Wednesday, 18 May 2011

A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B: Spectatorship and Emotional Response

Explore possible reasons to explain why a second or third viewing of a film can actually increase the emotional response rather than lessen it.

(This is not a perfect answer and any suggestions for improvement would be greatly appreciated)

Films, and in particular, mainstream films are generally created and designed to provoke an emotional response from the audience. The range of emotional responses audiences can have to films depends on a range of factors, including what preferred readings the filmmakers have encoded and what frameworks of interpretation the individual viewers are bringing to the film. Emotional responses can range from anger to joy and happiness to sadness. The films studied this year revolved around themes of racial conflict and were all designed to create strong and often controversial emotional responses. The impact these films can have on audiences emotions can be increased on a second or third viewing for a number of reasons.


Films like those studied this year can all create increased emotional responses on repeated viewings, firstly due to their shocking endings. American History X (AHX) ends with the shocking murder of the protagonist Derek’s younger brother Danny. This Is England (TIE) ends with the beating of a main character, Milky, by a racist skinhead, Combo, and United 93 (U93) ends with the death of all the main characters in the film. These films are all created to provoke feelings of anger, sadness and despair in the audience. On repeated viewings of the films, the viewer is now aware of the resolutions and what will happen to the characters. This adds an element of sadness throughout the viewing of the film. Some viewers will be aware when they are watching a drama that there will be a conventional sad ending but until they actually know why the ending is sad (by watching the entire film a first time), they may not feel sad until the end of the film. However when the viewer is aware of Danny’s death or the beating of Milky or the deaths of all the passengers on United 93, they will feel sadder from the first moment they see these characters on screen in their second and third viewings. Knowledge of the ending will affect their response to the whole film on repeated viewings.


However it could be argued that with a film like United 93, the majority of the audience will be completely aware of how the film ends even on their first viewing. The story is based on the real events of September 11th 2001 and the crashing of the fourth hijacked plane into a field after the passengers fought back against the hijackers. For audiences that are aware of these real-life events, the ending is not a surprise and they will go into this film with expectations of a sad ending. Therefore they may not have an increased emotional response on repeated viewings of the film. Instead it could be argued that as viewers of this film watch it more and more times, their emotional response may lessen. As time moves on and there is more temporal distance between people watching the film and the actual events of 2001, the response to this film may become less in audiences as they do not remember the real life events as clearly or with as strong emotions as they had back in 2001. Therefore future audiences of United 93 may have less of an emotional response to the film than contemporary audiences.


On the other hand, second or third viewings of a film can increase emotional responses from a viewer because of the idea that audiences can form a kind of personal relationship with the characters. The uses and gratifications theory suggests that audiences may go to watch a film to form relationships with characters they like. They may have a lack of personal relationships in their life and form attachments with certain characters in films. For this reason, if a viewer watches a film more than once, they can have an increased response to it due to having an increased emotional attachment to the characters. Danny’s death, Milky’s beating and the death of the passengers in U93 can all be sadder due to viewers feeling closer to these characters on repeated viewings.

When Danny dies in AHX, it is sad on a first viewing as the filmmakers have encoded a preferred reading in the text. Danny’s voiceover guides the viewers’ feelings and shows the character’s inner thoughts throughout the film. The film form is created to emphasise the sadness of the killing with slow motion used and sad violin music on the soundtrack. Similarly music is used in the final scene of TIE and U93 to enhance the emotions of viewers. U93 also uses a documentary aesthetic with handheld cameras and long takes to emphasise realism and make the viewer feel like they are watching real life rather than a reconstruction. The protagonist of TIE, Shaun, is a young boy who the audience is encouraged to empathise with throughout the film and when he witnesses the beating of his friend Milky, the audience is encouraged to feel the emotions that Shaun feels. This increases the emotional response. 

There are many reasons why repeated viewings of a film can increase the emotional response of a viewer. I feel the main one is that, although the endings will be less of a shock, viewers will be aware of how the films end and will bring this knowledge to their second and third viewing of the film. This means that although they may have had some expectations of a sad ending on first viewing, they will now be sure of the death or beatings of characters from the first moment they see the characters on screen in their second and third viewings. This will add to their emotional response throughout the film. 

More A2 exam answers:

Is Fight Club a film about power and control rather than liberation?

Analysing La Haine

World Cinema: Distinctive Visual Features

World Cinema: Social and Political Context

WJEC A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B

A2 Film Studies Exam Practice Section B