Manual Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear

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Contents

  1. Horror and terror
  2. Ideas for a Phenomenology of the Collective Cinema Experience
  3. Horror and terror - Wikipedia

Horror and terror

Even if this might have been wrong when judged from an objective perspective, in the dark concealment of the cinema you subjectively took for granted a situation of shared thinking and feeling. The situation has changed into a paradigmatic state of distanced I-you social antagonism. In this case, the antagonism depends on an active and evaluative expression of emotion, insofar as the other viewer utters his or her derision and contempt non-verbally through laughter. This, in turn, entails an open type of objectively observable antagonism particularly when you shush the disturber or even insult him or her.

This is not the case when shame or guilt come into play. Here the antagonism is more passive and hidden, dependent as it is on what may well be an imagined standpoint. It is therefore experienced primarily by the person who is ashamed or feels guilty, but rarely by the others present. In fact, they may be entirely unaware of your feelings of shame or guilt. When shame gripped me as a boy, placing me in opposition to my parents, they probably did not even notice it; when I felt collective guilt as a Bavarian, my girlfriend might not have noticed it either.

Ideas for a Phenomenology of the Collective Cinema Experience

Under the conditions of viewing a film in the cinema, this type of antagonism is hardly ever observable by anyone else. But it certainly entails a very real emotional experience of phenomenological detachment. As Jack Katz makes clear, shame distances us from a real or imagined community, while simultaneously creating a wish for reintegration so that the painful emotion will disappear.

Such antagonistic forms of I-you relationship strongly posit the fellow audience member as an opposed "other. When we are deeply involved in a moment of sadness or suspense it can reduce our awareness of others, thus distancing them in a non-antagonistic way. When we weep, for example, we are not only emotionally captivated by the movie in a passive way; we must actively lower an inner barrier to let the tears flow.

Obviously, this is possible only in the case of inconspicuous weeping. The closer we are to overt crying, the more imminent the threat of shame. And as I have suggested, shame might change the situation by making the individual aware of the rest of the audience in an antagonistic way.

Once again, emotions and affects are particularly strong driving forces. In moments of strong affective we-connection the viewers not only share the basic joint commitment to watching the film together as part of an anonymous group. They also share their thoughts and feelings. One could say that their joint commitment to watching the movie collectively in the theater the basic form of collective intentionality is the basso continuo on which the various shared feelings play their melody the strong form of collective intentionality. I will illustrate this concept with another personal example.

It documented the fortunes of the German soccer team during the World Cup that had taken place the preceding summer. Once the film arrived at the moment when the German player Oliver Neuville scores the long-awaited goal against Poland, something unusual happened in the theater.

Watching again what was arguably the single most intense scene of the World Cup from the German perspective , we, the anonymous viewers in the multiplex auditorium in Berlin, exploded into a loud round of cheers and applause. Our joyful collective outburst created a momentary feeling of phenomenological closeness and, at the same time, expressed this feeling of proximity in an audible way: like a giant magnet, the situation centripetally drew the individual viewers together, evoking a fleeting feeling of mutual connection among anonymous strangers.

The situation cannot be characterized by saying that I was happy and you were happy and all the others were also happy. Rather than being individually happy, we were happy together. It was a collective happiness. To be sure, the sense of collective integration was based on our common nationality, and was thus exclusionary to all the Poles or people of other nationalities possibly present in the auditorium.

Yet there are other, more innocent forms of we-connection. Think of laughter in relation to humor that is not based primarily on a nationalistic connection. When Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, or Adam Sandler make us laugh, we exclude only those who do not find the scene funny. While the dialectic of inclusion and exclusion is also at work here, it is less dependent on an arbitrary identity marker like nationality. In fact, enabled by the specific spatial, social, and technological characteristics of the movie theater, the collective emotions are responsible for the emergence of something that was nonexistent before the beginning of the movie: a mutual we-connection among largely anonymous strangers.

In the darkness of the theater these we-connections can momentarily transcend such preexisting sociological categories as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. They might even become a source of pleasure since we often enjoy phenomenologically close we-connections at the cinema. This pleasurable feeling of collectivity arises together with the collective emotion and is causally dependent on it. In other words, the pleasurable feeling of emotional sharing is not the same as the collectively shared emotion, but derives from it.

It is a sort of second-order emotion, a state of shared happiness. Since these we-connections only emerge during and because of the collective cinematic experience, they are undeniably fleeting. As a particularly time-bound experience, watching a film means following a sequential process whose constant metamorphoses affect the status of viewer relationships. Hence the phenomenological distance between viewers is subject to permanent transformations. The audience members might feel pushed from a state of antagonistic distance to mutual closeness during one scene and pulled from such a sense of common connection to one of individuality in another.


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It would be wrong, however, to conceive of the audience as a monolithic block. The movie can create a momentary sense of collectivity in the audience; in the next instant the audience might disintegrate into various subgroups and even individual subjects. The case of laughter is instructive here. In films with various sources of humor-sick jokes, sophisticated wordplay, rough slapstick, gross humor, and parody-audience allegiances will change continuously.


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While some might feel excluded by one type of joke say sexual innuendo , they might feel included by another slapstick, for example , siding with one group of audience members at one moment and becoming part of a new subgroup at another. These laughing collectives are open, fleeting, and have a transient membership. Their emergence remains random, incalculable, and spontaneous. My third suggestion for bringing some order into the muddled field of affective viewer interrelations focuses on the source of the emotions and affects involved: do they derive primarily from the aesthetic experience of the movie or from the social experience of the auditorium?

Again, I will propose a continuum. At one end of the spectrum we find those states of audience interrelation directly related to the movie: they derive from emotions and affects that the film is intended to evoke. Take fear in horror films. Since the viewers share the frightening film as their collective intentional object and they may well equally appraise the film as threatening, they collectively experience fear while watching the film.

As is the collective screaming that accompanies the extremely shocking conclusion of Friday the 13th Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are affective audience interrelations indirectly related to the movie; they are based on emotions evoked but not intended to be elicited by the film. The shame I felt in relation to my parents while watching Gone with the Wind as a boy relied on the erotic arousal caused by the kissing couple. Since my parents were sitting next to me, the film became the source of a shameful experience.

This shame was not, of course, inevitably experienced by other viewers at that moment. A slightly different case is the anger a viewer might feel at a fellow viewer's derisive laughter. Again, his or her emotion does not relate directly to the film, but this time is caused by another person's expression of emotion.

I do not imagine someone else's perspective as in shame , but I react to another person's actual response. Similarly, I might feel amused or respond condescendingly when someone reacts to an apparently unspectacular scene with a cry of shock. In these cases the audience's shared collective activity disintegrates into parallel individual activities. At the other end of the continuum are affective audience interrelations entirely unrelated to the film: they originate in emotions outside the aesthetic experience of the movie and are anchored exclusively in the here and now of the cinema.

There are, for example, antagonistic states deriving from emotions not evoked by the film like anger at someone talking on his cell phone; envy in the face of a happy couple openly embracing; disgust at an unkempt, malodorous neighbor.

Horror and terror - Wikipedia

We might also consider integrated states like the mutual arousal of the aforementioned couple. Even if these kinds of audience interrelation may have a powerful effect on the viewer's aesthetic experience, however, they must mark the end of our line of inquiry. The emotions in which they originate are simply too contingent and remain too loosely connected to the aesthetic experience of the film proper. Nonetheless, it should be clear by now why I consider it essential to take collective viewing into account. The various types of affective viewer interrelation are possible only in the collective situation of the cinema; the presence of other viewers is the precondition for the whole spectrum of emotions from I-you antagonism to a sense of mutual we-connection.

To put it bluntly, when I watch a movie alone I simply cannot have these experiences. For better or worse. Is it something I ought to find entertaining? Engaging with horror as it is intended necessitates such layers.