The Asphyxia of Becoming: Cioran watches “The Brown Bunny”

Let us commit the crime of dissection. We shall proceed to cut a Cioranian fragment open, exposing the innards and watching them ripen. The theme: time, the frame: “The Brown Bunny”.

“I accumulate the past, constantly making out of it and casting into it the present, without giving it a chance to exhaust its own duration. To live is to suffer the sorcery of the possible; but when I see in the possible itself the past that is to come, then everything turns into potential bygones, and there is no longer any present, any future. What I discern in each moment is its exhaustion, its death-rattle, and not the transition to the next moment. I generate dead time, wallowing in the asphyxia of becoming (Cioran 173-174).”

Vincent Gallo’s film “The Brown Bunny” takes us on a journey across the USA through the decentered gaze of a motorcycle racer named Bud Clay. Bud suffers the woes of being obsessed, haunted, by a past lover named Daisy. In every woman Bud meets, there is a trace of Daisy. However, Bud also suffers what Cioran calls “the asphyxia of becoming,” that is, for Bud there is no present and no future, only the slimey blur of the projected past. In every woman Bud meets and wants to seduce, he sees a chance to regain the present, but ends up utter desolate in not being able to become apart from his obsession with the past that is Daisy. Near the beginning of the film he meets a younger woman in a gas station and asks her to escape with him to California. She is lured in and they drive to her house so that she can pack. Bud is struggling to regain the present, they kiss, she enters the house while Bud waits in his van and, struck by the Cioran “exhaustion of the moment,” deems futile his efforts and leaves. This inability to escape the vortex of his past continues to haunt him and even at the end of the film in the traumatic sexual act with (what could be the ghost of) Daisy, he finds no recourse. The open road is his only comfort and even then…

Bud suffers the asphyxia of becoming while caught up in the web of a projected past. His vision is clouded by the phantom of Daisy, of his past obsession. Every encounter with another woman, useless. Struggling to regain the present, to have a present and a future bereft of the monsterous past, he nonetheless gives it his best shot, only to be conquered by his own weakness, by the strength of the human condition: time.

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