty, Dipesh.  “The Climate of History: Four Theses.” Critical Inquiry, 35, 2009, p.4
  22. Aravamudan, Srinivas. “The Catachronism of Climate Change”, in Diacritics 41:3 (2013), p.8.
  23. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “Visualizing the Anthropocene.” Public Culture, vol. 2, no. 26, 2014, p. 213.
  24. As Patricio Guzmán’s interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBJ9UrnpL80 Access: 09/25/2020.
  25. Guzmán considers art as a “yearning for an ideal,” as does Tarkovsky. As Robert Bird points out in Andrei Tarkovsky’s aesthetic, “continue image” (36) is a choice that crosses the abyss between the instant and the future. Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia is not about homesickness but being conscious about the passage of time.
  26. Helen Powell points out that “…a particular approach to film-making practice, namely the adoption of the classical Hollywood narrative model, reinforced the idea of a standard time governing and uniting simultaneous events.” Powell, Helen. Stop the Clocks!: Time and Narrative in Cinema. I. B. Tauris, 2012 p. 122.
  27. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “History in a Planetary Age: An Interview with Dipesh Chakrabarty.” Topoi (Rio J.), Rio de Janeiro, v. 24, n. 54, p. 670-684, set./dez. 2023.
  28. Chakrabarty, Dipesh. The Climate of History in a Planetary Age. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. p. 23.
  29. Simon, Zoltán Boldizsár. “The Story of Humanity and the Challenge of Posthumanity.” History of the Human Sciences 32(2): 101–120.
  30. Clarke, Nigel. Inhuman Nature. Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet, Sage, 2011. p. 14
  31. Fay, Jennifer. ‘Seeing/Loving Animals: André Bazin’s Posthumanism’. Journal of  Visual Culture 7.1: pp. 41–64.
  32. Fay, Jennifer. Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene. Oxford UP, 2018, p.3.
  33. “Now that we know how similar, how closely related we are to all the other living things on this planet, we cannot continue to consider ourselves as unique. And we cannot isolate interests and economies from processes taking place on a cosmic scale in a universe whose boundaries we cannot grasp” Shaviro, Steven. The Universe of Things. On Speculative Realism. U of Minnesota P, 2014. p. 4.
  34. Paula Willoquet-Mariconi proposes the difference between “environmentalist films” and “ecocinema”. Compared with environmentalist films, eco films intend to provoke personal political action with subtle language. Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula. “Shifting Paradigmas: From Antropocentrism to Ecocentrism.” Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film, edited by Paula Willoquet-Maricondi, U of Virginia P, 2010, pp. 32 – 67.
  35. As Thomas Elsaesser comments in his book Film Theory. An Introduction through the Senses. Routledge, 2009, p. 77.
  36. Tsing, Anna. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton UP, 2015. p. 23.
  37. Tsing, Anna. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton UP, 2015, p. 45
  38. As Patricio Guzmán’s interview “Entrevista a Patricio Guzmán, documental como reconstructor de la memoria.” “The documentary as the possibility to think about memory.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBJ9UrnpL80 Access: 01/25/2023.
  39. The debate has a profound affinity with the new thoughts that understand our planet as Gaia and all the consequences of the shift from “Earth” to “Gaia.” Isabelle Stenger’s book In Catastrophic Times considers Gaia to be the name of an unprecedented or otherwise forgotten form of transcendence: a transcendence devoid of high qualities that allow for the arbitrator, guarantee, or appeal to be invoked. It suggests another perspective of the Promethean drive of human actions by those who go beyond the limits and ignore prohibitions.  Stengers’ book considers that because of Gaia’s intrusion, “the time for guarantees is over” (78).
  40. Shaviro, Steven. The Universe of Things. On Speculative Realism. U of Minnesota P, 2014. p. 30.
  41. Birks, Chelsea. Limit Cinema. Transgression and the nonhuman in contemporary global film. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. p. 70.