It is sometimes said that films generating a strong emotional response disarming thespectators critical faculties. Discuss how far this has been true of the films you have studied for this topic!
IntroductionEvery person has a different emotion response to films, often based on their personalexperiences. The audience as a whole experiencing the film may have similarresponses to certain scenes but spectatorship is a very individual response to a filmand may change significantly from person to person. Some films may cause aspectator to become fully enthralled within the film world, whereas the same personmay feel distanced from a different film. Films can cause a many different emotionsin a spectator, for example when watching the Pixar film ‘Up’ I experience a range ofdiffering emotions throughout the sequence. I feelt happiness when Ellie and Carlmeet as children progressing to sadness (and the visceral response ofHEARTBREAKING SOBS) when Ellie dies.The films we I studied regarding our emotional response are: Black Swan (DarrenAronofsky 2010), 127 Hours (Danny Boyle 2010) and City of God (Fernando Meirelles2002). These films triggered a range of different emotional responses, which for somespectators could cause critical faculties to be disarmed and in some cases not. Eitherway, their can be a strong emotional response, for example: shock at violence whichfeatures heavily in all three films. Shock is a strong reaction to something which isoffensive, disgusting or emotionally disturbing. This could also provoke a visceralresponse such as gasping or crying!
Critical FacultiesUsing a critical faculty in relation to a film is watching the film from a kind of ‘distance,’where you are able to analyse the films characters, narrative and film language etcbecause you are not taken on the emotional journey where you become fully absorbedinto the world and go with the emotion, whichever way that may take you.Having your critical faculties disarmed means that you are allowing the film to take youon the emotional roller-coaster that is intended. Because of this you may be unable todistance yourself and take into account the construction of the film.
The DirectorThe key ways in which the audience allows the director to manipulate them isthrough genre, narrative and film language. One of the ways this is done is throughMurray Smiths’ theory of engaging characters. The protagonist is presents in such away that we should feel both alignment and allegiance to them. Alignment is createdthrough film language – for example close ups help us connect with a character as wefeel their emotions more. Allegiance is the assumption that through the narrative,we will side ourselves with the main character, although this may not always be thecase. If we do grant a character our allegiance, we are more likely to feel that ourcritical faculties are disabled and be more drawn into the film.
Black SwanWhen watching Black Swan we were completely enthralled but at other points feltdistanced from the film. This can be explained by Stuart Halls’ reception theory,which states that being engaged with some parts of the film and not others is a‘negotiated reading’ of the film as we partly took in the intended meaning, but atother parts were disconnected.A key way in which we felt connected to the film was through the use of genre.One of the scenes in which horror conventions are presented to the audience isthe transformation scene. In this scene we see the main character, Nina, begin totransform into the swan after trying to find her ‘bad’ side. The horror conventionsused include: the shocking violence of her trapping her mothers hand in the door,which combined with pace of the music enhances the violence. Special effects offlesh tearing (sound) and bones breaking, are shocking and repulsive.The reason why horror conventions are used is because the audience have aconditioned response or fear/anticipation, which is automatic and heightenstheir emotions in relation to the scene.
Black SwanAnother way the director attempts to manipulate the audience is through the use ofnararative:• Main theme: reality Vs fantasy – from the beginning we are never sure what is and isn’t real (dream[?] scene at the beginning). We see the world through Ninas’ eyes. Because we see the world through her eyes, we relate to the character but are constantly questioning what’s happening. Because of these enigmas our critical faculties cannot be fully disarmed, or we would just go along with it – when there are too many questions, we don’t feel as connected.• Visual motifs of mirrors – fantasy aspect, the duality of a doppelganger and not knowing what’s real, conflicting personalities etc. For some people the fantasy elements distance them from the film, as they are obviously fake.• Discontinuity editing – doesn’t always establish a location which causes confusion. (Eg dance studio to hospital scene), because we don’t know how she got there, we again question what is real.
Black Swan – TheoryDespite the way in which the director attempt to manipulate the audience anddisable their critical faculties, it doesn’t always mean it works.Engaging Characters Theory (Murray Smith) argues that if we don’t grant acharacter out allegiance along with aligning ourselves with them then we will notfeel the same connection to the film. In Black Swan I had allignment with Nina,suggested through the film language, but did not grant her allegiance because shewas very irritating and I found her frustrating.For me, the exaggerated fantasy sequences meant I only had A-centeringimagining towards the film, because it immediately makes it obvious that it isn’treal, and disconnects me from the narrative.
127 Hours127 Hours for us, didn’t provide as strong a connection as Black Swan, largely becausethe situation was so far fetched from what we have gone through (although it is a truestory). We did not feel a very strong connection to the character.The film language used in the scene where Aron makes a video home is designed tomake us feel sympathy with a character we didn’t previously like (because of hisarrogance, treatment of other people etc):• Direct address to the camera when talking to parents, what he’s saying and the emotion he shows begins to change our opinion on him because he is so sincere.• He’s going mental – playing different people on a chat show, seems funny at first but also rather disturbing.• Realism – all filmed on his camera so looks home-movie esc
127 HoursThe narrative construction with flashbacks and hallucinations are also designed tocreate sympathy towards the character.• Flashbacks – Eg seeing him with his ex girlfriend, allows the audience to know the character better and makes us feel sorry for him.• Hallucinations – see more of his personality, see what’s going on in his mind and that there are people who care about him – see his regret. Arm cutting scene – Creates a sense of drawn out shock because of how long it takes him to cut off his arm. The sound effects of breaking bones and the cutting of the nerve enhance the violence and create a feeling of disgust. If a spectator was not in allegiance with the character, they may not have been as affected because they wouldn’t care about him.
127 Hours - TheoryBecause we did feel sorry for the character to a degree, but didn’t particularly like him, wealso took a negotiated reading of the film ((Stuart Halls reception theory).Patrick Philips ‘aspects of self’ theory could explain why we feel this way. The private selfis not relatable to film as we have never experienced anything that extreme.Murray Smith’s theory – Despite not liking the character, we granted him both alignmentand allegiance, as we were invested in what happened to him, and didn’t think hedeserved to die.
Conclusion“Art may have meaning but what makes art is not its context but it’s affect.” –Although we can be deeply effected by a film, we are choosing to let ourselves beaffected in that way. Not allowing out critical faculties to disturb the viewing of afilm we particularly enjoy may make our viewing of the film more enjoyable butdoes not necessarily mean we are unable to critically access it afterwards, orappreciate it critical at certain points in the narrative. Although some film theoriststhink of the spectator as passive, through the theories we have looked at it is clearthat it in an individuals choice to suspend their disbelief, based on their personalrelationship with the film. Every individual will experience a film in a different way,for the films we have studied, I don’t think our critical faculties have been disarmed,as we were not completely absorbed by the two we have discussed. However,certain scenes make us feel this way, particularly the horror scenes we havediscussed.