Law And Image: The Minor Ethics in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue One


  • Aleksi Rennes University of Turku


The narrative of Decalogue One, the first episode of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s television series The Decalogue (Dekalog, 1988), revolves around a rationally unexplainable accident: a child falls through the ice of a frozen lake and drowns, even though his father has ensured with scientific calculations and empirical experiments that the ice should support the child’s weight with ease. The series’ references to the Ten Commandments suggest the tentative explanation that the child’s death is a judgement of God on the father, who has transgressed by elevating human reason above God. This article argues that the possibility of divine judgement is invoked in Decalogue One only in order to question the logic of judgement in general as well as the idea of universal moral law on which such judgements depend. In this way, Kieślowski’s film is able to bypass the moral code determined by the Ten Commandments and proceed to develop an alternative, cinematic ethics in and of the image.

The aim of the article is to locate Kieślowski’s ethico-aesthetic practice within the “minor” tradition of ethical thought as developed by Gilles Deleuze in his reading of the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza. Deleuze upholds a sharp distinction between morality and ethics. For him, morality, with its emphasis on transcendent values, laws, and obedience, represents a misinterpretation of the true nature of reality. Ethics, on the other hand, is concerned with the rectification of such a misconception. It is defined as an epistemic operation of overcoming the natural and habitual conditions of human perception which prevent the attainment of adequate knowledge of the world. Similarly, in Decalogue One, ethical practice can be seen as belonging primarily to the domain of perception and knowledge: the characters constitute a typology of different modes of vision attempting to grasp the central mysterious event of the film. In addition, this article claims that the shift from religious morality to minor ethics in Kieślowski’s film brings about a renegotiation of the concept of death as it is wrested away from moral considerations concerning guilt and judgement. Instead, death becomes a site for experimentation with the capacities of the cinematic image itself. It becomes a phenomenon of arrested movement which always also involves the potential for reanimation, for life regained.




How to Cite

Rennes, A. (2019). Law And Image: The Minor Ethics in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue One. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (11), 61–78. Retrieved from