The Psychology of Film

our expectation for words is overridden.

Communication isn’t necessarily about language. In films, we expect there to be dialogue. But, in some of my favourite films the story is communicated through nuances of body language, camera angles and music. For example, the main character in the film adaptation of ‘What Maisie Knew’ barely speaks but still manages to communicate the ideas from the novel. How?! There is no narrator or voiceover; there’s nothing written on the screen. Our expectation for words is overridden. We are receiving a communication of ideas through other cinematic and psychological techniques. Is our brain receiving subconscious messages and translating them into language for our conscious brain to understand?

In film all of our senses are called into question. Without one of them, the film becomes much less powerful. When watching a film, you may or may not notice the sound track over the top. By soundtrack, I don’t necessarily mean the songs, because they’re obviously deliberate and supposed to be noticed. I mean very subtle and sometimes barely audible soundtracks that are often repeated and slow or quicken and change depending on the action. If you turn off the sound whilst watching emotional or scary parts of films, the scene is generally much less heightened. Maybe this is why we have such false or hopeful expectations of life. We’ve always blamed the media for giving false expectations. I do agree, but it’s perhaps not that they’re lying to us and just that they’re heightening the emotion.

When I have to walk somewhere in the dark on my own, yes I’m on edge, but I’m not on the edge of an anxiety attack like I am in a scary film. And part of that is probably dramatic irony; the thing in a film where you know something that the main character doesn’t. When I’m walking in the dark on my own, I don’t have any premonition that something is going to happen because the tension hasn’t been building for half an hour through dramatic music after being shown a murder scene and a person in a hoodie running away. Films are inherently formulaic and are trying to draw out the most emotion possible, maybe so that it’s memorable. You can probably remember 50 plots from films in extraordinary detail but you don’t remember every moment of the past 50 days of your own life because life isn’t filled with constant heightened emotion.

8064285062_76f44546ca_nIn my head, when I think about a film, I am usually picturing one particular scene or moment which represents the entire film. I can remember most of the script and can recall a lot of detail from my favourite films. When remembering Love, Rosie my brain automatically pictures the warm, red hues of Rosie’s bedroom. With About Time I picture Domhnall Gleeson being blown down the hill with a red wedding-dress-clad Rachel McAdams. I wonder how important colour is in films as it’s usually something that I particularly remember. Maybe someone that is more musically minded would remember the soundtracks to films when asked to picture the film.

This post is more a stream of consciousness than a well put together essay on how neuropsychology relates to film. I don’t really know what I’m talking about but I thought this was interesting. If anyone else finds this interesting please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments!



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