Drawing on the work of Deleuze and Guattari and of Foucault, Maurizio Lazzarato, a leading contemporary critical theorist, develops a dual understanding of subjection: on the one hand, he is interested in subjectivation, or the production of subjects; on the other, he is drawn to the way in which, through machinic enslavement, fragments of our bodies or our attention are put to work by larger machineries, the latter not simply being technical machines, but also potentially involving them.
While the former mode of subjection typically involves language (named roles, rewards and so on), the latter relies on what, drawing on Guattari, Lazzarato calls asignifying semiotics (charts, algorithms, diagrams, data, graphs etc.). Critical theory, Lazzarato notes, has endlessly discussed subjectivation and language but has almost entirely ignored machinic enslavement and asignifying semiotics despite their crucial role in contemporary subjection. He also notes that, with its attention to the visual and the material, cinema is particularly suited for engaging with the non-linguistic and the interface between the human body and different socio-economic machines. It could be argued, however, in a way that may seem deeply paradoxical, that the machinery of cinema, its focus on individual subjects and their stories and words, endlessly works to block this potential. Picking up this latter point, this paper will scrutinize some films that engage, or fail to engage, with the machinic and asks what we can learn from them.