Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

some thoughts on catharsis and flow

Catharsis is the name given to the emotional release experienced by the spectator on experiencing identification with the travails of a literary or cinematic character. For Freud it was the release experienced upon transference and this is where the analysand gains the perspective of the therapist and thus is released from the constraints of the illness. So catharsis is the purported result of identification but not the identification itself.

Typical plot development would posit an arc ending in a type of closure that has been likened to catharsis. I would take issue with true catharsis being present at all in the viewing experience. That being said I think some desire for closure is definitely part of the viewing experience I am just not sure that it constitutes actual catharsis. Presumably if real catharsis were experienced the viewer would not seek to return to the cinema. However it seems that this is not the case and viewers return again and again looking for a new experience, which points to desire. I think something else is going on instead of seeing ourselves in the characters we are shown that our lives aren’t as bad as we might think they are and there is a form of escapism taking place. Instead of identifying our lives with those of the protagonist we are escaping from our lives however briefly. True catharsis is a profound experience and while cinematic experience can assist us in demystifying our life experience it is not really cathartic.

Flow is something I am more familiar with and it also begs analogy with escapism. Certainly people who are compelled to spend hours playing videogames can be likened to those who seek release through synthetic means like narcotics and players are also similar to addicts but there is also a relationship to meditation as the player is only going to succeed if they are in the game and not off on a thought spiral so there is something to this notion of flow in the realm of interactivity and I wonder if studies have been done to monitor and compare the brain activity of high level gamers with that of high level meditators? If anyone knows of any please advise us.

As a visual artist I have experienced flow in my practice and certainly wish it to return but this has been related to activity and the immersion of myself in the process I am engaging in to create the work. I have also played drums and flow is definitely called for in playing a musical instrument achieved only when one acquires a level of skill where attention can be removed from monitoring the interaction with the instrument and placed on the “being in the moment” with the instrument so to speak.

All this being said I did appreciate what Bolter was getting at in comparing the cinematic to the digital experience and believe there is a difference in the two but there are overlaps as well. This is a relatively new field and so we are bound to use analogies that don’t quite fit. I think flow fits the digital more than catharsis fits the cinematic experience.

Sat, January 19 2013 » futurecinema2_2012

One Response

  1. mkyork2013 January 21 2013 @ 9:07 pm

    I agree with your point that flow deserves some kind of analogy to escapism. The article eludes to this very early on by stating “… while video games and other contemporary cultural experiences aim through repetition to induce in their audience a state of engagement … named “flow.” “the state of flow wants to continue forever, with minor variations in the intensity of involvement”.

    It sparked a question the author asked as to whether catharsis was still possible in digital media forms, catharsis in flow. Video games in my mind are very much a form of escapism but not the same way dramatic narrative is. I don’t’ have the same emotional release engaging in racecar video game as I do watching a film about “star crossed lovers”. In fact I think video games to date are merely objective based, that is to move forward without knowing or caring why they are progressing.

    Brecht wrote on suspense: If the ending is already known the audience can focus on how and why something happens, rather than whether or not it will ever come to pass. If game developers could adopt this concept then I believe video games could be much more compelling form of escapism, one that could rival cinema. Yet, if millions of people across north-America line up over night to spend $60 on a video game that’s sole objective is to continually shoot people level after level, I don’t think we’re going to progress much in this area and thus cinema will always be the place to escape.