Megan Jones

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SCA graduate finds Buddhist aesthetics in North American film

June 05, 2017
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By Ian Bryce

What do Buddhism, martial arts films and the actor Forest Whitaker have in common?

Some might say the answer is actor Kevin Bacon, but Simon Fraser University’s School of Contemporary Arts (SCA) graduand Megan Jones found something different while researching Jim Jarmusch’s film, “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.”

Jones has just completed her Master in Comparative Media Arts after studying how Buddhism is expressed and adapted in North American independent feature films.

“I wanted to do something meaningful and I had been thinking about Buddhism and communication,” says Jones. “It’s an area that hasn’t been explored despite very apparent Buddhist influences in Western art.”

By studying film aesthetics, Jones aims to trace the history and transmission of Buddhist ideology in Western cinema. Through her thesis, she has begun to develop a new aesthetic theory of cinema that critiques art through the lens of Buddhist philosophy.

Her theory challenges and refines ideas from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, from a Buddhist understanding of consciousness. She studied such sensory elements as breath and vibratory harmonics, alongside visualization meditation techniques, to reconsider space and time.

She worked three on films as case studies: Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog”, Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line”, and Mira Nair’s “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love.”

While violence may seem contrary to Buddhist ethics, Jones says, “Ghost Dog is the most Buddhist film that I have. It draws upon an actual Japanese text written by a samurai in the 17th century after he retired and entered Buddhist seclusion—which is then practiced by Forest Whitaker’s character in a martial arts film.”

Jones received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant for her research. She wants to expand her research and her theory by pursuing a doctoral thesis, and is in the process of finding supervisors and funding.