Why do we watch films to escape?

Source: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/movie-royalty-free-image/143921276
Source: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/movie-royalty-free-image/143921276

Ever been to the cinema just to get away from it all?

Many people watch films or programs just to have that half an hour or more to themselves. Watching made-up characters do made-up things is a bit like watching adults playing with real-life dolls, only with more complicated story lines. This is ordinarily seen as simple entertainment, but since many of us watch films or telly to escape our everyday stress, it is sometimes known as escapism. However, why do we search for this and why is it so effective?

The answer is known as catharsis, a form of releasing our pent up emotions vicariously through certain characters’ emotions. This happens by being both attached and detached from what we’re watching on the screen. We are attached because we can either empathize or sympathize, yet we aren’t physically next to the real-life puppets crafted by directors and screenwriters. As a result, we feel their emotion and respond with our own emotions in return. And since we are all capable of feeling the same emotions, we can relate to them.

Here’s an example; you’ve had an extremely long day at work; very hectic, emails every 2 seconds, phone won’t stop ringing and everyone’s on edge. You get home, plonk yourself down on your sofa and turn the telly on. Immediately your mind begins to switch off as you focus on what is happening in front of you. Maybe you’re watching a soap and someone somehow managed to wake up from a coma, or you’re watching a comedy and possibly chuckling along with the recorded laughter coming from your speakers. Either way, you are engaging yourself in the characters on the screen by watching them and feeling their emotions, yet any second you could get up to make a cup of tea and start thinking about work again. This creates a balance of attachment and detachment between your real life and the pretend life on screen;  it is not real, but the emotions that you feel because of it are.

This example is a very regular one that happens all the time. However, there could be an occasion where you watch an extremely sad film where a character that you’ve grown fond of dies or the ending isn’t how you expected it. You walk out of the cinema with puffy red eyes and have to rush to the loo to get more tissues. By witnessing and indirectly experiencing someone else’s loss or sadness you are able to release your own repressed emotions. At the same time, you realize that you don’t have to face the same problem as the character you are watching, you feel relief.

So, catharsis is one of the many reasons we go to the cinema. What’s your reason?

Sarah Collins

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