Life and Love In Trance (When Spirituality of Living Keeps De-existentialized Quality Right Amidst Existence)

Julie and Jack – an infatuated young couple from the provinces who’ve recently come to Paris – live in a small flat near Boulevard Sebastopol. During the day they make love; at night Jack drives a taxi and Julie walk the summer streets, singing happily to herself. One night they meet Joseph – another isolated newcomer to Paris – who drives Jack’s cab during the day. Jack heads for his shift; Julie goes walking with Joseph, and they quickly fall in love. From then on, Julie becomes a round-the-clock lover, sleeping with each driver as he gets off work; Joseph knows about Jack but not vice versa, and Julie refuses to choose between them. (She eventually arrives at what might be called the ultimate feminist solution).
Jonathan Rosenbaum (from the “Chicago Reader”, March 26, 1993)

Chantal Akerman

The heroine of the film belongs to her existence, to living but she, as if, doesn’t know it, because she simultaneously belongs to loving her husband but, as if, also doesn’t know it because she feels Paris like a fish inside the river feels the water. Julie and Jack are immanent mystics, without knowing that they are – their attention is just outside of vain occupations which enslave majority of the people. They are satisfied with what they have – giant fruit of their life, they don’t need to grow possessions or accumulate money or spend too much because they have life and they go through it, or rather their life is going through them, and they feel that they are always filled with it, and they are silently grateful to the world for existing for the sake of them. Jack works during the nights, and because Julie cannot sleep without him, the whole night she walks about the city, as if, sharing it with him. Sometimes, very seldom, along her walk she sees him working – driving his taxi, and the experience of just seeing him, unnoticed, overwhelms her, not merely with happiness (it could be too certain of a feeling, too certainly joyful), but with a gentle fullness of existence. Yes, Julie and Jack are spontaneous existentialists. They learned Existentialism on the Paris streets and heard about it through the opened Paris windows – it was still twentieth century.

The poster of “Night and Day”, as if, emphasizes that the old mirror in the furnished apartment, Julie and Jack keep in between them is their togetherness, their love and life. Their self-consciousness and their life completely coincide.

They sleep and make love. They make love and they sleep. Their love-making is sleeping, and their sleeping together (dying together) is their love-making. They enjoy each other’s presence nearby and they enjoy one another’s existence even when they are routinely separated by Jack’s job.

Their separation is a prelude for their reunification later. Their world is round as a generous caring womb made of two halves – sun and moon, sleeping and walking in the sleep.

When Jack introduces Julie to Joseph who drives the same cab during day-times, their similar appearance (they look like brothers) was noticeable to her. Was it a factor in making Julie to feel for Joseph as she felt towards Jack? May be, existence is more mysterious in the place where Existentialism is born? A veil of beautiful melancholy like a tender shadow covers the both boys’ style of feeling the world, more and more seldom in today’s world, can be a part of the answer. Is Julie’s manner of loving Jack that is also of loving Paris that is of loving the air of the street noise and the anonymous urbanistic humanity a partial reason why Julie started to share Jack with Joseph? Are they just like brothers or are they the same, two incarnations of the same precious essence?

Julie somehow doesn’t feel guilty for loving two guys simultaneously. May be, a particular sort of love (love towards a person by particular, specific and unknown reason) can lift or ease the guilty feelings. Can a love which is certain but not particular or even may be particular but without self-reflection exist without a self-torment? Of course, Julie didn’t tell Jack about Joseph, but Joseph who knew of Jack’s existence becomes even more (but with no less grace) melancholic. And that‘s what makes Julie feel uneasy. Some types of injustice humans cannot amend.

Julie and Jack continued to be in love, perhaps, even more than before, if it can be imagined. And Julie and Joseph were… equally in love. Their amorous triumvirate was like two connected vessels. Sometimes Julie felt that the stronger she loves Jack the stronger she loves Joseph. Love during the day was reflected in love during the night. Jack-the day and Joseph-the night, as if, became one person, and this person became indistinguishable from Julie.

Nobody knows when and why mutations in ways of life happen and what these mutations will be like. But one early morning when Julie just returned from Joseph’s place and Jack was due to come soon, Julie leaves their apartment and starts to walk ahead without knowing where to. Suddenly it became clear to her that she can’t anymore live with other human beings in such a blind and blended embrace. She understood that humanistic pantheism inside which she lived like Biblical Jonah in the belly of the fish is already not enough for her. As irresistible this experience of being present in the world by being absent from it and making personal love the conductor of her heartbeat is, she can’t continue. She felt that she is being born but she also felt that where she is born is a much less pleasant of a world than the one she just lost. It seems that Julie had a spiritual mutation of coming from spiritual existentialism as a contemplative ritual to existential spirituality.


There are many kinds of trances – mystical (connected with psychological transcendence), violent (when a person is moved by violent desire to blissful nowhere), ecstatic (when a person is under power of emotions), conformist (when people are blindly moved by commands or rituals), compulsive (when people are driven by irrational fixations), etc. Akerman’s film is dedicated to the most noble types of people in trance – gentle, innocent, child-like and sublime – people living in trance of personal love when sexuality is not symbolic (connoting consumption or fight for recognition or self-realization), but it’s a mystical dissolution in emotional and physical togetherness. It is known that physical togetherness has this engulfing, dissolving quality.

It’s one of the traditional spiritual strategies to get rid of conscious concentration on the world, on being competitively alert and ready to be manipulative, it is a way of getting rid of the world by getting rid of our own consciousness. We are locked between spiritual non-presence (traditional spirituality) and predatory over-presence (surviving during totalitarian epochs). Psychological situation of the heroes of “Night and Day” is secular, smarter variant of spiritual non-presence (following the logic of “it is better to be morally clean by the feeling non-present than to be predatorily present”). The amazing feature of Akerman’s film is that the tool for self-dissolving/self-elimination is personal love, sexuality without eroticism, sexuality as emotional and bodily symbiosis with the partner.

Is love winning or losing when it becomes a vehicle for symbiotic absence/presence? It seems, neither. Love is what people are able to project into it, if it’s not born of obsessive desires (colored by our childhood experiences and insecurities) and then not realized into a marriage fundamentalism, when following rituals of personal relations becomes the ultimate frame of reference. But Julie, Jack and Joseph are at the mercy of amorous trance which is a kind of art and an amorous sophistication in comparison with jealousy, possessiveness and mutual manipulation motivating trivial souls “in love”. Jack and Joseph equally need a woman’s healing attention. Amorous trance is a great equalizer putting different eggs in the same basket (and mixing them there with ping-pong balls). Love is a dangerous well blending various realities in the same water providing a very generic reflection. It is exactly the blend of Jack and Joseph what became so psychologically dangerous for Julie who drowns in their similarity/identity, in their gentle, angelic nature with a delirious non-differentiation of feeling of life and feeling of death or of genital emotional modality and anal one.

Pure (free from calculation) love is not differentiating (even when the mind does) between love and hate (for love and hate are somehow considered as a result of love towards the world), between past and future, between present and non-being, between possession and freedom. We can understand Julie – there is no difference between Jack and Joseph: they are two incarnations of the same essence, of love that is in contradiction with disinterested rationality, of love that proudly asserts its irrationality – its idealistic absoluteness, instead of being rational without calculation, reasonable without manipulation, disinterested without cynicism or predatory optimism. In other words, love as we observe between Julie and Jack or Joseph is not a human love, it is simultaneously, under- and super-human, it is spiritually idolatrous although is based on equality between man and woman. It’s not manipulative but a result of being manipulated into a socio-political and intellectual escapism and into a pernicious privatization of spirituality.

Posted on Dec 2 2014 –   “Night and Day” (1991) by Chantal Akerman  by Acting-Out Politics