‘The Death of God (At Five in the Afternoon)’

Film-Philosophy Conference 2019
Panel presentation
University of Brighton, 9-11 July, 2019

The grandfather digs in the desert with a shard of rock. Beneath a bruised sky, the old man all the while laments the death of god. ‘Blasphemy reigns in Kabul’ he murmurs; it is ‘as if God had died.’ The Talban are gone. Refugees – those who fled the new Afghanistan – are returning. Music blares from radios. Infidel soldiers walk the streets. Women leave home faces uncovered. Girls are schooled. He had to lead his family away from Kabul. Thus the final sequence of Samira Makhmalbaf’s At Five in the Afternoon (2003): the old man crouched in the sand, digging a little grave for his son’s dead baby, all the while bemoaning the death of god.

The film begins very differently. Nogreh, the old man’s daughter and the centre of the film, sees such a death of god as a new dawn. Both perspectives are expressed in the opening aphorism of book five of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882/1887). Yet the aphorism is with Nogreh, the death of god is liberation and affirmation. This final chapter of the book, however, was written some five years after the original edition. The Gay Science is thus an exemplary moment of Nietzsche’s shifting of perspectives. Chapter five overcomes the more horrifying encounters with the death of god in the original. The cave of shadows in ‘New battles’ (III§108) and the tale of ‘The madman’ (III§125) appears resolved with ‘How to understand our cheerfulness’ (V§343).

At Five in the Afternoon can thus be seen as a reversal of the trajectory of The Gay Science: the daughter’s joy is overwhelmed – at the end of the film – by her father’s feelings of loss. This paper explores the consequences of such a reversal for the film, as well as the film’s challenge to a Nietzschean philosophy of affirmation.

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