Explaining Emotions & Authenticity Properly: Amateur Philosophical Responses to Actual Philosophers of Film Alex Neil and Colin Radford

The following entry is from an assignment I did for a Philosophy of Film class that I took this Spring 2017 Semester. I really enjoyed this class and the movies and readings assigned with it. That being said, I hope my readers will enjoy this movie. And for those who have not seen the films: Mary & Max or Terms of Endearment you have been warned for Spoilers.

I am running through a series of emotions at this very moment contemplating the perfect way to begin this essay. Anxiety, because I have been staring at a blank document for the last twenty minutes with my fingers on the keyboard remaining unmoved and Frustration, because I want this essay to be perfect, despite my amateur philosophical approach to the issue of emotions felt as a result of films. Just like coming up with a proper way to begin this essay, these emotions I felt, are genuine because my aim is to capture the reader’s attention and convince them that I know what I am talking about and that I worked extensively on this essay on. With that confession, the reader may empathize with me of the emotions I feel thereby, perhaps even cutting me some slack and allow me to get on with the point I’m trying to assert: that genuine, human emotions, can without a doubt be felt from fiction, however only under the condition that the viewer genuinely cares about the film he is watching. Moreover, that the film created, was made with the absolute intention to move and entertain its audience.

Only an ignoramus would believe that what is seen on a screen is real, yet it should not take away from emotions being felt because they are that caught up in the narrative or the actor’s portrayal of a character. When watching the film, Terms of Endearment, the reality of Debra Winger’s character lying in the hospital bed speaking to her children (that are not biologically hers) is irrelevant when the younger son is trying his best to keep himself from crying and simultaneously, cannot help but feel frustrated with his elder brother who seems to show an apathetic and dismissive attitude towards their mother as she is slowly passing away. Understandably, one who watches this scene would feel something from observing this scene, but what emotion that would be and how come, will vary. Examining the back and forth discussion on what emotion (if any) are felt from fiction between philosophers, Alex Neil and Colin Radford, reaching a compromise in their responses to one another (from this outsider’s perspective) seem to be a chore. The one thing that they both seem to agree on though, however, is that emotions, in general, are felt. The conflict tends to lie within what emotions, per se, are being felt and if the authenticity in feeling those emotions. The emotion of Fear, for example, according to Neil cannot be considered authentic because “I cannot coherently believe that [feeling Fear] is actually the case that I am threatened by something I know to be fictional.” (Neil, 4) Radford on the other hand, states that we can indefinitely feel genuine fear of something, even if we know it not to be fake: “even the mere thought of spiders may elicit these feelings of panic.” (Radford, 72)

These arguments put forth by Neil and the laws of the Paradox of Fiction attest Radford’s view. Specifically, that genuine emotion requires belief that the objects exist; moreover, we do not believe that fictional objects exist. Referring to Neil’s statement in the previous argument, one could make the assumption that if he were to have seen Mary & Max, he would not feel fear when Mary is at the verge of committing suicide after not hearing from Max for so long, but at this point, the audience has seen that Max has already sent a letter and hopefully, it will reach Mary in time, before it’s too late. Although in subsequent pages, he states that we may not be able to feel fear, but may feel pity: “we should remember that not all fear is fear for oneself; we may also experience fear sympathetically, or for others.” (Neil, 5) Neil is called out for this sort of contradictory (perhaps because it is so vague) by Radford and contends, “if the ways in which we are moved, the various responses, including feelings and desires, are like those we experience in unproblematic cases of pitying, we do pity fictions…(But why then, does [Neil] argue differently regarding…fear?” (Radford, 73)

As demonstrated with the two previous examples, it should be very clear that neither philosopher will deem Pity and/or fear as universal emotions felt by fictional films. Although again, they do admit that a viewer can most definitely be moved by something even by knowing it is fiction. I propose that one cannot simply categorize the feeling in one term, as interpretations of films are incontestably subjective. According to Radford, “we are irrational, inconsistent, and incoherent in being moved [by emotion] for fictional characters.” (Radford, 75) This means that we can feel emotions and we don’t know what they mean but because we are simply incapable of doing so. However inexplicably unsatisfying that reason may be for some who are unable to understand how fictional mediums can invoke genuine emotion, the main crux is that we can be moved by fiction. In order to make my argument more coherent for the reader, I will draw from a personal experience of how I genuinely am moved by fictional mediums.

Before this semester began (sometime in December 2016 or early January 2017) I purchased a book: The Simpsons and Philosophy by some author. My girlfriend, seeing what I had purchased, smiled because she is well aware of my obsession with this legendary, comical cartoon. She knew this not only because I watch it OnDemand each time we are at my house or that my mother pretty much spilled the beans to her (prior to us dating) of how much I loved this show as a child, even though she couldn’t understand how something so simple and childish (because it was a cartoon) could be so entertaining. It was inexplicable because I was well aware none of it was real and everything but I genuinely would smile and laugh at the episodes I’ve watched (repeatedly) even as an adult in his early twenties, I find myself laughing even harder because I am old enough to understand the little jokes I didn’t once understand as a kid. I am reminded of Blaise Pascal’s quote when he said, “the heart has reasons for its operations that sometimes reason does not often understand.”

With that, I hope I have been able to demonstrate my view, that we can genuinely be moved by fiction. Whatever emotion may be is dependent on the viewer. And in spite of a listener potentially not being completely convinced of why a viewer feels a certain way about a film, something entirely fiction and therefore, nonexistent, the reason for how or why those emotions are felt, any efforts in convincing may seem almost incomprehensible.

Therefore, I contend that it is not (nor should be) the responsibility of the viewer to have to explain to anyone, who simply does not understand, why he or she is moved by fiction. Moreover, by maintaining such feelings for fiction, we remain well aware that our strong belief in the medium will not miraculously “give life” to fiction but the very fact that we are defending our reasons for why we are moved by the fiction, should suffice well enough, that our emotions are authentic.

Works Cited:

Neill, Alex. “Emotional Responses to Fiction: Reply to Radford.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 75. JSTOR. Web.

Neill, Alex. “Fiction and the Emotions.” North American Philosophical Publications 30.1 (1993): 1-13. JSTOR. Web.

Radford, Colin. “Fiction, Pity, Fear, and Jealousy.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 53.1 (1995): 71. JSTOR. Web.

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“Three Parts to a Hug” (Short-Film Review)

The following review may contain spoilers. Regardless, I encourage my readers to watch the film and hug their loved ones. 😉 

Who knew there were different meanings to hugs? Writer/Director, Alvaro D. Ruiz sure did. In his short film released in 2012 entitled, La Trilogia del Abrazo (Three Parts to a Hug), Ruiz demonstrates through vivid emotion, levels of adoration that can only be summed up by an embrace.

The three parts to a hug, which I will further explain in detail shortly, are as follows:

1.”Un abrazo no un beso.” (A Hug, Not a Kiss) 2. Un abrazo casi un beso.” (A Hug, almost a Kiss)  3. Un abrazo como un beso.(A Hug, as a Kiss)

The first hug shows a man knocking on the door that opens up to a young lady who is nothing short of bemused and agitated to see him as she makes it clear in her first words to him that she has repeatedly told the gentleman to leave her alone. When the camera pans to the gentleman waiting by the door, no words are able to be uttered and the ones that are spoken are stammered. A closer look upon the man shows the affliction in his eyes that can only be understood by men who have been in his shoes once or twice before; heartbroken individuals that have knocked on the doors of their former lovers that attempt to spill their heart out, only to realize that doing so would be effortless and find themselves standing dumbfounded in front of someone who just wants you to leave.

Finally before the gentleman leaves, the woman opens the door one last time to offer a sympathetic hug before she closes the door again, for good. She holds him tightly, wrapping both arms around him, while he stands there, visibly still in shock; perhaps at the thought that as soon as she lets go, it will be the last hug he will ever receive from her ever again. One can make the assumption that to make the moment last, the man would try to go for a kiss, but because this was a break up that was in dire need of ending, such an attempt would be fruitless. When the two former lovers finally go their separate ways, the woman is viewed wiping her face, leaving a streak of blood across her cheek while the man is staring at the steering wheel of his car with blood all over his shirt. Here, the imagery captured by Ruiz is just exquisite; the relationship finally being over, takes a toll on one another in different ways for the man, his heart has been ripped out (in this case, physically and emotionally) and the woman, although glad the message has finally reached the man, she can’t help but live with the possible guilt of hurting him (and thus, has blood on her hands).

The second part of the film, “A Hug, almost a Kiss) is a definite palate cleanser i.e., a much happier tone to put the audience in a good mood after the tears they’ve shed for the first one. Like the first part, a door is knocked but a man is the one opening the door to a woman holding what subsequently turns out to be his dog. This dog had gone missing for quite some time and finally was returned to his owner and much to the owner’s surprise, he found a potential new romance. The dialogue exchange between the two characters in this scene is extremely well performed because the chemistry demonstrated by both actors give off these pheromones that would make the viewers think the actors were an item in real life. The embrace between these two only attest such assumptions; the eyes closed, both arms nestled tightly against one another as though they didn’t even know they were meant for each other and now that they did, what would be the purpose in letting go? Such a beautiful hug would deserved of a kiss but because that would be awkward, they are forced to let go and leave one another. Not before the woman calls the owner to let the man know, she’ll “see [him] around.” So all is not lost in the end and there will definitely be another chance for that hug to potentially turn into a kiss.

The third and final part of the film has a mixed tone; melancholy but alleviating. A man is seen staring at himself in the mirror of a dressing room and like the first two parts, a door is knocked. He opens it to find a woman who is dressed in a short, but tight dress. The conversation between the two is a bit hard to follow because it seems as though the man has done something to betray her although it is not specified. The man seems to display emotions of remorse for whatever it was that he has done to her and the woman, although still perhaps feeling a hint of anger towards him, manages to find it in her heart to forgive him and request a hug. This hug is almost identical to the second hug in that strong feelings are being displayed in the hug but like the first hug, this is going to be the final hug between the two and because both parties are participating in the embrace, it’s as though they are feeling reluctant in their relationship ending, even though they both know it’s the right thing to do. As it soon turns out, the man is in his car and is on the phone with another woman (unseen audience but believed to be his wife) moreover, is not the woman he embraced in the scene and tells her he is coming home.

This film although only 10 minutes long, tells a lot about the importance of an embrace. Most people would not consider a hug to be that important as they are deemed with the same commodity as a handshake. Ruiz tackles this successfully by showing that emotions, raw emotions, expressed by a hug, say the words we’d like to say to one another. And by being able to utilize emotions so well, to the point where the viewer forgets they are watching a film, is what makes his work so artistic. Words such as, “Please don’t go”, “Please don’t let go”, and “Let me go” are only as good as they can be, but the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. And in this case, the hug is most deafening.

-Mr. Writer

Written at 7:56 P.M. on March 17, 2017